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Democrats Demand to See Full Mueller Report; House Judiciary Chair Plans to Call AG Barr to Testify; GOP Feels Vindicated After Release of Mueller Report; Democrats Frustrated After Barr's Letter; William Barr: Mueller Finds No Trump-Russia Government Conspiracy; Trump Claims "Complete and Total Exoneration" from Mueller Report on Obstruction; Attorney General Barr Clears Trump of Obstruction After Mueller Punts; DOJ Official: Mueller was not Consulted on Barr's Letter; Investors Watch for Signs of Recession on the Horizon. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 25, 2019 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[09:00:31] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Monday morning to you. It's a big one. I'm Jim Sciutto in New York. Poppy has the week off.

This is a significant moment, perhaps a turning point for the presidency and for our country on the central question that has consumed our legal system and politics for more than two years now. Whether a U.S. president and his advisers conspired with a foreign power to interfere in the 2016 election.

The special counsel has delivered a clear answer -- no. The second question, however, whether the president illegally interfered with the special counsel's investigation, Robert Mueller was far less clear. In fact, Mr. Mueller wrote explicitly that his report, quote, "does not exonerate the president." He left that decision to the attorney general who decided in just two days that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute. That decision is already sparking hard questions while President Trump, however, is going on the attack threatening his critics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This was an illegal takedown that failed and hopefully somebody is going to be looking at the other side.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: So what now? Will the president and his administration push for a new investigation, perhaps even a new special counsel to investigate the investigators? Will the president feel emboldened to pardon those in his administration, including Michael Flynn who have pleaded guilty to federal crimes?

Conversely, will Democrats feel chastened and pull back on this and other probes of Mr. Trump? Finally, will the country be more or less divided by the conclusions of Robert Mueller, a man respected on both sides of the political divide?

We're going to tackle all of these questions and controversies with our very deep bench of correspondents beginning this hour with CNN's senior justice correspondent Evan Perez.

So, Evan, a clear answer on the collusion question. A not-so-clear answer, in fact, a divided one perhaps on the question of obstruction of justice.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. I think what this opens is perhaps a new chapter in this entire saga. Now, of course, members of Congress are going to want to know why Robert Mueller and his team were not able to reach a conclusion on the question of obstruction. Is it because the president never sat down for an interview with the investigators which is unusual, obviously, despite their multiple requests.

So what went on behind the scenes? Obviously, Bill Barr in his letter sort of opens up those questions and leaves them unanswered. One part of the letter from him -- from Bill Barr says the following. "The special counsel's decision to describe the facts of the obstruction investigation without reaching any legal conclusions leaves it to the attorney general to determine whether the conduct described in the report constitutes a crime."

And that's an important part because it means that Bill Barr, who has been on the job just a few weeks, and Rod Rosenstein who has been overseeing this investigation since the beginning made the final decision here and they decided that there weren't enough facts to be able to reach -- to be able to say that the president had intentionally tried to obstruct the investigation.

And one of the things that they mentioned in -- that Bill Barr mentions in his letter is the fact that a lot of the obstructive behavior, the behavior we all saw with our own eyes happened in public and had been reported publicly by the press. So it appears that that weighed a lot into his final decision to say that the president is cleared on the question of obstruction but as you mentioned, obviously, this is going to be a whole new saga here with members of Congress demanding to see the underlying information.

And this is an exhaustive investigation. This was an investigation that went on 22 months. If you look real quick at the number of lawyers, 19 lawyers, 40 FBI agents, 230 orders for communication records, 2800 subpoenas. It is a very exhaustive investigation that took 22 months. And I think people have to be satisfied that Robert Mueller did everything he could to reach the conclusion.

The big question of whether or not there was any conclusion and on that he found that there was none or at least they were not able to establish that any Americans, anybody inside the Trump campaign, anybody associated with the president, knowingly conspired with the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election. That's what the big takeaway for the president and where he'll finally be able to say, see, I was telling you, no collusion. SCIUTTO: Right. OK. On this question of obstruction of justice,

however, do we know -- because of course Robert Mueller looked in this for two years.

[09:05:04] Barr and Rosenstein looked at the evidence for a couple of days. Do we know if Robert Mueller, the special counsel, pushed them in either direction on whether to subpoena the president on that question? Did he try to force a decision one way or do we think that he was on the middle as they were?

PEREZ: Well, we don't know exactly whether he was in the middle or whether this was something -- again, this is why I think these are important questions for members of Congress to try to get to the bottom of. I think you can expect that Robert Mueller and Rod Rosenstein and Bill Barr will be called to testify in Congress to sort of explain what happened behind the scenes.

We do know that, you know, on the big question of whether or not the president would sit down for an interview that Robert Mueller and his team pondered and deliberated with Rod Rosenstein and his team whether or not there was enough to subpoena the president, to force him to come down and provide an interview, which is -- would have been normal in this circumstance. And would have perhaps maybe helped answer the question of what was his intent when he did some of the things that we all saw, right?

And so the question is, what were those deliberations like? Was Robert Mueller sort of forced into a corner? We don't know. We do know that certainly Rod Rosenstein was read in on this investigation from the beginning. Bill Barr probably was given some briefings before this weekend, before the report was delivered. So they've had some time to think about this.

Of course, the president's lawyers, Jim, are very happy with the result. Jay Sekulow has been making the rounds this morning on the morning TV shows, and here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: Here the decision was made by the office of legal counsel and the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and ultimately the attorney general of the United States that there was no basis upon which an obstruction of justice charge could be met, and that is where the president can easily say that he was vindicated on both obstruction and collusion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PEREZ: And, of course, the answer is not quite that simple. Look, I think Jay Sekulow is doing a very good job and his legal team, by the day, have done an amazing job. They essentially threw themselves in front of the bus to save this president, sometimes from his own behavior, from his own actions that we all saw in public. And so I think you can bet that members of Congress have a lot of questions that will have to be answered.

SCIUTTO: Will they be answered? Evan Perez, s very much.

We now have Barr's summary. But will we see Robert Mueller's full report?

Kara Scannell, she joins me now from Washington with more. And that is an important distinction. This is Bill Barr, the president's appointee as attorney general, distillation of a many hundred pages long special counsel's report on what timeline and what are the chances that the Congress and we the public see a fuller report?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, that's right. I mean, I think Congress -- we've heard a lot of calls over the past 24 hours for the full and complete release of this report. Especially it goes to the questions of obstruction that Evan was just laying out. Now Bill Barr said that he would consult Robert Mueller, the special counsel, on this process of making the report ready for publication. He did say in this letter to the hill that he wanted to make as much of the report available to the public as possible. And already under way at DOJ behind the scenes is a small team going through Robert Mueller's report scrubbing it for any information about ongoing investigations that Robert Mueller's team has referred out to other U.S. attorney's offices. And they're also looking to scrub it for any possible grand jury material. That means any material that they've learned through the process of bringing witnesses before the grand jury.

It is illegal to make grand jury material public so that is a component here that they will be scrubbing. There are still so many questions. We don't know how long Robert Mueller's report is. We don't know how much of the material in it would fall under those two categories. So at the end of the day do we see a report that is fulsome and one that we can really get our arms around what Robert Mueller investigation determined and what conclusions he came to, or do we end up in a situation where a lot of this report is redacted?

But we do know that the hill is going to press for this. They want the full and complete release of the report. And as Evan said, they're going to call up all these key players in this to Capitol Hill to answer questions -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this as well. And if you could do it in short form because I think folks at home have trouble following this. So this is the Mueller investigation. Russian interference in the election. There were several other investigations of this president, in short form, what are they and where do they stand now?

SCANNELL: That's right, Jim. So Robert Mueller had spun off that campaign finance investigation that involved Michael Cohen. That's being handled by the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan. That investigation is still ongoing. We even saw this last week in the -- some court filings revealed and redacted. But there were still 20 pages that were redacted because of that ongoing investigation.

[09:10:03] Now there's also that U.S. attorney's office is following the leads that Michael Cohen has laid out about possible bank fraud, possible insurance fraud. New York's top insurance regulator has subpoenaed Donald Trump's insurance broker relating to the revelations that Michael Cohen had made.

We have the New York attorney general who's also investigating the Trump Foundation and the U.S. attorney's office in Manhattan is investigating the Trump Inaugural Committee. So there's a lot of ongoing investigations that continue. It remains to be seen how close they will get to the president, but the Trump Organization is still very much under the spotlight -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: And the question is, what is the political patience for those investigations following this?

Kara Scannell, thanks very much.

The president, not surprisingly, taking a victory lap in the last 24 hours. Joe Johns joining us now with reaction from the White House.

And Joe, I wonder, speaking to the sources you have inside the building behind you here, do you foresee a President Trump emboldened now by this result politically in terms of attacking his enemies, in terms of pursuing his political agenda and of course with the 2020 campaign?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: I'm going to tell you there's really a sense of righteous indignation here at the White House about this investigation. And it's also interesting, as they try to spin the investigation, and the collusion findings as opposed to the obstruction findings. But very clear the president is tweeting and has said as much that for him, this is a complete and total exoneration.

But let's listen a little bit to what Sarah Sanders said this morning, and that will give you an idea of the message that's coming out of the White House today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's also a sad reminder of the lack of accountability that started to seep into the media and into Democrats that have gone out for the last two years -- actually over two years, and accused the president, the United States president of being an agent of a foreign government.

Take a second and let that sink in. Take a minute and realize how outrageous and how serious and how malicious an accusation like that is. They claim to have actual evidence. They said it was true. And they lied.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Now as Evan and others have pointed out in the reporting this morning, it does appear that at least according to the attorney general the special counsel Robert Mueller did kind of punt when it came to the issue of obstruction of justice. And I did ask Kellyanne Conway, the presidential counselor, about that this morning. So they're still working out that message but the one part of the message that's coming through again and again is that the president's lawyers, as well as his public relations people are saying it's certainly true that if there is no underlying crime, there can be no obstruction.

The question, of course, is, what is really in the Mueller report and how much of that we're going to find out about? There's also a concern here as our Jim Acosta has reported that the president could overreach because we have the Southern District of New York investigation, as well as everything that's going on on Capitol Hill. So this is just not over yet. Back to you.

SCIUTTO: But a big step, no question, Joe, at the White House. Thank you.

Republicans mostly happy with Barr's summary while Democrats demanding more access to the full report. For more on the latest reactions from Capitol Hill, let's speak to CNN congressional correspondent Sunlen Serfaty.

So I wonder what happens next on the hill because Democrats face something of a political dilemma here. Do they have the capital and the patience, even among their supporters to make this all about investigations? But on the other hand, they have legitimate questions they want answered, including how did the special counsel reach -- what evidence did he find because he did find some evidence of obstruction of justice.

What happens from here? Are there hearings? Are there subpoenas? Where does this go?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's a good question, Jim. And certainly we can read some of the tea leaves that top Democrats are sending us so far. But certainly as you noted, it is a fine line that Democrats have to walk between, you know, using their oversight muscle and taking that very seriously on Capitol Hill, but also not deviating too far from their own legislative priorities.

But at least from the top committee heads what we are hearing is that they are going to push very aggressively in this next stage of the battle, and that, of course, is the battle over the information. We have heard top Democrats responding to Bill Barr's report calling it an insufficient interpretation. Some top Democrats saying the American people deserve the Mueller report, not just the Barr report.

The majority leader -- minority leader Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi saying it raises more questions than it does answers. Dianne Feinstein staying it's inadequate and demonstrates why Congress needs to be obtain full report. And this is essentially the line that we will see and have been seeing from Democrats on Capitol Hill. The fact that Congress needs to get its hands not only on the full Mueller report, but also on underlying evidence.

[09:15:00]

They say that is so essential, they need to see what Mueller had in his own probe. And we have heard from the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee Jerry Nadler, he said it's very likely that they could subpoena for the Mueller report, also calls for Bill Barr; the Attorney General and of course potentially Robert Mueller to come up here on Capitol Hill to testify.

And notably Democrats, and I think we'll see this a lot going forward, zeroing in on the fact that Mueller didn't exonerate Trump over obstruction of justice. So certainly, that will play in and certainly intensify their own investigations that are going on right now on Capitol Hill. Jim?

SCIUTTO: And all, as we get very close to the 2020 election as well. Sunlen Serfaty, thanks very much. We're staying on top of all the evolving headlines on the Mueller report. What will Democrats do next? So many questions, we're going to ask one of those Democrats right after this.

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SCIUTTO: We are back now. The Attorney General William Barr says that the special counsel found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. President Trump says that he wants investigators to target those who started the Russia probe in the first place.

Let's discuss more with Robert Ray; he's a former Whitewater independent counsel, and Susan Hennessey; former National Security Agency attorney. Robert, if I could begin with you --

ROBERT RAY, FORMER WHITEWATER INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: Sure --

SCIUTTO: You have direct experience in an independent or special counsel's investigation here. Let's get to that remaining question, the obstruction of justice question which based on Barr's reading of the report, Mueller said he found evidence on both sides, but let Barr make the decision as to whether there was sufficient evidence to prosecute for obstruction of justice. Did he do the right thing?

RAY: I think so, because I think it was important for the country and in the public's interest for the department to speak with one voice on that issue. And I think because of the fact that investigating a president and making a prosecutorial judgment about presidential conduct in the context of obstruction statutes even by Bob Mueller's own admission creates some difficult questions both of law and of fact, that ultimately that's one where the Attorney General has to speak.

SCIUTTO: OK, Susan Hennessy, is it an issue in terms of confidence in the decision that this is an Attorney General who, prior to his appointment by this president, wrote publicly that he believed an obstruction of justice case against the president was -- I believe his words were "fatally misconceived"?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, FORMER ATTORNEY, NATIONAL SECURITY AGENCY: Oh, I think Bill Barr is really entitled to the presumption of good faith in terms of how he rendered his judgment. That said, it's actually not clear for me, from the summary that, that is what Robert Mueller intended. Bill Barr's summary simply says that Robert Mueller declined to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment that he laid out the evidence, that he created a substantial record, and then he offered the legal arguments on both sides.

Now that sounds a lot like, for example, Leon Jaworski's sort of road map to Congress and Watergate, really indicating that perhaps the special counsel didn't intend for Bill Barr to make this decision, but ultimately intended to sort of place this decision before Congress.

So essentially, I think what may have happened is that after Mueller created a report intending for Congress to render its judgments in part because the president couldn't be -- can't be indicted in part because of the very difficult article 2 questions.

The Attorney General then essentially inserted his own judgment. Now, that's not necessarily inappropriate for him to do so, but it's also not conclusive on the question, there's no indication that that's what Robert Mueller intended to do either.

SCIUTTO: That's an interesting interpretation. I wonder if you disagree with it, but --

RAY: I don't really disagree with it --

SCIUTTO: No --

RAY: I mean, I think that's about right. I mean, I guess the only point that I would add to it, though, is that understand that we're in a different environment than an independent counsel environment. This is a special counsel who is derived from the authority of the Attorney General and acts within the Department of Justice pursuant to Department of Justice --

SCIUTTO: More restrictive --

RAY: More regulations --

SCIUTTO: Than the regulations that the Ken Starr for instance operated under.

RAY: Under the statute that Congress passed, that has since elapsed which we are not operating under any longer since 1999, and immediately upon the expiration of that statute, then Attorney General Janet Reno put these regulations into effect.

And this is really the first time we've had occasion to use them. So you know, it's been there for 20 years. Now we're actually using them, and I think, you know, on a prosecutorial judgment, it needed to be made. I mean, Congress ultimately will have the question that house Democrats to decide whether impeachment proceedings are appropriate.

But a prosecutorial judgment was made, and I think it was important for the country to have the benefit of that judgment and not just simply, well, a sitting president can't be indicted and we're not going to reach that question.

SCIUTTO: But are you saying, you agree with Susan that Mueller's intention and again, that's trying to get inside his head, but based on the reading of the report that Mueller's intention was to leave the obstruction question to Congress as opposed to Bill Barr?

RAY: I don't know about that, I mean, I think --

SCIUTTO: All right --

RAY: It's ambiguous.

SCIUTTO: OK --

RAY: I guess someone said on one of the interviews this morning ultimately, that maybe for Robert Mueller --

SCIUTTO: Right --

RAY: To disclose if -- you know, when and if he testified before the Congress or for Bill Barr --

SCIUTTO: If he does --

RAY: For that matter --

SCIUTTO: OK --

RAY: You know, to be able to disclose to Congress how exactly that worked.

SCIUTTO: OK, Susan Hennessey, one thing that Barr notes and Robert noted this to me before we got on the air here is that, the fact that the special counsel did not find evidence of collusion is relevant to the obstruction question because it gets to the point, if there was no underlying crime, that is conspiring with a foreign power to interfere in the election, therefore, you can't establish intent legally to charge with corruption. Is that fair? Is that a fair judgment in your view?

HENNESSEY: So it's not -- they aren't sort of -- I think it's a little bit of an overstatement, I guess I would say. It's not that it's entirely irrelevant, but certainly it's not dispositive on the issue, even Barr's letters sort of indicates that.

[09:25:00] You can obstruct an investigation into something that turns out ultimately not to be a crime. People will go to jail for that sort of all the time. You know, certainly we don't know -- you know, president of the United States would not have been aware of what every single member of his campaign, other individuals associated with him might have done.

And sort of the question here or the idea that because he himself wasn't implicated in this in any way, that means that he couldn't have then later obstructed --

SCIUTTO: Right --

HENNESSEY: You know, just its factually false or sort of a legal matter. I think it does a little bit go to the question of sort of motivation and judgment. That said, it is something that echoes very strongly about that original memo that Attorney General Bill Barr wrote prior to becoming the Attorney General is a pretty strong indication that he is essentially taken the legal reasoning, but he had formed prior to seeing any of the underlying evidence and applying it to this set of facts.

SCIUTTO: Final question if I can, Robert Ray, because the other public position that Bill Barr has, this goes back to the George H.W. Bush administration, where Barr recommended then President Bush pardon the folks who were charged out of the Iran contra scandal. And I wonder if you see that as a possible next step here, that --

RAY: I don't -- I don't know about that. I mean, I do think that we may see some effort by the president to declassify certain information so that an investigation presumably from the Senate Judiciary Committee led by Lindsey Graham can be pursued regarding what was going on within the Obama Justice Department that led ultimately to using the Steele dossier in order to obtain a warrant from the FISA court.

SCIUTTO: Right --

RAY: Now, I understand, although we don't know, that the president was intending on taking that course and was advised by the deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that if he did that prior to the conclusion of the Mueller investigation, that would be perceived or could be perceived as an effort to obstruct justice.

Now that the Mueller investigation has concluded, that gives the president a little more latitude to declassify what otherwise --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

RAY: He would not have been --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

RAY: Politically be able to do.

SCIUTTO: Understood. Of course, Republicans still control that committee. Thanks very much Robert Ray, Susan Hennessey, much appreciate it. Attorney General Barr says it is case closed on collusion at least. So what is the strategy moving forward for Democrats and their many investigations.

And we're just moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Investors are watching, for signs of recession could be on the horizon. Plus, worries are growing over slowing global economic growth, we'll be right back.

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