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Rep. Ro Khanna (D) California is Interviewed about Democratic Claims of Collusion; Supreme Court Declines Mystery Mueller Case; Mueller Stopped Short of Exoneration of Obstruction; Israel Blames Hamas for Rocket Strike. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired March 25, 2019 - 09:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:31:47] JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Now that Robert Mueller is done, Democrats are vowing to continue their own investigations into this president, but some are pointing out the risk in that strategy because of the credibility hit they are already taking after months of statements like this one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D), CHAIRMAN, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: You can see evidence in plain sight on the issue of collusion, pretty compelling evidence.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D), CHAIRMAN, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: It's clear that the campaign colluded. There's a lot of evidence of that. The question is, was the president involved? Did he know about it?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Clear evidence?

Joining us now to speak about this, how Democrats move forward, Congressman Ro Khanna. He's a Democrat of California and a member of the House Oversight Committee.

Congressman, thanks for taking the time this morning.

REP. RO KHANNA (D), CALIFORNIA: Jim, thanks for having me on.

SCIUTTO: So first, big picture here. As you know, the special counsel has cleared the president and his advisers on what was really the most central question of this investigation, and that is whether he or members of his team conspired with a foreign power to interfere in the 2016 election. A clear answer, no. I'm curious, do you believe that Democrats unfairly held this allegation over his head for two years without sufficient evidence to back it up?

KHANNA: Jim, I don't. There are two reasons why.

First, the Mueller report concludes unambiguously that the Russians tried to interfere in our election, that they wanted Donald Trump to win. It was very fair for the American people to have an investigation to look into that.

Second, Bob Mueller --

SCIUTTO: But not with the president's help. He's very clear about the Russians interfering without the president's or his advisers' help.

KHANNA: That's true. There was not evidence beyond a reasonable doubt that the president conspired with the Russians. And I take Mueller's report at face value. I haven't read it, but if that's the conclusion, I think we have to rely and trust on Mueller's judgment.

But it's very important that Mueller did not exonerate the president on obstruction of justice. In fact, after two years of investigation, Mueller said he couldn't make a determination. And it's highly concerning that what Mueller couldn't do after two years, the attorney general thinks he can do after two days. So the president --

SCIUTTO: OK, I want to get -- I do want to get to the obstruction point, because there are two important findings. But before we get there, on the question of collusion, because just hours before Barr's summary of the Mueller report came out, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who you know well, Adam Schiff, he said it -- he said that he has seen, quote, significant evidence of collusion.

What is that significant evidence?

KHANNA: Well, I can't speak for Chairman Schiff.

What I can say is that there's a different standard for Mueller, which is to look beyond a reasonable doubt and what constitutes a crime versus whether there were any efforts behind the Trump administration or the -- I mean the Trump campaign to work with the Russians.

But I haven't seen that evidence. I'm just going to go based on the Mueller report. And I'm much more focused on the Russian interference. And I'll take Mueller's conclusions at face value. I have tremendous respect for his integrity.

SCIUTTO: But if such a senior member of your party has said that, and you saw Jerry Nadler make a similar comment, again, just within the last 24 hours, shouldn't the Democratic leadership release such evidence so that folks know what lead them to make such public allegations against the president?

[09:35:03] KHANNA: Well, Jim, I think that's why we're calling for the release of the Mueller report. If the Mueller report has evidence that there were certain ties with Russia, then it will come out. And if not, the Mueller report is going to be definitive. So that's exactly the reason why we need the Mueller report and the documentation released so that the public can make a determination.

SCIUTTO: All right.

OK, on the obstruction issue, you're right, and as we've reported for the last half hour, the Mueller team, the Mueller report was less definitive on obstruction, in fact, saying it found evidence on both sides, left that decision to Bill Barr.

I'm curious if you believe that was the right decision. Should it not be Congress' decision -- and there is an interpretation that perhaps that's what Robert Mueller intended -- but should it be Congress' decision rather than Bill Barr, the president's appointee, as to whether there's sufficient evidence for obstruction?

KHANNA: Well, Robert Mueller, I don't think, left the decision to Bill Barr. The only person who thinks it's Bill Barr's decision is Bill Barr. My understanding is that Robert Mueller presented both sides and the evidence on both sides. He had the humility not to want to make a determination on that, given the stakes for the country. And my sense is he intended for Congress to debate that and Congress to make that judgment. It's our constitutional responsibility.

So the person who I think is in the wrong here is Bill Barr, who gave himself the authority to make a determination when it seems that what Mueller wants us to do is have that debate in Congress.

SCIUTTO: OK.

Let me ask you now, let's set aside, if we can, the law for a moment here and let's talk pragmatism, let's talk politics here.

KHANNA: Sure.

SCIUTTO: One thing that we have noted at this network is that Democratic candidates on the campaign trail for 2020, they're not getting asked a lot about -- or at all at times about the Russia investigation. And CNN's most recent polling on voters' priorities, we'll put these numbers up on the screen here but I'll read them to you since you can't see them, congressman, is that the Russia investigation ranks at the bottom, well below the economy, health care, corruption, gun policy, immigration, President Trump himself, trade policy and taxes. I should note, this came just before the most recent midterm elections, but indicative.

I wonder, from your perspective, do you think it would be smart for Democrats to move on from the Russia investigation and focus on legislative priorities now?

KHANNA: Well, Jim, we are focused on legislative priorities. And I completely agree with you, what people care about the most, what people care in my district is, how are they going to get good paying jobs? How are they going to get health care? What we are doing with gun violence, especially in light of these awful suicides that we're hearing about of the Parkland kids. What are we doing about the environment? This is what matters to people on a day-to-day basis. And the Democrats do have an agenda on this. But that doesn't mean that we stop doing our constitutional duty of oversight. We can walk and chew gum at the same time, and I think people expect that.

SCIUTTO: But do people want you to do the chewing gum part of this? It just strikes me again that the polling is so clear here. There's exhaustion. I'm sure you've talked to folks. I speak to folks out in the fields, you know, in restaurants, you meet them in airports who say, listen, enough already. And I'm curious if you're hearing the same thing and if you're concerned that Democrats are going to overplay investigations and lose voters as a result?

KHANNA: I'm not because Nancy Pelosi has been so careful and deliberate about this. She has said there will never be a rush to removing the president through impeachment. What she has said is that we need to have a legislative agenda, but that we need to look into things such as, are there abuses of office or financial fraud which the Southern District of New York is looking into. Did people in the administration benefit because of policy and what are their ties overseas? That's natural oversight. It was done in the Obama administration. It was done in the Clinton administration. That's the job of Congress. And I think the American people understand that it's why we have a separation of government.

SCIUTTO: Congressman Ro Khanna, it's good to have you on this morning.

KHANNA: Thank you for having me, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well, President Trump says that he is exonerated after the Mueller report found no collusion. Legally, he's in the clear, but is he still in jeopardy politically?

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[09:43:29] SCIUTTO: This just in to CNN. The Supreme Court has declined to take up a mystery grand jury case related to the Mueller investigation.

Let's go live to CNN's Ariane de Vogue.

Ariane, to be clear, not taking it up means that it proceeds, right?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: It proceeds at the lower -- at a lower court level. The Supreme Court is not going to hear this case. It was a mystery company. And we know at one point it was related to the Mueller investigation. And we know that federal prosecutors had began looking at it, which suggests perhaps that the Mueller team referred this to these federal prosecutors.

But again, this case, Jim, has been shrouded in secrecy from the beginning. We got court papers that were blacked out. At one point we didn't even know the identity of some of the lawyers. But what we do know is that last year a federal grand jury subpoenaed this company that's foreign owned. The company said it would not comply. It lost in the lower courts. It asked the Supreme Court to take it up. The Supreme Court said today that it would not. So that, for the company, is the end of the line as far as the courts go.

SCIUTTO: Arianne de Vogue, thanks so much for staying on top of it.

Meanwhile, the Mueller report is raising more questions than it answers, especially given that Mueller stopped short of exonerating the president on obstruction of justice.

Let's speak now to Garrett Graff. He is author of "The Threat Matrix: Inside Robert Mueller's FBI and the War on Global Terror."

Garrett, great to have you on. We've been talking about this investigation for some time and you've been very deep into it.

[09:45:04] To be clear here, the special counsel was definitive on the issue at least of Russian collusion. Collusion with Russia, conspiracy, whatever word you want to use. By any determination, that is a relief and a win for this president, is it not?

GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Jim, I also think, by the way, it's a win for the country. You know, I think we sort of look at this too closely sometimes in political terms only. But, you know, the fact that the president of the United States did not collude with our leading traditional adversary to -- in the midst of the 2016 president election by all measures is good for the United States as a whole. And I think that that's -- that's one of the things that we have to mark and, you know, might be too strong of a word to say celebrate since that should never be the assumption. But, you know, the fact that both -- we saw that there is no provable collusion here, and that Mueller was allowed to finish out his investigation on his own terms is also, I think, important to mark at this point.

SCIUTTO: No question.

GRAFF: Maybe those two things are setting the bar too low, but I think it's important to mark that.

SCIUTTO: No, for sure, for the rule of law, there was great concern throughout that the Mueller investigation was under threat, that the president might fire him, throw up other road blocks. So very fair point.

Second issue, of course, from the -- at least Barr's summary of the special counsel's report is that -- is that Mueller was not clear on whether there was obstruction of justice, saying that there was evidence on both sides. I just want to share a tweet that John Dean, who, of course, served as counsel to President Nixon during Watergate and pleaded to a crime there, he said the following. He said, having to read William Barr's June 2018 memo critiquing Mueller's obstruction investigation and now his summary of Mueller's report, it is clear that Richard Nixon would not have been forced to resign his office if Barr had been attorney general. Barr wants a POTUS above the law.

Is that an undue criticism there that Barr, who long criticized an obstruction of justice case against this president prior to his appointment, in effect ran defense here?

GRAFF: And I think the answer is, we don't know until we see the report. You know, I do think it is quite notable for someone who at -- is as conservative traditionally by precedent as Robert Mueller, the fact that he went out of his way in the report to say that the report does not exonerate the president is probably as close as we're going to see Bob Mueller get to sort of a Comey-esque statement from, you know, Comey's press conference in July 2016 about Hillary Clinton and the e-mails. I mean Mueller was sort of never going to come out and attack someone virulently for non-criminal behavior. But he -- it is worth noting that he didn't go -- that he did go out

of his way to say that it didn't exonerate him.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and it's a good point, that that moment Comey in 2016 where he said, listen, you know, it doesn't meet the prosecutorial bar, which is, in effect, what Mueller is saying, but then called her reckless, et cetera. Mueller is no Comey in this case.

Garrett Graff, thanks very much. We know we're going to continue the conversation.

In other news we're following this morning, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is promising swift action after a rocket strikes a home in Israel. We will have a live report from there, next.

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[09:52:55] SCIUTTO: Today Israel is blaming Hamas for a rocket strike that hit a home near Tel Aviv, injuring seven people. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced overnight that he is cutting short his visit to Washington today. The attack increasing tensions ahead of a high stakes election in Israel.

CNN's Oren Liebermann joins me now.

There have been multiple attempted attacks, have there not, in recent weeks, but this one hits a home there injuring seven.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This has hit a home right here behind me. You can see the damage it did to his home. As you pointed out, seven people were injured in this rocket attack.

And this is the farthest a rocket has been fired from Gaza into Israel since the end of the 2014 war. And that is key here. As you point out, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in Washington. He was supposed to meet with President Donald Trump, as well as congressional leaders, and then speak at AIPAC. He will cut that short. He will still meet Trump but then will immediately head back here. Let's not forget, he is prime minister and defense minister. His presence here is crucial.

He has promised a forceful response and a swift response and I suspect we will begin to see that later on tonight. We haven't yet. So far everything since the rocket landing here and destroying this home, wounding those inside, has been relatively quiet, but there is little doubt here that Israel will issue that response. Perhaps waiting for sunset. Which, at this point, is a few hours away.

So far Israel has already closed two of the border crossings into Gaza and limited the fishing zone, as well as closed some of the areas to military zones outside of Gaza, perhaps in anticipation of the response and perhaps more rockets coming out of Gaza as this escalates and if it escalates.

Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes, I mean, when you look at the damage to that house there, it's amazing that people survived.

Finally, just quickly, is Hamas claiming credit for this rocket strike?

SCIUTTO: We just got a statement a short time ago. Hamas is, in fact, denying responsibility, saying they have no reason to fire a rocket right. And if they want to escalate the situation, it will be with more than just a rocket. So Hamas issuing a denial which opens up the question of, if not Hamas, who is it that did fire this rocket and why? Two questions we still don't have answers to at this point. But, Jim, as you rightly point out, the IDF, Israel's military, says it is a Hamas rocket and it is Hamas that fired that rocket. So we'll see where the explanation for the rocket goes from here.

[09:55:07] SCIUTTO: Oren Lieberman on the scene there, thanks very much.

Well, we have all seen the summary now. When, if, will we get to see the full Mueller report? It's an open question.

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SCIUTTO: Top of the hour now this Monday morning. I'm Jim Sciutto in New York. Poppy has the week off.

President Trump is starting his first work week in 22 months without the cloud of a special counsel investigation hanging over his head. But while he and his aides and legal team are claiming total vindication on both collusion and obstruction of justice, Democrats are not convinced.

[09:59:54] Job one for the House Judiciary Committee is to grill the attorney general, Bill Barr, over his four page summary of Robert Mueller's still confidential full report. In particular, Democrats are questioning the conclusion reached, not by Mueller, but by Barr, along with the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

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