Return to Transcripts main page


The Mueller Report; Trump Remarks on Mueller Report Findings; Democrats Plan Next Steps After Mueller Summary Released; Rep. Don Beyer (D) Virginia is Interviewed About the Mueller Report and Trump. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 25, 2019 - 12:30   ET


[12:30:01] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: 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 on obstruction of justice, it also does not exonerate him.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Yes, that is the most puzzling line obviously in all of this and what's created this mess, and where you're seeing now officials at the Department of Justice by -- we're reporting today are trying to clean this up a little bit. It's a very puzzling line because he's left -- he left it so open-ended, you can't get any more open-ended now. And where they're so clear on the collusion aspect of this, they're not clear on the obstruction aspect.

The bottom line is, this is it, right? No matter we can all argue what this means and lawyers can argue back and forth. The Department of Justice, that's the key here, has cleared the president of any wrongdoing, of any criminal wrongdoing.


PROKUPECZ: Both of those.


PROKUPECZ: And the other person you have to keep in mind here is Rod Rosenstein and the role that he has played in all of this. He was managing this investigation, he was running it, he was making decisions on it, and so he very much was involved in this question of obstruction way before the attorney general, way before Bill Barr came into play here. Bill Barr was simply presented with the facts, he agreed with them, and this is where we are.

BROWN: It's interesting because, in light of our reporting about the subpoena discussions, we know now in this memo where Rosenstein stood.


BROWN: He did not believe that there was enough there in the obstruction case, and so it does make you wonder. One last question I was asking -- one last thing I want to say is I was asking someone, why would Barr put this in a memo yesterday about Mueller didn't exonerate him? And this person said, he knew he couldn't have it because this report, the Mueller report could be made public one day.

BLITZER: So, you know, Shan, I just want to get your legal perspective because in this four-page letter that Bill Barr, the attorney general sent to Congress yesterday, he said since the -- Robert Mueller could not make a decision on obstruction of justice, handing it over to him, they consulted -- he consulted obviously with the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, but also consulted with the department officials, including the Office of Legal Counsel before they concluded, they concluded that -- I have concluded that the evidence developed during the special counsel is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction of justice offense.


BLITZER: So it's not just Rod Rosenstein, it's also the Office of Legal Counsel and other department officials who advised that you go ahead and make the decision?

WU: Yes. Barr has been A.G. before, he knows how to cover himself. That's how you do it at the Justice Department, you get buy-in from the different divisions, so he did that. This was tailor-made for him. This was exactly the hypothetical he raised in his memo. So whether you give him three weeks or three months, he knew where he's coming out on this.

But I think it's important to note that what Mueller said was -- or what they're saying he said was, he would not, not cannot, not I'm deferring, raises a lot of questions. We don't know how that conversation went with Barr. Did he say to the attorney general, I think it's appropriate for you to decide? Did he simply say he wouldn't be reaching a conclusion because, for example, way too much conflicting evidence?

BORGER: Or did Mueller feel like he wasn't going to weigh in, you know, that he knew from his conversations, perhaps, his informal conversations with Rod Rosenstein how he felt about a subpoena for the president testifying. He knew he was going to lose on that one, so he didn't go there. And then he knew where Barr stood, obviously, because of the 2018 memo that Pamela's been talking about where he called this area of obstruction fatally misconceived and illegally insupportable reading of the law.

And so, what he did was he punted which I believe is strange for Robert Mueller. This is not the way he operates. There is a back story here, and I think it goes to the question of the president testifying before Mueller, and we have to kind of unravel all of that as we continue to report here.

BLITZER: He only was willing to answer questions in writing but there was never a formal Q&A interview.

BORGER: About obstruction, yes. PROKUPECZ: But you have to question the evidence that they have o obstruction if their only evidence would be what the president would say. So initially -- essentially the president would have to incriminate himself. Then you have to wonder, what do they have? What do they have on obstruction?

If they had more, then we would have seen perhaps maybe charges, or we would have seen something. But if the idea that they needed the president's words to bring charges against the president, I mean, that's a very difficult place --

BROWN: And he said it in the memo.

PROKUPECZ: Yes. That's a very difficult place for investigators and prosecutors to be.

BORGER: Exactly.

BROWN: They said it in the memo that most of it was in public view, and our reporting is that Mueller was focused on conflicting public statements and whether that was an effort by the president to intimidate witnesses, to obstruct justice, and that that was being woven into this report.

[12:35:05] BLITZER: You know, very quickly, Gloria, the president just said, yes, he did, when he was asked at this photo op at the end of the -- his meeting with the prime minister of Israel whether Robert Mueller acted honorably. He simply said, this is the president, yes, he did, in sharp contrast to what he's been saying about Mueller for nearly two years.

BORGER: Witch hunt, 13 angry Democrats, and even yesterday where he called it illegal, you know, the whole investigation illegal. I think that somebody may have gotten to the president and said, you know what, you ought to be a little more gracious about this and say that Bob Mueller acted honorably.

BLITZER: Gloria Borger, Shimon Prokupecz, Pamela Brown, Shan Wu, guys, thanks very much.

Up next, how are the White House and the president's defenders responding to the Russia special counsel's conclusions? We'll be right back.


BLITZER: President Trump's meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel in the Oval Office. Let's listen in.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's lasted a long time, we're glad it's over. It's 100 percent the way it should have been. I wish it could have gone a lot sooner, a lot quicker. There are a lot of people out there that have done some very, very evil things, very bad things, I would say treasonous things against our country. And hopefully that people that have done such harm to our country -- we've gone through a period of really bad things happening -- those people will certainly be looked at.

I have been looking at them for a long time, and I'm saying, why haven't they been looked at? They lied to Congress. Many of them, you know who they are. They've done so many evil things.

[12:40:00] I will tell you, I love this country. I love this country as much as I can love anything. My family, my country, my God. But what they did, it was a false narrative, it was a terrible thing. We can never let this happen to another president again.

I can tell you that, I say it very strongly. Very few people I know could have handled it. We can never, ever let this happen to another president again.

Thank you all very much. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you very much.


TRUMP: Thank you very much.


TRUMP: Thank you very much.



TRUMP: It's up to the attorney general but it wouldn't bother me at all. Up to the attorney general. It wouldn't bother me at all.


BLITZER: All right, so there you hear reporters shouting questions at the end. The president said, up to the attorney general, it wouldn't bother me at all. I assume that means if he is ready to see more of the Mueller report if not all of the Mueller report released to Congress and to the American public.

Abby Phillip, you were listening very carefully, the president had very strong words for his opposition, saying they did treasonous things, they were evil. We can never let this happen to another president again. Extremely sharp. You can see how angry he is.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. Yes, that's right, Wolf. I mean, this has gone from the president being kind of elated over the result of the Mueller probe to him shifting to looking at the people who, in his view prompted this investigation to come into existence. He's clearly angry about it, he clearly is thinking about what to do next.

I think that's one of the big questions facing the president and facing the White House. He mentioned yesterday when he was talking to reporters in Florida that he wants people to look at the other side. Now today, he's talking about the people -- the evil people who were involved in this, hoping that this never happens to anyone again, but what does that mean?

Is he going to then turn this around and ask his Justice Department to launch investigations into his political opponents, into people within the Justice Department who were involved in the investigation at the beginning? I think that seems like where President Trump is going with all of this.

And you were right that the question that he got at the end was about whether he wanted the report to be made public. He said it's up to the attorney general which it is, and it wouldn't bother him at all. So, you know, he said that in the past. I think a lot of people wondered whether he still felt that way after all that we have now learned about this investigation.

Given how positive it was for him, I guess it's not much of a surprise that he wouldn't mind it being released. But of course, his attorneys have some other concerns about information related to his interview that might cause it to not be a full and complete release that the Democrats have been asking for.

BLITZER: All right, Abby, thanks very much.

Let's get some more reaction. Marc Lotter is joining us right now, he's the director of strategic communications for Trump 2020, the re- election campaign. Marc, thanks very much for coming in.

So, the president now all of a sudden says he believes Robert Mueller acted honorably. You heard that in the first photo op with the prime minister of Israel. That's in sharp contrast to what we've been hearing from the president about Mueller and his investigation over the past two years.

MARC LOTTER, DIRECTOR OF STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS FOR TRUMP2020: Well, it's nothing unusual to have special counsels that they face the brunt of criticism from both sides. One time, they're hailed then they are later attacked from the other side. So I don't see anything unusual about that. What I think is, we have the conclusions, we have the fact that there's no obstruction, there's no collusion, and it's now time for the American people to move on.

BLITZER: I'll play a little clip of the president over the past couple years speaking about Robert Mueller because it's in sharp contrast to what he just said about him acting honorably.


TRUMP: The entire thing has been a witch hunt, and there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign.

This is a pure and simple witch hunt.

I think that the Mueller investigation has been totally discredited.


TRUMP: Mr. Mueller is highly conflicted. In fact, Comey is like his best friend.

Robert Mueller put 13 of the angriest Democrats in the history of our country on the commission.

It's all a big hoax. I call it the witch hunt. It's all a big hoax.

This was an illegal takedown that failed, and hopefully, somebody is going to be looking at the other side.


[12:45:09] BLITZER: So now he's saying that Mueller did act honorably. Do you think the president should actually -- he obviously likes the conclusion that there was no collusion, no conspiracy, no cooperation. The obstruction of justice a little bit more, you know, confused, but do you think he should apologize to Robert Mueller who's, you know, spent so many years in government service, served in the -- as a marine in Vietnam, now is, what, 74-years-old, came back and did this job?

LOTTER: I think if anybody deserves apology, it's the president. I mean, he for two years got accused of being a traitorous --

BLITZER: So you think Mueller should apologize?

LOTTER: Not Mueller but I think the American -- what we saw for two years, we saw people attacking the president of the United States, called him, you know, an operative of Russia, question the legitimacy of his election. We now know that was all built on the hoax. There was no collusion, there was no obstruction.

And so while you know --

BLITZER: But should the president thank Mueller? Should the president say to him, you know what, we had our rough times, let's move on? I want to thank you for your service to the country. You did act honorably. Without necessarily -- I know the president doesn't like to formally apologize, but maybe do something like that to move on to a new chapter.

LOTTER: I think we saw just there at the end of that news conference earlier. I think he said that he acted honorably, and -- and so that's an acknowledgment of the fact that he found the truth, which is that there was no collusion, no obstruction, and now it's time to wrap this up and move on.

BLITZER: And you want -- you're obviously in charge of the re- election campaign, strategic communications. You want -- as the president just said he has no problem releasing all of the report to Congress and the American public? He said it's up to the attorney general.

LOTTER: The attorney general has been very clear, I think the president has been very clear as well. There is information from grand jury testimony to classified information to information that may be derogatory to someone not charged with a crime, that long-time precedent of federal law would prohibit from being released. But what we have to see here is that, you know, as you see more and more Democrats call for the release and all the underlying information, despite the fact that it's against the law to do most of that or long- held precedent, this is just another --

BLITZER: Well, the attorney general can release whatever the attorney general wants if he thinks that's in the public interest.

LOTTER: This is an example of changing the rules when they don't like the outcome.

BLITZER: Mueller is specifically quoted in Bill Barr's report to Congress as saying, as far as obstruction of justice is concerned, while this report -- this is Mueller, while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him. Do you want to at least to release all the information that convinced Mueller that it's a question whether or not the president committed a crime or whether -- what led Mueller up to that decision?

LOTTER: Well, ultimately the attorney general will determine what can be released on that. I think the key takeaway is that there was no crime that was charged. The attorney general, deputy attorney general, other departments, outside legal counsel -- oh I'm sorry, the Office of Legal Counsel all concluded it did not rise to a crime.

And in the United States, we're innocent until proven guilty. And so no crime has been charged. No obstruction.

BLITZER: Well, there been plenty of crimes charged by Mueller over the past two years.

LOTTER: As it relates to this.

BLITZER: Right. But a bunch of other crimes. Marc Lotter, thanks very much for coming in. Appreciate it.

Coming up, Democrats plot their next moves upon Capitol Hill in the wake of the Mueller report. We'll speak with one Democratic congressman who calls the attorney general's work hasty.


[12:52:45] BLITZER: Democrats today are feeling far from satisfied with what they've learned so far about the Special Counsel Robert Mueller's nearly two-year investigation.

I want to get right to my next guest, Democratic Congressman Don Beyer from the Commonwealth of Virginia. Thanks so much for joining us, Congressman.

REP. DON BEYER (D), VIRGINIA: Yes, thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: So you've already suggested that the Barr letter, this four- page letter, you called it a hasty summary by the president's hand- picked man. So what are you accusing the attorney general of the United States of doing?

BEYER: He's just being awfully quick about this. I mean, it took 22- plus months for Mueller and a huge team of FBI agents and Justice Department to put this together, and he says, after less than 48 hours, concern that there absolutely was no collusion or corruption. I think what we know, based on the 16 or 17 people that were indicted, some convicted and some pled guilty, was that there was a lot of collusion within the Trump campaign. Clearly, I guess what Mueller was saying was Trump himself didn't collude --

BLITZER: No, it's going further. I'll read to you from the letter. This is the attorney general writing what Mueller concluded. The special counsel did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in these efforts despite multiple offers from Russian- affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.

So that -- it's not just Trump himself --


BLITZER: -- anyone associated with the Trump campaign.

BEYER: But when I listened to the previous gentleman that was on here talk about no collusion, no obstruction. And clearly what Mueller said was that he didn't feel there were enough that he was satisfied that there was no complete exoneration on the obstruction --

BLITZER: I mean, issue of obstruction of justice.

BEYER: Yes, yes, yes.

BLITZER: Mueller didn't make a decision on that.

BEYER: Right.

BLITZER: Three weeks ago we're now reporting he told the attorney general, I'm not going to make a decision on that. It was then that the attorney general decided, he said after consulting with the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, the Office of Legal Ethics over at the Justice Department, and other department officials that he would conclude that there was no obstruction of justice.

BEYER: But we have to remember that this attorney general was the president's handpicked guy who some weeks ago wrote a letter, you know, of saying why he didn't think obstruction of justice --

BLITZER: That was about eight months ago.

BEYER: Yes. So I think what's really appropriate is that the entire report be released to the American public and certainly into Congress. That's what the president said a few minutes ago --

BLITZER: He said he doesn't have a problem, it's up to the attorney general. What do you think of the president now saying that Mueller is an honorable -- that he did an honorable job? [12:55:04] BEYER: Well, I think he does need to apologize. And we said all the way along that, you know --

BLITZER: Do you have confidence in Mueller?

BEYER: Very much so.

BLITZER: So when he concluded that there was no collusion, no conspiracy, no coordination, you accept that?

BEYER: I would accept that. I still like to read the whole report because there'll be other things to follow up --

BLITZER: We all like to read the whole report.

BEYER: Yes, yes, exactly.

BLITZER: All of us have been watching this for two years.

BEYER: And there -- as Democrats and as the American people, we should still see the tax returns. We still need to go after the --

BLITZER: So you want to continue all the other investigations full speed ahead because there are some Democrats who are now saying, you know, forget about impeachment. The Speaker Nancy Pelosi she -- a few weeks ago, she said, forget about impeachment, it's not worth it. He's not worth it, she said, we got to move on.

But there are a bunch of Democrats who are now saying at least behind the scenes, you know, it's time to move on, talk about infrastructure, healthcare, drug costs, substantive issues, and not necessarily, you know, delve deeply into all these other stuff.

BEYER: Well, I totally agree with that, but we've been doing that all along. The campaign, the big races we just won last November were about prescription drug price and the costs to healthcare, the need to build infrastructure, and about cleaning up the swamp, the corruption in Washington, D.C. So (INAUDIBLE) we win in 2020 which I very much hope we do, is not just going to be about a collusion or even obstruction charge, this can be about our visions for America.

BLITZER: Because if you go out on the campaign trail and we've been speaking to all of our reporters and producers who are out there with the Democratic candidates, they go to town halls, rarely does anybody bring up the whole Russia investigation. They're talking about these other substantive issues or national security issues, stuff like that, veterans.

BEYER: And we have 67 Democrats who win new seats in November. I don't know that a single one of them ran on collusion or corruption. This is important because we want to have presidents, our leadership, to be responsible, honest, authentic. And he said never -- this never can happen again to another president. Well, it's going to happen to other presidents, Democratic or Republican when there's reasonable something may have gone wrong.

BLITZER: Well, you got oversight responsibilities --

BEYER: We do, yes.

BLITZER: -- so I assume the Judiciary Committee, the Oversight Committee, the Intelligence Committee, these other committees are going to continue to pursue what we call oversight.

Congressman, thanks so much for coming here.

BEYER: Yes, thank you, Wolf, very much.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much.

BEYER: Thanks.

BLITZER: That's it for me. I'll be back 5 p.m. Eastern in the SITUATION ROOM. Brianna Keilar starts right after a quick break.