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Interview with Eric Swalwell (D-CA); White House official: Trump team still hasn't seen full Mueller report, Democratic lawmakers insist on seeing full Mueller report, vow to push on with their own investigations, Feds arrest porn star's ex-attorney, Michael Avenatti, in cases alleging bank fraud, attempt to extort Nike. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 25, 2019 - 17:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: We actually read them. Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks for watching.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news: releasing the report. Democrats demand the complete Mueller report as President Trump said it wouldn't bother me at all.

While the president claims he was totally exonerated, does the report tell a different story?

Treasonous things: President Trump accuses unnamed people of "very evil things" and "treasonous things." But he now says the special counsel acted honorably.

Other matters: what did Mueller find that he farmed out to different prosecutors?

Could so-called ongoing other matters keep the attorney general from releasing the full Mueller report?

Ave-naughty: attorney Michael Avenatti, who represented Stormy Daniels in a suit against the president, is arrested and charged with fraud, trying to extort millions from Nike.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news: after months of slamming Robert Mueller, President Trump now concedes he acted honorably and said it wouldn't bother him if the report was made public. While the president claims total exoneration, the Mueller report does not exonerate him on the matter of obstruction.

Attorney general Bill Barr notes the special counsel did not draw a conclusion one way or the other. Barr has made the determination there is not enough evidence to establish obstruction of justice. That's the key reason Democrats insist the full Mueller report be released.

Also breaking: a key antagonist of President Trump is in serious legal jeopardy. Michael Avenatti has been arrested and faces separate counts in two states of fraud and trying to extort millions from Nike.

And Israel retaliates for a rocket attack by hitting Hamas targets in Gaza, sparking urgent cease-fire efforts. I'll speak with Eric Swalwell of the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees and our correspondents will have coverage of today's top stories.

Let's begin with Jim Acosta.

The president seems triumphant and angry at the same time.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is a range of emotions, Wolf. The president is taking a victory lap after Mueller concluded there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

But the White House is on the warpath tonight, with the president accusing people of doing, quote, "very evil things" and other top White House officials accusing Democrats and the media of lying to the public.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Savoring what may be his biggest political victory since his election, President Trump welcomed special counsel Robert Mueller's findings of no collusion with the Kremlin, but he took some swipes at his critics.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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, the people that have done such harm to our country -- we have gone through a period of really bad things happening. Those people will certainly be looked at.

ACOSTA: The president sounded open to the idea of releasing the full Mueller report to the public, saying that's up to Attorney General William Barr.

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

ACOSTA: And the president appeared to change his tune on the special counsel when asked about Mueller's handling of the Russia probe.

QUESTION: Do you think Robert Mueller acted honorably?


This witch-hunt. ACOSTA: That's a departure from the president's cries of a witch- hunt, a talking point the Trump campaign turned into a coffee mug. Now Mr. Trump is attacking the investigation, while praising its findings.

TRUMP: This was an illegal takedown that failed and hopefully somebody's going to be looking at the other side. So it's complete exoneration. No collusion. No obstruction.

ACOSTA: But that's not exactly true. As the attorney general's summary of the Mueller report says: "The special counsel states that while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."

The White House is going one step further, blaming the media for the Mueller probe. SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Democrats and

the media perpetuated that lie day in and day out and breathlessly covered every single second of negative attention that they thought would be the one moment that would bring this president down.

ACOSTA: But it was President Trump who fired --


ACOSTA: -- FBI director James Comey, leading to the appointment of the special counsel.

TRUMP: And, in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it's an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.

ACOSTA: And there were other moments that raised suspicions, from the firing of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn over his conversations with the Russian ambassador.

SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The evolving and eroding level of trust as a result of this situation and a series of other questionable instances is what led the president to ask for General Flynn's resignation.

ACOSTA: To Donald Trump Jr.'s meeting with a Russian attorney offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.

TRUMP: I think, from a practical standpoint, most people would have taken that meeting.

ACOSTA: Which is why Democrats want to see the full Mueller report.

REP. MADELEINE DEAN (D), PENNSYLVANIA: And what you notice is the attorney general in the four-page letter offers only partial quotes of very little evidence of what that evidence was. All of that leads me to say, we need to see the report.

TRUMP: It was a false narrative.

ACOSTA: One thing Mr. Trump's legal team is not willing to reveal, the president's written answers to the special counsel. For now, that's hands off.

JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It's not a simple just wave your hand and we release the document. I think that would be very inappropriate.


ACOSTA: And Trump told reporters he hasn't thought about whether to issue any pardons in the Russia investigation. When the Mueller probe was underway, any talk of pardoning any figures in the investigation was slammed by Democrats as potential obstruction.

Now that the Mueller probe is wrapped up, it seems to be once again a live option. A source close to the White House told me yesterday it is too early to talk about that.

And it should be noted that this is hardly the end of the president's legal troubles. He has been implicated in alleged campaign finance violations in the Southern District of New York and the Democratic investigations on Capitol Hill into a whole array of allegations, that also continues.

I should point out, in the last couple of minutes, I heard from a White House official who said that the president's team has not yet viewed the entire Mueller report.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jim Acosta.

President Trump may be claiming vindication but Democrats are demanding to see the full Mueller report, not just the synopsis by the attorney general.

Let's bring in Sara Murray.

What is the latest?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the past, Democrats have spoken very highly of Robert Mueller. Now they are saying it's time to show his work and they are it is making it very clear they are not willing to settle for Bill Barr's summary.


MURRAY (voice-over): Tonight the lingering questions from attorney general William Barr's summary of the Mueller report setting up a showdown with Congress over what the special counsel found and how the Justice Department interpreted it.

At the center, obstruction of justice. CNN has learned special counsel Robert Mueller informed Barr and attorney general Rod Rosenstein three weeks ago that he would not draw a conclusion about whether the president obstructed justice, an unexpected outcome, a source tells CNN.

In his summary, Barr writes that Mueller sets out evidence on both sides of the question. And in one of the few instances in his summary, Barr cites this critical line.

"While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."

Barr and Rosenstein made their own determination, clearing the president of criminal wrongdoing without Mueller's involvement. Barr writing that, "Rosenstein and I concluded that the evidence developed during the special counsel's investigation is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction of justice offense."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Raise your right hand, please.

MURRAY (voice-over): Still, there is no indication if Mueller asked Barr to draw a conclusion or intended to leave the question of whether the president obstructed justice up to Congress.

President Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani took issue with Mueller's careful language, which stopped short of fully clearing the president.

RUDY GIULIANI, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT TRUMP: It means they didn't feel capable of making the decision probably because they had dissent within their ranks. Most important thing is they didn't make the decision that to bring a case or to conclude that a crime was committed.

They actually should stop there. This extra language about not exonerating, a lot of prosecutors called me this morning and said that is very, very unusual and very unethical.


MURRAY (voice-over): As for the question of collusion with Russia, Barr quotes directly from a portion of a sentence in Mueller's report.

"The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities."

Democrats pounced on Barr's decision, refusing to accept the attorney general's interpretation of the Mueller report without seeing it in full.

REP. GERRY CONNOLLY (D-VA.), MEMBER, OVERSIGHT COMMITTEE: I'm not going to accept Mr. Barr's summary of what Mr. Mueller found over a two-year period. Let's see that report.

MURRAY (voice-over): The head of the House Judiciary Committee saying on Sunday that he plans to call Barr to testify before the committee.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-N.Y.), CHAIRMAN, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: These conclusions raise more questions than answer, given the fact that Mueller uncovered evidence that, in his own words, does not exonerate the president. We cannot simply rely on what my be a hasty partisan interpretation --


NADLER: -- of the facts.

MURRAY (voice-over): As Democrats ramp up calls to see Mueller's full report and its underlying evidence, a Justice Department official tells CNN that while DOJ has started the process of determining what in the report can be made public, there's no firm timeline for it release.


MURRAY: Wolf, there's still other loose ends in the Mueller investigation.

Remember the anonymous company that was fighting the subpoena from Mueller's team?

It said they will not hear that appeal. But the case continues. We're learning the D.C. U.S. attorney's office is now going to be involved in that case and Mueller's prosecutors are handing off a number of other cases that are still open to the D.C. U.S. attorneys office as they wind down their work.

BLITZER: Yes, they're farming out a lot of stuff right now. Sara, thanks for that report. Good work.

Democratic leaders want to see the entire Mueller report even as they intend to continue their own investigations. Let's go to CNN's Ryan Nobles.

Ryan, do Democrats run the risk of potentially overreaching?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think there's no doubt about that. There's a degree of uncertainty as to the next stage of this conversation related to the Mueller report. It's not just Democrats calling for the full Mueller report. Many Republicans believe as much of it as possible should be made public as well.

But their perspectives on this are much different. Republicans believe it will further vindicate the president. Democrats are looking for information that Robert Mueller may have found that could enhance their existing investigations into the president and his administrations or perhaps lead to new inquiries that they could look into.

Republicans today were telling their Democratic colleagues to be very cautious here. There was a real risk they could overextend themselves and push too far and the American people would reject that move.

They said it's time for Democrats to move on and push this issue to the side. But at the same time, some Republicans believe there are other investigations that need to take place. In fact, Lindsey Graham, a defender of Trump, said he believes Barr should start a new special counsel to look into the roots of the Russia investigation. Take a listen.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-S.C.), MEMBER, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: When it comes to the FISA warrant, the Clinton campaign, the counterintelligence investigation, it has pretty much been swept under the rug except by a few Republicans in the House.

Those days are over. Going forward, hopefully in a bipartisan fashion, we'll begin to unpack the other side of the story.


NOBLE: Senator Graham hoping they will call for a new special counsel, looking into the roots of the Russian investigation from a bipartisan perspective. But right now Democrats are saying that there are still a lot to look into as it relates to the president and his ties to Russia and perhaps obstruction of justice.

So any thought that perhaps this end to the Mueller report would end the partisan divisions here on Capitol Hill seems to be just a fantasy.

BLITZER: It will continue. Ryan Nobles, thank you.

Joining us now is Eric Swalwell from California. He is member of both the Intelligence and the Judiciary Committees.

Congressman, thanks for joining us. I want to start by playing a little of what you have told me.


REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CALIF.), MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE AND JUDICIARY COMMITTEES: You have to separate this from what you can prove beyond a reasonable doubt -- that's Bob Mueller's job -- and just general collusion, which is offensive and concerning.

I've seen plenty of evidence of collusion. We have very good circumstantial evidence that the Trump team, the family, the businesses were eager to work and were working with the Russians while the Russians were helping them. I think in the court of law, that's enough.


BLITZER: As you know, according to special counsel Robert Mueller, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government.

Are you ready to accept that conclusion from Robert Mueller?

SWALWELL: Yes, as it relates to criminal charges. I thank Mr. Mueller for his work on behalf of the country and I accept that.

But I think the clip you laid out explains that just because you are criminally a non-colluder doesn't mean that we don't want to know what evidence Bob Mueller found about efforts you and your team and your family and your business took to work with the Russians.

We have a counterintelligence interest for national security reasons but also just on the Judiciary Committee, recognizing that we have a constantly equal role to play to understand if that conduct is conduct that we want in a president.

And so that's just a long way of saying, show us the Mueller report, not the Barr opinion. The Barr opinion is four pages long and it chronicles a nearly two-year investigation that had 2,800 subpoenas, 500 search warrants and only used 84 words from Bob Mueller. We want to see every single word.

BLITZER: Are you suggests, while there might not be enough evidence to establish --


BLITZER: -- a crime on the part of the president or others in the campaign involving collusion, there might be enough evidence to suggest your activity in the House of Representatives beginning with impeachment?

SWALWELL: I don't want to go there. I want to talk about counterintelligence issues first.

On the Intelligence Committee, we have to make sure any U.S. person, certainly all the way up to the president, has not worked with an adversary in a way that could jeopardize our national security. We've seen the evidence of --


BLITZER: Let me interrupt far second.

Don't you think Mueller and his team of lawyers and FBI agents, if they had that kind of evidence, they would have presented it, they would have gone after those individuals?

SWALWELL: Certainly. That's why we want to see it and we want to know if they have that kind of evidence. That evidence may not reach the highest standard in the law, proof beyond a reasonable doubt, but it's still evidence we would want to see.

I've seen just in public light evidence of a person whose family took this meeting where the Russians offered dirt on his opponent, a candidate who asked the Russians to continue hacking.

So we know there was an intent there to receive the help from Russians. So let us know what Mueller saw that we did not see in public light. BLITZER: The Trump campaign has included your name on a list of individuals with what they call "credibility problems" on this issue. You replied by saying this.

"The only person who has been caught lying about Russia is Donald Trump. If he thinks I have made a false statement he can sue me and I'll beat him in court."

What exactly did you mean that?

SWALWELL: The president certainly lied when he said he had no business dealings as a candidate with Russia. We have now learned through Michael Cohen and others that those dealings went all the way through the primary.

Why was he so dishonest with the American people about having business dealings with Russia while he was a candidate for president?

But I challenge him; if he believes I'm not being truthful or the other persons aren't being truthful, then sue us. I feel very comfortable that he would not win that case, just as he has lost most of the cases he brings to court.

BLITZER: Democrats have accused bar of rushing to judgment on the question of obstruction of justice. But CNN learned Mueller told Barr some three weeks ago he wouldn't draw a conclusion on that specific obstruction issue.

If the evidence didn't unequivocally convince Robert Mueller that a crime had been committed, is it wishful thinking for Democrats to try to prove obstruction of justice?

SWALWELL: Our standard is different than proof beyond a reasonable doubt. You know, the president should not be taking a victory lap, that the best day of his presidency is that he was not charged with a crime.

If he still committed offensive conduct that does not meet the conduct we want for our president, Congress has a constantly equal role to play to hold him accountable. That's why I think we should just see the report.

What concerns me about Barr making this decision and not Mueller is the whole point of the special counsel was to act in a way that a conflicted political appointee by a subject of the investigation, the president, who's appointed Barr, could not.

So the special counsel was supposed to make decisions that someone who has a conflict of interest could not. So I do want to know more about why Mueller would give this authority to the attorney general.

BLITZER: Do you think Mueller meant to leave the question of obstruction of justice to the attorney general or was he simply leaving it to you, members of Congress, to decide?

SWALWELL: If he meant to leave it to us, then we should see it. If the president is so confident he has been exonerated, he should release immediately the full report.

BLITZER: Senator Lindsey Graham issued this warning today. I'll play you the clip.


GRAHAM: Pursue what you think is important to the public but if you keep going, after Mueller spoke, people are going to think you're just out to get him, that there is no right answer other than Donald Trump must be removed from office.

Probably suffer the same fate we did as having gone too far.


BLITZER: So if you pursue this, do you a think a lot of Americans will think you are going too far, do you risk a backlash?

SWALWELL: I respect what Bob Mueller did. I think Congress and the American people should see it. I'll point out to Senator Graham that I reached out to him over two years ago, when I wanted to have an independent commission to take all of this outside of Congress and have experts and statespersons look at this rather than have a politically charged Washington do it.

He didn't take me up on that offer. I only got two Republicans to sponsor my legislation. I've always thought an independent commission is the best way to secure our ballot box and make sure we are not attacked by the Russians again.

BLITZER: Do you think there is evidence that members of Congress could come up with what Mueller couldn't come up with?

I'm looking, he had 2,800 subpoenas, 500 witness interviews, 500 search warrants, 230 orders for communication records, 40 FBI --


BLITZER: -- agents, a whole bunch of intelligence analysts, forensic accountants, other staff, 19 lawyers.

What makes you think that the staff, your staff, either the Judiciary Committee or the Intelligence Committee, could come up with he clearly didn't come up with?

SWALWELL: I can't answer that question without seeing who he interviewed and what he learned. Right now my position is we should know that, for the sake of future elections, for the sake of knowing whether a president and his family worked with the Russians, maybe not in a criminally chargeable way but a way that is offensive, we should all know all of that.

Again, I call on the president.

If you are so innocent, if you are so clear, if you are so exonerated, then you should be so quick to put that report in the hands of Congress and the American people.

BLITZER: All of us want to see that information as quickly as possible. Congressman Eric Swalwell, thanks for joining us.

SWALWELL: My pleasure.

BLITZER: Let's bring in CNN's Shimon Prokupecz and Laura Jarrett and chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto.

Laura, let me read from the bar letter, quoting Robert Mueller, "The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities."

What do you make -- and you went to law school. You understand this. You covered the Justice Department --


BLITZER: They used the phrase -- wasn't that long ago --


BLITZER: -- the use of the phrase, "did not establish."

JARRETT: So it's a notable line that you cued in on here. I think it's important to remember Mueller is looking at this not just as an investigator. He is looking at this as a prosecutor.

These lines are kind of terms of art. When he says did not establish, to me, I read that as "did not have evidence to prosecute beyond a reasonable doubt."

That's a different standard than members of Congress. It's a different issue. What he is saying is I looked at the case and I couldn't get there. You can see from footnote 1, he assessed potential conspiracy charges. It's not if they didn't look at the waterfront here at all of the evidence in front of them but they didn't see a case to be made.

It also speaks to why it is so important to see the full report. As you can see from the brackets there, we don't know what came before the first part of that cause. We have to see what did he say about all of the evidence he saw yet nevertheless he couldn't -- ?

BLITZER: We want to see the full report and all those words, clearly important.

Shimon, Mueller's team actually notified Barr three weeks ago that he would not be able to reach a conclusion on whether the president obstructed justice.

What's the significance of that?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: Essentially it is to tell us that bar didn't just make this decision on his own in the two days that he was reviewing this report.

It is saying that the Department of Justice, Bill Barr, the deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein all knew this was coming. They knew it would we part of what Mueller was going to put in the report.

Certainly I think the issue that folks did not expect them to not come to a conclusion on the obstruction issue could have been a little bit surprising. But I don't think ultimately they came into this over the weekend and Bill Barr and his team, surprised at the outcome on this investigation. The hardest part for them would seem -- and Laura knows this better because she spent the entire weekend there -- was figuring out what to tell us, how much do we -- do they tell us.

And they've told us a lot and I think they're going to continue to try and do their best to get more information to us.

BLITZER: They clearly have told us a lot but we want a whole lot more --


BLITZER: Jim Sciutto, one of the big unanswered questions, from your perspective -- and you've been covering this from day one as well -- still surround the Mueller investigation.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Listen, to Laura's point, one thing that's clear is that Mueller is not James Comey. In that famous press conference regarding Hillary Clinton, James Comey said something similar. He said these are not prosecutable crimes. They don't meet that standard but look at all the reckless behavior. You'll remember that press conference very well.

Mueller did not take that next step, at least based on Barr's interpretation of that report, just established where he could not establish that crimes were committed, both on the collusion issue, but I think the bigger question, on obstruction.

Even bar mentions in his report that there was evidence that Mueller's established evidence of obstruction of justice.

So will we see the full report?

Will Congress call Mueller to testify as to why he did not get to that conclusion?

Will they call bar to testify to say why he made a judgment that there was not evidence enough to support that?

While at the same time including even in his report, this is an attorney general appointed by this president, language saying that this report does not exonerate the president on that issue?

That is a remarkable language in a report from the president's own appointee and then this broader question. I talked to a lot of lawyers this morning. I know you have, Wolf, today, who made the point, was Mueller here effectively leaving this question up to Congress --


SCIUTTO: -- as opposed to the prosecutor, saying here is the evidence here. Ultimately it is a political decision. And that may well be where we are.

Of course, the other question is, s there political capital and political support and momentum here to continue the investigation beyond where it is, after these few years of the Mueller investigation?

That's an open question.

BLITZER: Jim, Shimon, Laura, guys, thanks very, very much. I know you're continuing to work your sources.

We have a whole lot more coming up on the Mueller report. Later, the attorney who represented Stormy Daniels in a suit against the president has just been arrested and charged with fraud and with trying to extort millions of dollars from Nike.



[17:30:03] WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: Tonight, a White House official tells CNN President Trump's team still hasn't seen the full Mueller report. The President says it wouldn't bother him if the full report is released. But it's up to the Attorney General, he said.

Our political and legal experts are here to discuss what comes next. A lot will come next, presumably. Susan Hennessey, the Attorney General, Bill Barr's letter states that the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller lays out evidence on both sides. But Mueller left conclusions up to the Attorney General, who, of course, is a Trump political appointee. Did this process work the way it was supposed to?

SUSAN HENNESSEY, SENIOR FELLOW, BROOKINGS INSTITUTE: Well, it actually isn't as, at all, clear to me that Mueller left conclusions up to the Attorney General. The Attorney General's summary letter said that Mueller and his team declined to reach a traditional prosecutorial judgment. It didn't say that they felt that the Attorney General was the person who was in the appropriate position to render that judgment.

Mueller might have meant for Bill Barr to make that decision. He also might have meant for Congress to make that decision to have compiled the records that this present really, really different questions of law, in fact. And so I'm essentially handing it over to the body that actually is going to be in a position to adjudicate that. So one of the big mysteries here is why Bill Barr felt compelled to offer his sort of judgment on the matter at all.

Importantly, it doesn't have any operative effect. Robert Mueller has exclusive jurisdiction of the question. He declined to seek prosecution, essentially. And so Barr is pretty much just offering his opinion, him putting that there is not an open question of the Justice Department to resolve. And so the question is what does that accomplish for Barr to do it.

Now, obviously, it generates lots and lots of good headlines for the President. I don't think we should read a bad faith [ph] reason. Barr may have thought that that was some independent duty as Attorney General. But I do think that it's a plausible theory that Mueller intended for Congress to answer this question and not the Attorney General.

BLITZER: Well, the Attorney General in his letter to Congress said he consulted with not only the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, but also consulted with the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department and other officials involved as well. And as a result of all those conversations, he decided to issue his conclusion.

HENNESSEY: Right. So it's possible that Congress will ultimately agree with this conclusion. Anyone who is saying that the obstruction charges against the President are a slam dunk, especially without seeing an underlying report based on public evidence. There are lots of really, really difficult questions. It's not surprising that the Attorney General would want to consult with those other individuals, not even necessarily inappropriate that the Attorney General would want to weigh in.

With that said, at the end of a two-year investigation, Robert Mueller basically said there are strong evidence on both sides, there are strong legal arguments on both sides. That sounds a lot, like he's teeing up a question for Congress to decide.

BLITZER: You know, Bianna, some democrats are citing Bill Barr's 2018 memo some eight, nine months ago as evidence that the Attorney General was bias in this whole thing. Barr wrote in that memo unsolicited to the Deputy Attorney General, the Assistant Attorney General. He wrote that Mueller's obstruction theory is fatally misconceived and would have grave consequences far beyond the immediate confines of this case and would do lasting damage to the presidency. That's a strong argument that he is sticking by it.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Is is a strong argument, which is why one of the most interesting things we have heard today from Laura Jarrett when he said that the Special Counsel's Office have reached out to Barr and Rosenstein about three weeks ago and said he would not be able to come to a conclusion with regards to obstruction obviously knowing that Barr had written this memo last year feeling the way he did about that very issue.

So if they went to him three weeks ago saying we were not able to come up with a consensus, we are going to leave it to you or to Congress what have you at least knowing how he felt about this, I think, is an interesting part of this puzzle as well. It's in the like he's been mum about it.

BLITZER: It's very significant, don't you think? CHRIS CILLIZZA, CNN POLITICS EDITOR AT LARGE: Yes. Look, if -- I think this is why the most of the report that we can see the better. Because to Susan's point, if Mueller doesn't make plain at some point, I think, that he would like this to be in that report that this should be adjudicated or at least looked at by Congress, what's hard is then the leaving it to Barr to make a decision, to Bianna point, it's kind of -- you kind of know what that decision is going to be. And not only that, but you have now given Barr three weeks to sort of be ready when this comes out to make that case and say, well, I looked at this. It's not like he got it, looked at I and then, immediately, Barr could say, well, we talked about it, we looked at it, et cetera, et cetera.

So that's the only thing I worry about if it's not delineated. Go ahead. Sorry, Susan.

HENNESSEY: In that document, Mueller also made the decision to write that phrase, this does not exonerate the President.

CILLIZZA: And made the decision to quote, which was clearly purposeful.

BLITZER: And, Abby, let me read what Barr quoting the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, saying, while this report does not conclude that the President committed, it also does not exonerate him. And we're hearing a very different line from the President who Tweeted, no collusion, no obstruction, complete and total exoneration.


ABBY PHILIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, here is the view from the White House. And I think Susan actually was alluded to this when she was speaking a few minutes ago. They view it as Mueller made a decision not to move forward on the obstruction part of this. And from their perspective, they view that alone as being an exoneration.

Now, a lot of people will disagree with that. But that's their view of the situation for President Trump. And it allows them to go out there and say on the two main points that we have been attacked on for over two years, collusion and, later on, obstruction, the President is not facing any charges and he is -- and, essentially, Robert Mueller is saying, I can't move forward on these two fronts.

So, I mean, the White House feels like this is an easy argument to make. I think the more nuance argument is one that they are not particularly interested in. And as far as 2020 is concerned, that's all that matters from their perspective. They are using this to this day already to rally their troops, to raise money and just to say this whole thing was a lie from the beginning.

BLITZER: All right. David, you're a political director. So forget about the law right now. Forget about all the legal arguments.


BLITZER: You have to admit that this initial letter from the Attorney General to Congress represents a huge political win for the President. CHALIAN: I can't think of a better scenario for the President. I mean, yes, maybe you could have been cleaner on this issue of obstruction of justice. But we are so inside and reading that every headline across America today said what Donald Trump has been saying for two years but with Mueller's stamp of approval on it, no collusion. That is a fantastic political victory for the President. And there is just no doubt about that.

Now, it may be -- yesterday may have been the very best day, politically, for President Trump. If indeed the full report comes out and it starts giving more information or you see the one side or the other that Mueller presents and there are things there that may diminish this moment for the President, but he already is having this golden moment that no matter what comes out in the report they're going to go back to, well, he said, no collusion, he made no decision on obstruction.

So they feel that they are in a very good place now to take this cloud over their head, remove it and really now focus on the reelection campaign.

CILLIZZA: And just to add - a 100% agree politically. And just to add, think of the alternative. It's not the only alternative. But think of the alternative that Bob Mueller comes out an says, look, it wasn't Donald Trump but there was significant collusion here. And here, X, Y and Z, Barr lays it out or it comes out in the Mueller report. We would be talking about Donald Trump's presidency being in peril. Democrats would be beating the impeachment term, and, I would say, with some real -- not only political but sort of sense that that was the right way to go.

Now, all of that shelved. And it's now on democrats who now, political speaking, have to decide do we continue down this road, do we continue on the obstruction and the obstruction point Susan made? Do we pursue that as Jerry Nadler and others have advocated or do we retrench and make the argument broader about what Donald Trump has done in office on immigration, on the economy, on trade, et cetera.

HENNESSEY: This does all speak to the absolute critically of seeing the full Mueller report. Bill Barr's summary is consistent with the report that absolutely clears the President, vindicates him on every possible front or close to it. It is also entirely consistent with the report that is devastating to the President. It has mountains of really incriminating evidence just falls just short of that standard and that high bar --

BLITZER: Let me get to Bianna. Do democrats, potentially, could they go too far and have a backlash?

GOLODRYGA: Look, I think you're already seeing that question being asked, especially among those who are running for president in 2020. I asked Amy Klobuchar today. Is this a question you're being asked out on the campaign stump [ph]? Are you being asked by voters about the Russia investigation or about policy issues and domestic issues? And it is more of the latter though, of course. She said there are still serious questions to be asked and remain unanswered thus far in the Russia investigation.

I will just add one thing that could have avoided a lot of this confusion for Barr to have included in this memo was that he had been asked specifically by the Special Counsel's office to be the arbiter, to decide ultimately whether or not obstruction was committed. That was not included in his four-page memo. And one has to wonder why.

BLITZER: The President couldn't have wished for a better additional letter.

Everybody hold their thought. There is more news we have to follow, including this, the attorney, Michael Avenatti, who represented the porn star, Stormy Daniels, is arrested and charged with trying to extort millions of dollars from Nike.



[17:42:26] BLITZER: We have more breaking news coming into The Situation Room. Michael Avenatti, the attorney who once represented the porn star, Stormy Daniels, and considered running for president, was arrested today. He faces two separate federal charges, and not one but two separate federal investigations.

Our National Political Correspondent M.J. Lee is joining us from New York where Avenatti was actually arrested. M.J., what are you learning about this alleged extortion scheme?

M.J. LEE, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, just a stunning turn of event for Michael Avenatti. He was arrested in Manhattan by the FBI earlier today. And this 11-page criminal complaint basically details how Avenatti tried to extort the company, Nike, for millions of dollars.

Last week, it says that Avenatti met with a number of Nike's lawyers and he essentially told them, look, I have a client who has damaging information about your company. And unless you pay me and my client million of dollars, I'm going to hold a press conference and try to do damage to your company, so you better pay up.

Now, unfortunately for Avenatti, Nike immediately went to law enforcement. They contacted the Southern District of New York, and so subsequent conversations between Avenatti and Nike's lawyers ended up being recorded both audio and video.

Now, throughout this complaint, Avenatti is, quoted, frankly saying some pretty thuggish things. I just want to read one quote from that criminal complaint. Avenatti is quoted saying, I'll go take $10 billion off your client's market cap. I am not effing around and I'm not continuing to play games. You guys know enough now to know you've got a serious problem and it's worth more in exposure to me to just blow the lid on this thing.

Now, the U.S. Attorney for SDNY, Jeff Berman, just held a press conference here in Manhattan. Here is a little bite from that press conference.


JEFF BERMAN, U.S. ATTORNEY FOR SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK: When the company's lawyers resisted paying Avenatti to conduct an internal investigation, Avenatti told the company it could skip paying for an internal investigation if, instead, it simply paid him $22.5 million. Then Avenatti said he would, quote, ride off into the sunset. Avenatti was not acting an as attorney. A suit and tie doesn't mask the fact that, at its core, this was an old fashioned shakedown.


LEE: Now, we are also told that the unnamed co-conspirator in this criminal complaint is celebrity lawyer Mark Geragos. I should note that he was a CNN Contributor but he no longer is as of today. I should also mention that he has not been charged. Wolf?

BLITZER: Avenatti also facing charges in California.


Tell us about that.

LEE: That's right. Almost simultaneously, there were charges brought upon Michael Avenatti on the West Coast in California. Federal prosecutors accusing him of both wire and bank fraud. They say that he embezzled clients' money to pay off his own loans and also that he defrauded a bank by using phony tax returns to try to get millions of dollars in loans.

Now, these are charges that could amount to a maximum sentence of 50 years. But I should stress that these are separate cases with separate sets of charges, again, in California and in New York, Wolf.

BLITZER: Only a few months ago, he was throwing out the idea of actually running for president of the United States.

LEE: That's right.

BLITZER: Things have changed pretty quickly. M.J. Lee, thanks very much for joining us.

Coming up, a very important point in what we know of the Mueller report's conclusion. Russians and Vladimir Putin's government did interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.


[17:50:31] BLITZER: Although Attorney General Barr's summary of the Mueller investigation leaves many unanswered questions, there's no doubt about one very important point -- Russia interfered in the 2016 election. Which raises the question of whether the big winner is Vladimir Putin.

CNN's Brian Todd has been checking with his sources. Brian, what are you hearing?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, our sources and outside analysts are telling us tonight that Vladimir Putin has got to be just crowing inside the Kremlin. The former KGB officer accomplished his goals of wreaking havoc on America's elections. He's got an open slate ahead with President Trump, and it doesn't look like he's going to suffer any consequences.


TODD (voice-over): The one person most clearly implicated in crimes in Robert Mueller's final report may also come away as one of its biggest winners, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Former intelligence officials and analysts say the report confirms what U.S. intelligence always knew, that Russia attempted to influence the election.

MATTHEW ROJANSKY, DIRECTOR OF THE KENNAN INSTITUTE, THE WOODROW WILSON CENTER: They've certainly sown discord. The Russians have caused more than they could have hoped for in terms of domestic political upheaval in the United States.

TODD (voice-over): The Attorney General's brief summary of the Mueller report released Sunday says the Special Counsel documents crimes committed by persons associated with the Russian government in connection with efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. A campaign the Russians deny.

Mueller reportedly says the Russians used two tactics to sow chaos -- hacking e-mails from Democrats and from Hillary Clinton's campaign, which were then released, and running a disinformation campaign on social media.

Mueller previously said that campaign not only tried to further divide Americans with angry clickbait posts on race and guns but even organized protests like this one against Hillary Clinton in Florida and these two for and against Muslims in Houston.

Mueller has charged Russian officials with those crimes, but it's unlikely any of them will ever see the inside of a U.S. courtroom because Putin won't extradite them to the U.S.

Another goal of Putin's government in the interference campaign?

ALINA POLYAKOVA, DAVID M. RUBENSTEIN FELLOW, THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: They didn't want a Clinton presidency. They certainly got that.

TODD (voice-over): Instead, according to U.S. intelligence, Putin pushed for candidate Donald Trump.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He called me a genius. He said we're going to win.

TODD (voice-over): Experts say that bet paid off. Since being elected, Trump has strengthened his ties to Putin, holding a one-on- one summit with Putin in Helsinki where he sided with the former KGB officer over U.S. intelligence.

TRUMP: I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.

TODD (voice-over): But analysts say everything may not have worked out the way Putin wanted. They believe the Trump administration, feeling constrained by the Russia probe, has compensated by sanctioning Russia and, more recently, keeping Putin at arm's length.

ROJANSKY: They couldn't have a summit just a few months ago in Buenos Aires. Putin wanted that meeting. Putin apparently chased after Trump, trying to talk to him at Buenos Aires and Trump didn't want to talk to him.

TODD (voice-over): Now that Mueller has turned in his report, analysts say Trump may feel he has got more freedom to pursue a closer relationship with the former KGB lieutenant colonel, which experts warn is good for Putin but dangerous for the U.S.

POLYAKOVA: Russia is not a partner, it is not a friend, it is an adversary. This is not a country we need another reset with. This is not a country that shares any of our interests. In fact, U.S. interests are completely opposed to what the Russians want to see in the world, which is a decline in U.S. power.

TODD (voice-over): And Putin, analysts say, will certainly try to attack America's elections again in 2020.

ROJANSKY: Assuming that they're not blocked from doing so technologically by cybersecurity or by new reforms to our electoral laws or other systemic changes, there's no particular reason that they wouldn't try again.


TODD: What are the tools that Vladimir Putin and his operatives might use to cause political chaos in America in 2020? Analysts warn of cyber attacks, more sophisticated disinformation campaigns, and efforts to undermine any candidate who might be more hawkish toward Russia than Donald Trump is -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Thanks for that report.

Coming up, breaking news. A White House official says the Trump team still hasn't seen the full Mueller report. And as Democrats demand the release -- the report to be released in its entirety, President Trump says that wouldn't bother him at all.


BLITZER: Happening now, breaking news. Wouldn't bother me. President Trump says he's OK with making the full Mueller report public as Democrats urgently demand to see it all. Did the Attorney General's summary leave out details damaging to the President? Outstanding questions. We're breaking down all the unsolved mysteries

about the Russia probe and what evidence may have been uncovered by the Special Counsel. Tonight, new information on Mueller's decision to punt on the issue of obstruction.

Vindicated to vindictive. As the President celebrates the end of Mueller's investigation, he's making misleading claims and lashing out at opponents. Who is promising to -- who's he promising to investigate for so-called treasonous and evil acts?