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Mueller Couldn't Reach Decision on Obstruction; Trump and Netanyahu News Conference; Trump Signs Golan Heights Proclamation; Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired March 25, 2019 - 12:00   ET



[12:00:24] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. Thanks very much for joining us for this special edition of INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. John King has the day off.

New details emerging just in to CNN on the Russian special counsel investigation. The attorney general said yesterday that Robert Mueller did not decide on the big question, did the president of the United States obstruct justice. Now CNN is learning new information about when and how Robert Mueller revealed he would not weigh in on that very, very sensitive, explosive question.

Our justice correspondent, Evan Perez, is joining us right now.

So, Evan, tell us what we've learned.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is very important, new information, because the very fact that the obstruction question remains still a looming question over the end of this investigation. And what we're told, and Laura Jarrett, our reporter at the Justice Department was told by a source, that about three weeks ago the attorney general Rod -- the attorney general, Bill Barr, and the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, were briefed by the Mueller team on this investigation, and they were surprised to learn that Mueller was not going to be able to reach a conclusion as to whether or not obstruction of justice had occurred by the president.

So, again, this was something as -- something that came somewhat unexpected to the attorney general and the deputy attorney general. They had --

BLITZER: All right, hold on one moment. The president of the United States, the prime minister of Israel, are about to speak.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Please, come. Come. Sir, come, please. Everybody. They can come. It's a big moment. A very important moment.

It's my honor to welcome Prime Minister Netanyahu to the White House. He's a very special man. He's done a great job.

I want to begin by expressing our condolences to the prime minister and the people of Israel for the horrific Hamas rocket attack on Israeli homes this morning which wounded seven civilians, at least, including numerous children. Our prayers are with our friends in Israel as they carry out an incredible way of life in the face of great terror.

The United States recognizes Israel's absolute right to defend itself.


[12:14:52] BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: So on behalf of all the people of Israel, thank you, President Trump. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for your friendship. And thank you for all you have done to make the alliance between America and Israel stronger and greater than ever.

Thank you, Mr. President.

TRUMP: Thank you very much.

Thank you very much (INAUDIBLE).

So this was a long time in the making. It should have taken place many decades ago. Maybe you can give this to the people of Israel.

NETANYAHU: Thank you.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) after signing this proclamation, after recognizing Judaism (ph), will you (INAUDIBLE) will you deal of the century (ph) include separation of Jerusalem? Will you give Palestinians --

TRUMP: Well, we're talking right now. We're talking about this.

Thank you very much. Thank you, everybody.

QUESTION: Will Israel have to say something in order to have this?

QUESTION: Would you -- do you want to see Prime Minister Netanyahu (INAUDIBLE)?

NETANYAHU: Mr. President, I have to tell you that I bought you a case of the finest wine from the Golan. I understand you're not a great wine drinker, but could I give it to your staff?

TRUMP: Yes, you can.

QUESTION: Mr. President, do you want --

NETANYAHU: I hope they don't open it (INAUDIBLE).

QUESTION: Mr. President, do you want --

QUESTION: Do you think Robert Mueller acted honorary (ph)?

QUESTION: Mr. President, do you want to see the prime minister -- do you want to see the prime minister of Israel (INAUDIBLE) -- (CROSS TALK)

TRUMP: Yes. Yes.


BLITZER: The prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, getting the official word from the president of the United States, Donald Trump, that the Golan Heights will now be formally officially recognized under Israeli sovereignty as a result of this signing of this declaration of this proclamation by the president for the past 52 years since the 1967 war. The Golan Heights were considered by U.S. administrations, by U.S. presidents as occupied territory. Israel captured the Golan Heights curing the six day war against Syria. But now the U.S. considers the Golan Heights officially part of Israeli.

Kaitlan Collins, our White House correspondent, was watching closely. Our senior diplomatic correspondent Michelle Kosinski is over at the AIPAC conference. That's ongoing here in Washington as well. Gloria Borger is here with me. And, you know, it's interesting, Kaitlan, the prime minister of Israel, who's facing, within two weeks, a re- election in Israel, potentially, said Israel has never had a better friend than you, looking at the president of the United States. There's a real clear almost love affair between these two guys.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Certainly, Wolf, and it has been that kind of a chummy relationship since President Trump took office.

Now, as he sat down there to sign that proclamation, you heard the president say that this was a long time in the making. Now, critics have said -- raised questions about whether or not the president was recognizing Golan Heights as Israeli territory because Netanyahu is up for reelection in just a matter of weeks and it's one of his toughest re-election battles that he's ever faced.

Now, some say this is a boost for him in that re-election. It certainly could be a boost to him. But the president has denied that recognizing this as Israeli territory is tied to that election. Of course you can't ignore that this visit happens. This is certainly something that Netanyahu would like to highlight before that election does take place. And certainly the president recognizing this could provide a boost to him in that re-election effort. So that will be the question going forward.

Now, they're set to meet today. They have a meeting after this, after that brief signing ceremony there in the diplomatic room here at the White House, but they were scheduled to have a dinner, but Netanyahu said he's cutting his trip short because of that rocket. So he won't be in the U.S. as long as planned. But you can't deny, Wolf, the timing that this visit is taking place just two weeks before he's up for re-election.

BLITZER: Certainly the timing very, very significant. Presumably he's going to give Benjamin Netanyahu a boost in his effort to get himself re-elected on April 9th. Michelle Kosinski, you're over there at the American Israel Public

Affairs Committee, the annual conference that they're having here in Washington, the pro-Israel lobbying organization. I assume they're pretty excited about what the president has just done.

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CNN SENIOR DIPLOMATIC CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there was talk about that. I mean we won't here from Netanyahu any more here since he is going straight back to Israel. We heard from his opponent, though, this morning, his speech was all about unity. But with a lack of Netanyahu being here and President Trump not being here, it seemed like Vice President Mike Pence made up for both of them. He hit all the points that President Trump likes to hit, the threat from Iran.

Although, I will say, something that was striking with what the president just said there alongside Netanyahu is something we've heard from him before. He said that -- that Iran is a much different place now since he pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal. An analyst would argue with that, that Iran's posture regionally has not changed, and domestically, if anything, it has become more repressive on descent. Still, that's a point that he likes to hit.

[12:20:16] And here at AIPAC, Mike Pence got -- got big applause, multiple standing ovations. He hit upon what he terms anti-Semitism, even in the halls of Congress. He didn't mention Democratic freshman Ilhan Omar by name, but he was clearly referring to her. And he talked about all of the things that President Trump has done for Israel.

And the timing of this could not be more stark seeing President Trump doing this and announcing this, signing it alongside Netanyahu, as he is only days away from his tough election facing additional charges of corruption. I mean this is the -- this is the exact opposite of what we saw during the Obama administration.


BLITZER: You know, Michelle, stand by.

Gloria Borger, you know, you've been watching this as closely as anyone right now. This unique relationship that these two leaders have established that Netanyahu comes here, he's going back early to Israel because of this rocket attack north of Tel Aviv.


BLITZER: But you could see that relationship very, very evident during that photo op.

BORGER: Well, and I think they believe that it's mutually beneficial. Don't forget, it wasn't that long ago that the president said Democrats hate the Jewish people because of the trouble that Democrats had in agreeing on a resolution condemning anti-Semitism in the House of Representatives. So the president took that opportunity to try and appeal to Jewish voters. This is another opportunity, obviously, to do that. And as everyone was pointing out before, this could also help Netanyahu back at home. So it's mutual. They believe it helps both of them. And I think that

they were, you know, happy to be there on the podium together. And now Netanyahu will go back and claim that, you know, Donald Trump loves us and that we have never had a better friend, and he is my best friend, so therefore you should vote for me.

BLITZER: Yes. and the president says that Democrats are anti-Israel, anti-Jewish --


BLITZER: Which certainly is not true.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: Kaitlan, at the end of the signing ceremony, just before the president left, he was asked a question about the Mueller investigation. I didn't exactly hear what the reporter said, but you did.

COLLINS: Yes, Wolf, he was asked a question. We're talking about the similarities between the president and Netanyahu and they both kind of had scandals that have followed them during their time in office.

Now, the president had very good news yesterday with the release of the key findings from Mueller's report. And, of course, this comes as there are new allegations of corruption surrounding Netanyahu, who is honestly, clearly hoping to have a similar outcome to the president.

Now, the president was in there. He did not bring up Robert Mueller at the end. But then a reporter asked the president, according to the TV print pool, Jon Karl, who was in the room, said, do you think Robert Mueller acted honorably? Now, that question comes, of course, as the president has spent over the last year attacking Robert Mueller and the investigators on his team and even was continuing to do so yesterday after the report cleared the president and his campaign of collusion with Russia when he called it an illegal hoax. But then, during this spray there when he was asked, did Robert Mueller act honorably, the president, according to the TV pool, said yes he did. So that seems to be a new tone from the president speaking about Robert Mueller now that this report has come out in his favor compared to what he has spent the last several months saying and the last several weeks, even, and as he's been quizzing his advisers about what they believed the outcome of this investigation was going to be.

BLITZER: A lot of people are recommending the president formally apologized to Robert Mueller for some of the things he said over these past two years.

We're going to have a lot more on this part of the story. That's coming up.

Kaitlan, don't go too far away.

We're also getting new details just coming into CNN. When did the special counsel, Robert Mueller, actually tell the attorney general, Bill Barr, he was not going to weigh in on the very sensitive matter of whether the president of the United States obstructed justice?


[12:28:06] BLITZER: The breaking news this hour, a source telling CNN that Russia Special Counsel Robert Mueller gave the attorney general a heads-up some three weeks ago that he would not be able to reach a conclusion on one of the biggest questions in his nearly two-year investigation, did the president of the United States obstruct justice?

Let's bring in our reporters and our experts. Joining us now, our crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz, our senior White House correspondent Pamela Brown, once again our chief political analyst Gloria Borger, and our CNN legal analyst Shan Wu.

So, Pamela, let's talk about this. This is major news that some three weeks ago Mueller said, you know what, I can't decide. It's up to you.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I would love to learn more about what was happening behind the scenes and why Mueller decided to punt to the attorney general, Bill Barr. It makes you wonder if because he never got that sit-down interview, he was never approved for the subpoena reporting as he wanted it, that basically he just said, OK, I'm going to leave the conclusion to you.

I always thought, you know, a lot of the criticism has been, oh, well, Bill Barr only had 48 hours to make this determination. Well, now we know, according to our reporting from Laura Jarrett, that, no, he's known for a few weeks what the situation was and he's been briefed from the get-go for the last month or so on what evidence they had on obstruction of justice.

And so in that sense, you know, he did have the time to lay out in his letter yesterday to Congress about why he did not think there was sufficient evidence to make an obstruction of justice case. And, frankly, we already knew that even before on the memo he had sent before he was attorney general --

BORGER: Right.

BROWN: Saying that the investigation overall was fatally misconceived, and is, as we expected, we predicted is what Democrats have been seizing on, that Trump's hand-picked attorney general and Rod Rosenstein, who wrote the letter that was -- helped in the firing of James Comey are conflicted and they shouldn't have been the one to make the determination.

[12:29:56] BLITZER: You know, in the letter that he sent to Congress yesterday, Bill Barr, he specifically quotes the special counsel, Robert Mueller, as saying, while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime.