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Interview with Rep. Chris Stewart (D-UT); Robert Mueller's Decisiveness More Evident in Mueller Report Than Barr Summary; Interview with Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD). Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired April 19, 2019 - 10:30   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You've previously told me several times, you think every word of the Mueller report should be made public, should be presented to Congress. Do you support this subpoena that Jerry Nadler has now issued for the full unredacted report and all the underlying evidence?

REP. CHRIS STEWART (D-UT): Yes. I do think that with the exception of the grand jury information, which, frankly, is illegal to release, I do think members of Congress should be able to see all of the other -- sitting on the House Intel Committee, of course they want to protect sources and methods. But we deal with sources and methods all the time.

Part of it is protecting our interactions with foreign governments. But, again, we deal with foreign governments all the time.

I think there are members of Congress who should see all of this. With the except of, again, Wolf, the grand jury information which is, again, illegal to release that. And probably appropriate to protect the grand jury process, that that be held private.

BLITZER: It would only be illegal if a court intervened and said you could release it. In the report, the Mueller report, the special counsel details several episodes of possible -- possible -- obstruction of justice by the president, including an attempt to fire the special counsel.

TEXT: Attempts to obstruct: Asked Comey to let Flynn go; Fired Comey; Tried to stop Sessions recusal; Tried to oust Mueller; Wanted Sessions to limit investigation; Orchestrated Trump Tower lies; Asked Sessions to reverse recusal; Told McGahn to lie; Asked Flynn's lawyers for a 'heads-up'; Commended Manafort for not flipping; Criticized Cohen

BLITZER: How concerning is that to you?

STEWART: Well, you know, honestly, I'm a little bit surprised that there isn't -- aren't more things in this that is embarrassing to the administration. After two and a half years and $30 million and 49 FBI agents and attorneys, again, I thought there would be more.

I don't think there's a single American who could undergo this kind of scrutiny and not find something over the last, you know, years of their life, that would not be embarrassing. But, Wolf, there's a difference between some things that are embarrassing and concerning, and some things that are illegal.

Frustration is not obstruction. Being an emotional reaction or anger is not obstruction. And Mr. Mueller, I think, was pretty clear. It didn't reach a legal threshold to pursue an obstruction charge. And Mr. Barr has conceded that.

And by the way, I think for those who are (ph) pursuing this, I think the American people are exhausted by it. I think they're so tired of it. And I think they're handing the president the greatest gift they could give him in the 2020 election. I think most Americans realize this is unfair, to keep going and going and going and to not ever be willing to just (ph) say (ph) --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Well, let me get your reaction, Congressman, to this one sentence that's in the Mueller report. "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 acceded to his requests."

That's pretty -- that's pretty start, that statement right there.

STEWART: Well, it is. But again, as has been explained, the president was reacting emotionally to what he felt was an unfair investigation from the very beginning. And he knew, as we know now and as the House Republicans Intel Committee concluded more than a year ago, we know that there was no collusion. We know that there was no conspiracy.

So I don't think it'd be terribly surprising to find that sometimes during the course of these events, the president would be emotionally defensive of that. And he would say, "I want the truth to be known." And if some of these individuals are pursuing things that he thinks is unfair at its core, that he would push back against that.

But once again, Wolf, we know it's really clear. There was no conspiracy, no collusion. We know that Mr. Barr looked at this and the special counsel looked at this and said there's no legal threshold to pursue obstruction charges.

And if people don't accept that, then they're saying, "Well, Mr. Mueller was either incompetent or he's corrupt." And I just think that's a ridiculous thing to conclude at this point. I think we trusted Mr. Mueller for the last two years. Unless people don't like the conclusion he came to, and then they began to say, "Well, he should have pursued this and didn't."

BLITZER: He had a very, very specific conclusion on Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election in 2016. I'll read the sentence -- and it's right at the beginning of this document -- "The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion," close quote.

But last night, the president's personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, once again said the president simply has a different view on Russian interference. Why do you think the president still doubts that Russia was behind an effort to interfere in the U.S. presidential election?

STEWART: I have no idea what Mr. Giuliani's talking about, frankly. I think the president has said -- and I've had conversations with him -- he clearly understands that the Russians attempted to interfere in this election --

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Well, he didn't say that at Helsinki after the summit with Putin. He said --

STEWART: Well --

BLITZER: -- I listened to what Putin said. He makes a strong case. I don't see why they would interfere. And that was a -- I'm paraphrasing a little bit, but that's basically what the president said.

STEWART: Yes. But he clarified his comments shortly after that, Wolf. And by the way, I was one of the first members of Congress who said, "The president's wrong. He needs to clarify." And he did.

But I know this. There was attempted interference. There's no question about that. Again, I think the president recognizes that. I don't know why Mr. Giuliani said what he did.

[10:35:00] The question is, did the administration or members of the campaign did -- were they part of that? And obviously the conclusion is no. And I think it's interesting to note as well, Wolf, that's despite multiple attempts by the Russians and Russian agents to get them to -- their coordination. And again, they rebuffed those attempts.

BLITZER: Congressman Chris Stewart of Utah. thanks so much for joining us.

STEWART: Thank you, Wolf.

JAKE TAPPER, CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Outside of his report, we have not yet heard directly from Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Lawmakers certainly want to hear from him. Could his testimony change how we view his report? Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:40:10] TAPPER: We have yet to hear directly from Robert Mueller since the release of the special counsel's report. But that is expected to change.

BLITZER: In a letter to the Justice Department, the House Democrats requested that Mueller ought to testify as soon as possible. They set a deadline of May 23rd. Joining us now, Garrett Graff. He's a CNN contributor. He's the author of the book "The Threat Matrix: Inside Robert Mueller's FBI and the War on Global Terror."

Garrett, thanks very much for joining us. So once we do hear directly in testimony from Robert Mueller, do you think what we heard from the attorney general, which was a very glowing assessment of his report, that public attitudes will change?

GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. You know, I've been saying for the last month that the summary that Barr presented of Mueller's work was inconsistent with sort of everything that we know about Robert Mueller in his career. Sort of this idea that he would just absolutely punt on this biggest decision that he has ever been asked to participate in, just didn't square with what we know of him as a pretty decisive and traditional conservative legal thinker.

And I have to say, after reading the report yesterday, that's the Bob Mueller that we expected to see. It's someone who actually had a very clear reasoning for the framework that he presented. You know, that he was starting this with the assumption that working under the framework established by the Department of Justice since the 1970s, you cannot indict a sitting president.

And so he was never planning to make a so-called sort of traditional prosecutorial decision on the question of obstruction. And always appears to have seen himself as basically an independent fact-finder, to use the criminal justice system to turn over evidence to Congress to consider for presidential malfeasance.

TAPPER: Mueller remains an employee of the Justice Department as special counsel. And we heard the attorney general, Bill Barr, yesterday, say he had no objections to Mueller testifying. Do you expect that Mueller will honor the request of the House Judiciary Committee and any other Democrats and answer questions and testify publicly?

GRAFF: I absolutely think he will. I mean, certainly if served with a subpoena of any kind, you know, Mueller will obey the legal proceedings. I don't know that we should expect that we're going to learn a tremendous amount of new information from him.

I mean, let's look back over the last two years. This is someone who has not spoken publicly in his role as special counsel since the day that he was appointed. And the two times that the special counsel has had something to say, Rod Rosenstein, as the acting attorney general in the matter, has come out and been the voice at the press conference.

And so yesterday, again, we didn't see Mueller up there with the -- with Bill Barr, with Rod Rosenstein and with the principal associate deputy attorney general behind him.

BLITZER: We are told that he is at work today over at the Justice Department, Mueller. Which raises the question, why wasn't he there at that news conference yesterday with Rod Rosenstein -- who named him to be the special counsel -- the deputy attorney general, and the attorney general, Bill Barr?

GRAFF: Yes. And Barr sort of gave a weird answer to this. Which is like, "This was my role to do this today," without addressing, I think, the underlying question of "Was Mueller invited? Was Mueller consulted as to whether he wanted to be there?"

But I would guess from what we know of Mueller, that Mueller would have preferred to have been anywhere but there yesterday. I mean, this is -- he's very clearly preferred to let his work speak for himself, and itself, through this entire process.

And I would imagine that that's what we'll see on Capitol (ph) Hill (ph).

BLITZER: They do have a 30-year relationship, Barr and Mueller. They're close friends. Their wives are friends as well.

GRAFF: Yes. But the friendship, to my understanding, exists more on the wives' side than on Barr and Mueller's side, personally.

TAPPER: I want to ask you about a tweet that you wrote this morning. "It seems clear that Trump skillfully maneuvered his way through two sticky issues correctly: avoiding testifying and installing an attorney general who would obfuscate the report's findings."

What are you trying to say there, that the president -- you're not judging the morality of it, you're just saying that was skillfully done?

GRAFF: Yes. It seems like, you know, there were two very good political decisions that the president and his lawyers made through this, to navigate through what we now understand from Mueller's report were some pretty sticky legal questions.

One, cooperating enough that Mueller never wanted to press the issue of subpoenaing the president himself so that we don't actually have the president nailed down personally in this.

And then, second, you know, Barr -- we have seen in the past, President Trump complain about his attorney general not acting as his personal lawyer. You know. He's said, "Where's my Roy Cohn?" Sort of -- his former, you know, legal mentor.

[10:45:03] And that this is something where we are seeing, you know, Bill Barr really acting yesterday as the president's personal defense attorney, not the chief law enforcement officer of the United States.

TAPPER: Garrett Graff, thank you so much.

Russia says they did not interfere in the 2016 election, no matter what the Mueller report says. Next, what does that mean for what's ahead in 2020?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: The Mueller report says, quote, "The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion," unquote. But President Trump says 2016 interference was President Obama's problem.

TEXT: Donald J. Trump; Anything the Russians did concerning the 2016 Election was done while Obama was President. He was told about it and did nothing! Most importantly, the vote was not affected.

[10:50:04] TAPPER: Joining me now, Senator Ben Cardin, Democrat from Maryland, member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Mr. Cardin -- Senator Cardin -- thanks so much for joining us. Doesn't President Trump have a point? Didn't the Obama administration, to a degree, drop the ball when it came to this horrific Russian election interference that happened in 2016?

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-MD), MEMBER, SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: Jake, let's remember that the president had numerous opportunities to talk to Mr. Putin during these last two years. And he minimized what Russia did in our 2016 elections, and continues to do, against democratic institutions.

So, no, President Trump had a responsibility. He's probably the last person to acknowledge what Russia did in our elections in 2016.

The Mueller report confirms what a lot of us already knew. But it gives us shocking detail. And now, it's important with Congress, I hope working with the Trump administration, to take further actions to protect us because Russia will try again in 2020, make no mistake about it. They're very much interested in bringing down our free elections system.

TAPPER: Well, what more needs to be done? What isn't being done that needs to be done?

CARDIN: So, so far, as you know, Congress passed a bill I helped draft two years ago that provides additional resources to deal with misinformation from foreign sources. But we need to take action against social media platforms so that we know who is trying to use our system against ourselves.

We need to have more transparency. We need to -- Americans need to understand that a lot of people that are contacting them are not Americans. So we do need to protect against the use of our facilities and institutions against ourself by foreign entities.

TAPPER: The Mueller report makes it pretty clear that they did not find sufficient evidence to charge anyone on the Trump team with conspiring with anyone affiliated with the Kremlin for election interference. Isn't that fundamentally good news, and something of a vindication for President Trump?

CARDIN: It's certainly good news that we're not going to have to go through a criminal trial that someone from this nation colluded with the Russians in order to influence our elections.

What the Mueller report spells out and details (ph) a lot of individuals and their contacts with Russia. Some of these individuals, of course, are being held in other proceedings.

So there's clearly contact that was made between Russian and Americans that is disturbing in the 2016 elections. But, yes, it's good news that we don't have a collusion indictment coming out, and that no American has been charged.

TAPPER: One thing that's really interesting from the Mueller report is President Trump went (ph) -- delivered a press conference in 2016, said something about "Russia, if you're listening, help me find -- help find the 30,000 missing e-mails that Hillary Clinton deleted."

He says he did so in jest. But the Mueller report says that I think roughly five hours later, Russian hackers were trying to break into Hillary Clinton's e-mails to find those missing e-mails. they did not get them.

TEXT: How Russia Interfered to Help Trump: Russia tried to hack Clinton e-mails five hours after Trump asked; Hackers compromised a Florida county's election systems; Disinformation campaign reached millions on social media; Operatives contacted Trump supporters to arrange political rallies

TAPPER: But that certainly says something about how closely the Russians are watching our elections, and how even if you take President Trump at his word -- he was just joking around -- how they take those instructions at face value.

CARDIN: No question that there was contact made between the Trump campaign and Russians that are troublesome. There's no question about that. Does it rise to the element of enough evidence for a criminal indictment? No. But there's clearly unhealthy contact that was encouraged by members of the Trump team in regards to what Russia was doing.

So that is a matter, I think, of public interest. It's something that cannot be permitted in the future.

TAPPER: Your party is going to have to decide what to do with this Mueller report. There are grassroots Democrats who are running straight towards impeachment. There are other voices, such as your fellow Democratic Marylander, Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader, who says the American people will get to make their decision on President Trump in November 2020.

Where do you come down? Do you think that impeachment could be damaging to your party, as it was to Republicans during the Clinton years?

CARDIN: Jake, this is our highest responsibility. It shouldn't be what the Democrats want to do. It should be what Congress wants to do. The House of Representatives has specific responsibility to investigate the conduct of the president.

It's very clear from the Mueller report that in regards to obstruction of justice, there are many episodes in which the president tried to influence the Mueller investigation. In some cases, he was saved from action by his own staff that refused to carry out his orders.

But this is the beginning of a congressional review as to the conduct of the president. And it's our responsibility as an institution -- not as a party, but as an institution -- to put as much information, get as much information as possible to determine whether further action is needed. We have a constitutional responsibility here and we must carry that out.

[10:55:10] TAPPER: Senator Ben Cardin, thank you so much. Happy Passover. I hope you find the afikoman.

CARDIN: Thank you. I could use the extra money. Thanks.

TAPPER: Thanks for joining us today for our special coverage on the Mueller report. I'm Jake Tapper.

BLITZER: And I'm Wolf Blitzer. "AT THIS HOUR WITH KATE BOLDUAN" picks up our special coverage.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[10:59:56] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR, "AT THIS HOUR WITH KATE BOLDUAN": Hello everyone. Thanks so much for joining me. I'm Kate Bolduan, joining you from Washington today.

It has been 24 hours since the release of the redacted Mueller report.