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Outcome of Mueller Report Could Mean a Lot for 2020 Election; Lindsey Graham Reacts to End of Mueller Probe; Graham Plans to Investigate FBI's "Unprofessional Behavior" & "Troubling" Behavior by Lynch, Comey; Mueller's Team Told DOJ Weeks Ago They Would Not Reach Conclusion on Question of Trump & Obstruction. Aired 11:30-12p ET

Aired March 25, 2019 - 11:30   ET



[11:30:27] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Forget Election Day, forget every day that the Dow hits a new record high. Today is arguably the best day of Donald Trump's presidency. It's the first full day that the cloud of the Mueller investigation has been lifted. President Trump and his allies celebrating the summary of the Mueller report put out by the attorney general. The president's personal attorney describing it as essentially a slam-dunk victory. Listen.


RUDY GIULIANI, PERSONAL ATTORNEY TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: There was no obstruction of justice. There was no collusion. I just ask people to use their common sense. He has been absolved, vindicated, exonerated, you pick the word. Any lawyer never gets a letter like this. Usually, you get a letter that says, we don't have enough evidence. In this case, we have complete vindication.


BOLDUAN: Vindication on collusion, yes. Exoneration on obstruction, not so much. There's more to it. Regardless of the mischaracterization, this could mean a lot for the 2020 election.

Joining me now is CNN senior political commentator, a man who knows what it is like to run against Trump for president, former Ohio governor, John Kasich.

Governor, it's great to see you.

I want to ask you, on the heels of the report coming out, and as you sit here today, are President Trump's chances for reelection better today than yesterday after this memo from Bill Barr?

JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I mean, clearly, it is better for him that this kind of passes. But, Kate, we have to remember that in the midterm election, where Republicans were drubbed, it didn't have anything to do with Mueller or collusion or anything else.


KASICH: It had to do with health care. It had to do with the fact, is the president a divider or uniter. They didn't like his rhetoric. A week ago, we heard him attacking John McCain, a dead war hero. Those are the things people are thinking about.

I have to warn folks, I was talking to somebody this morning, said, what did you think of the report? Well, I don't believe it. Some people are just colored by blind hatred. Look, I ran against the guy. I didn't endorse the guy. I have been critical of him. But it's not out of hatred or anger or bitterness. It's that I don't agree with him. If Democrats are smart, they would not spend all their time trying to continue multiple investigations. They have to start talking about, Kate, the table, issues that Americans care about and making that case, the rising debt, the fact that health care costs are going through the roof, the issue of whether you can unite or divide. These are all things that are going to matter in the 2020 election.

BOLDUAN: I think that is also a very important question facing Democrats right now. If you are looking at the Democratic field running for the White House right now, not even just Democrats in Congress, but looking t the Democratic field, how do you navigate this successfully? On the spectrum of options, you've got ignore this completely and talk about other issues, as you're talking about --

KASICH: No, just be honest, Kate.

BOLDUAN: -- or dig in --

KASICH: Just be honest about it.

BOLDUAN: -- on the not-completely-exonerated bit on obstruction bit. What do you do?

KASICH: Look, listen to Jeffrey Toobin.


Listen to what he has to say. And just be fair about things. Say what you think and don't color it. This is not just connected to Democrats being in a hateful mood. We have been existing here for a long time. Think about the way people felt about Barack Obama. I said last night on air, they were down at Palm Beach yelling about Hillary Clinton to lock her up. We are in a hate mode. If we are going to solve these problems for our children -- I have twin daughters that are 19. There's a lot hanging over them, the debt, where health care is going, income inequality, opportunity, job training. All of these things have to be dealt with. If all we are doing is hating one another, you're not going to get there because it does not lead to conversations that are constructive. So if I'm running for president and I'm the Democrat, I'll talk about this. I'll say Democrats have a legitimate right to investigate some of these things, including things like obstruction. But I don't want to spend my time there. I want to spend my time, instead of throwing arrows and being negative, I want to paint a picture of how America can be better and brighter and more positive.

BOLDUAN: Speaker Pelosi had said in an interview with the "Washington Post" earlier this month, one of the things she said on the question of impeachment is that, unless there's something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, that they wouldn't be moving toward impeachment. I remember her saying, "He's not worth it." Do you think that is now -- is your guess that the impeachment question is now completely off the table?

[11:35:12] KAISCH: I think so. We'll see how the rest of the report and everything. Listen, Nancy Pelosi is very shrewd. A lot of people wonder, what is she going to do? She is older and everything. Maybe it says something about the fact that, as you get older, you get wiser. She has done a remarkable job in terms of leading that caucus. Even Republicans, who used to do nothing but bad mouth her, are giving her some grudging respect for the way she has carried herself.

But, again, Kate, you can either spend your time talking about a scandal and trying to win on the basis of knocking somebody out on the basis of this negativity, or you can paint a picture for how you want the country to go. Again, I want to say that the Republicans got drubbed in the midterm not because of collusion or Russia or anything else. It had to do with the way the president conducted himself in office and the issues that, frankly, in too many respects, regrettably, the Republicans have been absent on.

BOLDUAN: With that in mind, and while the public still has not seen the full report, do these conclusions, this memo, does this impact your decision-making process on whether or not you decide to jump in and challenge the president in a primary?

KASICH: I never thought that there would be anything here. I never thought that. I never considered the fact that there was some Russian probe and this was all -- I never thought that at all. My objection to the president has been his policies, what he has done on foreign policy. Look what happened the other day on sanctions on North Korea. It's like Abbott and Costello. One group puts them on and he turns around and takes them off.


KASICH: He's alienated our allies. Look what he has done in the country in terms of immigration. Look what he has done in terms of the growing debt. He said he would balance the budget through waste, fraud and abuse. That's a joke. So the fact of the matter is that was never the basis on which I was thinking about this. And, look, maybe this will give him a chance to pivot. I kind of doubt he will.

BOLDUAN: I mean, give me your gut. You're no dummy politically.

KASICH: My gut --


BOLDUAN: Do you think he will pivot now? KASICH: No, I don't. I don't. I heard him say the other day now

they have to investigate somebody else. I heard the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee say --


KASICH: -- we have to have another investigation. In many respects, this is like civil wars. The Hatfield and the McCoys. It's like, I took it out on you and now you take it out on me. Think about how long this has been going back and forth. You have Hillary, Obama, Bush Jr, Trump, Pelosi, McCain. Everybody is looking at these things through this angst and, frankly, in some respects, de-patron (ph). Kate, you can never ever allow yourself to be joyful or gleeful because of the troubles of somebody else. Remember what the great commandment was, love God, love your neighbor as you love yourself. It doesn't mean you have to be blind toward your neighbor but you can't spend time trying to figure out how to take them down and destroy them. That is not the way we should live in our communities, in our families, in our country and in our world.

BOLDUAN: In the face of it all, as impossible as it may sound, we will find the joy on this show together, in one way, shape or form.

KASICH: Hey, listen, we have a great country. There's a lot of good things going on. But I would like to see more unity, less division, and less anger.


KASICH: We'll get there. You and I will do it together.

BOLDUAN: Exactly. We always find some way to laugh.

Thanks, Governor. Appreciate it.

KASICH: Why not?

BOLDUAN: Exactly

KASICH: Thank you. Bye.

BOLDUAN: What else is there to do? Might as well laugh at it.

Coming up for us, back to not laughing. One of the president's closest allies in Congress is speaking about the Mueller investigation. Lindsey Graham, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, speaking out. Why he says this was not a witch hunt and why he says there should be more investigations.


[11:43:35] BOLDUAN: Moments, ago, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, spoke to reporters about his reaction to the end of the Mueller probe. Graham was also with the president in Florida this weekend and golfing with him when the news broke that the investigation cleared the president and his campaign of conspiring with Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election. Whereas, the president has called the investigation a witch hunt, more often or not, Lindsey Graham today said this.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: I thought Mr. Mueller was not on a witch hunt and that Mr. Mueller was highly qualified and the right guy to pick to deal with such a difficult issue.


BOLDUAN: Joining me now, CNN political director, David Chalian.

David, Graham saying it is not a witch hunt, and he believes the Russians hacked the e-mails and it wasn't a 300-pound guy sitting on his couch or bed, or whichever one it was, and also he would like the attorney general to testify before his committee and in public. What do you make of that?

DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: First of all, consistency. Lindsey Graham has been about protecting Bob Mueller and making sure that he can do his job. And you're right to note that he wants to hear from Attorney General Barr. As you know also, Kate, Lindsey Graham is also very much taking up the president's other political message that we heard yesterday, which is starting to make sure that folks look at what went on, on the other side. It's not entirely clear what it means when the president said it. Senator Graham was clear that he does wants to dip back into the Clinton-era investigations of Hillary Clinton and try to expose as much information as he can from the Comey/Loretta Lynch scenarios, and why he thinks this Barr moment ended up in a different place than it did when Comey was running the investigation.

[11:45:35] BOLDUAN: Clean out the cobwebs. Lindsey Graham talking about, was the tarmac meeting just a meeting on the tarmac or was there something more when it comes to Loretta Lynch. It feels like 700 years ago, to be honest.

Let me play what Senator Graham says about where his focus is going now, which is to investigate -- what he wants to do is investigate the investigators and that process. Listen.


GRAHAM: Why did Comey do what he did? Why did he take over the investigation in July, make a statement that she did a lot of bad things but not quite a crime? That did affect this election. And if the shoe was on the other foot, Republicans would have been pretty mad about that. What was the conflict that made Loretta Lynch so unable to preside over the Clinton e-mail investigation? Was it just a tarmac meeting or was it more?


BOLDUAN: There are a lot of fights that are going to be happening going forward with regard to the Russia investigation on the Democratic side and getting the report made public and yada, yada, yada. But is the smart Republican response to this now counter investigations?

CHALIAN: You know, Kate, I think it is such a good question because I do think beyond Senator Graham here, but for the president overall, that is a question that now hangs over this moment. How does the president use this moment, this clearing of the decks, the, by far, I think, the politically single best day of his presidency yesterday?


CHALIAN: And then how does he move forward from that into his reelection? If it is about not letting go and wanting to keep up an investigative look into the Democrats now and to try to get vengeance in some way, that will be one path he chooses to go. But there's certainly another path, which is take this victory lap politically and try to parlay it into a clearing-the-decks moment and perhaps a resetting of a conversation with the American people. None of us expect Donald Trump to change his behavior. He's constantly showed us who he is. Anyone looking to see, oh, no, the president will turn over a new leaf, I think that is a fool's errand. But I think, politically, that is the question before the president and his team.

BOLDUAN: They are deciding that now. It looks like there's some indication of what direction they want to go, at least when you hear from Lindsey Graham.

John Kasich, just on, saying taking that, I guess, the third path, as you are suggesting, which is take the victory, focus on the issues that matter to voters, what voters say they care about, and will decide their vote come the election. Let us wait and see if that is the way it goes.


BOLDUAN: I think we will know what direction our gut is telling us it is headed.

BOLDUAN: Good to see you, David.

CHALIAN: Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thanks so much. Really appreciate it.

We'll be right back.


[11:52:43] BOLDUAN: First into CNN, just now, in a meeting weeks ago, we're now learning Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team told officials at the Department of Justice that they would not be reaching a conclusion on the question of the president and obstruction of justice.

CNN's Evan Perez is back with us with more on this. Evan, why is this new time line important here?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Kate, this is an important piece of information because it tells us a little bit more about what went into this final determination, that Bill Barr and Rod Rosenstein were the ones making a decision on whether or not there was obstruction of justice that occurred in this investigation.

Let's step back a little bit. Laura Jarrett, our reporter on the Justice Department, was told by a source that, about three weeks ago, there was a meeting at the Justice Department, and the new attorney general, Bill Barr, was being briefed on the investigation. And they were surprised, frankly, when the Mueller investigators said that they were not going to be able to reach a determination, a final determination, on whether there was something provable on obstruction of justice. This apparently came as a surprise to Bill Barr, the attorney general, because, again, he was expecting that this investigation was wrapping up. We're told that this, really, I think, clarifies a little bit about the fact that Bill Barr has had more time to consider this. It wasn't just in the last 48 hours. As you know, the final report from Mueller came in on Friday, but Bill Barr certainly has had some time, three weeks, in fact, to consider that Bob Mueller and his investigators were not going to be able to reach a final conclusion on whether or not there was obstruction of justice charges that could be brought here at all. We're told that this was a wider meeting, not just about the obstruction matter, but the attorney general -- and as you know, Kate, you know that Rod Rosenstein has been overseeing this investigation since the beginning. We know his deputy, Ed O'Callaghan, has been overseeing this investigation day to day. So there are a lot of people who are very well read in as to what Mueller was finding. So three weeks ago was when Mueller finally told them this was not a determination he was going to be able to make.

BOLDUAN: And there's no reporting, though, that three weeks ago, when that was said to justice officials that, that was then told to the president, though, that the president was informed that was the conclusion that was coming.

[11:55:02] PEREZ: Right. No, there's no indication that anybody was told about that. As a matter of fact, we've learned in the last few days that they had no idea, really, what was coming.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And it's interesting, when you look in the memo, you see some indication, Evan, of that, that there were conversations. I was just looking and it said, "Over the course of the investigation, the special counsel's office engaged in discussions with certain department officials regarding many of the matters at issue with the special counsel's obstruction investigation."

PEREZ: Right.

BOLDUAN: So it seems that we're learning a little more about what those discussions involved.

PEREZ: Right. BOLDUAN: Thanks so much, Evan. I really appreciate it. Laura Jarret's great reporting first to CNN.

Coming up for us, President Trump is meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House today after rocket fire from Gaza leveled a house in central Israel. Netanyahu will be cutting his trip short to Washington after -- because of this attack. He'll be arriving in the White House shortly.

Stay with us.