Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Special Counsel's Very Long-Awaited Report On Election Interference By Russia And Related Activities By The Trump Campaign And The President Finally On Public Display. Aired: 2-2:30p ET

Aired April 18, 2019 - 14:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That is really key here and that wasn't in that four-page letter. And that is part of why we're now getting a better understanding of our reporting of why members of Mueller's team were upset about that initial representation because they didn't feel like it was a fair reflection of the obstruction investigation.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's take a little pause here and reset at the top of the hour.

Hi, I'm Jake Tapper in Washington.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Anderson Cooper also in Washington. The Special Counsel's very long awaited report on election interference by Russia and related activities by the Trump campaign and the President finally is on public display -- most of it anyway -- finds no evidence the Trump camp conspired or coordinated with Russian hacking or meddling, ample occasions the President trying to derail or cut short the investigation.

TAPPER: Robert Mueller writes that on the very day of his appointment, May 2017, the President complained, "This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I'm effed." And though Mueller declined to conclude that a criminal charge of obstruction against the President was possible, he lays bare repeated attempts by President Trump to interfere with the investigation, and he says the main reason those attempts failed, is that White House aides refused to go along. They refused to carry out his orders and instructions.

So let's get to CNN's Laura Jarrett at the Justice Department right now. And Laura, the conspiracy charge will be discussed by Evan, tell us about obstruction. Where does Mueller ultimately land when it comes to whether the President tried to illegally obstruct justice when it comes to this investigation?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Jake, the picture that emerges here is really one of the President's aides and advisers and officials, trying to protect him from his worst instincts. We see time and again here, laid out chapter and verse different officials telling the Special Counsel's Office different times they felt pressure to take actions that they weren't comfortable with, them telling the President no, and him continually to berate them.

And this is what the Special Counsel says on this issue. "The President's efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests." One of those people is his former White House Council Don McGahn who describes a really stunning episode here, where the President was facing media reports about obstruction of justice, which obviously he took great displeasure in.

And it says on June 14th -- I'm quoting from the Special Counsel's report -- "On June 14, 2017, the media reported that the Special Counsel's Office was investigating whether the President had obstructed justice. Press reports called this a major turning point." They go on to talk about, "While Comey had told the President that he was not under investigation, following Comey's firing, (the former FBI director). The President was now under investigation.

And the President reacted to this news with a series of tweets criticizing the Department of Justice and the Special Counsel's investigation. On June 17th, the President calls McGahn at home and directed him to call the acting Attorney General (being Rod Rosenstein) and say that the Special Counsel had conflicts of interest and must be removed."

"McGahn did not carry out that direction, however, deciding that he would resign rather than trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday Night Massacre." Of course allusion there to the Watergate episode that is so famous, and they go out from there to just describe in chapter and verse, so many different episodes.

Some of which we had known about, of course, the firing of FBI Director James Comey, that was very public, but also episodes that we didn't know as much about that the Special Counsel here describes an episode where Trump tried to get a message to the former Attorney General, Jeff Sessions through a former aide, Corey Lewandowski.

He wanted to get a message to Sessions to essentially tell him that prospectively, the Special Counsel could focus on elections going forward, but the insinuation there is not to focus on the current investigation, almost trying to redirect the Special Counsel's investigation through Lewandowski.

Lewandowski did not go forward with that. He is one of those officials who didn't actually exceed (ph) the President's wishes. But nonetheless, it paints a picture there, you see all of these different episodes, where again, they were trying to restrain him from his own worst impulses.

And finally, just on one of the more interesting pieces where you see a little bit of daylight, I think, between the Attorney General and Bill Barr -- between the Attorney General Bill Barr and the Special Counsel's team is on this issue of doing things in public. The Attorney General has suggested you can't obstruct justice, necessarily, if all the things were in public. It suggests that there wasn't corrupt intent, but the Special Counsel's Office has a different analysis on that.

[14:05:05] JARRETT: And essentially says the President wields a significant amount of power, especially over his subordinates. He has a mass communication available to him at all times. And that just because it's in public, doesn't mean it's necessarily not obstruction -- Jake and Anderson.

COOPER: Laura Jarrett, thank you very much. We're going to talk more about the investigation into collusion as well. But we're just covering the obstruction part of this one. We go to senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez for that -- Evan.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Anderson. This is Volume 1 of the two-volume report and it describes in great detail the efforts by the Russian Intelligence Services first, to try to undermine the election system here in the United States.

And then secondly, to actually hack into the Clinton campaign and to distribute those e-mails to undermine her campaign, and to help Donald Trump's campaign and it describes also in great detail the different ways that people associated with the campaign, not only had conversations, knew about what they thought was going to be dirt that would be harmful to Hillary Clinton, help the Trump campaign and encouraged some of that behavior.

They talk about -- the Special Counsel's report talks about different things that they looked into on this issue of collusion. They looked beyond the issue of conspiracy. They looked at whether or not there were any campaign finance crimes that they could charge, including that now infamous June 2016 meeting that Donald Trump, Jr., the President's son helped organize under the idea that they were going to -- they were expecting to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.

I'll read your part of the report, in which they say, quote, "The Office ultimately concluded that even if the principal legal questions were resolved favorably to the government, a prosecution would encounter difficulties proving that campaign officials or individuals connected to the campaign willfully violated the law."

In other words, because the investigation couldn't prove that these people were intentionally trying to violate campaign finance law, that's the reason why in the end, no charges were brought against Donald Trump, Jr. or anybody else associated with the campaign. They looked at this issue very, very closely.

And then we also know that, obviously, from the various examples shown in this report, that there were different ways in which the Trump campaign knew about what the Russians were doing, and really believe that they were going to benefit from what the Russians were doing, to try to interfere with the election.

I'll read you a part of that also, in the report, it says, quote, "Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived that it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the campaign expected that it would benefit electorally from information stolen and release through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in the election interference activities." And one of the key parts of the report, the Special Counsel describes

that essentially, they looked at whether or not there was an agreement between people associated with the campaign and the Russians. That's the way they looked at this to try to decide whether or not there was a crime that was committed here. And they couldn't find any evidence that there was an actual agreement.

Now, there's some disagreement, I think, among legal experts as to whether or not some of the activity that we see - we saw in plain sight in 2016, some of the evidence that we see here in this report would constitute a crime. I think there's some people who would disagree with that, but that's the way the Special Counsel arrived at its conclusion.

Now, just one last thing I want to make a mention of, the section that Laura Jarrett just covered, the obstruction section, we had previously reported was lightly redacted, at least comparatively speaking. The part that I'm talking about the collusion part has a lot of pages that look like this.

A lot of it has to do with ongoing matters. They say that there's a harm to ongoing matters, and that's the reason for the redactions. We know that there are 14 cases that were referred by the Mueller investigation.

Again, a lot of pages that look like this, referring to parts of the investigation that are still not public. We don't know all of those investigations that are still ongoing, guys. Back to you.

TAPPER: All right, Evan Perez, thank you so much. Pamela Brown, you're diving into some of the answers that President Trump gave in his written response from Mueller. He refused to actually sit for an interview with the Special Counsel.

BROWN: That's right. So the President's lawyers have released this and full, only part of the written answers were in the Mueller report. So they wanted to release this in full because they felt like it was important to get the full picture here.

And it started off with a letter with the lawyers making the case that Mueller didn't need to interview the President because they already had everything they needed from witnesses and documents. That's what the lawyers contended.

And one of the key questions in here from Robert Mueller's team is whether the President had any knowledge about that Trump Tower meeting that we reported on so much, where the Russians offer dirt about Hillary Clinton to Don, Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner who were participating in that. It was in June of 2016.

[14:10:10] BROWN: In response, the President said, "I have no recollection of learning at that time that Donald Trump, Jr., Paul Manafort or Jared Kushner was considering participating in a meeting in June 2016 concerning potentially negative information about Hillary Clinton, nor do I recall learning during the campaign that the June 9, 2016 meeting had taken place, that the referenced e-mails existed or the Donald J. Trump, Jr. had other communications with the Emin Agalarov of Robert Goldstone between June 3, 2016 and June 9, 2016."

These were the communications we reported on where the initial offer was made by Rob Goldstone, that there could be negative information about Hillary Clinton of interest.

And so this is a theme throughout the written responses, which is very lawyerly, saying I don't recall and in Mueller's report, he says, there were more than --

COOPER: That's exactly having some talk.

BROWN: That's exactly -- yes, exactly. "I do not recall," very formal like that. But Mueller's team viewed these answers as quote, "inadequate." This is what they said in the report. They said there were more than 30 occasions where the President said, "I do not recall." Again, there's nothing wrong with that. Any lawyer would advise you to do that.

But it certainly sort of flies in the face of this notion that Mueller got everything that he wanted as it pertained to the President. What is clear is while Mueller's team did not pursue a subpoenaed interview of the President for a variety of reasons, not wanting to lengthen the investigation. Clearly, that would have been something that they would have preferred over these written answers that they were unsatisfied with.

TAPPER: Although to be fair, is it not true that there isn't any evidence that the President did know about that Trump Tower meeting ahead of that time?

BROWN: That's absolutely right. I mean, there is -- he says he doesn't recall and there isn't any evidence that he did have knowledge about it beforehand or after. There's been a lot of speculation surrounding it. Don, Jr. himself has denied that he ever told his father this, and he said that under oath to Congress as well. And so this certainly is in line with our reporting of there not being any evidence to support the President knowing about this meeting.

TAPPER: And on the conspiracy arm of this where the President and his family have been cleared of any criminal conspiracy with the Russians. No evidence of that at all. It's not as though if the President had sat for an interview, that there would have been any information that he would have given them that would have changed that conclusion. It's possible --

BROWN: We don't know. I mean --

TAPPER: Well, I mean, what would he have said? Yes, Putin and I talked, and we made a deal. I mean, there's nothing he would have said, theoretically. Now, he could have gotten in trouble for perjury theoretically.

BROWN: That's what I'm saying. Yes. I mean, we don't know how he would have responded. But you're right. I mean, this is -- these are his answers. He is saying I don't recall. Now, the whole question -- the reason the lawyers didn't want him to go in front of Mueller's team is because they were worried about that about, about perjury of the President saying --

TAPPER: As well, they should.

BROWN: As well, they should.

COOPER: But also to try to predict what the President of the United States is going to say in any given conversation is a hard thing to do. And so, you know, he has claimed to have had a relationship with Vladimir Putin on numerous times over the years.

TAPPER: Right, because they were on "60 Minutes."

COOPER: They were on "60 Minutes" together, right. There is no green room at "60 Minutes" that they would happen to have met. But even before that, there was -- when he had the Miss Universe, he was talking about Vladimir Putin and the relationship.

So just because, rationally yes, there is no evidence that we know of that would show anything, you just never know, as an attorney, you would not want your client speaking --

TAPPER: Sure, and theoretically, as an American, we should all want the President to be able to sit down and talk to whomever because he has nothing -- I'm just saying, the most important part of this investigation is whether or not anybody on the Trump team conspired with the Russians. There's no evidence that it happened.

And I know, and I understand the legal objection to it, and I understand that President Clinton sat for an interview and President Reagan after he was President sat down for an interview for Iran Contra, and there's all sorts of precedent that this President upends. I'm just saying, it's not as though his answers would have changed that most important substance.

BROWN: The substance -- the substance -- the part of it. Exactly right. And I also want to note, Bill Barr today said, "Look, the White House was fully forthcoming with witness interviews, with documents." But let's not forget, as you well know, we were reporting. This was part of the White House strategy to put forth all these witnesses and all of these documents so that the President didn't have to sit down for that presidential interview. So that's also something to keep in mind.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Another thing that sticks out from his answers is in one, they asked about his comment, "Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the e-mails." And in his answer, he says he'd made it sarcastically and in jest, a line that the White House has since picked up on when asking about his multiple comments about WikiLeaks.

But then, of course, later on in the report, we find out regarding Flynn and others that the President was actually directing people either affiliated with his campaign or associates of his campaign to actually try to find the Hillary Clinton e-mails. So it does show that as a question that they could have followed up on instead of just what they had in the written questions they submitted. BROWN: Yes, because he may have said in jest, but he was serious

about following it up.

TAPPER: Behind the scenes, he was serious trying to get Michael Flynn to track them down and in fact, something else is just in from CNN reporter, Marshall Cohen, security contractor, Erik Prince.

[14:15:03] TAPPER: Who is the brother of the Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos and also he used to run Blackwater and then changed its name to Z or whatever, a military contractor. He helped finance an effort to obtain Hillary Clinton's deleted e-mails in 2016. According to this report, the effort was led by Barbara Ledeen, a one-time Republican Hill staffer, an associate of Michael Flynn.

In September 2016, Ledeen claimed to have received, quote, "a trove of e-mails that belonged to Hillary Clinton, but she wanted to authenticate the e-mails," Prince, quote, "provided funding to hire a tech adviser to ascertain the authenticity of the e-mails." The Mueller report says the analysis determined the e-mails weren't real.

So whether or not the President was serious when he said, "Russia, if you're listening, we want those e-mails." He and his buddies were absolutely trying to find them -- all of these deleted e-mails.

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That's exactly why it's important to try to get an interview. I mean, a good question can get more things. You can confront them with some of those inconsistencies as well. And I think it's very telling from a prosecutor's point of view that Mueller says the answers were, quote, "inadequate." Because if you simply didn't have enough evidence from those answers, you say we didn't get enough evidence.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Also you know, I hope I'm not playing a semantic game here. But Barr said that there was no evidence of collusion. No, what the conclusion of the report is, is that there was no prosecutable case. There was not enough evidence to bring a criminal case --

TAPPER: Insufficient.

TOOBIN: Insufficient evidence to bring a criminal case involving the Trump campaign and Russian interest. That's different from no evidence. And I think, you know, there is more evidence in the report than I had certainly known about connections between the Trump campaign and Russia and I certainly understand and respect Mueller's conclusion that there was not a criminal case to be made there.

But the idea that this was somehow some fantasy, and that there was never any basis for suspicion about the relationship between the Trump campaign and Russia is clearly refuted by this report.

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: And of course, Barr -- well, we all read his four-page synopsis. We were critical of Robert Mueller because it left the impression that here he was with all of these credentials, wringing his hands, "I don't know what to do anymore," as opposed to the notion of his hands were tied by that prosecutable aspect of it.

Also, the idea -- it just makes me wonder, given the focus on WikiLeaks et cetera, Julian Assange was just arrested last week. I mean, there are there are now 14 investigations that were farmed out by the Mueller probe. One of those involved -- I suspect perhaps of the 12, we don't know about, we know there was a sealed indictment from a year ago when it could have been completely been during the actual tenure of the investigation.

So I have to wonder, are there other reasons why there are redactions and are they relatable to WikiLeaks in that particular aspect of it? Is the fantasy of the President calling people to give information? Is there more to the story?

COOPER: Yes, you know, I want to go to Laura Jarrett. Laura, one of the most -- one of the kind of fascinating details that we're seeing in the Mueller report on the obstruction issue is repeated efforts by the President to get other people around him either in the White House or in the case of Corey Lewandowski, an outside adviser who was working as a consultant to do things which they then do not do, either for their own protection, because they realize it would be illegal or it would jeopardize them or perhaps it would jeopardize the President.

JARRETT: Really trying to save him -- the President -- from his own worst impulses. It appears from this narrative from the Special Counsel. A couple of new details that we had not seen before today, I just want to lay out for our audience.

One, the Special Counsel describes how those outside advisers, namely Corey Lewandowski, and Rick Dearborn each declined to deliver a message to the then Attorney General Jeff Sessions saying he should curtail the scope of the Special Counsel's investigation.

Lewandowski took this message from the President, and he tried to get Dearborn to do it and believing he would be a better messenger. And interesting, Dearborn told the Special Counsel, it definitely raised an eyebrow, he never passed along the note, but he told Lewandowski he had handled the situation.

In another instance, it has to do with the person who used to be the number three over here at the Justice Department, Rachel Brand, the Associate Attorney General. And in that case, the President actually asked his former aide, Rob Porter, whether Brand was quote "on our team," and whether she would be tough and whether she would have any interest in overseeing the Special Counsel investigation.

Again, just trying to find a way to skip over Jeff Sessions on that front and Porter said he didn't actually end up asking Brand whether she would be interested in that because he was uncomfortable with the task. So just a couple of new tidbits they're trying to shed more light on how -- he was really just so determined to try to get rid of Sessions or sort of redirect the Special Counsel's work there.

[14:20:05] COOPER: It's fascinating here, you know, Corey Lewandowski says to the President, "Okay. Yes, I've got it. I understand." A month goes by, nothing happens. The President says, "What's going on?"

He was like, "Oh, it's going to happen soon." And then he goes to Rick Dearborn. He's like, "I think you're a better messenger," and Rick Dearborn is like, "Okay," and then says, "It's been handled," and I mean, nothing gets handled.

JARRETT: Yes, that's exactly right. And again, because you can sense the unease and at least, that's how they're describing it to the Special Counsel's Office, you know, their interview settings, how they felt at the time, only they can know. But they're describing to Mueller's team that they felt uncomfortable with these requests.

TAPPER: Thank you, Laura. It says, "The President's efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful," but that's largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.

COOPER: Incredible.

TAPPER: So he's got some good workers around him.

COLLINS: For Porter specifically, he told the Special Counsel that though it wasn't explicit, his understanding was the President wanted to find someone to end the Russia investigation or fire the Special Counsel. That's why he wanted him -- Rob Porter -- to reach out to Rachel Brand that number three at the Justice Department, so then she could take it, so potentially she could take over, which clearly, he did not want to do.

We should note that when Brand left, there was speculation she wanted to stay away from Mueller. She shot that down. She said, she was taking it because she wanted to be at that job at Walmart, but clearly --

COOPER: We should also point out that when Rob Porter left the White House, for the reasons that he left, because of allegations of what he had done previously to two women, the President spoke fondly of him and favorably of him, you know, again, now we know he was part of this.

TAPPER: I wonder when you talk about -- you've been reporting, both of you two have been reporting about the people around the President being worried about the Mueller report coming out. I wonder how much of it is them being worried that the President is going to see how often they ignored his orders versus them spilling the beans about various actions that the President took because --

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And how they told the Special Counsel they knew it was wrong. They knew it was outside the norm and it's interesting if you look at the report, at one point it says when he wanted to fire the Special Counsel, he was told the Deputy Attorney General and Rachel Brand would both resign.

At another point he was told Don McGahn and Don McGahn's Chief of Staff were prepared to resign. The people were literally prepared to resign to stop the President from doing what he wanted to do. TAPPER: Everyone, thank you so much.

COOPER: Our special coverage of the Mueller report release continues. Chris Cuomo is going to come back after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[14:26:57] CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon, I'm Chris Cuomo in New York. I want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.

This is our special coverage on the release of the Mueller report. Now please make no mistake, the public is only seeing a redacted version. These big black spaces for different reasons, it's all coded and you'll see that.

Attorney General William Barr says he will allow a bipartisan group of congressional leaders to see the report with fewer portions blacked out, but the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Democrat Jerry Nadler says he has not received that assurance from Barr and if we've learned anything, it is not easy to take Mr. Barr at his word where the Mueller report is involved.

And in fact, Nadler says he will issue a subpoena for the full report and its underlying evidence. Nadler is due to hold a news conference at any moment. We will bring it to you live.

So there are two big takeaways that you need to know right now. Mueller found no evidence that the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with election interference by Russians. What does that mean? There was no Russian agent within the Trump campaign, and they could not make a criminal case against any. However, however, the idea that nobody did anything wrong, that this was a witch hunt or a hoax is now demonstrably false.

There's no reason to argue about it. There's no reason to speculate. This document -- these two volumes -- the first one is hundreds of pages of piece of proof after piece of proof that people within the Trump campaign took meetings they shouldn't have, looked for information from sources they shouldn't have wanted it from, that they showed they were open for business for foreign entities in a way they should not have done, and they lied about the same. Crimes? No, not necessarily. Certainly not according to Mr. Mueller. However, wrong all the same to suggest otherwise is now demonstrably false.

Second, multiple occasions when the President tried to intervene. All right, let's use that word for now. In the subsequent investigation, the Special Counsel team said quote, "If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment."

"The evidence we obtained about the President's actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."

Now, what does that mean? That is complicated, and I think necessarily so. The President is unlike any of the rest of us. Article II of the Constitution gives him power over the same processes, the same investigations that he was being investigated about. So he had power to do things. So you would have to show specific intent.

Now, we know two things in here. One is very clear.

[14:30:10]