Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Mueller Report "Does Not Exonerate" Trump; Interview with Rep. Jim Himes (D-CT) on Possible Trump Obstruction of Justice; Interview with Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), Member, Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, on Gaps in Mueller Investigation; The Mueller Report Says Obstruction On By Trump Failed Because Others Refused To Carry Out Orders; White House Counsel McGahn Packed Up Office, Threatened To Quit Because The President Asked Him To Do Crazy Things. Aired 5-6p ET
Aired April 18, 2019 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ROBERT RAY, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: You know that's a situation which the president in this instance listened to his lawyers and got good legal advice about how to handle this.
RAY: He followed it.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Robert Ray, thanks so much for your time. We appreciate it.
Our coverage on CNN continues right now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're following breaking news.
Robert Mueller's bombshell report is now out with the special counsel stating flatly that it does not exonerate President Trump and is unable to conclude that the president did not commit obstruction of justice.
Mueller did find repeated efforts by the president to derail his investigation, saying obstruction failed because aides -- aides to the president -- refused to carry out orders. Mueller's investigation lays out in stunning detail Russia's sweeping and systematic attack on the 2016 presidential election here in the United States.
But while the report finds that President Trump's aides embraced Russia's efforts to damage Hillary Clinton's campaign, on the issue of collusion it did not find that Americans conspired or coordinated with the Russians. The president is proclaiming victory.
While Democrats are furious over the attorney general William Barr's handling of the redacted report, they are demanding that the full version with all underlying evidence be released and demanding that Robert Mueller himself testify before Congress.
Our correspondents, analysts and guests will have full coverage of the day's historic developments today. Let's go to our senior Justice correspondent Evan Perez and our crime and justice reporter Shimon Prokupecz.
Evan, the number of ways the president tried to interfere in the Russia probe, according to this Mueller report, is truly extensive. But Mueller didn't make a decision on the very sensitive, explosive issue of obstruction of justice. Tell us why.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this report really does go into chapter and verse of the various ways in which the president essentially was trying to derail this investigation. And it wasn't for the lack of trying.
It was simply because multiple people that the president was giving instructions to refused to carry out his orders. That begins with the White House counsel Don McGahn, who repeatedly refused to pass on instructions to fire Robert Mueller.
He tried to pass on messages to one of his closest aides, Corey Lewandowski, to try to get Jeff Sessions, then the attorney general, to essentially denounce the investigation. That instruction also went sideways.
In another part of this investigation, the collusion investigation it's very clear that, throughout the period of 2016, during the time of the campaign, there were multiple efforts by people close to then candidate Donald Trump to try to essentially encourage the help of the Russians, according to the special counsel report.
The Trump campaign knew what the Russians were up to and thought that they could benefit from it. In the end, the special counsel decided that they could not bring or could not find enough evidence to bring charges of conspiracy or even of violating campaign finance laws.
The obstruction of justice part of this investigation, Wolf, is going to live on simply because, as you said, the special counsel could not or did not make a decision on whether or not the president broke the law. In essence, what the special counsel decided was to leave it up to Congress, exactly what we had heard the opposite of from attorney general Bill Barr.
If you remember, he said that he made the decision that there was no obstruction because the special counsel didn't make a recommendation either way. It's clear from this document today, Wolf, that the special counsel simply decided that, you know, there wasn't enough evidence to charge the president.
But at the same time, they could not exonerate him and they were leaving it up essentially to the political branches to try to sort this out. BLITZER: Shimon, Mueller says the president's attempts to interfere in the Russia investigation were unsuccessful because the people around him refused to carry out his orders. But the president still tried.
How significant is that distinction?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE PRODUCER: Yes, that distinction was something the Mueller report really went into in great detail. And, remember, leading up to this, we had heard there were facts and legal issues surrounding this investigation which is, in part, why Mueller cannot come to any kind of agreement.
And when you read this report, Mueller really goes into detail concerning that issue, Wolf. Specifically in the report, he writes that the president's efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful because of people like Don McGahn, Don McGahn, who was White House counsel.
The president wanted him to basically fire Sessions at one point, wanted him to do other kinds of things.
PROKUPECZ: And because he refused to carry out some of what the president wanted, essentially he may have saved the president.
And the idea also is that perhaps some of these people knew they'd be breaking the law if they carried out the president's wishes. And so by not doing so, they may have saved themselves, obviously, but also the president, Wolf.
BLITZER: Evan, investigators show the president was clearly fearful of Mueller's overall investigation saying he thought he was f'd. Used a bad word, f'd.
What does Mueller conclude about the president's motives?
PEREZ: Well, that's one of the most interesting parts of this investigation, Wolf. Again, the president doesn't fire Mueller. And it's not -- obviously, not for the lack of trying. And one of the key moments that's described in the report is that example, is that episode.
Right after he learns that Robert Mueller has been appointed by Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, the president sinks into his chair, according to an account that the special counsel received, and said, oh, my God, this is the end of my presidency. I am f'd.
And so that is where, again, the special counsel is looking at this and looks at it as certainly a description of an intent by the president to try to interfere with the investigation.
But again, because, in the end, the special counsel was able to conclude this investigation, they had -- the White House was able to interview a number of -- dozens of witnesses, including people inside the White House. The president allowed all these interviews to take place.
In the end, the special counsel and certainly the Justice Department decided that there was enough information that, in the end, this was not considered obstruction of justice. Again, it wasn't for the lack of trying that the president was trying to obstruct the investigation.
Some of it we saw in plain sight but in the end, the special counsel decided there wasn't enough evidence here to bring a case of obstruction of justice against the president and just left it essentially open.
BLITZER: He certainly did. All right. We want to go to our political correspondent, Sara Murray.
Sara, you've been going through this lengthy 400-page report. Help us better understand some of the major conclusions.
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Wolf, according to this report, the president said the special counsel being named was the worst thing that had ever happened to him and it lays out in painstaking detail all the ways President Trump tried to curtail this investigation.
MURRAY (voice-over): The special counsel's long-awaited report revealing just how deeply President Trump feared the Russia probe and the lengths the president went to try to influence the investigation.
When Trump learned that special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed, he slumped back in his chair and said, "Oh, my God, this is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I'm f'd."
In the more than 400-page report, Mueller makes clear that he could not clear Trump of obstruction of justice, writing, "The president's actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that now criminal conduct occurred," detailing a potentially damning list of the ways Trump repeatedly tried to curtail the investigation.
Mueller writes the president was only unsuccessful because the people around him "declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests."
Like June 17th, 2017, when Trump directed White House counsel Don McGahn to have Mueller fired. McGahn declined to do so, saying he would resign rather than trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday night massacre.
And two days later, in a previously unknown example detailed in the report, Trump met with former campaign aide Corey Lewandowski in the Oval Office and dictated a message intended for then attorney general Jeff Sessions.
In the message, Sessions was told to publicly announce the investigation was very unfair to the president and he should not be subject to an investigation because he hasn't done anything wrong. The message was never delivered.
Still the redacted report concludes the Trump campaign did not criminally conspire with the Russians. But Trump had other reasons to dread the investigation. According to the report, the evidence does indicate that a thorough FBI investigation would uncover facts about the campaign and the president personally that the president could have understood to be crimes or that would give rise to personal and political concerns.
CNN has reported at least 16 Trump associates had Russian contacts during the campaign or transition. According to Mueller's report, the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.
But the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference.
The June 2016 Trump Tower meeting just one of the moments the Trump campaign appeared eager to accept Russian assistance. But Mueller's team declined to prosecute Donald Trump Jr. and campaign staffers, saying a prosecution would encounter difficulties proving that campaign officials or individuals connected to the campaign willfully violated the law.
The special counsel also investigated the rumor that Russia had compromising tapes of Trump from previous visits to Moscow.
MURRAY: In October of 2016, Michael Cohen received a text from a Russian businessman. The text said, "Stopped flow of tapes from Russia but not sure if there's anything else, just so you know."
The businessman told prosecutors he was told the tapes were fake.
Mueller's team also answering a key question.
Why didn't they interview the president?
While they believed the had the authority to subpoena Trump and found Trump's written answers inadequate, Mueller's team believed it would delay the investigation, writing, "We had sufficient evidence to understand relevant events and to make certain assessments without the president's testimony."
While attorney general William Barr has cleared Trump of criminal wrongdoing, Mueller points out that Congress can still investigate.
"Congress has the authority to prohibit a president's corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice."
Barr, meanwhile, is already under fire for providing political cover for Trump in a press conference before the report was even released. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: As the special counsel's report acknowledges, there is substantial evidence to show that the president was frustrated and angered by his sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents and fueled by illegal leaks."
MURRAY (voice-over): As the president today declared --
DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm having a good day, too. It was called no collusion, no obstruction.
MURRAY (voice-over): -- Barr using the president's words, too.
BARR: The special counsel found no collusion, no evidence of the Trump campaign collusion, as he said from the beginning. There was, in fact, no collusion.
MURRAY (voice-over): Now Democrats are calling on Mueller to testify. And Barr says he won't stand in the way.
BARR: I have no objection to Bob Mueller personally testifying.
MURRAY: Wolf, Bill Barr obviously offered a pretty rosy assessment of the report's contents when he did that press conference with reporters today. So now we'll wait and see if Bob Mueller does in fact go to the Hill and if we'll hear from the man himself. Back to you.
BLITZER: I assume we will at some point. All right, thanks very much, Sara.
I want to bring in our political and legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.
On the issue of obstruction of justice, Mueller, in this lengthy report, he lays out 11 specific episodes, as he calls them, areas of investigation. We'll put them up on the screen; as you can see all those various episodes that they investigated.
What's the strongest case that you see there against the president?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: Well, there's a lot of competition. They're all bad. But the two I would focus on are the instruction to Don McGahn to fire --
BLITZER: Don McGahn, the White House counsel?
TOOBIN: -- the White House counsel, which is just an out and out attempt to interfere with the investigation, unsuccessful because McGahn resisted it.
It's important to point out it is a crime to endeavor to obstruct justice, not just to obstruct justice.
The other is the one that started the thing in the first place, which is the firing of James Comey, which is not an attempt. It is an actual act by the president. And it's those two are I think symbolic of all of them. But when you see 11, it's a pretty extraordinary record of interference and attempted interference in this investigation.
BLITZER: How damning, Laura Coates, is the case against the president on this issue of obstruction?
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's extraordinarily damaging. Normally the idea of quality over quantity is going to be an issue. But when you don't have the actual intent that the president was actually intending to obstruct justice, the overall culmination of all of these things, the quality and the quantity is going to be very important here.
We have overwhelming information, 11 separate categories. It removes the idea that he's ignorant of the law of obstruction of justice. It showed that he endeavored repeatedly, in the course of, apparently, according to Barr, cooperating in other respects and that he was well aware that his actions could be construed to violate the law.
So in trying to find all these people, it's the sheer volume of the information around that. And, of course, remember, part of it was publicly known. Other aspects of it were not.
And the idea that Robert Mueller was wringing his hands somehow, confounded about what to do or whether there was obstruction, is false. He was just trying to figure out, with all of the information, coupled with the DOJ guidelines not to indict a sitting president, what am I to do?
That's particularly damning. It's not confusion. It was a matter of your hands being tied.
BLITZER: Very quickly, Dana, I just want to make the point, it looks like -- and you can correct me if I'm wrong -- potentially Mueller was laying out a road map for Congress to launch impeachment proceedings.
DANA BASH, CNN SR. U.S. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He explicitly says that -- maybe not explicitly but pretty close to it -- that, as you said, his hands were tied because, constitutionally, the structure of the government in particular, when talking about the president of the United States, there's not much he can do.
But it's the responsibility of the Congress to take that question up. He says so very much in this report. What's interesting is that I spoke with the House majority leader --
BASH: -- just about an hour ago, Steny Hoyer, and he said to me that, based on what they've seen to date, going forward on impeachment, which is what we're talking about here, is not worthwhile at this point because he said there's an election in 18 months and the American people will make a judgment.
So already we're seeing the leadership in the House try to stick with what they were talking about before the Mueller report came out, which is that, politically, this is not the road they want to go down with an election coming up.
But already you're seeing pushback from some of the rank and file, not to mention the Democratic grassroots, saying, whoa, whoa, whoa, we're not quite there yet.
BLITZER: All right, everybody stand by. I want to bring in Democratic congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut. He's a member of the Intelligence Committee.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
So from your perspective, what's most concerning?
What's the most concerning new information you learned in this 400- page report?
REP. JIM HIMES (D-CT), MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, I think I have two conclusions and I've read most of it but not all of it.
The conclusion number one is, the American people, each and every American needs to read this report so they see with the detail that's only been available to members of the Intelligence Committee and some select few in Congress, about exactly how Russia attacked our election, how they used Twitter and Facebook and social media and fake rallies.
And the reason Americans need to look at that is because if we don't sensitize ourselves to that, the Russians will do it again.
Now there's a whole other piece on the attacks and we knew more about this, the attacks on the networks at the DNC and DCCC. A lot of Americans can do to stay more secure and keep their networks more secure.
The other big thing, Wolf -- and you were alluding to it in your conversation there -- what a remarkable description of just gangster- like behavior on the part of the president, being rescued by the refusal of his subordinates to do things they felt were illegal or ill-advised, ordering people to give messages to Jeff Sessions.
I mean, just lying, knowingly lying; the press secretary knowingly lying. Again, I believe that the leadership in the House is probably very skeptical of impeachment because they know that there is no fact pattern. There is no crime that would cause Republican members of Congress and, most importantly, Republican members of the Senate to turn on this president.
BLITZER: You need a majority in the House for impeachment but you need two-thirds majority, 67 senators to convict. But that's clearly not on the books. Not likely to happen, at least right now.
What big questions -- and I know you say you haven't read the complete report -- but from what you read, what big questions are still left unanswered?
HIMES: Well, from the standpoint of my committee, the Intelligence Committee, the work we have to do now is not to duplicate or to second guess the work of Bob Mueller. One of the good -- we sort of have to take our victories as we can. The report got out. Its redactions weren't as extensive as they might have been.
It would appear the White House didn't demand the exclusion of material they'd exclude as a result of executive privilege. So what my committee now needs to do is to think about this from a counterintelligence standpoint.
Are there elements of the many interactions that Donald Trump and his people and his family and his campaign had with the Russians that could provide the Russians with something to hold over them, starting with the president?
That gets to business dealings. It gets to possible financing mechanisms. And so my guess is that that is, in as much as anything else remains to be checked, that it relates to the counterintelligence questions around the very, very many contacts, many of them lied about, that the Trump campaign had with Russia.
BLITZER: Where do you stand on the issue of beginning impeachment proceedings against the president?
Do you think the president of the United States, Congressman, should be impeached?
HIMES: Well, Wolf, it's a terrible box to be in, right?
It's clear to me, from reading, the report that Mueller did not make a decision about criminality and obstruction because he understood the department he works for had a policy not to indict. So he basically handed it over to Congress to make that decision.
By the way, a whole other topic of conversation, that the attorney general decided he would weigh in on this issue after what Mueller did and said is outrageous.
But here's the thing. It's a terrible box to be in because the Constitution would demand that impeachment proceedings at least be initiated. Remember, impeachment is not necessarily about removing the president.
Impeachment is a process whereby you review the data, the information and decide, collectively as a Congress, whether the president should remain as president.
However, again -- and maybe I'm cynical or maybe I just spend a lot of --
HIMES: -- time around the Capitol, there is -- I'm a subscriber to the Fifth Avenue theory, which is that the president could kill somebody and the Republicans would still line up behind him.
So if you begin impeachment, even if you impeach in the House, the probability that the Senate would then convict is, I think, sadly, today, exactly zero.
And so other than the need to sort of hold the president accountable and do that investigation, you've gone through a year, a year and a half of work, where we haven't been working on infrastructure and retirement and student loans and all the things we should be working on, only to have the Senate do what is perfectly predictable and not, not convict the president.
BLITZER: Congressman Jim Himes, thank you so much for joining us.
HIMES: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: I want to get some more reaction. Democratic congressman Eric Swalwell of California is joining us, he's also a member of the Intelligence Committee as well as the Judiciary and he is also a candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Congressman, thanks to you for joining us.
The special counsel says there are gaps in this investigation due to lies and destruction of evidence by some witnesses.
Do you believe your committee can fill in some of those gaps?
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), MEMBER, INTELLIGENCE AND JUDICIARY COMMITTEES AND PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We absolutely have to, Wolf, to understand if the Russians are still in our democracy.
This was essentially a termite report and our democracy is rotting right now with the number of Russians who worked with this president, his family, his businesses, his campaign, his transition and the administration. And they're not leaving unless we do something about it.
So, you know, of course, there's going to be a conversation about impeachment. But for me, what I'm most concerned about is, do we have a secure election in 2020?
Not just secure from what the Russians want to do but all the other countries now, who will look at us and ask, are they going to respond or are they going to do nothing?
They may see it as an invitation to hack and interfere as well.
BLITZER: We expect your committee, the Intelligence Committee, to get an unredacted version. There might be some stuff that's blacked out involving grand jury testimony but all the classified information, for example, all the other information that was redacted, will be made available on a confidential basis to your committee. You welcome that.
That will help you, right?
SWALWELL: We want it all, Wolf. The only way to protect future interference campaigns is to know who the Russians worked with, how they did it and what reforms we have to put in place. We should see it all.
The American people paid for this report. Congress should see it and we should let the American people see as much as possible.
BLITZER: So what are you specifically -- some of those redacted -- some of those redacted pages involving intelligence gathering, sources and methods, without revealing any sources and methods, what do you want to see?
SWALWELL: I want to see exactly who the Russians worked with, how they did it on their end, what we know from our -- the way we collect intelligence. What do we know about what they are doing so we can stop it going forward in the future.
But there's also going to be an era of reformation. Because just because the president didn't meet the legal standard of collusion and just because a prior Congress did not imagine that someone would conduct themselves the way the president's team did, doesn't mean that we shouldn't write laws to protect this from happening again.
I've written legislation already called Duty to Protect, which says if you're offered illicitly obtained materials from a foreign agent, you have to tell the FBI. That certainly should be the case, knowing how many people on the Trump campaign were offered dirt.
BLITZER: We just heard your colleague, Jim Himes, his thoughts on the possibility of impeaching the president, launching impeachment procedures in the House of Representatives.
What's your take?
SWALWELL: My take is that's a conversation we need to have now. We're not farther away from impeachment. If anything, when you read about this conduct, we need to figure out how we'll hold this president accountable.
First things first, though. I think the attorney general should resign immediately. He can either be the attorney general of the United States or the president's lawyer. He can't be both and he's been acting as the president's lawyer in the way that he applied for the job, the way he refused to recuse himself and the way he's accused the FBI and the intelligence community of spying on the administration. And his mischaracterization today of what the Mueller report actually shows. He should go.
BLITZER: When you say he should go, what do you want?
You want him to resign?
SWALWELL: I think attorney general Barr should resign. I think he's lost the confidence of the American people. He can join the president's legal team if he wants but that's what he's doing now. And that's not what the attorney general of the United States is charged with.
BLITZER: He's not going to -- clearly he's not going to resign. He is going to come before the Judiciary Committee, I think, May 2nd. The Senate Judiciary Committee on May 1st.
What's the single most important question you want to ask him?
SWALWELL: I want to know where does he differ in opinion with special counsel Mueller because it looks like he has characterized the report in one way and the Mueller report says something completely different. And, of course, I want to know, now that you know the Russians did this, what are you doing leading the --
SWALWELL: -- department to make sure they don't continue to do this and that no other country does it again?
This always has to always be the future. We look toward the past to inform us about how to protect us against future interference. And I want to know if he's capable of leading our democracy.
BLITZER: And on the sensitive issue of impeachment, I just want to point out the majority whip, Steny Hoyer, one of the leaders of the Democratic Party -- the majority leader, I should say -- he is saying it's not worth it to start impeachment proceedings right now. Just wait for the next election.
What's your reaction to that?
SWALWELL: Well, we -- regardless of what happens, if Donald Trump is still around in November 2020, we should remove him at the ballot box. But I don't think we should take impeachment off the table.
This is very concerning. He is a double-digit obstructor by Bob Mueller's count. And the conduct during the campaign, the transition and even as president with the Russians does not meet the standard of conduct we want from a President of the United States. I would not take it off the table.
BLITZER: I've got to let you go. I know you're campaigning in Massachusetts, neighboring New Hampshire, for the Democratic presidential nomination. I'll let you go. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
SWALWELL: My pleasure.
BLITZER: Let's get back to our panel.
And, Bianna, let me get your reaction to what we just heard from these two Democratic lawmakers.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think what a lot of people's reaction has been is to Barr's behavior and to whether or not you can characterize his assessment from the get-go last month, when he received Mueller's report, as misleading.
And one of the reasons being, compare that four-page memo he issued just two days after receiving the report to what we heard from Mueller today. And that is this specific line.
"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."
That was put in there intentionally and for a reason and there does seem to be, at least the appearance, that the attorney general cherry- picked his words. In those four pages and even what we heard from him, the testimony before Congress and this morning.
BLITZER: Phil Mudd, what do you want to see, if you had a chance, from some of the redacted material on national security or intelligence?
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I mean, as an intelligence professional, I was actually surprised how much material showed up in the public domain today.
I think the conversation I'd like to see is not the redacted material or the intelligence. It's the conversations at the Department of Justice between former director Mueller, special counsel Mueller, and the leadership of the Department of Justice; in particular, Rod Rosenstein and Bill Barr, about the decision not to move forward on obstruction of justice.
I thought some of the information on Russia was more interesting than I anticipated. I think it's been underreported today.
But the obstruction stuff, including the legal conversation about what was appropriate to charge a president with, was really interesting. And we don't get a flavor from the report about, A, why Mueller chose specifically not to move forward there.
In particular, would he have moved forward if this hadn't been the president of the United States and what the flavor was of his conversation with the Department of Justice leadership, I look forward to that, Wolf, when he does testimony.
BLITZER: He clearly accepted the longstanding Justice Department guidance that a sitting President of the United States cannot be indicted, one of the reasons presumably why he decided, Jeffrey Toobin, not to recommend charges.
TOOBIN: And one reason why Barr's two statements were so misleading, is when you read the reasoning of Mueller for why he expressed his obstruction of justice position the way he did, he said that he honored and would follow the policy that there was no -- that you can't prosecute a sitting president.
So he said, if I were to recommend a prosecution, the president would have no forum to defend himself against those charges. The charges would just sit out there.
So he was simply going to lay out the evidence. That's very different --
TOOBIN: -- from any sort of exoneration. In fact, it's closer to an incriminating statement than an exoneration. And Barr completely misled the public about that.
BASH: Can I follow up?
Because I have that part right here.
BLITZER: Hold on.
BASH: I have that part right here because he very, very explicitly says what Jeffrey is alluding to, that it's because of the legal standards that they are unable to reach the judgment that he should be prosecuted for obstruction of justice.
But as I mentioned before, it says the conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the president's corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law. Explicitly says, this is for you, Congress.
BLITZER: Congress, you carry the ball right now.
Samantha Vinograd, let's not forget what the name of this 400-page report was. "Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election."
And if you read the first few pages, the bottom line conclusion of the Mueller team, quote, "The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion."
That's in contrast to so much -- so many times we've heard a very different assertion by the president of the United States.
SAMANTHAN VINOGRAD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: That's true, Wolf. And it's also true that there is no exoneration for President Trump from a counterintelligence perspective. I've read this document. I'm a pretty careful reader. I don't see anywhere in those pages any indication that the counterintelligence investigation that was launched into President Trump has concluded. We have not seen that in writing in this report. And, potentially, members of Congress will ask Bob Mueller about that if he testifies. But let's be clear. This report is a gift to the government of Russia. This is a very proud moment for Vladimir Putin for several reasons. First, we know that he likes to use controversial and inflammatory issues as a weapon. He will weaponize this report to continue to sow divisions, spread confusion and undermine the credibility of our institution. That's reason number one.
Reason number two is we have every reason to assume that President Trump views this document as a green light to continue doing what he was doing on the campaign. He's claiming that because there are no criminal -- further criminal indictments against him or members of his team, he didn't do anything wrong. So we should expect him to continue this behavior going forward in the 2020 campaign cycle.
And finally, Wolf, as Phil mentioned, this report lays out in excruciating detail a multipronged, sustained and systematic attack against the United States using all kind of tools. President Trump was just one of them. So from an intelligence operations standpoint, Vladimir Putin launched a very successful operation that is still ongoing.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: And you get more specifics from the President in particular. Remember, he never wanted to accept publicly that the Russians were involved, that the Russians were attacking the United States in our voting system, even though not only his own intelligence community but also those around him, his closest advisers all admitted to him when he asked, do you think that the Russians did this? And he said yes. And he was only willing to go as far publicly as to say, we will acknowledge that we want to prevent Russia from doing this in the future, for future elections. But they had nothing to do with my victory.
BLITZER: And one of the Russian's goals was to sow division, discarding here in the United States, mission accomplished on the part of the Russians.
Joining us now exclusively, in his first TV interview since the report was released, House Intelligence Committee Chairman, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California. Mr. Chairman, thanks so much for joining us. And I know you want to see the full unredacted Mueller report, but let's focus in, first of all, on the information that was just made public, and there's a ton of information in that 400-page report. What's the most important new information that you learned today?
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Well, look, I think the most important top line is the one you've been discussing, and that is that the Russians engaged in this sweeping and systematic effort to interfere in our election and did so not neutrally. They did so to help a person in Donald Trump. This was pointed in favor one campaign and against the other. And so all the President's dissembling about whether Russians interfered or how did it or whether they prefer to him, the Special Counsel came out unequivocally and said, yes, they did, and it was to help the Trump campaign.
It also itemizes in far greater detail than has been public thus far any number of interactions between trump campaign people and the Russians. We learned for example, for the first time, that the campaign, through Manafort, was providing polling data over an extended period of time to someone linked to Russian intelligence. We learned more granularity about the Trump Tower meeting in New York and the President's efforts to mislead the country about what that meeting was about. And, of course, most significantly, we learned about numerous acts of obstruction of justice by the President of the United States.
And I completely concur with the analysis you've been hearing that Mueller seems to have wanted that issue to go to Congress. Bill Barr arrogated unto himself the decision that the President could not be held liable for obstruction of justice. That was his appointed task. That's why he was picked by Donald Trump, and he did what he was appointed to do. And I think in his characterization, in his mischaracterization of the Special Counsel's work, both on obstruction and on conspiracy, Bill Barr has done a grave disservice to the country.
BLITZER: So what do you think should happen to him?
SCHIFF: Well, look, there's not much that can happen to him. I mean, he's doing what he's doing because it pleases Donald Trump. That is sadly his aim. He views himself as the lawyer for the President, not the lawyer for the people of the United States of America. And that's the way the longevity in the Trump administration, which is you sing along the President's songbook, whether that is making bogus claims of spying on the President's campaign or making bogus claims of no collusion.
In fact, Bob Mueller was quite explicit that he didn't reach whether collusion occurred, as that term is known colloquially, only whether he could prove a criminal conspiracy in his attempts to sugarcoat what the President did and gloss over the President's refusal to cooperate with the investigation, refusal to testify verbally, his efforts to try to get others to mislead the country. I think Barr showed that he should have never have been confirmed for the job in the first place.
BLITZER: You've been investigating Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election for two years. Did anything that you read, and I assume you went through most of the 400 pages so far, really surprise you?
SCHIFF: You know, I can't say that it really surprised me because, although I certainly learned new things in the report, and I'm still going through it, I've gone through much of it but have more work to do, what we see that we didn't know before is so consistent with what we did know, and that is that the Trump campaign people were more than willing to have the help of a hostile foreign power. They were open to it. It's quite striking to see in black and white the Special Counsel, for example, say that in answer to this offer of help with dirt on Hillary Clinton, the President's son said, yes, he would accept that help. And with respect to all of these contexts, whether it's the details around the early interactions with George Papadopoulos, in which a member of the Trump campaign was first made aware in April of 2016 that the Russians had thousands of Clinton emails and that they could help the campaign by unanimously releasing them, from that point to Trump, you know, egging the Russians on to hack these emails, celebrating WikiLeaks dozens of times on the campaign trail, we see this pattern now in far greater detail of a campaign willing to act unethically, immorally, unpatriotically, whether it was a crime or not.
BLITZER: The President didn't have a news conference at the White House before he left the White House for Florida. But he did just Tweet this among other things. He said, I had the right to end the whole witch hunt if I wanted. I could have fired everyone, including Mueller, if I wanted. I chose not to. I had the right to use executive privilege. I didn't. What's your reaction?
SCHIFF: Well, from the first to the end, false statements. When he says that he chose not to end the Mueller investigation, that wasn't for lack of trying on his part. And what we learned from Mueller was, in fact, he wanted McGahn to fire him and McGahn refused. So, yet, it's quite telling on the day of the issuance of this report, the President again making false statements that are directly contradicted by Bob Mueller.
BLITZER: Democrats have been pushing to see the full unredacted report. You're the Chairman of the Intelligence Committee. You're going to get almost all of it, except for some grand jury information, we're told. What key information was missing from the version, do you believe, that was made public today?
SCHIFF: Well, you can see there were sections of the report that were redacted that discuss why the Special Counsel made certain prosecutorial decisions particularly around WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign.
Now, that may go to the ongoing case against Roger Stone but there are other sections that are redacted that concern other interactions between the Trump campaign, some around that Trump Tower New York meeting, some involve grand jury material. We're going to need to get all of that information that Barr was sincere about wanting to be transparent, and clearly he's not. He would have sought the court's permission to share that. Nonetheless, we're going to make sure we get it.
One other very important point though, Wolf, is the Special Counsel makes it clear that there was a counterintelligence investigation that was ongoing as well. And those findings, some of them are not included in this report. We need to see all of those findings. We need to see them unredacted but we also see those that didn't even make the report because that goes to information as to whether the President or people around him are acting in Russia's interest and not our own interest, whether it's because of financial interest and wanting to build towers in Moscow or for any other reason. The American people and the Congress need to know. BLITZER: Mueller doesn't appear to have pursued some areas of high interest, including the President's finances, his business dealings. What are the big open questions that you and your committee, the Intelligence Committee, are hoping to investigate?
SCHIFF: Well, that's absolutely right. And it's clear because the Special Counsel sets out his scope in the beginning of the report, that at least the Special Counsel viewed this beyond his efforts. But nonetheless, if there are other financial entanglements between the President and Russia, if the Russians were laundering money through the business, or if others, like Kushner, were seeking business or financing in the Gulf or elsewhere, and that's influenced U.S. Policy, vis-a-vis Russia or Saudi Arabia or Qatar or anywhere else, obviously, we need to know because it means we need to take steps to protect the country.
So those areas of investigation are ongoing because, among other things, they simply were not within the purview of what Bob Mueller did.
BLITZER: The House Majority Leader, Steny Hoyer, said just a little while ago that pursuing impeachment in the House of Representatives at this time wouldn't be worthwhile. Do you agree?
SCHIFF: Well, you know, that decision is above my pay grade. But I do agree that, as I've been saying for some time, and I think it's consistent also with the speaker's own view of the matter, the evidence would have to be quite overwhelming and demonstrable and such that it would generate bipartisan support for the idea that it renders the President unfit for office.
Now, many of us do think the President is unfit for office. But unless that's a bipartisan conclusion, an impeachment would be doomed to failure. I continue to think that a failed impeachment is not in the national interest. And so we'll see what's been redacted from this report. We'll continue to do our own work. But barring a bipartisan consensus, it's very hard to see how that effort would be successful.
BLITZER: It wouldn't be a successful conviction in the Senate but impeachment in the House of Representatives simply requires a majority vote, and the democrats have a clear majority. You don't think a majority of the democrats would vote for impeachment?
SCHIFF: I don't know the answer to that. But I do feel that much as I did when I was a prosecutor that you don't bring a case if you don't believe you're going to be successful with it just to try the case. We are going to continue to do our oversight and expose what's happened, although, frankly, a lot of the dramatically and, I think, corrupt conduct by the President is now out in the open, through the Mueller report and what we knew prior to the Mueller report. But that fully needs to be exposed. And I think we can continue to do our oversight through the various committees. It doesn't have to be done through an investigation as part of an impeachment. So, again, my conclusion, I think, consistent with what you're hearing from our leadership is, without the bipartisan consensus that would make it successful in the Senate, there's little to be gained by putting the country through that wrenching experience.
BLITZER: You basically agree with Steny Hoyer, the majority leader in the House of Representatives, at least right now, don't start the House Judiciary Committee with impeachment proceedings, move on to some other issues but continue your overall investigation.
SCHIFF: And, Wolf, I --
BLITZER: Go ahead.
SCHIFF: And I do want to make one thing perfectly clear as well, and that is that it is not sufficient for the Justice Department to maintain that you can't indict a sitting president. And we're not going to share with you the grand jury material that may be necessary for you to consider an impeachment unless you begin an impeachment. So I think we are at the stage preliminary to a judicial proceeding that entitles the Congress to that grand jury material. And what's more, I think the Intelligence Committee has an independent basis because that grand jury material goes to foreign intelligence and counterintelligence that we have a statutory right to acquire. So that information needs to be shared with the Congress regardless of whether an impeachment proceeding is commenced.
BLITZER: The whole issue is not above your pay grade, I will say this, Congressman. Adam Schiff of California, the Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, thanks for joining us.
SCHIFF: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Let's get some more analysis from our analysts and our correspondents. The whole issue of impeachment right now, Jeffrey Toobin?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: Well, that's always more of a political question than a legal question. I'd just like to respond to something the President said in the Tweet.
BLITZER: Let me read it again. I have the right to end the whole witch hunt if I wanted. I could have fired everyone, including Mueller, if I wanted. I chose not to. I had the right to use executive Privilege, I didn't.
TOOBIN: That's not true. I mean, he can't do anything for any reason he wants. If someone walked into the Oval Office and said, here's a suitcase full of cash, end the Mueller investigation, do you think anybody would object to that? I mean, he can't act for any reason or no reason. The prohibition on acting corruptly, which is what's involved in obstruction of justice, applies to him like it applies to everyone else. The idea that he could fire Mueller simply because he didn't like the Russia investigation and he was worried that it would implicate him, that's not the law and that's not right what, he said. DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: What I will tell you, Jeffrey, and you've probably had conversations similar to ones that I have had and that I have talked to more than one Trump attorney who has -- they've been telling the President effectively what he said, Maybe not that starkly in his Tweet for months, even more than a year that you are the President, it is -- you're in charge of the executive branch and you have a right to hire and fire. He has been told that by his legal --
GOLODRYGA: But the issue has been was the justification for it and you had his inner circle even advising him many times he brought up of conflict of interest perhaps that he had with Mueller, and thus Mueller couldn't oversee the investigation. His inner circle even said that's ridiculous and that would never fly.
COATES: Trump should not be led by his hype men. If anyone telling him that anything you want to do is wonderful, he cannot do that.
But I think Adam Schiff had an extremely important point here which is while obstruction to justice about the president is important unless they give congress everything, they are obstructing an opportunity to have impeachment proceedings even begin.
BLITZER: And if they begin impeachment proceedings, the better argument to get some of that grand jury material. Everybody stand by, a very quick break, much more and all of the breaking news on this historic day right after this.
BLITZER: More following breaking news, the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report. Let's go to our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta. Jim, we learned that the president's aide refuse to carryout some of his orders. Tell us how significant that is.
JIM ACOSTA, CHIEF W.H. CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I think that's very significant. We should point out the president when he left the White House for Florida just a short while ago did not take any questions from reporters despite the fact that top White House aides here were telling us that he would do just that.
So it's interesting. I think it shows that the president knows that there are some tough questions out there that he doesn't want to answer. First and foremost, this revelation in the Mueller repot that he instructed his White House council Don McGahn to fire the Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
One thing we should point out Wolf, the White House held a conference call with some of its surrogates this afternoon. We exclusively obtained some of the excerpts from that conference call.
And in this conference call a White House official is telling some of the White House surrogates one of the reasons behind this, and it says -- and you just talked about this a few moments ago on the president's tweet, it says here according to this conference call.
White House officials said the president did not fire Sessions, Mueller or Rosenstein even though he had the power to do so. The president basically just tweeted about that. So that gives us a sense as to how the president is going to respond to all of this.
But Wolf, I also talked to a Trump advisor who's been with the president, advised the president for a long time about this instruction to Don McGahn to get rid of the Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
And it's a pretty stunning admission according to this Trump advisor. From time to time, aides and advisors to the president do not carryout his orders and say that essentially he's just talking out loud. And that this was the rational potentially behind what was happening with Don McGahn.
Clearly Don McGahn says according to the Mueller report that he did not want to trigger some kind of Saturday night massacre. But it is alarming I think Wolf, you know this from covering presidents for a very long time.
Typically when the commander and chief -- when the president of the United States instructs an aide or an advisor to do something, that order is carried out unless of course it is something that is illegal.
[17:50:00] Going on in to some of the other parts of this briefing that was given to some of the surrogates earlier today, one of the questions came up about this issue of obstruction and how Robert Mueller did not clear the president of obstruction.
According to a White House official with Trump surrogates earlier today quote, "that was a political statement, not a prosecutorial statement." And so Wolf, we're just starting to get some early warning signs that some of the talking points that the White House is going to be using here in the coming days to explain all of this.
But Wolf, one thing that is -- I think extremely unavoidable in the days to come and that is we were over here at the White House on a daily basis, the press covering the White House. We were lied to; we were mislead on a regular basis in terms of what was going on with the Mueller investigation.
You recall the instance in the Mueller report that gets to Sarah Sanders making this stunning admission to the Special Counsel's team that she was not really telling the press the truth when she said that the reason why Jim Comey, the former FBI director was fired because he had lost the faith of the ranking file FBI agents in that bureau.
Wolf, that is not the case and Sarah Sanders admitted it as much in this Mueller report. And so there is instance after instance after instance where the White House was just not telling the public the straight story. And that was happening to us over here in the press core on a regular basis.
BLITZER: Certainly was. Stand by Jim; I want to go to Capitol Hill right. Our senior congressional correspondent is joining us, Manu Raju. Manu, Congressional leaders are now reacting to the Mueller report. Tell us what you're learning.
MANU RAJU, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, house democrats are planning to pursue their investigations on multiple fronts in the aftermath of the release of this redacted report.
First of the bat, the house Judiciary Committee plans to subpoena as soon as tomorrow for the full Mueller report and the underlying evidence.
Also there are five subpoenas that are authorized to former White House officials, including Don McGahn in order -- the committee has already authorized those could still be served some time soon to get more information that could fuel the democratic investigation in to potential obstruction of justice.
Now at the same time expect Bill Barr to face sharp questions when we appears before the house Judiciary Committee in early May. Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the committee made very clear he is not happy with the way Bill Barr has handled this process even as a top republican ascendant defended him.
REP. JERRY NADLER, JUDICIARY CHAIRMAN (D): Barr has so far refused to work with the committee to provide us with information, the kind of information that has been customarily provided in the past and to which the Judiciary Committee is entitled.
These concerns and many others will be addressed when Barr testifies before he committee on May 2nd. Even in its incomplete form however, the Mueller report incomplete because part of it is redacted.
Even in its incomplete form however, the Mueller report outlines disturbing evidence that President Trump engaged in obstruction of justice and other misconduct.
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, MAJORITY LEADER (R): We could not have asked for more objective individuals to be involved in this process. This investigation could not have been handled in a better way.
RAJU: Now also Wolf, the House Intelligence Committee does plan to pursue it's own investigations also looking to finances and whether the president was compromised in nay way.
As democrats believe he may have been tied to foreign interests. Some may believe the Mueller report did not fully explore. So that's still going to be a line of inquiry in the months ahead even as republicans say it's time to move on. Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Manu thanks very much. Bianna, if people thought that with the release of this report, all of this was over. Guess what, it's not over if you listen to the democrats in the House of Representatives.
GOLODRYGA: It's not over anytime soon. And I think going back to the question of whether democrats will pursuer impeachment or at least start talking about impeachment on a more regular and consistent basis.
They're pausing and that's because one thing we haven't heard today is republicans speaking out in protest against the president or changing their views on the president following what came out of this report.
In fact, you had the GOP come out and say once again he has been vindicated. And if I can just say one more thing that I was a bit surprised by from going through the report and that is someone who came out at least rather (inaudible) versus others and that is Jeff Sessions, because he remained defiant.
When he recused himself and that was the most angry that many had seen the president. When he recused himself, he stuck to it. He offered and submitted his letter of resignation; the president toyed with it and held it for a few days asking others what he should do with it.
He said that he would be a hero if he un-recused himself. I don't even know if that's something that you can do. But he begged him in multiple areas to not be -- not recuse himself. He stuck to his ground and said I am not going to do it and there's ample reason why I should recuse.
[17:55:00] BLITZER: Jeff Sessions does come across it nicely in this report. And his successor Bill Barr does not necessarily based on what he said today and over the past few weeks does not necessarily come out (inaudible).
TOOBIN: Indeed. And one of the things I was surprised by, that Congressman Himes said is like well, we want to call witnesses but we don't want to call anybody mentioned here, this is all done. Why wouldn't you call Don McGahn and have him tell that story to the public?
Just because it's 400 pages that a handful of people might read, why don't you see and let people see in person what it was like to have the president of the United States tell you to fire Robert Mueller. Why don't you call Jeff Sessions again and have him tell the story of how the president berated him constantly to un-recuse himself.
I mean the idea that this report is somehow everything that people need to know in the form that everybody needs to know seems wrong to me.
BLITZER: Everybody stick around, there's a lot more. We're following much more on the braking news. The release of the Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report analysis of all the new details it provides and a closer look at what congress may do next. We'll be right back.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News. BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer in the situation room with all the breaking news unfolding this hour after the release of the Mueller report.