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Analyzing the Mueller Report. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired April 18, 2019 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:00]

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: And how he almost, you can say, making excuses for why the president was behaving the way he was behaving, saying, you need to remember the context of where -- what was going on during that time, as the president was entering the office, then saying -- you know, talking about collusion, using the president's words in this investigation, very problematic.

And I think, when he goes before Congress...

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Problematic, depending on your lens.

PROKUPECZ: Well, I think...

CUOMO: A very good job, if you're looking at it from the Trump perspective.

PROKUPECZ: Right.

CUOMO: He's halfway home, yes.

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: If you want a Roy Cohn, yes.

CUOMO: The second half is, go after the guys who did this to me.

Now, we will have to see if Mr. Barr has the gumption to attack his own when he knows, after -- well, he knows already. He knows what's in this report. He knows it's not justifiable.

But we will see what he chooses to do with his time.

Let me get over to Evan Perez.

This was a very anticipated report, probably the most in two decades, really. And now we have it. Now we have to do the really hard work. You got to read it. You got to think about it. You got to decide what matters to you. You're going to be the ones who dictate what happens, the third, fourth, fifth step here, if any.

Special counsel Bob Mueller did not exonerate the president on obstruction. There's a lot of stink. There's a lot of wrongdoing here on this and on what they call collusion. Collusion is not a crime. It's a behavior. And there was a lot of bad behavior. So there's an opening for Congress to pursue. How much is oversight?

How much is overreach? Mueller also saying the Trump campaign expected to benefit from Russia's illegal actions during the campaign, but they weren't conspirators, they weren't agents.

The report says: "Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released 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."

Shorthand, they weren't Russian agents, not that they did nothing wrong, not that they didn't lie about the same things, but not criminals in that regard.

CNN's Evan Perez at the Justice Department.

On this note, Evan, we keep hearing no collusion. Mueller didn't even consider that word. And it's a meaningful distinction.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Chris.

And I think -- look, I think, after today, there's going to be a lot of time for people to think over what exactly this report says, looking back at what happened in 2016, a lot of which we saw before our own eyes.

We saw some of the activity that the Russians were doing. The president's campaign, the Trump campaign, saw what the Russians were doing. They certainly were aware publicly that there was evidence that the Russians were trying to interfere. There was even evidence -- and they were told by associates that the Russians wanted to try to help the Trump campaign.

And instead of going to law enforcement, instead of calling the FBI at any point in that, including after the point where the Russians were offering a meeting to offer dirt on Hillary Clinton in June 2016, they did none of those things. And then you have the candidate himself, again, some of the actions that the candidate himself took at the same -- at the time.

We saw it on -- in public view, in which he essentially was encouraging the help of the Russians. One of the things he was obsessed with at the time was these deleted e-mails from Hillary Clinton's home server.

And there was a campaign event during that time in which he addressed this. Take a listen to what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing. (END VIDEO CLIP)

PEREZ: And, according to the special counsel's report, within five hours of that, those comments from candidate Trump, the Russians did exactly what he was encouraging them to do.

I will read a part of it. It says here -- quote -- "Within approximately five hours of Trump's statement, GRU officers" -- this is a reference to the Russian military intelligence service -- "targeted for the first time Clinton's personal office. After candidate Trump's remarks, Unit 26165 created and sent malicious links targeting 15 e-mail accounts at" -- and then it redacts the rest of the -- of that remark.

CUOMO: Right.

PEREZ: The importance of this is this.

Obviously, we all saw what was happening. The Trump campaign knew what was going on. They -- you have multiple interactions here detailed in this volume of this report describing what people were doing to try to encourage tacitly what the Russians are doing, and nobody thought to call the FBI.

And I think, going forward, I -- obviously, I think we do have to discuss whether or not this is what we expect from a campaign for somebody who is running to run the U.S. government, to be president of this country, knowing that a hostile foreign power...

[15:05:00]

CUOMO: Right.

PEREZ: ... was trying to undermine our system and was trying to essentially help this campaign -- Chris.

CUOMO: Look, the timing there, in the law, they would say correlation is not the same as causation, which means, just because WikiLeaks did that after the then candidate said it doesn't mean that they did it because he said it.

But it does go to why we expect people in power to be responsible in what they say, instead of encouraging malefactors.

PEREZ: Right.

CUOMO: Another aspect of this, though, is what you were referring to, Evan, about being open for business, and making solicitations...

PEREZ: Right.

CUOMO: ... they should have known not to and, in fact, they were told not to in mid to late summer by the authorities.

Rick Gates, we were wondering, how has he been helpful? Two things that I see in the report so far -- and tell me if I have it right and tell me if you can add to it -- one, that he remembers the president saying more WikiLeaks was coming. How did he know?

Two ,Gates recalls Trump Jr. saying that he had a lead on negative information about the Clinton Foundation from some group in Kyrgyzstan. Now, anybody who knows anything about politics and campaigning knows you don't work with foreign entities on your campaign in getting dirt, let alone inimical ones.

And I don't even know if Kyrgyzstan was a real reference or he was trying to cover for Russia. But what's your take?

PEREZ: Right. No, I think that's exactly right.

And I think, look, in this report, Robert Mueller and his investigators go over this idea that to reach to the level to be able to prove a crime, they needed to see whether or not there was an agreement, an agreement, a willful agreement between people associated with the Trump campaign and the Russians.

CUOMO: Right.

PEREZ: And they didn't find that.

But what you see is exactly what you just described, which is a lot of tacit encouragement of the Russians. And that meeting that Rick Gates -- again, one of the things we're seeing a lot of is how Rick Gates was one of the most valuable witness in this -- witnesses in this investigation.

But he describes this meeting in the days before the Trump Tower meeting in June 2016.

CUOMO: Right.

PEREZ: There was a meeting of campaign people, including Eric Trump, Ivanka, Jared Kushner. All of them are there. And he mentions this.

And I think this is a reference to the meeting he was about to have. He sort of mixes it up. But it's clear that they were encouraging this. And they knew what the Russians were trying to do. And they...

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: And they were trying to benefit from it...

(CROSSTALK)

PEREZ: ... call the cops.

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: And they were trying to benefit from it. They were open from it, not a crime, but, again, for the American people to process.

PEREZ: Not a crime.

(CROSSTALK) CUOMO: The president says, I don't know anything about WikiLeaks, vs., tell them Rick Gates more is coming.

PEREZ: Exactly.

CUOMO: You know, them saying that Trump Tower meeting was about adoption, vs. Trump Jr. telling people, I got a bead on dirt from Hillary Clinton from this foreign agency.

People are going to see lies. They're going to see lies about things that these people knew were wrong, even if they weren't criminal.

Evan, thank you very much. Let me know -- as we continue to feed the beast here, let me know what new information you get out of this report.

Joining us now, former Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper. He is now a CNN national security analyst, of course.

Good to see you, sir, as always.

First of all, your take on how the A.G. has handled this process culminating in today?

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, to be honest, Chris, I'm a bit disappointed.

I think the attorney general clearly is trying to paint as favorable a light on the Mueller report as possible. And when you read it, it's pretty devastating.

I'll tell you, though, the thing -- the big thing for me, big deal for me in this was laying out in very rich detail the magnitude and pervasiveness of the Russian interference in our election in 2016.

And it's personally gratifying because of the intelligence community assessment that we rendered on January 6 of 2017, briefed then president-elect Trump on, about the -- about the Russian interference.

But this report, we only scratched the surface. And I hope Americans will take the time to read that. Collusion, obstruction aside, the big deal to me is the magnitude of the Russian interference, and no one can say they didn't interfere and, in fact, I think taint the election.

CUOMO: And like the president did on the world stage with Putin right by his side, where he said, I don't know why it would be Russia.

And then they tried to say after that he said wouldn't. It was about as clumsy as all the other cover-ups that we see in this report. They knew there was interference. They tried to benefit from it. They did things that were wrong. They lied about the same.

But those don't equate with crimes. So, Mr. Clapper, where does it leave us in terms of what to do with this information? What would be a righteous move by Congress? CLAPPER: Well, you know, that's a great question. It really is a

conundrum, as others have commented earlier, particularly for the Democrats, Democrats in the House, is whether to pursue this, in terms of impeachment.

[15:10:12]

Clearly, at least my read of the Mueller report is that there is a road map laid out there, if the Congress chooses to follow it. I think the decision is whether to do that in the face of, you know, Republican resistance or opposition in the Senate, which is where a conviction has to happen, or let this play out through the 2020 election.

I have always felt an impeachment, even the process of impeachment would cause even more divisiveness and polarization in this country.

CUOMO: Yes.

CLAPPER: And the only way to resolve this probably is at the polling -- polling place.

CUOMO: Now, I mean, look, that is the purest way to speak out in opposition to something.

And I don't know how it's going to get more clear than it is in this record. And if you don't have buy-in, if you don't have consensus, I don't know where it goes.

But, Jim Clapper, thank you so much for your guidance throughout this. And we will have to lean on you heavily going forward as well as we start to process everything that's in here and how it fits together. Be well, sir. I will talk to you soon.

All right, let's bring back Shimon Prokupecz, CNN crime and justice reporter, Sara Murray, CNN political correspondent, Josh Campbell, former special assistant to former FBI Director Jim Comey and former FBI supervisory special agent, and Jennifer Rodgers, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor.

All right, Jennifer, let me just start with you.

This -- help me explain to the audience why saying no collusion, no exoneration is grossly distorting what the reality of this report is. Mueller goes out of his way to say how, I don't think about collusion. We're not going to use that term. It's not a crime.

We're only looking for proof conspiracy and whether or not these people were foreign agents. If you want to use collusion by the Webster dictionary, clever behavior, secretive behavior, there are tons of that documented in here. And those actions were lied about repeatedly.

Fair point?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That's right, Chris. I mean, the legal issue here that Mueller was looking into is, was

there a crime committed here? And then he also points out that because of what may happen with Congress afterwards, and he points out also that the president will have no immunity once he's not president anymore, suggesting that he could even be criminally charged after his term ends.

He wanted to do a thorough investigation for that reason. So he wasn't only looking for conspiracy, which, of course, is the federal crime that would have been charged had the president been chargeable here, but looking for coordination as well. As a factual matter, he wanted to say in the report if he found it, that they actually were working together to interfere in the election.

But you're right. Collusion is a different animal altogether. And we know from all of the contacts, communications and so on that were later lied about that there certainly were plenty of evidence of what you call collusion, even if it wasn't the other things that Mueller was looking for.

CUOMO: Yes. Yes, no question about it.

You know what the irony is to me, guys, that if I were doing messaging for them, I would never use the word collusion. I would only say, there is no crime.

MURRAY: There is no criminal conspiracy.

CUOMO: There is no conspiracy. We are not foreign agents. All true. True, true, true. And thank God for that, by the way.

Anybody who is disappointed by those findings, they should check their own agenda and what you want to be true here. But why would we want the president of the United States to be a foreign agent? But they say collusion, they are asking for trouble, because there is a ton of collusion.

PROKUPECZ: But then they maybe admit that they had these contacts with Russians.

For the president, even reading this report, when you listen, when you read about the different people who worked for the president who were interviewed by Mueller, there was always concern with -- for Trump to somehow say, well, the Russians helped me win this election, and he would go out of his way in everything...

CUOMO: The Russians did try to help him win the election.

(CROSSTALK)

PROKUPECZ: He does not want to admit that.

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: Whether or not they had an impact, I don't know how you would measure it. PROKUPECZ: Right.

CUOMO: But the intent was clear.

MURRAY: Well, I mean, and that's the thing. Look, yes, we are -- we are all, as Americans, happy that there is no finding of criminal conspiracy here.

But we do see that, time and time again, they were willing to accept this -- this help from the Russians, that the president was -- then the president-elect or candidate -- can't remember the timing exactly -- was willing to go out there and say, Russia, if you have Hillary Clinton's e-mails, give them to us.

This is not the kind of behavior I think that most of us want to see from people who are running for president, this willingness to accept help from other countries who want to meddle in our election and want to cause chaos, because, remember, that is what Russia was trying to do.

CUOMO: And it worked.

MURRAY: They were trying to interfere in our election and cause chaos.

CUOMO: Look at us now.

MURRAY: And to that extent, it was a success.

So whether it's a criminal conspiracy, whether it's collusion, I mean, this was still a hugely disruptive force in an American election.

CUOMO: Yes. Yes, it worked.

Look, Josh, look, what we have spent two years trying to figure out. We shouldn't need to be having this conversation. We shouldn't have campaigns doing this, being saved by their own ignorance. The reason Trump Jr. didn't get charged...

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Yes, that's right.

[15:15:00]

CUOMO: ... according to the report, is, we couldn't tell whether he willfully broke the law, which means we don't know if he was smart enough to know...

CAMPBELL: Jared Kushner, yes.

CUOMO: ... that trying to get help from foreign powers, let alone inimical ones, is a bad thing to do that would equate to a campaign finance violation.

Pretty low bar. He's lucky he didn't clear it.

CAMPBELL: That's right. And you look at the intelligence community assessment, and no one with

the brain that isn't influenced by politics would look at the set of facts that our intelligence community came up with and conclude that the Russians didn't help, that they weren't favoring Trump over Hillary Clinton.

Obviously, we have heard long -- for a long time that the president looked at that as possibly something going against his legitimacy. But the problem here, fast-forwarding all of that political noise, is that the attorney general, we can't lose sight, has allowed those political talking points, the no collusion to pierce that independent layer inside the Justice Department and stood at that microphone and repeated those remarks, no collusion, but then also took it a step further.

CUOMO: Yes.

CAMPBELL: And this is what really concerns me. And I have talked to people who have this same concern now. Imagine a defense counsel, a defense lawyer out there who is now -- has a case pending before the Department of Justice.

If they now look at what Barr did for the president, saying, well, there was no crime, so we can understand if the president was frustrated, if he was angry, and using that as some kind of excuse, I would imagine that any defense counsel worth their salt out right now is working on that same plan.

If I have a case before DOJ, my client is being prosecuted, and I think he's been treated unfairly, I'm going to bill him as unfair and I'm going to bill him as being felt like he was frustrated, and then use that as a defense.

(CROSSTALK)

CAMPBELL: This goes beyond this, though, Chris.

CUOMO: I got to tell you, I think it's a good defense. I mean, please feel free to push back on it.

But I think it's a good defense for the president here. If you believe that the president knew that there was no Russian agent in his midst, that nobody was doing that, and that he was open for business, and he is a man of questionable ethics and scruples, so that's his mind-set.

I will get it anyway I can get it, right? And then when he finds out they're going to come after him for doing things that he doesn't believe were illegal, so now he's angry.

MURRAY: Right.

CUOMO: And he's president of the United States, which means he can express his anger in ways that would be wrong for us. He can tell people to do things.

CAMPBELL: Yes.

CUOMO: He's in charge of all these things. He has Article 2 constitutional mandate.

I think he's got a good defense, at least in the public sphere.

(CROSSTALK)

CAMPBELL: It's a good defense, but the attorney general should not be the one carrying the water.

CUOMO: A hundred percent.

CAMPBELL: If the president's lawyer wants to do that, that's fine.

CUOMO: A hundred percent.

CAMPBELL: But for him to stand there at Department of Justice and make that case is very troubling.

(CROSSTALK)

PEREZ: Here's exactly what Barr -- in his press conference today.

"Yet, as he said, from the beginning," meaning the president, "there was, in fact, no collusion."

This is -- came from the attorney general's mouth today.

CUOMO: That's an irresponsible statement, one, because it's a point of advocacy, and, two, it's not accurate in terms of the body of this report.

(CROSSTALK)

MURRAY: And the report also goes on to say, look, there was no criminal conspiracy between Donald Trump...

CUOMO: Yes.

MURRAY: ... and the Russians, between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

But it goes on to say, essentially, there was a reason that Donald Trump was so scared of this investigation, because they knew it could dredge up things that could be personally uncomfortable, personally embarrassing, politically damaging.

(CROSSTALK)

CUOMO: If Sara Murray finds out that they're looking into you about whether or not you colluded with Russia, that's not going to be your reaction.

(CROSSTALK)

MURRAY: And there's a line in the report says they also could have uncovered things that the president believed were crimes.

CUOMO: Yes.

MURRAY: Maybe that they were actually crimes, maybe didn't rise to that level. But there was reason for the president to be concerned.

And you could argue -- some attorneys would -- that there was reason for the president then to try to obstruct justice.

PROKUPECZ: The other thing, I think, what made him so concerned is that, in the beginning of his presidency, when he kept going to national -- the intelligence community and national security folks, the leader, and saying, hey, help me out here.

I need you to go out there and distance me from the -- from the Russians, from the Russia investigation. And they were like, no way. This is the oddest thing.

In fact, in the report, it says that the then deputy director of the National Security Agency basically said that it was the most -- oddest thing he had ever experienced in 40 years of working for the government. This is what he told the special counsel, just the president's behavior.

So he knew that there was going to be concern about what was going on during the campaign. The other thing that I found really interesting in the collusion stuff was how you have to be pretty stupid not to know what the Russians here were doing, right?

I mean, really, there's a line in here that said that they were using cutouts to go to the campaign, to go to the transition and say, hey, we need a reconciliation plan between the U.S. and Russia. I mean, what do you think that's about? I mean, do you really not know what that's about?

CUOMO: Right.

CAMPBELL: Can we had too just -- and Sara hit on what I think is thus far reading through this the key point.

And for those following along at home, volume two, page 76. This is that one line where it gets to the president's motive, because we have long been wondering, if you're innocent, why obstruct? I can tell you I was an FBI agent. I never came across a subject who tried to obstruct an investigation that would have proven them innocent.

And so we have been asking, why the obstruction, why the lies? It gets to the point that Sara just mentioned. The president was worried that they might uncover crimes.

Folks, we can't get numb to That. That is not good. The American people should not have to be worried that the president is trying to influence an investigation because he's afraid of where it might lead.

PROKUPECZ: And he was influencing even up to the Manafort trial. There's -- the special counsel's office said that the conduct towards

Manafort indicates that the president intended to encourage Manafort to not cooperate in the investigation.

CUOMO: Right.

PROKUPECZ: You're the president of the United States.

[15:20:00]

CUOMO: Not supposed to do that.

Is it a crime? No, not necessarily. But that doesn't make it OK. And I think that that's going to be said a lot. And how people feel about that is going to mean a lot.

And one other quick tidbit, and we're going to go to break. There are going to be a million tidbits. But there are people who will say and argue -- and you're going to see it all over the political right -- Manafort didn't really give anything to anybody. That's just speculation.

Yes, he did. It's right in the report. He gave polling data to someone that he had reason to know had bad contacts within Russia, and he caused to continue to be given to that person. All right? And then he lied about it.

See, now, that is exactly what we're talking about. Somebody close to the president was doing something with respect to those he should have known were trying to interfere, and he was trying to get benefit from it. Does it make him a Russian agent? No, not necessarily. But is that the right thing to do?

All right, we're going to take a break. When we come back, everybody is methodically going through the report. More and more will come up that will confirm and correct what we have believed to this point.

So, stay with CNN and our continuing coverage.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:25:25]

CUOMO: I got another reason for you to take the time to read through this Mueller report. You're going to wind up having a lot more confidence in the free press in the United States of America, because when you look through this, the questions that were asked, the persistence about why it seemed the White House/the president/those around him as surrogates were not telling you the truth about things is borne out in the facts.

Now, it is true there were people who were pushing a conclusion that did not come to fruition, the idea that this was going to end the presidency, the idea that this would end in a criminal prosecution, that we'd end up in a court. If you watch my show, you have been hearing for months that that wasn't likely. And I know not everybody said that. But, in general, the reporting is borne out by what you're going to read. And I think that's an important exercise.

Now, whether it is warranted or not, President Trump is publicly celebrating the release of the Mueller report as a vindication of him and his presidential campaign.

Be clear, that is not what this report is in any significant way, other than if his bar for satisfaction is not being a felon. OK? There's one portrayal that will not sit well with him.

The report paints a picture of top aides refusing to carry out some of his more heavy-handed orders. In fact, it may have saved at least them from criminal charges.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House.

The irony that a president who's always bashing those around him as inadequate saved his bacon.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

And we're getting details on things that had been reported, but some of these details are pretty damaging. And that's what White House officials in recent days ahead of this release were worried about, because they weren't expecting bombshells, but they knew that this report, after the people that they knew had sat down with him, including the former chief of staff, the former White House counsel, a slew of other officials, gave accounts of what really went on in the West Wing, they knew it would depict this portrayal of chaos that has been reported in the media for months and years.

And that's what we're seeing, these people who refused to do things that the president wanted them to do, either because they didn't think they were legally sound, or they thought they would be politically damaging.

There are several instances here, Chris, in this report that detail this, including one with the White House counsel, then White House counsel Don McGahn, who got a call ordering him to fire the special counsel, something he did not follow through with, and then later got into an argument with the president when he would not publicly deny that the president had ordered him to fire Robert Mueller.

Another is with Corey Lewandowski, someone who doesn't even work in the White House, has not ever worked in the White House, and instead worked on the campaign as an outside consultant. The president gave him orders to tell the attorney general, then Jeff Sessions, to curtail the scope of the Russia investigation.

Now, Lewandowski, according to the report, never followed through on it, attempting to pass it off to another aide, who did also not follow through on what the president instructed. A third one that really stuck out to me was Rob Porter, then the staff

secretary who has left the White House, who the president had a discussion with and asked him if the number three at the Justice Department -- that was Rachel Brand at the time -- and the president asked Rob Porter if she was on their team, and if maybe potentially she could be named attorney general.

Now, he wanted Porter to reach out to Brand to ask her these questions. But Porter never did, because, according to what he told the special counsel, he felt uncomfortable with the task.

CUOMO: Right.

COLLINS: And while it wasn't explicitly stated, he said it was understood that the president wanted someone new in that position so they could either fire the special counsel or end the Russia investigation.

CUOMO: Right.

COLLINS: Three really major instances.

But, Chris, something we should point out, all of those are related to the investigation. This instance of people not following out or just trying to slow-walk orders from the president to stop him from making certain decisions is something that still goes on inside the White House to this day.

CUOMO: Hey, lucky thing it does. People in that position often benefit from those around him. It's not usually expected to be keeping him from criminality on a regular basis, but good to have trusted hands, all the same.

And, once again, what you're citing, Kaitlan, example after example, except for the Porter one -- we didn't flesh that one out as immediately ourselves -- we're getting that from the report -- of legitimate questions that were based in what ultimately became fact put to the White House, and, time and time again, they waved us off.

They said it was a non-story, or they told us it was fake news, beginning with the McGahn. Oh, he was never asked to do that. Fake news, they said.

They were lying then. We will see if they continue to lie about these now.

Kaitlan, thank you very much.

Carl Bernstein, investigative journalist, author and a CNN political analyst.

First, Carl, let me get some perspective from you on how this was handled by the A.G. -- no John Mitchell of what we saw back in Watergate days, where he was part of an active criminal conspiracy, but what do you think about the way the AG handled this today, and up to today? [15:30:00]