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Washington Braces for the Release of the Mueller Report; White House's New Spin on Mueller Report and Trump's Tax Returns; The Attorney General's History of Controversy. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired April 14, 2019 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[19:58:57] PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, good Sunday evening. I'm Pamela Brown in Washington. And you're watching a special edition of CNN NEWSROOM.
After one of the most divisive, convoluted and taxing chapters in American political history, the end is almost here. This week Attorney General William Barr is expected to release the actual report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller. No summary this time, but Mueller's own words when it comes to Russian election interference, potential collusion and obstruction of justice.
Up until this point, we've only had the attorney general's version of Mueller's bottom line that there was no finding of conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia. But that same summary left us with a mystery. Why couldn't the special counsel exonerate the president on obstruction? What was the evidence that left it an open question? And why did Mueller ultimately decide to punt?
Tonight, a Trump administration official tells CNN there is a curiosity of the unknown when it comes to the unreleased findings but also not a concern that the main points of the story will change. The fact is, we don't know how much of Mueller's 400-page report we're going to get to see.
[20:00:01] The redactions planned by the attorney general could easily mean pages upon pages of blacked out print. To borrow the words of the CNN legal analyst, it may look more like that recent picture of the black hole than some sort of smooth reading. Setting expectations there.
I want to bring in my panel. CNN's chief political correspondent Dana Bash, CNN crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz and CNN senior justice correspondent Evan Perez.
We were all awaiting to see this report. We're all going to be reading through it together. And Dana, you just spoke to Rudy Giuliani, one of the president's attorneys. What did he tell you about how the president's team prepared -- is preparing to respond to the report?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have been hearing from him and from Jay Sekulow and other members of the legal team for months and months and months that they were preparing their own rebuttal report. So what Giuliani told me earlier is that they are now refining that rebuttal. Not because they claim to know any specifics of what's in it, but just based on the guide post that they got from Barr's letter a couple of weeks ago. So they're doing that.
One of the things that he told me and you all talked to your sources at the White House and Justice Department so I'd be curious to see what you think of this. What he said is that Barr, as far as they know, has not been in touch with and in consultation with, that's a better word. Barr has not been in consultation with White House counsel about the possibility of executive privilege, meaning any of those redactions that we expect to come because of executive privilege.
So what he said is maybe there won't be a lot of redactions by executive privilege or perhaps Barr will use his judgment as to what he thinks would or should be protected for executive privilege.
BROWN: Right. Because he had said that he doesn't have plans to redact on executive privilege and withhold information. And he also said in that letter that he doesn't plan on consulting with the White House because the president had deferred to him.
But that will be key, Evan. The redactions. How much is redacted and why?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: No, absolutely. Look, I think that's going to be the next stage of the political fight, right? Whatever is hidden behind those black marks, and I guess we're going to have a color coded report so the red marks and whatever color marks, but certainly I think whatever is behind those redactions, Democrats, and I think Republicans also, are going to -- they want to know because I think the idea is that whatever is behind that is going to leave new -- lead to new questions, right?
And it's going to make people think, well, this is what that means. And so I think Barr is approaching it from that point of view. I think he understands that. There are people inside the department who have been urging him to certainly show less because that's the tradition of the Justice Department, but I think he understands the politics of this. It's untenable for him to do less. So it's going to be interesting to see.
You know, we heard, as recently as Friday that they were still working on those redactions. So it looks like it's going down to the wire.
BROWN: And in talking to White House officials, there are two main concerns or areas they're focused on. First is how is Congress going to respond? Will this report give ammunition to Democrats on Capitol Hill? How so? And then, of course, the obstruction question.
The big question, Shimon, what the report could reveal about Mueller's obstruction inquiry. So many questions. Why didn't he make a decision? And what else is -- was part of the obstruction probe that hasn't already been out there that Barr sort of alluded to?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Right. So when you look at what Barr wrote in that four-page letter that he put out, you could kind of see where things may be heading in terms of the obstruction and what he's going to release. Much of what he has said in this letter, much of what was the subject of this investigation, this obstruction investigation.
The obstruction investigation got its own second part in this entire Mueller report. The first part focused on the collusion, and then the second part Barr said focused on the obstruction. And they looked at a lot of different aspects of the obstruction investigation, Barr said. Most of which, and this came from that letter, had been the subject of public reporting. So some of it we may already know about.
It's going to come down to a question of how did the Mueller team see it. How did they see these various potential acts of obstruction because he did, Barr, in his letter, say that each of the relevant actions as it related to obstruction was investigated and that Mueller looked at both sides of the issues.
PROKUPECZ: So perhaps we're going to get an explanation from the way Mueller -- the Mueller team saw it and the difficult issues. Remember, Barr kept referring to, in this letter, about the difficult issues and intent. The difficult issues of the law and the facts surrounding the obstruction investigation. Our hope is that we learn more about what these difficult issues were.
PROKUPECZ: Not so much -- you know, we may not learn so much of what each person that was interviewed may have said to the investigators, to the Mueller investigators, but certainly the facts and the issues surrounding the obstruction investigation, we should get a better understanding of --
[20:05:04] BASH: What led to what is effectively a hung jury, right?
BASH: Within the Mueller prosecutorial team about the notion of obstruction. I mean, that's your reporting --
PEREZ: That's such a great way to put it.
BROWN: Exactly it, I mean, a hung jury.
PEREZ: Right. No, it is.
BROWN: And I think, you know, as we sort of try to set expectations, one thing we have to keep in mind is he did say there's going to be evidence on both sides. This could be very complicated, very nuanced. It may not just be sort of a one-line headline of what it all means. Right? On obstruction, I mean, it could be very nuanced. And Barr, I want to get your reaction, Evan, to what the attorney general said in questions with Senator Leahy on the idea of obstruction. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT): Did he express any expectation or an interest in leaving the obstruction decision to Congress?
WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: He didn't say that to me, no.
LEAHY: So he said the obstruction decision should be up to you?
BARR: He didn't say that either. But that's generally how the Department of Justice works.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Is that true?
PEREZ: It is. I mean, look. I think that there's been a lot of conjecture about that, about the idea that, well, Mueller didn't make a decision so why is the attorney general inserting himself? Well, actually, he's the boss. I mean, we have a special counsel that reports to the attorney general and that's the law that Congress wrote. And if they want to change it, then they can do that, but for now, that is the law.
The other thing that I think Barr is sort of alluding to and I think what the president is seizing on is the idea that because it's a -- this is what prosecutors do, right? They make recommendations to bring charges. And then if they don't, then you can say that that's a declination. That's why I think the president is seizing on this as a total exoneration because in the end, Mueller decided not to bring charges and I think that is everything for him.
BROWN: It is. You know, and the White House, you heard Sarah Sanders say today case is closed. But here's the thing. There's a difference between making a decision on whether there's sufficient evidence to pursue prosecution and whether behavior is, you know, moral, ethical, impeachable.
BROWN: Even though this chapter is closing, there is a new chapter. And the president's behavior will likely be under more scrutiny with this report, Dana.
BASH: No question. Because you're exactly right. There is a -- and we've talked about this. On the eve of this coming out, it's important to underscore that there's a very different bar, one R, for prosecuting somebody, and for bringing charges against somebody in a court as opposed to looking down the road of impeachment which is an inherently political decision.
Yes, there is a line in the Constitution that talks about what should constitute impeachment. The idea of impeachment proceedings starting. But it is up to the majority in the House of Representatives to decide whether or not, whatever it is that they see and hear with regard to things that the president did that were untoward, may be going up to the line of being illegal, anything in that realm, whether that should lead to impeachment proceedings.
And then there's -- that's whether it's worth it or whether it should happen and then there's the whether they should politically do that when we are a year-plus away from an election when the voters are going to have their say.
BROWN: Exactly. And again, there's a difference between, you know, legally what you can do and then to the naked eye what it looks like. I was talking to someone who said on the obstruction front, it very well could look like it if you read through the report because our reporting, Evan and Shimon, is Mueller has been weaving together these different behaviors, things that the president has said.
BROWN: To sort of make the case. Let's take a listen to some of the questionable things the president has said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Regardless of recommendation, I was going to fire Comey, knowing there was no good time to 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. The attorney general made a terrible mistake when he did this, and when he recused himself.
Michael Cohen is lying. Unlike other people that you watch, he's a weak person. It's very sad what's happened to Paul, the way he's being treated. I've never seen anybody treated so poorly. No, I have not offered any pardons. I think they asked or whatever, would you? I said I'm not taking anything off the table.
It's probably presidential harassment, and we know how to handle that. There's been no collusion. After two years, no collusion.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: So here's the thing, though, you know, Barr's letter said that the public only knows about most, not all of the events. So what we just heard there, those are things that we have been covering as part of this investigation. That's the stuff we know about. It's what we don't know about that we'll be looking for.
PROKUPECZ: Certainly that's going to be the big thing that we're going to go through this and try to find aspects of this investigation of the ways in which Mueller looked at some of the things the president said.
[20:10:04] And not only the president, others perhaps on his team. Witnesses who may have come in and said this is the conversation that was ongoing around the president, around people. We may -- we may get a little window into that somehow. We may not know necessarily who the people are that said these things but I think the big thing is to -- for us will be to understand how was Mueller thinking?
And why was he thinking the way he was thinking in terms of this investigation? And what is it? You know, what is it? Where are the hang-ups? What is it that they couldn't prove in terms of obstruction and whether or not it was criminal enough to bring charges? And perhaps, I mean, this issue that there was information on both sides of the equation. That's going to be very interesting.
PEREZ: Don McGahn is one of the more interesting witnesses. Right? And I think we're going to look for some of what he said to Mueller because I think that, obviously, a lot of --
BROWN: The White House counsel. Yes.
PEREZ: Right, the former White House counsel who was witness to some of what we now know were reported, things that looked like obstruction, right, and ended up being not enough to bring charges. So I think one of the things I'm going to be looking for is to sort of -- it's one thing, you know, to read this in the media but another thing to see what these people said to the investigators. What did Don McGahn say -- if he can, you know, if he can get his voice from this report, I think that will be fascinating.
BROWN: I'm curious what you think, Dana, in terms of how this report can shape public perception. Is it already baked in from the four- page Barr letter to Congress? Because this really is the first time.
BROWN: We're going to be like looking at Mueller's words. He's been quite -- throughout this investigation Barr really didn't use much of his language in the letter, though he said he --
BROWN: He used a fair amount. I mean --
BASH: That's really -- no, that is the key question politically.
BASH: Is whether or not it is baked in or whether or not what we end up seeing in the Mueller report, particularly on obstruction, is so different and paints much -- so much of a broader, more robust picture than we have just in the one line that it could sway public opinion.
My gut tells me that it's baked in and that, you know, this issue of Russia has the people who love Donald Trump saying it's just -- who cares? And the people who don't like Donald Trump saying, you know, this is the biggest deal in the world. And the question is, are there even any people in the middle now?
BASH: And we don't know the answer to that right now.
BROWN: We certainly don't know the answer. And you know, another interesting thing as we wrap up, there's so much focus on obstruction. I know it's dominated our conversation. But even on collusion. You know, Barr never said there is no evidence. I mean, we could learn a fair amount more about other interactions and conversations. I mean, there is still a lot to learn on that front as well. So we're all going to be reading the report --
PEREZ: That's (INAUDIBLE). Yes.
BROWN: This week, according to the attorney general. All right, thank you so much, Dana Bash, Evan Perez, Shimon Prokupecz. Appreciate it.
Coming up, let the spin begin. Even before the Mueller report drops, the word from the White House is apparently been there, done that. New reporting just ahead.
[20:17:08] BROWN: Tonight, a Trump administration official telling CNN that the White House is confident that whatever comes out in the Mueller report this week, it will not change the big takeaway from this investigation. No finding of the Trump campaign conspiring with Russia. That sentiment echoed by White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I don't think it is going to be damaging to the president because the entire purpose of the investigation was whether or not there was collusion. Mueller was crystal clear on the fact that there was no collusion, not just to clear the president --
CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS HOST: But he wasn't crystal clear on obstruction.
SANDERS: But any American, they couldn't find anything. They couldn't make a determination which is basically Mueller's way legally of saying, we can't find anything. We're going to leave that up to the process, which is the attorney general. He has made a decision and so we consider this to be case closed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: Joining me now to discuss, CNN chief media correspondent Brian Stelter and CNN political analyst and Washington bureau chief of the "Daily Beast," Jackie Kucinich.
Great to see both of you. Jackie, I want to start with you just about this White House strategy of case closed as we just heard from Sarah Sanders. Do you think that that's the right approach given that there is still a lot we don't know and we could learn in this report released this week?
JACKIE KUCINICH, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the president and his team are really good at sloganeering and really pushing out a narrative and having all of their allies push out the same narrative and saying it over and over and over again, whether or not it's true. And we've seen this many times in this White House. So whether or not it's the right strategy, that remains to be seen but it's something that's worked for them in the past. And they are going to keep doing it.
BROWN: All right. And Brian, Politico had some good color on all of this quoting one White House official.
BRIAN STELTER, CNN SENIOR MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
BROWN: Who said, in 400 pages, there's bound to be something the media will spin as embarrassing for the president and then that will be the story. But will it be collusion? Will it be obstruction? Will it be conspiracy? Will it be criminality? No, no, no and no, but it may not be so clear-cut, right? Especially on obstruction when the attorney general, quoting Barr, said there was -- sorry, the attorney general quoting Mueller said there was evidence on both sides.
STELTER: Yes, and the president wants to fight this on collusion grounds, all these words that have been repeated for a couple of years, even though Mueller was never told to look into collusion, per se. He was told to look into Russian interference and potential conspiracy. Those were kinds of crimes.
Collusion is a word the president will keep going back to. But this is so much more complicated, so much more nuanced than that. And I think most Americans will be able to see that. Most Americans are not buying what the White House is selling when the president repeats his talking points over and over.
I think most Americans are still relatively open-minded when it comes to this subject, although they probably do want to see this concluded. And whenever this report comes out, what's most important is that we all focus on what it says, not what the partisans are saying it says. Not what the spin is. In fact, I'm going to try not to listen to anybody that hasn't read all 400 pages first.
[20:20:03] It's easier said than done. I realize that but the easy and right path for the press in the days ahead is to focus on what the report actually says.
KUCINICH: That's right.
BROWN: And actually I want to follow on that. But just to be clear. So you think that the perception isn't necessarily baked in on a broader scale? Because that's one of the key questions I was just talking to Dana about it.
STELTER: I think there's a third of the country that definitely relies on President Trump for news about President Trump. That's what the scholar Jay Rosen has described as a closed information loop. When you rely on the president's Twitter feed for all your news about Trump you're going to get a certain narrative about Russia and about all of this. But what I think the polls show is that most Americans are not existing in that closed information loop.
BROWN: All right. Jackie, I want to switch gears here a little bit because at the same time, there is this battle over the Mueller report, there's also a congressional battle overseeing the president's tax returns. Here's what the White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said about that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANDERS: I don't think Congress, particularly not this group of congressmen and women, are smart enough to look through the thousands of pages that I would assume that President Trump's taxes will be. My guess is most of them don't do their own taxes and I certainly don't trust them to look through the decades of success that the president has and determine anything. He's filled out hundreds of pages in a financial disclosure form.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: So what is your take? This is a new line here from Sarah Sanders as far as I know of Congress not being smart enough to look through the tax returns.
KUCINICH: I mean, I don't think Congress is going to appreciate that, but there isn't a lot of love between Democrats and --
KUCINICH: Congressional Democrats, particularly House Democrats, and the White House. So this sort of war of words and petty name calling, it just kind of is that, right?
KUCINICH: Like they're not smart enough to do that. That said, it will be interesting to see if the administration is able to block Congress on this. David K. Johnson wrote for the "Daily Beast" over the weekend that the law here is pretty cut and dry. And there really isn't a lot of wiggle room on that, you know, Mnuchin has to not hand over these tax returns. So it will be interesting to see what happens in the coming weeks, what he tells Congress since he said he's not going to necessarily be able to meet their April deadlines, but he said yesterday that there were -- or today, it all blends. That there will be -- that there will be a response of some sort to Congress soon.
BROWN: Brian, I want to give final word to you. What's your reaction?
STELTER: You know, our colleague Eric Levenson has a great piece on CNN.com that points out there are 10 accountants in Congress. Three of the Democrats are certified public accountants so I suspect I would beg to differ with Sarah Sanders about whether they can handle these complicated tax returns or not.
BROWN: OK. We will have to wait and see what happens on that front.
Brian, Jackie, thank you so much.
KUCINICH: Thank you.
BROWN: And coming up, a look back at the attorney general's long record in Washington and why it's raising questions of whether his loyalty is to his base or to his boss, rather, more than his country. We'll be back.
[20:27:30] BROWN: What will William Barr do? As all of Washington waits to see how much the attorney general will redact from Robert Mueller's final report, it's important to note Barr came to the job with a long pedigree at the Justice Department, including serving as attorney general once before. Well, for some, it was reason to give him the benefit of the doubt, but for others, that record was reason to question whether Barr would put serving his boss ahead of the national interest.
CNN's Randi Kaye reports.
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Attorney General William Barr's performance this week isn't the first time he's aligned himself with the president he's serving.
BARR: Thank you, Mr. President.
KAYE: Go back nearly 30 years to Barr's first stint as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush. "New York Times" columnist William Safire, a conservative Republican, often referred to Barr then not as attorney general but as the cover-up general, suggesting he covered up Bush's role in Iraq-gate, burying the investigation of how the Bush administration allegedly helped finance Saddam Hussein's weapons.
Barr also played a role in the Iran-Contra affair, convincing President Bush just before Christmas in 1992 to pardon six former members of the Reagan administration, including former Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger, who was set to go to trial for allegedly lying to Congress. The pardons, at Barr's urging, essentially shut down the independent counsel's investigation, leading some to call it a miscarriage of justice.
In 2001, Barr was asked about the pardons. His response, "The Iran- Contra ones, I certainly did not oppose any of them."
Also telling in Barr's history is this 19-page unsolicited memo Barr wrote to the Justice Department in June last year before Trump nominated him. In it, Barr criticizes the Mueller investigation, calling Mueller's obstruction of justice theory fatally misconceived.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): This is what he was hired to do, which was to protect the president, but it is deeply concerning.
KAYE (on camera): Back in 2017, Barr also raised eyebrows, telling the "New York Times" there was more basis for investigating the sale of uranium between the U.S. and Russia while Hillary Clinton was secretary of State than the Trump campaign's alleged collusion with Russia. But when Barr said it, the FBI had already investigated the Uranium One deal and no evidence has ever been made public showing proof of a bribery scheme or wrongdoing. Barr later walked back his claims.
BARR: I have no knowledge of the Uranium One. I didn't particularly think that was necessarily something that should be pursued aggressively.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KAYE: Meanwhile, if you think William Barr may be too close to the President, consider this, his son-in-law works in the White House counsel's office. The son-in-law's role is troubling, says the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, because, "It raises further questions about Barr's independence."
Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Coming up, the man who succeeded Kenneth Starr, issued the final report on the Whitewater scandal, joins me live, with his take on the impending Mueller report. Stay right there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. ED CASE (D-HI): This is what drives the public, crazy, when they see something like this. This is what we have to try to avoid when we get into this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[20:35:03] BROWN: Well, that was Congressman Ed Case of Hawaii, using a 2017 memo from the Justice Department, as a prop, to criticize what are sure to becoming redactions in the Mueller report. It was a topic that came up more than once, this week, as Attorney General Bill Barr was testifying on the Hill.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. BRAIN SCHATZ (D-HI): I assume there may be some redactions. There may be none. But the basic question, I think, for the public is, are we going to get the gist of this, or is it going to be, you know, on January of 2015, and then -- and then you have to flip 15 pages to find the next text?
BARR: You will get more than the gist.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: You will get more than the gist, all right. Joining me now, Robert Ray, the man who succeeded Kenneth Starr as independent council in that role he investigated and issued the final reports on the Whitewater scandal and the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal.
Robert, thank you for coming on, if it seems --
ROBERT RAY, FORMER WHITEWATER INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: Nice to be with you.
BROWN: Yes, wonderful. So, if it seems this report is politically redacted, does Mueller have a responsibility, in your view, to stand up and tell the American people what really happened?
RAY: Well, it's up to the Attorney General, in the first instance, I mean, I think everybody should withhold judgment and make their own evaluation from the report that we expect will be released probably Monday or Tuesday.
You know, redactions notwithstanding to support the conclusions that the Attorney General has already issued that Bob Mueller's investigation was not able to substantiate Russia collusion and that there was insufficient evidence to proceed with regard to the President involving obstruction of justice.
I think there'll be enough in the report that is released in order to make an intelligent evaluation of the -- both Bob Mueller's conclusion and the Attorney General's conclusion of the investigation.
BROWN: I'm curious. During the hearing, did it surprise you that the Attorney General said he doesn't plan on withholding information based on executive privilege?
RAY: I think that was news. Obviously, you know, there remain other bases to withhold information. The most significant of which, and that remains, is grand jury information which would otherwise require a court order and a very unusual set of circumstances before a court would ever order the release of grand jury material, in this instance, over the Department of Justice's objection.
So, I think there's that. I think we all understand -- I think everybody does on both sides of the political divide that National Security information and sources and methods, you're going to have to find another way in order to get Congress that information.
It's obviously not going to be through the public release of the report. They may be able to do that in a follow-up session, which the Attorney General indicated he was not opposed to, to work with Congress about getting Congress that information in closed session.
And then, I think, finally, no one wants to see the -- that any pending investigations would be jeopardized by virtue of disclosure of information in the report, so that would have to be held -- withheld, at least, temporarily.
BROWN: So, what did you think of Mueller, ending this investigation without ever speaking to President Trump? And do you expect an explanation of that to be in this report?
RAY: I think that you can expect that there's probably an explanation, in the report, over the span of the 22-month investigation about what their determination or calculation was about why they did not seek to subpoena the President's testimony.
And I can just offer you, based on experience, my own sense of that is that that would have resulted in a constitutional question that would have been opposed by the President's lawyers, and probably the White House.
It would have resulted in litigation, and that litigation would have, in my experience, have taken months, and would have substantially delayed the investigation, with no sure sense that it would have prevailed in the end.
I mean, the case law appears to be fairly clear in the D.C. circuit that unless there's no other way to obtain the information, really, the President, his office and his functioning in our constitutional system is unique.
He should not have to labor under a grand jury subpoena, while in office and that there were, I think, in this investigation, as we've seen, much of what went on in public, other people who were prepared to offer testimony with regard to the President's conduct.
So, again, you know, my sense is, wait until the report comes out, I think we'll have, probably, an answer and an explanation to the question that you've just raised.
BROWN: Yes, the President's lawyer said repeatedly that, look, they don't need to sit down with him because they have all this information. They've done all these witness interviews and millions and millions of documents. On the other hand, the other side argues in order to understand his intent, you have to talk to him.
So that is something we're going to be looking for an explanation of sorts. Robert Ray, thank you so much for coming on.
RAY: Thanks for having me.
[20:40:02] BROWN: And coming up, the counter report to the Mueller report. What we're learning about how the White House is preparing for the moment it's out.
BROWN: In anticipation of the Mueller report's potential release, President Trump's team of lawyers has been working for months on a counter-report. Trump's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, telling the Wall Street Journal, the counter-report is 140 pages long, but their goal is to whittle it down to about 50 pages, focusing on the topic of obstruction of justice, and scrapping most of the material on collusion.
[20:45:04] Joining me now, former Trump White House lawyer Jim Schultz, and former Clinton White House Counsel Jack Quinn. Thank you both for coming on. Jim, what do you think Giuliani's motive is here in revealing this counter report? And is it wise to scrap the bit about collusion because, after all, Barr's letter summarizing Mueller's findings says that there wasn't a finding of collusion but that doesn't mean that there's not unseemly or damning information as it pertains to a potential conspiracy?
JAMES SCHULTZ, FORMER TRUMP WHITE HOUSE LAWYER: They must feel pretty comfortable about the collusion issue not to raise that in the counter report. And the big question out there, and what the Democrats have been spinning from day one is, what's the there there on the issue of obstruction? And that's clearly something that Rudy Giuliani and the team wants to address.
BROWN: So, do you think, you know, and talking to White House officials, there is this sense of, OK, we're good. Look, the bottom line findings are in our favor, in their view, even though Mueller punted on obstruction, but Barr has cleared him, you know. But do you think, Jack, that they should be more concerned, and what kind of preparation do you foresee under -- being underway in anticipation of this report, sort of not knowing exactly what's in it, but also knowing that it's not probably going to be as favorable as this four- page letter that Barr sent to Congress?
JACK QUINN, FORMER CLINTON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: Yes. Well, it's very hard, as you can imagine, to summarize a 400-page report in four pages and not leave out some things that are going to be juicy tidbits for your opposition. So, I do think there's going to be more coming. There's going to be more that might be problematic. And none of this, by the way, is going to get in the way of all of these house-led investigations that will doubtless ensue. So, I think that, you know, there -- look, the fact is the narrative has been controlled by the Trump folks.
It's been controlled by the attorney general. He got a jump on everyone else. And he really has dictated the terms of the discussion to this point. That, of course, may change as the facts are more fully disclosed. And again, as the House committees begin to get into it, there will be demands for more information. There will be subpoenas issued. There'll be fights over them, and I think, by the way, that though we can absolutely count on plenty of this material being redacted, a lot of it is still going to come out because eventually courts are going to require that it come out because of those House committees have legitimate interest in having access to various parts of the report.
BROWN: It's interesting, Jim, talking to White House officials, you know, they are less concerned about what the public is going to think with the release of this report, and more focused on, will anything in this report give ammunition to Democrats on the Hill? Like Jerry Nadler. What is he going to seize on? What are others going to seize on? Do you think that's a fair concern? SCHULTZ: Look, you know, like, I think Jack's right, there's going to be little nuggets in there that they're going to try to get their hands on and put their best spin on it. And they've already -- we've already seen that with him attacking Barr's letter, initial letter, you know, the determinations that both he and Rod Rosenstein, I think it's very important. Rod Rosenstein, to the Democrats and members of Congress on the democratic side, was the savior of the Mueller investigation. Now, he comes out with his own legal conclusions along with Barr, and now all of a sudden, he's the GOAT. You can't have it both ways.
BROWN: You bring up Rod Rosenstein. He has been a key figure in all of this, and he is publicly defending Attorney General William Barr through his criticism, through all the criticism of his handling of the Mueller report. Rosenstein telling The Wall Street Journal on Thursday, "He's being as forthcoming as he can. And so, this notion that he's trying to mislead people, I think is just completely bizarre."
But Rosenstein refused to tell The Journal how or why Mueller's findings do not clearly answer the obstruction question as Barr summarized. What do you think? I mean, is this sort of a no-win situation for Bill Barr? Like, no matter how he handles this, he's just going to be criticized, or do you think he has a point?
QUINN: Well, he is going to be criticized. Again, it is inevitable that his very brief summary left out some important things.
BROWN: And he says that was never meant to be a summary of the -- of the report, it was just meant to lay out the key findings.
QUINN: I'm sorry. I'm sorry, but that's his fault.
BROWN: I'm just trying to get this, but he's --
QUINN: That's the top-line findings. He chose to put it out there. He has to live with it. But again, I think, by the way, that in an effort to get control of the narrative, it was worth taking the flak for whatever may follow in terms of criticism of things that were left out. Again, Winston Churchill said, you know, the -- what is it? A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth gets its pants on? And I think that, you know, that's the case here.
[20:50:00] I mean, look, it was critically important for the team Trump to get hold of the story, the narrative to shape how this is going to be covered. Will it last? That remains to be seen. And it's going to depend almost entirely on what was left out, what comes out in the coming days, weeks, and months, and that's going to have a lot to do with where these committees go and what they're able to turn up in these investigations.
SCHULTZ: Barr needed to get out there ahead of this from the beginning. He was like the dad in a car on his way to Disney with the kids in the back. The kids in the back, dad, when are we going to get there? Dad, when are we going to get there? We're going to get there when it's time. When -- it takes as much time as it takes to get there. And I think what he needed to do was get out ahead of it a little bit to give the kids in the back seat a little bit to -- a little bit before they got there in terms of information.
BROWN: And we'll see. I mean, we're going to be able to see the report with redactions as Barr said, so we'll be able to judge for ourselves how truthful, forthcoming, he was in that four-page letter. Jack Quinn, Jim Schultz, thank you so much.
QUINN: Thank you.
BROWN: We do appreciate it. And we're going to be right back.
[20:55:13] BROWN: The year was 1972 and Richard Nixon had plenty to celebrate. He had been re-elected in a landslide, carrying 49 states, but shortly into his second term, the cover-up of a break-in at the Watergate complex leads to Nixon waging a battle in the press. And it's not long before a desperate President becomes his own worst enemy. Here's a preview of tonight's finale of "TRICKY DICK."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The President has today requested and accepted the resignation of John Dean from his position of the White House Counsel. OK.
RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good evening. In recent months, members of my administration and officials of the committee for the re-election of the President, including some of my closest friends, and most trusted aides, have been charged with involvement in what has come to be known as the Watergate affair.
In any organization, the man at the top must bear the responsibility. That responsibility, therefore, belongs here in this office. I accept it. And I pledge to you tonight from this office that I will do everything in my power to ensure that the guilty are brought to justice and that such abuses are purged from our political processes in the years to come long after I have left this office.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BROWN: And joining me now, CNN Presidential Historian and former director of the Nixon Presidential Library, Timothy Naftali. Thanks for coming on, Tim. When the Watergate story first broke, it wasn't something the majority of the public was paying attention to. What was the tipping point?
TIMOTHY NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, the Senate Watergate hearings in the early part of 1973 riveted the country. They were covered pretty much gavel to gavel, and it was at those hearings that the public heard from John Dean, a member of the President's inner circle, who said the President was, himself, involved in the cover-up, and it was at those hearings that the public then learned that we could test whether John Dean was telling the truth or not because the President had taped most of his conversations.
So, the public saw Watergate unfold in front of them, and then a few months later, the President fires the special prosecutor and that creates what is now known as, and was known then as the Saturday Night Massacre. So, the public was very much watching Watergate unfold like some kind of Dickensian tragedy. And that continued until the President resigned in August of 1974.
BROWN: President Nixon, as you well know, he was defiant to the end, combative with the press, and of course, we remember his famous "I Am Not a Crook" speech. How was he able to keep up that facade for so long?
NAFTALI: Because most Americans want to believe their President. When John Dean said the President was part of the cover-up, a lot of Americans just didn't believe him. It was his word against a man who had won in a landslide victory in 1972. It took a lot of -- it took a long time for that respect for Nixon to erode. Part of it eroded because Nixon released these transcripts of tapes that had been requested by the special prosecutor, and the public was really disappointed in the amorality of his language. And then, when Nixon said time and again, I was not involved in the cover-up, and the Supreme Court forced the President to release tapes and those tapes showed that he was part of the cover-up, the transcripts did, the public lost whatever respect it had for Nixon.
By the end of his presidency, he was only supported by a little over 20 percent of the American people, and he had lost the complete support of Republicans and Democrats in Congress. He was forced out. He had no place to go. He would have been removed by the Senate. There's little doubt of that.
BROWN: And it's interesting because so many historians and experts believed that, you know, he was qualified to be President, and it's amazing just to see that fall from grace.
NAFTALI: Pamela, he committed crimes against the American people. He abused his power. Congress decided that they had a constitutional duty to get rid of him, and he left.
BROWN: All right. That summed it up. Timothy Naftali, thank you.
NAFTALI: Thank you, Pamela.
BROWN: The final episode of "TRICKY DICK" airs next, right here on CNN. And that does it for me. I'm Pamela Brown. Have a great night.