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Top Judiciary Democrat Issues Subpoena for Full Mueller Report Today; Trump Slams the Mueller Report; Aired 9-9:30a ET
Aired April 19, 2019 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[09:00:48] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and once again welcome to our viewers in the U.S. and around the world. I'm Jake Tapper in Washington.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Wolf Blitzer. Less than 24 hours after Congress and the world finally were allowed to see most but not all of the Mueller report, a powerful House committee chairman is now going after the rest.
Democratic Congressman Jerry Nadler says the subpoena his panel authorized some two weeks ago is being served today, anytime now, for the full report produced by the special counsel without the 900-plus redactions made by the attorney general.
TAPPER: Even with those blacked out passages, which by our count shield roughly 8 percent of the report from public view, a staggering portrait emerges well apart from the bottom line issues of conspiracy and obstruction, Robert Mueller lays out a presidency virtually founded upon deception, desperation and dysfunction. And though impeachment seems no more likely this morning than it did yesterday, the president's mood seems to have soured quite a bit.
In early morning tweets from Mar-a-Lago in Florida, the president claims the, quote, "crazy Mueller report" contains statements about him that are, quote, "total bullshit."
BLITZER: CNN's Abby Phillip is near Mar-a-Lago. She's joining us now with more on the president's reaction.
He was relatively silent yesterday in the immediate aftermath of the release, but all of a sudden today he is very, very angry.
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it seems very clear the president's mood has definitely shifted on the Mueller report but interestingly he seems to be wanting to take his view of the findings which are no collusion and in his view no obstruction but he wants to throw out all of the supporting information that comprises nearly 400 pages. And some of that is really directed now against specific aides, former aides, who are quoted in this report telling unflattering stories about the president.
Now, remember, this is something that we have been predicting according to our sources this week, there's been a lot of concern among the president's former and current aides that this is exactly what would happen, that the president would read these stories, find them to be unflattering and would suddenly turn on them and try to undermine the veracity of those stories.
He is talking in this tweet specifically about what he calls note takers. He says that, "People are making statements for the report about me, some of which are total bullshit and only oven given to make the other person look good or me look bad."
So he is accusing people of telling stories, one of those people is his former White House counsel Don McGahn who was a note taker, who did take notes about his interactions with the president and did tell the special counsel that the president asked him to do something that he declined to do. Asked him to fire Robert Mueller and he declined to do it saying that he thought that if he did that it would precipitate what he viewed as a sort of Saturday night massacre.
So I think the president clearly is trying to take bits and pieces of this report that he doesn't like, trying to undermine it even as he tells the public that the conclusions of the report vindicate him. And I think this is just the beginning. There are so many of these stories in this report and as the president is mulling over this here in Florida I think we're likely to see him really lashing out more and more at many of these very same aides who used to work for him not too long ago -- Jake and Wolf.
TAPPER: All right. Abby, stay with us.
I want to bring in our lawyers into this. Elie Honig and Shan Wu are both former federal prosecutors.
Shan, let me start with you. I suppose it's not surprising any politician would take a report such as this, grab the stuff that they like and try to attack the stuff that they don't like. But at the end of the day if the most important issue here is, is there any evidence, prosecutorial or prosecutable evidence that the Trump team conspired with Russia, and Robert Mueller concluded, no, there isn't, would you advise a client just grab that part of it? Or I mean, what sense do you make of this?
SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think I would advise and probably Elie would, too, a client in the president's situation just to be quiet and gratefully silent.
[09:05:08] WU: But I think it's really important for all of us as we read the report to keep in mind the amount of prosecutorial discretion involved. So this question of, does the collusion facts rise to the level of a prosecutable crime, different prosecutors might vary on that. Not only that, there is the policy issue that Mueller has referenced and that's true to both obstruction and collusion, really, it's in the back of his mind, that OLC at Justice says you can't indict a sitting president. So different department, different prosecutor, might have come to a different conclusion.
BLITZER: OLC, Office of Legal Counsel.
WU: Right. BLITZER: Speaking of Justice Department --
BLITZER: We have now confirmed, Elie, that the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Jerry Nadler has formally issued the subpoena to the Justice Department for the full report, everything including all the classified information. They want everything, grand jury information. What's going to happen?
ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: So this could end up in the courts. I think Nadler has made clear he's not willing to settle for anything less than the entire unredacted report and I think William Barr has made clear that he intends to fight it.
Now a couple of things. I wasn't too upset by the redactions. I was actually expecting there to be a lot more redactions and where it's redacted, I do think it was a good move by Barr to designate here's why ongoing investigation, grand jury. And most of it relates to ongoing investigations and as a former prosecutor I'm very sensitive to that. The last thing that any prosecutor needs is to tip off potential targets, to give away potential investigative methods you might be using.
So I don't really have a major problem with the redactions. Now eventually there may be a time when they can be safely unredacted and I think there may be a compromise where Congress gets to see, the Intel Committees, behind closed doors, get to see the unredacted version but not the public just yet.
But look, this could end up in the courts, Wolf. And if it does we're going to have a conflict between the executive branch and the legislative branch and our third branch, the judicial branch will have to resolve it.
TAPPER: And Elie, let me ask you because a lot of people on the left, a lot of Democrats were very critical of Attorney General Barr yesterday, even nonpartisan commentators were critical of him because of the perception that he spun the Mueller report.
Does he not deserve any credit for ultimately following through on what he said, releasing the Mueller report, redacted but releasing it, including a lot of information that is not flattering about his boss, and only redacting 8 percent? I think there were a lot of people that were expecting at least a quarter of the Mueller report to be redacted.
I don't want to like set the -- no pun intended -- the bar too low here, but I mean, does he not deserve at least credit for that?
HONIG: He deserves credit for the low number of redactions. I think he was very careful in what he did there and I do think he tried to maximize transparency on that scale but overall I am of low opinion of William Barr's performance. I think his credibility and independence took a very serious self-imposed hit throughout this past month or so. By intercepting Robert Mueller's obstruction inquiry which now when we see the report seems pretty clearly to have been intended for Congress by selectively quoting in his four-page letter and really a way that I think we have to just call misleading at best.
By doing little favors, by using terms that no prosecutor would ever use. No collusion? Barr said that five or six times in the press conference yesterday. That is not a legal term, it's not a criminal term, that is a political term. So I think William Barr has badly damaged his legacy.
BLITZER: And the news, the breaking news right now the Chairman Jerry Nadler has issued, formally issued this subpoena to the Justice Department for the full report. He says, "The department is required to comply with the subpoena by May 1st. I am open to working with the department to reach a reasonable accommodation for access to these materials. However, I cannot accept any proposal which leaves most of Congress in the dark as they grapple with their duties of legislation, oversight and constitutional accountability."
And then he adds this, "My committee needs and is entitled to the full version of the report and the underlying evidence consistent with past practice."
WU: I agree, there's really no reason why Congress can't see that and if there's sensitive information they can view it basically --
BLITZER: Including all the underlying evidence? That would be millions of documents and testimony, hours of conversations.
WU: I think you've got to start high and start bargaining a little bit. And traditionally the department and Congress negotiate over things like this. It's not all or nothing, absolute refusal. But they're going to have a tough opponent in Barr. I mean, I think he's made it very clear. I'm happy he redacted so little but on the other hand it's part of to me his overall plan which is let's put a lot of static out there, color coded redactions, we're going to do my four pager, we're going to do a press conference before people see it, all that to make up with what he felt in a calculated for the strategy, that stuff is going to come out eventually, I'll put it out there but let me spin it as much as possible before people see it.
TAPPER: And let's go back to Abby Phillip who is with the president at Mar-a-Lago.
[09:10:00] And Abby, it looks as though there's going to be a legal fight here where the executive branch, the Trump administration, and the Justice Department squaring off against the House of Representatives, specifically Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee who has now formally issued the subpoena to obtain the entire Mueller report including the underlying evidence. Nadler saying that the redactions appear to be significant.
PHILLIP: Yes, and it's not clear to me that the president has a view of the redactions in that sense. I mean, I think that he's pretty happy with what the report shows and I think he probably believes that even with the redactions it's not going to reveal anything about him that would be particularly damaging. So as this plays out between the Justice Department and congressman -- and Chairman Nadler, I think it's going to play out that way.
I'm not sure that the president and his attorneys want to be seen as weighing in on that particular debate. I think where they are going to try to draw the line is any further inquiries that are drawn out of this. I think the argument being made by the president is that if there was no -- not enough evidence to prosecute criminally, then there's no justification for Congress to then take this up in a crusade against him.
I think Congress clearly is going to disagree with that, whether it leads to impeachment or something short of that is a different story, but the president is going to try to make a political argument that there is no there-there and that essentially nothing -- there are no laws being broken.
I think we heard one of the president's top allies just in the last hour telling Chris Cuomo that maybe there might be a role for Congress to look into some of these obstruction questions in the future, but at this moment there's no law being broken. I think that's the position of the president, that's going to be the president of his allies, and they're going to be trying to beat that drum in the public sphere for as long as possible.
BLITZER: And Abby, nothing on his schedule today. We're not going to see him. You're in the press briefing room, prospects of him showing up and answering reporters' questions appear to be pretty much nil, right?
PHILLIP: Yes, I mean, it seems pretty slim, but the White House aides had indicated that, you know, that he wasn't expected to say a whole lot. He declined two opportunities, multiple opportunities yesterday to talk to reporters where in the past he's done that before.
When he's here in Florida he's typically going to his golf course and spending the day on the golf course and tweeting. And I think we're seeing him obviously weighing in via Twitter, but I'm not sure his aides have come up with a good strategy for him to actually talk to reporters. And frankly as he is going through all of this and sorting out his own feelings about it, it may be in their best interest to keep him away from reporters for as long as possible because his mood is shifting pretty dramatically on some of these things and it hasn't settled out yet.
And it might be several days more before they have a real plan for how they really want to address the details of this Mueller report.
BLITZER: You'll stay in touch with us, Abby, and let us know if he does show up at some point.
Guys, thanks very much.
Obstructing attempts -- obstructing attempts to obstruct the president's former counsel saves the president from himself. We're digging into all the details of this Mueller report.
[09:17:32] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: The House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler has just issued a subpoena to the Department of Justice for the full Mueller report and all the underlying evidence. Let's go live to Capitol Hill. Our Sunlen Serfaty is joining us from there. It was expected but he did this very quickly.
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, indeed, Wolf. We have known that this is coming for some time. But today it is official, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, officially issuing a subpoena to the Department of Justice. He wants the full unredacted Mueller report.
He also wants the underlying evidence that Robert Mueller used in his investigation. He says in a statement, quote, the redactions appear to be significant. We have so far seen none of the actual evidence that the special counsel developed to make this case, even the redacted version of the report outlines serious instances of wrongdoing by President Trump and some of his closest associates.
It now falls on Congress to determine the full scope of the alleged misconduct and to decide what steps we must take going forward. And he has given, Wolf, the Department of Justice until May 1st to comply with his request. Wolf.
BLITZER: Sunlen Serfaty, thanks very much. Dramatic developments, Jake, unfolding very quickly in the aftermath of the release of this 400 plus page report.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Absolutely. And the special counsel's report says the President's staff protected the President from himself, quote, 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.
Our team of experts is here. And David Gergen, let me start with you, first I want to get your reaction to the House Judiciary Chairman, Jerry Nadler, issuing the subpoena. It's not a surprise. But do you think these sets up a court fight between the administration and Congress?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Very likely it's the beginning of a series of court fights. And I think the administration clearly has taken a view they don't want to cooperate on any front they don't have to and they want to stretch it out if they can. So I think that's true.
But the only way to have a full story in front of the Congress is for the members, some group of members, to have access to the full report without the redactions. Because there is a widespread feeling among Democrats, you know, that the Attorney General Barr in summarizing what was in the report was very misleading. He misled people on the question of whether there was full cooperation or not. Clearly, there was not full cooperation, the President himself, for example, not testifying or not appearing before the special counsel's office. And also, you know, Barr was just a, you know, said basically, he gave the President a free pass.
[09:20:06] And Democrats are saying, wait a minute, on obstruction the Mueller report is quite clear that there's no free pass. There was -- there's no exoneration here in the report. So I think there are elements that to move this process forward. I think it's important to start employing the various legal avenues that they have to do it.
I don't think it ought to be a circus, though. The one thing you do worry about is if everybody on the Hill sees this, it's going to leak all over the darn place. And there are some things in that report which under the law and under, you know, certain normal processes should be protected, but that means a few people, a gang of eight, for example, should see the fully unredacted report.
TAPPER: The gang of eight is four top congressional leaders and the four heads of the House and Senate Intelligence Committee. Wolf.
BLITZER: You know, and the Democrats have to worry right now what do they do? Do they just go ahead and do all sorts of other issues or do they formally launch impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives?
MARK PRESTON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think what we saw this morning is exactly what Nancy Pelosi wants to see happen, go through the formal channels, let's let the committee chairman as she has been successful so far lead the investigation, the chairman of the Oversight Committee, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, the chairman of course now of the Judiciary Committee.
So the Democrats have the ability to continue this investigation. They have the subpoena power to compel documents. The big rub now is will the left, the real hard base. Will it push Nancy Pelosi into a corner where she has to push forward on impeachment proceedings? Strategically, it's a political loser. I mean it's an absolute political loser in the likes of Nancy Pelosi, know that it's the question is, is there so much energy on the left right no you that they're going to try force that end.
TAPPER: And Sabrina, Democrats are also struggling with the question of obstruction of justice as you just heard, Mark say. One example from the report on what the President asked White House Counsel Don McGahn counsel at the time to do quote, on June 17th, 2017 the President called McGahn at home and directed him to call the acting attorney general and say, that the special counsel had conflicts of interest and must be removed.
McGahn did not carry out the direction, however, deciding that he would resign rather than trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday Night Massacre. There are all these examples in this report, at least ten, of potential obstruction of justice. How are Democrats going to deal with this? SABRINA SIDDIQUI, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that what that
tells us is although Mueller himself did not make a determination on whether or not the President obstructed justice, it was not for a lack of trying on Trump's part. The only reason he was unable to succeed is because his own aides or other officials in the administration declined to carry out his orders.
So Democrats are now having to deal with whether or not they should go after attempted obstruction. You've already heard some Republicans, Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows were on CNN this morning saying, well, you know, attempted is not obstruction of justice, but that is sort of dismissing other crimes that very much do qualify. You can't just say attempted murder is not a crime.
And that's going to be one of the, I think, lines that you're going to hear as this political fight really takes shape on Capitol Hill. But what this is also told us is that even though some of these aides did not carry out the President's orders, they were part of building a completely false narrative around both the nature of the contacts between the Trump campaign and Moscow as well as the President's own response to the investigation.
They dismissed as fake news what ultimately turned out to be true in terms of the President's efforts to interfere with the investigation. And so you really got a detailed portrait with names and testimony and contemporaneous notes about the depths of the White House's deception. And I think that's really going to provide a roadmap for Democrats moving forward even as they sort of tackle the politically challenging question of impeachment.
BLITZER: And, you know, David Gergen, the great thing about this 400- plus page report, unlike a book or unlike a long article, there are no anonymous sources here. All the quotes are attributed to real individuals and for significant reasons, except for some of the redacted portion.
But significantly, we now know in this report that the President tried to get his White House Counsel, Don McGahn, to fire Robert Mueller. McGahn refused. But listen to the President when "The New York Times" reported all of this back in January of 2018.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, did you seek to fire Mueller?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Fake news, folks, fake news.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's your message today?
TRUMP: Typical "New York Times" fake stories.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What do you think when the President looks at the camera like that, he knows what he did with Don McGahn according to this report. But then he just says "The New York Times," fake news.
GERGEN: Listen, I think it fits into an overall pattern which is as important as whether the President committed crimes or not. It is also important what kind of culture is in the White House. And I think what we've had numerous books come out that have been the inside stories about chaos and in fighting and lying and all the rest.
[09:25:11] This is the first time we've had something with people under oath talking about what the culture of that place is like and it's a very damning picture. And it's one of the real questions for Democrats is not just what can you do legally, but how can you convince the country that the President of the United States as George Conway argued in his op-ed piece today, for example, that there's a fiduciary responsibility when you are President to preserve that office, the dignity of that office, the respect for that office. And in this case, there's just been rampant lying, there's been rampant pushing at the edges, breaking through, smashing through norms.
And at some level there has to be accountability and how the Democrats are going to play that. If they just get off in the ways about court fights, they're going to miss the bigger story.
TAPPER: And there's another accountability question I want to ask you, Mark, which is Sarah Sanders is in the report, the White House press secretary. And Mueller makes it very clear that she made up something that she said. She said she had been getting all these e- mails and texts from FBI agents who were delighted with the fact that President Trump had fired James Comey.
And in the report it says that was based on nothing. She's out there on T.V. doubling down explaining, well, you know, she was a slip of the tongue even though she repeated it the next day as well. And not apologizing, not being contrite. What's the responsibility of the White House Press Corps when presented with facts from a respected law enforcement agent that the press secretary lied to the American people and is not apologetic about it at all?
PRESTON: I think we have to acknowledge that we know that she lies from the podium and others have as well. I mean, well, we have to take a step back. She's actually caught now on paper by someone who is not a journalist, right? So now she's caught in this quandary.
Here is the problem right now. We are in this entirely different paradigm. And essentially, I had this conversation with the reporter recently. And the reporter said, I remember the days when you would call the White House Press Office and if the White House Press Office told you the lead that you were chasing was wrong, you would say, oh, gosh, oh, no, you would hang up, you'd go back to your source, you would try to figure it out.
Do you know what I do now? It becomes the third graph of my story because I can never trust what they tell me because whatever they've told me has always been misleading. So that kind of tells you the state of affairs right now. I think the question is once Trump leaves office, whether that's -- you know, whether he wins reelection or he doesn't, does the country come back together in some kind of reality because right now we're not in reality. I mean I think we have to acknowledge that. We're not in reality.
TAPPER: All right, everyone, thank you so much.
Following the breaking news, a member of that committee that just issued a subpoena for the full Mueller report and underlying evidence will join us next. Stay with us.