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Nadler Says Mueller Gave Lawmakers A Road Map That He Intends To Follow; Some Democrats Are Now Saying It's Time For Attorney General William Barr To Go. Aired: 2-2:30p ET
Aired April 19, 2019 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: So the Attorney General Bill Bar is in Nadler's words an agent of the President who misled Americans on the issues Barr's conclusion that there was no obstruction by the President even as the report clearly states the Special Counsel could not definitely rule out any criminal conduct.
Now Nadler says Mueller gave lawmakers a road map that he intends to follow.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Based on reading 188 pages of evidence or so on obstruction of justice, do you believe the President committed obstruction of justice?
REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): I believe he committed obstruction of justice, yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: But as you know, obstruction is just one of half the Mueller report. The other deals with allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. The Special Counsel found that while Team Trump believed it would benefit from Russia's actions, no one took criminal steps to help.
For his part, the President is once again railing against the entire thing calling it crazy B.S. and something else that's unknown since he didn't finish his sentence, we will leave you -- well, we will live up to your own imagination.
CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill. So you got the subpoena today, and Bill Barr testifying in a few weeks. What do we expect in the meantime?
MANU RAJU, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Democrats have set the deadline for the Justice Department to turn over this information, the full Mueller report, the underlying evidence to the House Judiciary Committee by May 1st.
Now, there is an expectation here on Capitol Hill that that will not happen and then that will lead to a court fight, both to get the full information as well as to get a court order to release the grand jury information. Now, the Justice Department has said that it would not even provide to
Members of Congress in a limited fashion. Now at the same time, the House Judiciary Committee has authorized five subpoenas for former White House officials -- those subpoenas could soon be issued, therefore, records that these officials may have gotten from the White House as a plan to testify before the Mueller investigation and that includes the former White House counsel, Don McGahn who the Mueller report said very clearly that the President ordered him to fire the Special Counsel and that McGahn ultimately said no.
Now, in the meantime both the House Intelligence Committee and the House Judiciary Committee want Robert Mueller to testify, too, sometime in May. They have not settled on a date yet, but they are optimistic that that will happen, at least one of those will be in a public setting and, Anderson, the investigation on the Democratic side in the House will also start to pick up some steam.
Nadler wants to have what he says are major hearings into the obstruction of justice matter. They have a lot of records requests out and the House Intelligence Committee wants to pursue issues about finances, the President's finances and whether he has any ties to foreign interests. That is something that appears, according to the redacted Mueller report that Mueller did not really dive into. Democrats say there's a lot of area to investigate there going forward, so expect more investigative activity and expect a fight that could end up in court over the full Mueller report, Anderson.
COOPER: Manu, are you hearing from Democrats on Capitol Hill who are concerned about the scope of further investigations, the length of them, how many they're there are going to be in terms of the upcoming election and what impact it may have on Democrats?
RAJU: Yes, definitely, Anderson. Democrats are trying to be judicious. They say there are a lot of things to look into. They believe they can walk and chew gum at the same time, but there are some that with worried about the push to look into virtually everything which is why you're seeing that divide really play out over the debate over impeachment with some on the left saying it is time to go forward on impeachment. Others in the Democratic leadership worry that this will be a fruitless attempt that Republicans would capitalize on, ultimately help the President at the ballot box.
So those divisions are starting to play out, but Democrats believe they're on firm political ground by demanding the full Mueller report and investigating things that they say that the Special Counsel made very clear, such as investigating obstruction of justice which they say the ball is now in their court, Anderson.
COOPER: All right, Manu Raju, thanks very much. From interviews to tweet storms and news conferences with his fellow world leaders, President Trump took many opportunities to paint the Mueller investigation over the time that it has been running and the media's coverage of it as well charging of course media coverage as false or fake as he would say often and that included a "New York Times" piece last year that Trump wanted Bob Mueller gone.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, did you want to fire Robert Mueller?
DONALD TRUMP (R), 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)
COOPER: It turned out it was true. That was just one of many Trump claims that the Mueller report has proved to be untrue. CNN political correspondent, Sara Murray is here now to look at others -- Sara.
SARAH MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, it is not illegal for the President and for the White House to lie to the American public and for that, President Trump is very lucky because the Mueller report certainly exposed a number of falsehoods.
You know, remember all of the times that then candidate trump said he had nothing to do with Russia. He had no business deals in Russia and then of course, we learned they were pursuing the Trump Tower Moscow project for far longer than anyone was willing to talk about.
There was also the infamous Trump Tower meeting. The President was insistent that this was just a meeting about adoptions and afterwards, in fact, he even played a role in adjusting the statement so it said that the meeting was just about adoptions rather than including anything about dirt on Hillary Clinton.
[14:05:10] MURRAY: Afterwards, in fact, he even played a role in adjusting the statement. So it said that the meeting was just about adoptions rather than including anything about dirt on Hillary Clinton. Of course, we learned from the Mueller report and from reporting contemporaneously that this was the meetings get dirt on Hillary Clinton and that the President actually dictated a portion of this statement to sort of cover up the real purpose.
We also learned that the President did in fact, order Don McGahn to get rid of Robert Mueller. He also then tried to get Don McGahn to lie about that, which is something McGahn refuse to do. And remember, Donald Trump has said over and over again, there was no contact between his campaign, his folks and the Russians. We see it laid out in painstaking detail, all of these attempts Russia made to help the Trump campaign, and frankly, how willing they were, Anderson time and time again to try to accept this help.
We heard President Trump say the reason he fired James Comey was because he got this recommendation from Rod Rosenstein that James Comey didn't handle the Clinton e-mail investigation well. He wasn't doing a good job. Of course, we learned that it was in fact over the Russia investigation. And it was the President's decision that he wanted to fire Comey. It was not Rod Rosenstein at the outset. And we saw Anderson in that report numerous times over and over again,
the ways the President tried to interfere in the Special Counsel's investigation and limit its scope.
COOPER: Yes, I mean, Sara, it's also fascinating not just was it not Rod Rosenstein, who wanted Comey fired, the President tried to get Rod Rosenstein to have a news conference, in which he confessed that it was him who motivated the president to fire Comey and the White House Press Office did the same thing, trying to get Rod Rosenstein to put out a statement and Rod Rosenstein said, you know, a press conference is not a good idea, because if I'm asked about it, I'm going to tell the truth.
The report Sara -- the Mueller report says that the Trump wasn't able to influence the Russia investigation, and I'm quoting, "Because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his request," explain who they are and what those requests were.
MURRAY: Well, Anderson, I mean, what you were just talking about with Rod Rosenstein, I think is a good example of a trend in this White House, people over and over again, were asked to do things they were uncomfortable with, and they didn't follow through. But the Mueller report lays out a number of different examples, like a meeting that President Trump had with Corey Lewandowski, who is of course, an adviser in his campaign and is now an outside adviser, and he asked Corey Lewandowski to tell Sessions to un-recuse and to limit the scope of the Mueller investigation.
Well, Lewandowski didn't do that. He punted it over to Rick Dearborn, another White House aide. Rick Dearborn also did not follow through on this request. He also asked Rob Porter to run through the ranks of the Justice Department and try to figure out if Rachel Brand who was there at the time was someone who was going to be loyal to Trump. That's something Porter didn't feel comfortable with. He didn't follow through on that request. We know that he asked James Comey then the FBI director to see his way to letting the Flynn thing go. Comey did not do that. He pursued the Flynn investigation, ultimately Flynn struck up this plea deal that he is operating under and became an important cooperator.
He asked McGahn to tell Rosenstein it to get rid of Robert Mueller, McGahn refused to do so. McGahn also refused to go to the press and say, you know, this never happened. He never asked me to get rid of the Special Counsel, because he knew that was a lie.
COOPER: Sara, thank you very much. Appreciate it. Nelson Cunningham is a former assistant U.S. Attorney. He served as White House counsel under President Clinton. Kim Wehle was a former associate Whitewater independent counsel and a former federal prosecutor. Appreciate both of you being with us know.
Nelson, what do you make of the role that Don McGahn played that we now know he played in this White House?
NELSON CUNNINGHAM, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: He seems to have turn that to have been Donald Trump's secret weapon in protecting his presidency because the President kept on asking him to do improper things, including firing Robert Mueller, things that clearly would have shaken Trump's presidency after the firing of Jim Comey.
We all remember the Saturday night massacre under Richard Nixon. McGahn refused to do that. McGahn refused to do that and other steps that would plainly put the President in even deeper jeopardy. I'm not sure the President understands it right now, but Don McGahn did him a solid.
COOPER: It's certainly, Kim does not sound like the President understands that Don McGahn did him a solid, do you think it can be said Don McGahn saved his presidency?
KIM WEHLE, FORMER ASSOCIATE INDEPENDENT COUNSEL, WHITEWATER INVESTIGATION: I think Dan McGahn might have saved democracy in a way because I'm not so sure that if he had fired -- if the President had fired Robert Mueller that the political process and the American public would have held Mr. Trump accountable, and then we'd be in a situation where you get away with the Saturday Night Massacre, so maybe -- that maybe it's a good thing, that it was stopped for the broader question, but sure, there were heroes inside the government's that sort of put the brakes on this renegade president and I think at this point, when it's all in black and white 480 pages, the question is, will there be any accountability through the political process? And I think that's something that matters for purposes of our broader democratic process and democratic system of separation of powers.
COOPER: Also, just the portrayal that the Mueller report gives of how this White House functions and does not function. I mean, you know, it's long been known that, you know, from the original setup with Reince Priebus as Chief of Staff that this was not an ordinary White House setup, but just the level of dysfunction of the President giving orders to subordinates to do things that they just ignore and kind of hope you'll forget about.
[14:10:15] COOPER: CNN was given a quote by a senior Trump administration official, I want to read it. The senior Trump administration tells CNN that the Mueller report isn't surprising. It has become in their words, the norm for the President to make, and I'm quoting here, "absurd demands of his staff." How does the White House function like that?
CUNNINGHAM: You know, I worked on the Clinton White House, it wasn't perfect, but it sure didn't function that way. There you had a President, and we've had Presidents of both parties, frankly, until now, who when they're told by their legal counsel, "Sir, this is a line that we should not cross." The Presidents understand that. They might find ways to work around it, they might find ways to change the law, but I've never seen one who just blatantly seems do as this President does, "I don't care. Do it anyway." That's extraordinary to me.
COOPER: And Kim, you wrote yesterday that the President's actions seemed a lot like obstruction, as you've had time to kind of focus on and reflect, do you still believe that? And if that is the case, was it just the fact that Mueller is operating under the Department of Justice guidelines and not only accepts those guidelines, but pointed out that it would be unfair to have charges against the President, if he can't be indicted and can't go to a court to defend himself?
WEHLE: Absolutely. So I mean, the obstruction of justice statute is very broad. Mr. Barr got upset about that last June when he wrote this and let that famous memo to the White House. But the fact is, you if you endeavor to obstruct an investigation, and the steps you're going to take are likely to make an impact, then that can be obstruction.
Here we have, for example, the President directing that the head of the actual investigation be fired that would certainly interfere with the investigation. So I think that that at many levels, there's a case for obstruction and people are talking about, "Well, he didn't really mean it," or "He was really upset." Those are defense kind of arguments at trial. That doesn't undermine the basic case. But you put your finger on something, I think that is a very nuanced constitutional distinction, where basically Robert Mueller said, it's not fair as a matter of due process to ping someone for a crime and then not let them defend themselves in court.
Since we can't prosecute the President. He can't defend himself, so we're not going to do it, which is why really the impeachment process which is effectively a trial in Congress is the place that the President in theory would defend himself.
COOPER: And Robert Mueller certainly seemed to serve it up to Congress. I mean, just saying repeatedly in different ways that you know, he's giving the evidence to those who have a constitutional -- mandated constitutional role to play in this if they so choose. We're going to talk more. Standby.
Coming up, Attorney General Bill Bar under fire for his handling of the report's rollout including how he took Mueller's words out of context. Plus, new today, former Vice President Joe Biden set to announces 2020 campaign next week. What that means for the Democratic race for President. We'll be right back.
[14:17:26] COOPER: Some Democrats are now saying it's time for Attorney General William Barr to go. They say the partisan way in which he handled the Special Counsel's report calls into question is independence and impartiality, including his spin on the report just prior to its release.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The Special Counsel's report states that his quote, "Investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.
The Special Counsel found no collusion by any Americans in IRA's illegal activities. In other words, there was no evidence of the Trump campaign collusion with the Russian government's hacking.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CNN justice reporter, Laura Jarrett has been all over this. So Laura, if you will just kind of walk us through the discrepancies between what Barr said or the things that might have been misleading and what Mueller actually concluded?
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Anderson while Barr didn't misquote the report exactly, he did fail to give a nuanced full picture of Mueller's findings. And that's what he's really being criticized for today.
So I want to just walk through three different examples that sort of lay this out. The first is on that issue of no collusion, which Barr echoing Trump there at the press conference yesterday said three different times no evidence on the issue of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russian government.
But the report from Mueller actually does say this, it says, "The investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and work to secure that outcome and that the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts." And that's a key part of the context and it really shed light on what the Russians were doing and that did not make it into Barr's four-page summary from last month.
The second issue has to do with obstruction of justice. And on this issue, Mueller lays it out very clearly, in the very beginning of Volume 2 of the report, he explains that he is accepting long standing DOJ guidance that you don't indict a sitting President. And he explains it this way, quote, "Fairness concerns counsel against potentially reaching that judgment, (meaning, one that would have potentially implicated the President in a crime) when no charges can be brought."
So essentially, what he's saying there, the President can't defend himself in court, as you were talking about with your last panel. And so I'm not even going to reach that traditional prosecutorial role, instead, I'm going to lay out all the evidence and preserve witnesses' contemporaneous thoughts.
[14:20:00] JARRETT: Barr just missed that idea about the OLC guidance. Yesterday at the press conference, when I asked him whether that had to do with Mueller's reasoning, he sort of downplayed it and said the Mueller hadn't talked about it when they had their March 5th meeting. But clearly it weighed heavily on Mueller's mind.
And finally, is this issue of Trump's cooperation in the investigation. Take a listen to what Barr said about that yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARR: Nonetheless, the White House fully cooperated with the Special Counsel's investigation, providing unfettered access to campaign and White House documents, directing senior aides to testify freely and asserting know privilege claims. And at the same time, the President took no act that in fact, deprived the Special Counsel of the documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JARRETT: Yeah, Mueller was not so glowing in the report when it came to cooperation. Here's what he wrote, quote, "We viewed the written answers to be inadequate." And so why didn't he subpoena the President? Well, he says he had the authority to but Mueller writers, "But at that point, our investigation had made significant progress and had produced substantial evidence for our report." So the take home answers for Mueller were not that helpful. Anderson, back to you.
COOPER: And what's also, Laura, important to point out is that the take home answers were only on the question of collusion.
COOPER: They had -- the White House refused to have the President or the President's attorneys more accurately answer any questions about obstruction of justice or potential obstruction of justice, which, you know, is, again, if you're saying that the White House fully cooperated, certainly, that's one example of them not. Laura, thanks for that.
Back with me now is Nelson Cunningham and Kim Wehle. Kim, I'm wondering what you make of how the Attorney General has behaved in this through his public state?
WEHLE: Well, first, I want to say he did not have to release the report full stop under the Special Counsel regulations and I think he deserves some credit for making that determination in making all of that public and we're not in a situation we have to go to court to actually get the document.
But Laura is absolutely right. I think it's really unfortunate that he collapsed this concept of collusion and conspiracy. Mueller was very clear in the report. This is not about collusion. Collusion is a colloquial term. It's not a term of art. Attorney General Barr is a lawyer, and he should have stuck to the law, which is conspiracy.
You and I can think this was collusion. It's a colloquial, just regular term, accepting information about your political opponents from an adverse foreign power. We could say that's collusion. In another universe, Trump and his team could have said, "Listen, I'm not going to talk to the Russians. I'm going to call the FBI. I'm for America, not for Russia." So that's a political determination. That's something that should have played out in the public sphere. And I think it was improper, really, for Mr. Barr to have taken that step. It would have been better for the integrity of the Justice Department and the whole system for him to just not -- to say neutral, not be Trump's lawyer.
COOPER: It was interesting how he did it, though, in a way that directly echoed President Trump's language of no collusion, which obviously you get a sense that part of his audience, if not his sole audience was President Trump.
WEHLE: He was a good lawyer for President Trump, absolutely.
COOPER: Which is not his job.
WEHLE: Well, I mean, some might argue that that it is his job. My view as a Constitutional Law Professor, I have a book coming out in June on the Constitution. That is structurally -- whether you're a Democrat or a Republican -- a problem. We want a neutral Justice Department so that people don't pick and choose who gets prosecuted based on your political views, and the entire American public can buy into the integrity of that system.
COOPER: Nelson has Barr hurt the integrity of the system.
CUNNINGHAM: He has certainly pressed the boundaries in some areas. Look, Rod Rosenstein ran this investigation for two full years. I followed it closely. I've written about it. I cannot think of anything that Rod Rosenstein did in two years other than that memo, he wrote that first or second night when Trump said, "Justify my firing of Jim Comey."
I can't think of anything in two years that would cause people at the Justice Department to be anything but mightily proud of his leadership in the way that he handled the Mueller investigation. Meanwhile, just in the last month, Attorney General Barr has been at least four or five critical moves that caused a lot of us who were professionals in law enforcement to scratch our heads and say, "Why did he do that?" And the answer seems to be he has a different notion of who was client is than perhaps Rod Rosenstein.
COOPER: You say for -- I assume you're talking about the release of the four-page summary, how he did that, some of the testimony he gave --
CUNNINGHAM: And they're waiting a month for the redactions. Did it really take a month?
COOPER: It shouldn't have taken that long.
CUNNINGHAM: It was very convenient that it was released in the middle of a two-week congressional recess on Maundy Thursday right before Easter and Passover. So all of a sudden, all the House is gone. They won't come back for another 10 days by that point, who knows what might be on the front pages. It's very convenient to release it now. Did he do it by coincidence? I don't really think so. And then, of course, his press conference yesterday morning. We all have to wonder what was going on in Rod Rosenstein's mind as he stood there just next to and behind Barr mute.
[14:25:13] CUNNINGHAM: Unable to say anything, given his two-year tenure, what was incredibly difficult, personal and professional cost. And yet he acquitted himself extraordinarily well in those two years. COOPER: Well, it was interesting how Attorney General Barr made a
point of really embracing Rod Rosenstein publicly to him basically sort of one of the messages of it is that Rod Rosenstein agrees with everything I'm saying. He agrees with my conclusions. I want to thank him for all his -- you know, help in this transition. He looked deeply uncomfortable.
CUNNIGHAM: And you know what, because Rod Rosenstein strikes me -- I don't know him -- but he strikes me as a straight down the middle by the books prosecutor, we will never hear his version of it. And so Barr can say what he wants to say. I don't think we're going to hear Rosenstein give the shading that he might want to give.
COOPER: Nelson Cunningham, Kim Wehle, thank you so much. Fascinating. Be sure to join me an eight o'clock tonight on AC 360. I'll be joined by Ty Cobb, the White House attorney who led the response to the Mueller probe for almost a year. It was his decision to cooperate fully with the investigation. What does he think now? We'll talk to him tonight.
Sarah Sanders is trying to defend herself today as calls grow among some -- certainly Democrats -- for the Press Secretary to resign after she admitted lying to the media. Plus as Mueller show new evidence of Russian attacks on America's elections, what will Vladimir Putin learn from reading this report?