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Rep. Jerry Nadler (D) New York plans to call Attorney General Barr to testify, Democrats demand to see full Mueller report, Barr: Mueller finds no Trump-Russia government conspiracy, but Russia clearly inteferred in U.S. elections, Barr intends to release as much as possible from report, DOJ Official: Mueller was not consulted on Barr letter, GOP feels vindicated, Dems frustrated, after Barr letter. Aired 10-10:30a ET
Aired March 25, 2019 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: In particular, democrats are questioning the conclusion reached not by Mueller but by Barr along with the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that, quote, the the evidence developed is not sufficient and, quote, to prove the president guilty of obstruction. Mueller, himself declined to make that judgment and wrote that the President should not be seen as exonerated on this charge. That is key.
At the least, the President's critics want to see the Mueller report for themselves and Barr is promising to release as much as the law allows consistent with grand jury secrecy and other concerns. We're following all the questions, all the repercussions at this hour. There are many of them.
Starting with our Senior Justice Correspondent, Evan Perez, so in the simplest terms, Evan, a clear no on collusion with Russia, a sort of in between answer on obstruction of justice.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Right. The fact that -- Jim, the fact that Mueller punted on the question of whether or not there was obstruction of justice by the President left it up to Bill Barr and Rod Rosenstein. And they landed on a final decision that said that they did not believe the President's actions, which they said, a lot of it was out in the public.
A lot of it, we saw with our own eyes, did not reach to the point where they could consider it to be obstruction of justice. And, of course, that leads to a lot of questions. We don't know why Mueller did not make a conclusion. He clearly was able to make a clear final answer on the question of collusion, which, of course, was the big question that was looming over the presidency of Donald Trump.
And I think it's important for us to read that one part. In Bill Barr's letter, he quotes directly from Mueller's report. He says, quote, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities. And let there be no doubt that this letter from Bill Barr and Mueller's report made clear once again that the Russians did interfere in the 2016 election. They tried to help Donald Trump get elected. The President has yet to really accept that answer, Jim, but that much is clear.
But as you pointed out, Bill Barr now says he is working. As a matter of fact, the Justice Department today is working on trying to find a way to release more of the Mueller report to members of Congress. One of the big things that they have to work on is to remove any grand jury information to make sure that that law is followed. But you can bet that members of Congress have a lot more questions. And we'll see probably Mueller, we'll see Barr and we'll see Rosenstein on the Hill before too long answering questions.
SCIUTTO: Evan Perez, we know you'll be following it. Thanks very much.
Now, the question is how much of the full Mueller report will be made public and when we the public might see it.
CNN's Jessica Schneider live at the Justice Department with more. Do we have a sense of the timeline? We understand that teams are already reviewing the full report to look for classified information, grand jury information, et cetera. Is that a matter of days, a matter of weeks before portions at least can be made public?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: The timing right now, Jim all in flux and a bit uncertain here, because we know the Attorney General made it clear in that letter to Congress that his goal and intent is to release as much of this confidential report as he can. But he has to, along with his team, clear really two significant hurdles here. This team has to look through the Special Counsel's report and determine what information in there still pertains to these ongoing investigations. They are all over the place, whether in the Southern District of New York or right here in D.C. with the U.S. Attorney's Office is handling. So that's first.
Secondly, they also have to look through this report and determine what information and materials in there were gleaned from the grand jury. This was a grand jury that was convened basically throughout Mueller's nearly two-year investigation. So they have to look into this because any release of grand jury material would be illegal. So that's something to take great care with.
So this is all happening. This team is now scrubbing this report. It's happening right here at the Justice Department. And this team really started almost immediately. We got word yesterday shortly after Barr's four-page letter to Congress that this team was assembled and going through this report to determine what had to be redacted.
As far as the timing on this, we're not sure. We're not sure how much will be redacted from this report, if and when it eventually gets released. But, of course, Jim, members of Congress are clamoring for the full release of this report. And, course, just yesterday, it was Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, who says not only that, not only does he want the entire report released, but he also said he plans to call the Attorney General, William Barr, to testify before his committee in short time. No exact timing on that either though.
SCIUTTO: Jessica, let me ask you a question. Is there clarity in the Special Counsel regulations for whose decision it is or should have been on obstruction of justice? Because in effect, the Special Counsel punted that question to the Attorney General, here is the evidence. And he cites in the report there is evidence on both sides but leaves the final decision to the Attorney General.
Is that clearly the way it should be done or is that a judgment call? Was that a judgment call by Robert Mueller?
SCHNEIDER: Well, this was all done in consultation with the Attorney General. I mean, this nearly on a two-year process here, Robert Mueller was briefing throughout this Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. So this was really done in conjunction here.
And it's interesting, when I talked to a Justice Department official this morning and asked her whether or not this decision to not ask to bring charges of obstruction of justice or not to bring obstruction of justice charges themselves was made initially solely by Bob Mueller or if the Attorney General in his last month here, because he has only been on the job for one month, whether or not Bill Barr may have weighed in, pressuring perhaps Robert Mueller not to bring obstruction of justice charges, this spokesperson told me that, no, this was Mueller's decision not to recommend bringing these obstruction of justice charges. And, obviously, Bill Barr followed through with that in making that final determination in conjunction with the Deputy Attorney General.
One other note. We saw the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, walking into the building today. He was asked, how are you feeling today? Even that, he said, no comment. So tight lips here, Jim.
SCIUTTO: And you say, it's your reporting that Mueller recommended not to pursue obstruction of justice charges, did not just leave it hanging out there for Barr?
SCHNEIDER: No. I talked to a Justice Department official and I asked was the Attorney General, in the past month that he has been here in the Justice Department, did he sort of weigh on Robert Mueller in making that decision not to bring or recommend bringing these obstruction of justice charges? And this official made clear to me that, no, this was Robert Mueller's decision, on his own, not to recommend that these charges be brought, not to bring these charges. There was no weighing in on the Attorney General on this part.
SCIUTTO: Okay. Jessica, that's material to this going forward. Jessica Schneider, thanks very much. President Trump, not surprisingly, taking a victory lap this morning. He was at it yesterday right away. A senior administration official says that there is a sense of vindication among the President and his team.
Joe Johns joins us with reaction from the White House. So that sense of vindication certainly not surprising. The question is what does that generate now, Joe? A more aggressive White House, pushing for investigations of the investigators? What are you hearing?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you're right. I mean, this is just about the best news cycle of the Trump presidency and the question is what happens next going forward? Will the White House call for investigations of people who said certain things on camera? And that issue was raised this morning to me by Kellyanne Conway when I asked about it. She said, well, perhaps people like Jim Comey, the former FBI Director, ought to get some more questions themselves.
And it's also true that the White House is not going to be able to stop beating the drum on the investigation simply because there are other investigations. There is one up on Capitol Hill. There is one at the Southern District of New York. And that also applies to this issue of obstruction that you've been talking about. Since Jim Comey punted, one of the biggest questions we have is, is it settled or not? Is the issue of obstruction on the President gone from view? That question posed this morning to Sarah Sanders. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I frankly disagree with you, and so does the Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General. The report found that they were unable to make a decision that went over to the Department of Justice where they did make a decision. The Attorney General followed the legal process. He worked with the Deputy Attorney General who has been involved since the very beginning of this two-year absurdity. And they made a decision that there was no obstruction. So that makes it a complete and total exoneration. I don't know any other way to look at it when the whole purpose of this investigation was to determine whether or not there was collusion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNS: So complete and total exoneration is what the White House is saying. Of course, the report suggests it is no exoneration. We are hoping to see the President today. He is meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the question, of course, is whether this is going to go public and the cameras are going to come in. We'll see.
Back to you, Jim.
SCIUTTO: Joe Johns at the White House, thanks very much.
As republicans praise the Barr's summary of the Mueller report, democrats say it's inadequate. They are demanding the full report and evidence supporting the findings and recommendation before they draw their own final conclusions.
For more on the latest reactions from Capitol Hill, let's speak with CNN's Congressional Correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty. So should we expect hearing subpoenas now from the Hill to Mueller, to Barr for the full report? Is this going to continue?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, it will. Democrats have been preparing for this fight. They have been waiting for this fight. And they are making it very clear that they are going to be very aggressive in the next phase of this battle, the battle for the information.
You see this narrative that democrats on Capitol Hill are already very eagerly crafting around the release of Bill Barr's summary. They are calling it nothing but a four-page document, insufficient, saying it's just an interpretation of Barr. And you can see the narrative reflected in their public statements, people saying that the letter raises as many questions as it does answers, that the American people deserve the Mueller report, not just the Barr report, and saying it's inadequate and demonstrates why Congress needs to obtain the full report that, very clear, that democrats are going to be pushing not only for the full release of the Mueller report but also importantly the underlying evidence, underlying materials that Bob Mueller used in his own investigation.
Now, we have heard from Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler. He says he could potentially subpoena Mueller's report. He also has been very clear he wants to see Bill Barr up here on Capitol Hill testifying, and likely, in addition, Robert Mueller as well. Democrats are really zeroing in specifically on the fact that Mueller didn't exonerate Trump over obstruction of justice. And I think that will certainly be very important going forward as they have their own investigations going on outside of this on Capitol Hill. Jim?
SCIUTTO: It won't stop. Sunlen Serfaty, thanks very much. We know you're going to stay on top of it.
Still to come are parties now in the works for Trump associates who were convicted of federal crimes due to the Mueller probe?
Plus, democrats are vowing to continue their investigations of the President. Could that hurt them potentially in 2020?
And Russia is still on hold on the hook rather for meddling in the 2016 and 2018 elections. What is being done to stop them as we approach 2020?
[10:15:00] [10:16:04] SCIUTTO: With Robert Mueller finding that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, are Pardons on the way for allies of the President, such as Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, who were caught up in the Special Counsel's investigation, found guilty or pleaded guilty to federal crimes.
Let's discuss with Michael Zeldin, Robert Mueller's former special assistant at the Department of Justice, and Michael Moore, former U.S. Attorney.
Michael, if I could begin with on the question of pardons, because, as always, there is history here. Bill Barr served as Attorney General under George H.W. Bush following the Iran-Contra investigation. And at the time, he recommended that President Bush pardon several of the chief people involved in that scandal. Does that indicate to you that he might do the same thing here?
MICHALE ZELDIN, ROBERT MUELLER's FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT AT DOJ: It seemed to me yesterday when he spoke twice before boarding Air Force One and when he got off of the helicopter that he thought that this was a witch hunt, obviously, but that the whole process was just so corrupt that I think it gave him the foundation to say, you know what, they found nothing as to me. All these other people that were caught up in all these process crimes, I'm going to get them pardoned.
The one question I don't know the answer to is Manafort because Manafort was not a process crime. His was not like Papadopoulos or Flynn, which was lying about something that was underlying, not criminal. So I would be worried if I were Manafort that I might not get it. But as for the others, I might be encouraged.
SCIUTTO: And process gone on, by the way, is lying to folks who you shouldn't lie to. We should note that.
Michael Moore, you said that on the obstruction question here, which is the one that the Special Counsel, in effect, left open, citing evidence on both sides, you believe that his intention, Mueller's intention was to leave the determination not to Bill Barr, the President's appointed Attorney General, but to Congress. Why do you believe that? And is that power now, in effect, been usurped?
MICHAEL MOORE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: I don't know it has been usurped. I mean, I did think it was an interesting part of the letter that we saw from Barr to Congress. I've have heard several times on air this morning, we've heard about Mueller punting, did he punt on this question? I don't know that he really punted more than he did a handoff to Congress. And what he insisted is that he drew the issue. I mean, he said, look, i don't know. I'm not going to exonerate him. But here is what I have.
And remember that he was governed and guided by the rules of the Department of Justice and in consultation with the department throughout. So there are regulations that talk about who ultimately has the authority. I think the trick is going to be, at this point, if the democrats decide to look at it, they don't need to play it as if they are trying to run a Hail Mary. But they really need to take it as a handoff and look at it carefully and make a decision. I thought that the wording was unique and just the way that Barr put that question in his short memo to Congress seems to me to justify the calls and the request that the full report be made public and turned over, and as well as accompanying evidence.
SCIUTTO: So, Michael Zeldin, I'm going to continue the football metaphor here, punts, handoffs. I wonder, based on presenting evidence from both sides in his report to Barr, does that indicate to you that there was kind of disagreement in the huddle here as they were coming to the end of the report whether even Mueller's team couldn't make a decision or Mueller's team in conjunction with the Justice Department couldn't make a decision, unanimous decision on whether there was obstruction?
ZELDIN: I think that is right, Jim. I think we have here is the Office of Special Counsel wanting to proceed with a theory of obstruction of justice, which was this mosaic of lots of little parts, even though some of them were in plain view, some of which included things that the President could do constitutionally. I believe that Mueller's team or at least components of Mueller's team wanted to proceed with that theory.
But they couldn't convince justice to proceed that way. And then they ultimately deferred to justice under the regulations to let justice make the final call.
I'm not sure that I agree with that approach. I think if perhaps if Mueller felt that he really wanted to go forward with the obstruction theory, he should have pushed for a subpoena and proceeded. And this, I think, Jim, is a failure in the Special Counsel regulations. If there were an independent counsel statute, then Mueller would not be obligated to consult with DOJ and he would have a singularly able to make this decision.
But under this system that they have now, the independent counsel, the Special Counsel, is not really independent. And we saw that play out where Mueller says, I don't know what to do, you guys have a different opinion than I and I'll let it up to you.
SCIUTTO: Do you, Michael Moore, agree that this was -- I mean, you said you don't see it as a punt, but do you agree that it's a fault then in the Special Counsel's regulations as they are set up?
MOORE: I think that is probably right. But I also see there's some strange confluence of events happening here in the last few months, and that is you've got a new Attorney General who's coming in now overseeing the investigation. He has not recused himself from it.
But remember that early on, he sent this unsolicited memo questioning whether or not the Special Counsel is even appropriate on whether or not a President can be convicted of obstruction. So you've got the Special Counsel trying to work within the regulations that he has now overseen by somebody who's predisposed against charging the President to start with. So it looks to me like what he did, he said, look, my hands are going to be tied and I'm not going to give you what you want, DOJ and Mr. President. But what I am going to do is say that you are not exonerated and then we'll let the chips fall where they may. And that's why I think it could be a handoff to Congress.
SCIUTTO: And that's pretty strong wording from the Special Counsel to say the President is not exonerated of obstruction of justice. That is no small thing.
Michael Zeldin, Michael Moore, my two favorite Michaels on this issue, thanks very much.
MOORE: Right. Good to be with you.
SCIUTTO: We're going to stay on it.
Robert Mueller's report clears the President of collusion but says Russia clearly set out to help get him elected. That is no small thing either. More on how the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election, how they're continuing to attempt to do so, that's next
[10:26:56] SCIUTTO: Welcome back. According to the Attorney General, Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report clearly says there was no collusion but that does not the end very real threat of Russian interference in American elections going forward. The report found that Russians uses social media to spread disinformation with the aim of interfering with the 2016 election and helping Donald Trump win.
Mueller says that Russia stole emails from the Clinton campaign and Democratic Party then spread those emails through groups including WikiLeaks.
Joining me now, former Director of Communications for the U.S. National Intelligence, Sean Turner, and Steve Hall, he's a retired CIA Chief of Russia operations.
Steve, if I could begin with you, notable in the summary of the Mueller report, Attorney General Bill Barr notes that Russian affiliated groups made multiple offers to help the Trump campaign. As we know already in public, at least one of the offers, that famous Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 was accepted though apparently nothing came out of it. I wonder from a propaganda point of view, a foreign adversary interfering in the U.S. election makes multiple offers and are not immediately rebuffed, is that helpful to that foreign power? Is that a propaganda win for Russia?
STEVE HALL, RETIRED CIA CHIEF OF RUSSIA OPERATIONS: Jim, I think there is a couple of wins here for the Russians. What you just mentioned, I think, would be at least perceived by them to be a win. And I think their perception is a really important thing to focus on as we all sort of, here in the United States, start looking and imparsing [ph] the Barr letter and then the Mueller report itself. And on the Russian side, I think what they have learned from this experience is that they look ahead to continue their hybrid [ph] work, which is one of the things that they have really perfected over the past couple of years, how to attack a foreign adversary like the United States with not unconventional weapons but other ways, using propaganda, as you say, and other methodologies.
I think they have learned that there is actually a much larger universe of things that they can do and actually get away with than they thought before. I think when they say, the Mueller report, they say, well, look, it's obvious from the report that they found out -- they, the Americans, found out that, we, the Russians did indeed made several offers, reached out to the Trump campaign. And at the end of the day, there is a long investigation and, really, so far, nothing has happened. And so I think that will increase the likelihood that they will move forward aggressively in the future certainly in 2020 to try to do similar types of things as they did by the Mueller report's own admission in 2016.
SCIUTTO: That's a key point. I do want to come back to that. But before we get there, just -- because there was an interesting detail, Sean Turner, in this report. The Barr summary, we should that's a summary, it's not the full report, says that Mueller did not establish that the Russian government specifically and Trump or Trump campaign officials did not cooperate here. Does that -- and I don't want to read too much into that either, but does that exclude other Russians who came up during this investigation who were private individuals but with ties to the Kremlin? Did you read that as an important distinction?
SEAN TURNER, FORMER DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATION, U.S. NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: No. I think it is an extremely important distinction. I mean, Mueller answered the question of whether or not there was collusion between the President and administration.