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Continued Discussion of Mueller Report; Stunning Number of Trump Lies Exposed By Mueller Report. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired April 19, 2019 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:27]

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It is the top of the hour. I'm Anderson Cooper. Thanks for joining us.

Robert Mueller's report is out, obviously. And let the politics fights and the White House spin begin.

On Capitol Hill, Democrats outraged by Attorney General Bill Barr's handling of the release and the findings, are vowing to get to the truth. Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler issued a subpoena for the full report, unredacted, saying Barr is, in Nadler's words -- quote -- "an agent of the president who misled Americans."

Among the issues, Barr's conclusion that there was no obstruction by the president, even as the report clearly states the special counsel could not definitively rule out any criminal conduct. And now Nadler says Mueller gave lawmakers a road map that he intends to follow.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Based on the 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: And then there's the issue of collusion, of course, between the Trump campaign and Russia, the allegations of it.

The special counsel found that while team Trump believed it would benefit from Russia's actions, no one took criminal steps to help. That news is inspiring a victory lap at the White House and, as we have come to expect from this president, a tweetstorm.

So far, he's called the whole thing crazy B.S. and something else that's unknown because he didn't actually finish his sentence. From tweets to news conferences with his fellow world leaders, President Trump has taken many opportunities to paint them the Mueller investigation and the media's coverage of it as false.

That included a "New York Times" piece last year that Trump wanted Bob Mueller gone.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Mr. President, did you seek to fire Mueller?

QUESTION: Do you want to fire Robert Mueller?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Fake news, folks, fake news.

QUESTION: What is your message today?

TRUMP: Typical "New York Times" fake stories.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: So, he was lying there, right then when he said that. It turns out he was lying. As it was reported at the time, he wasn't telling the truth.

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 with a look at others.

Sara, what have you got?

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, one of the things we learned in this report is that the White House and the president lied to us a whole lot of times.

That is not a crime, lucky for President Trump. Remember when candidate Trump said he had nothing to do with Moscow over and over again, and then we learned they were actually pursuing the Trump Tower Moscow deal into 2016, much longer than we previously thought?

We also learned that that infamous Trump Tower meeting, it wasn't actually about adoptions. We learned that contemporaneously. Mueller confirmed this was to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. That is something that they were not straightforward about.

They also weren't very straightforward about how this statement was crafted on Air Force One that said the meeting was about adoptions. The White House insisted, no, no, the president was not involved in dictating the statement. Mueller team said, in fact, the president was involved in dictating the statement and removing the part that said, essentially, that this meeting was about things other than adoptions.

We also learned that the president did in fact order Don McGahn, then the White House counsel, to fire Robert Mueller, even though he denied it, he said it was fake news. And he later tried to get Don McGahn to come out and refute the stories, which is something the White House counsel refused to do, because he knew that was inaccurate. We heard President Trump, president-elect Trump, say over and over

again, there were no contacts with Russians. CNN has uncovered at least 16 contacts between people in Trump's orbit and Russian officials.

And, of course, who can forget that the president and the White House said, you know, the reason we fired James Comey was because he wasn't doing a good job as FBI director, and here's this memo from Rod Rosenstein, it was really at Rod Rosenstein's direction that we decided to make this decision.

Mueller's report makes it very clear it was President Trump's decision to fire James Comey. And, instead, he just decided to pin his reasoning on the deputy attorney general.

COOPER: Right. And the president tried to get the deputy attorney general to hold a press conference and lie about it. And the White House press office also, according to the Mueller report, tried to get the deputy attorney general to at least issue a statement in which he would lie about it.

Sara Murray, appreciate the details there.

Those details from the Mueller report about the president's top advisers ignoring his orders also seem to lend credence to the anonymous op-ed published in "The New York Times" in September of last year. Remember, it said the senior administration official that wrote it described how he or she, many other members of President Trump's inner circle -- quote -- "are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations."

The author went on to explain how meetings with President Trump -- quote -- "veer off topic and off the rails. He engages in repetitive rants, and his impulsiveness results in half-baked, ill-informed and occasionally reckless decisions that we -- that have to be walked back."

Joining me now, Elliot Williams, former deputy assistant attorney general in the Obama administration. And Gene Rossi is a former federal prosecutor. Also, Gloria Borger is CNN's chief political analyst.

[15:05:03]

Gloria, I mean, the op-ed was published. The surrogates of the president went out and said, this is ridiculous, this is fake news.

It certainly -- I mean, it sounds like it's taken directly from the Mueller report.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It does.

And there's one more line in it that sounds like it's taken directly from the Mueller report. "The erratic behavior would be more concerning if it weren't for unsung heroes in and around the White House." Now, you can read that, and you can think of Don McGahn, for example, and all the other people who wouldn't do the president's bidding that we -- that we learned in the Mueller report who provide the guardrails, really, for the president.

COOPER: Although, in some cases, it's unclear. I mean, was Corey Lewandowski not following through on the president's directives because he had a moral qualm with it, or because he thought, I don't want to be the one who goes to try to do something inappropriate?

BORGER: Right. So he handed it to Rick Dearborn, who used to work for Jeff Sessions.

COOPER: Right. He tries to pawn it off on Rick Dearborn.

BORGER: So, he pawned it off and said...

COOPER: And Rick Dearborn says, oh, yes, sure, I will take care of it, and then never does anything.

BORGER: Yes, but it does give you an indication of the fact that people just didn't feel that they had to listen to Trump when he was ranting about something. They kind of said, sure, sure, and hoped he didn't remember that he had asked them to do it.

COOPER: Yes.

Gene, a senior administration official tells CNN -- and I just want to get this right -- that the Mueller report isn't surprising because, in their words, it's the -- quote, unquote -- "the norm" for Trump to make what they said are -- quote -- "absurd -- absurd demands of his staff."

Can a White House work like that?

GENE ROSSI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Absolutely not, unless you're the Trump White House.

But the happiest person in America right now is probably Michael Cohen, because everything he said before the committee about the code of conduct, being asked to do certain things, is corroborated, buttressed, and supported by a lot of the allegations in the Mueller report.

So, Cohen should be very happy right now.

COOPER: What do you make of the portrayal of -- I mean, the portrayal of the White House and also even of the spokespeople at the White House?

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER DEPUTY U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Oh, well, the spokesperson at the White House.

So, it's interesting. When you look at Sarah Huckabee Sanders' statement about FBI agents -- or pardon me -- about...

COOPER: FBI agents contacting her, countless ones.

(CROSSTALK)

WILLIAMS: Think about all the times you have heard President Trump say, I have spoken to Border Patrol agents, I have spoken to police officers, I have spoken to firefighters, and they all agree with me about this.

Now, we knew he wasn't being candid or truthful before. But it's striking now -- now that it's documented that that kind of false statement was being made by the White House press secretary.

COOPER: Yes.

WILLIAMS: So, again, I think the bigger picture here is that everybody who has pushed back on the president, sort of on behalf of the rule of law or honesty and so on, is now gone.

COOPER: But, Elliot, I mean, Robert Mueller -- much has been made of investigations that are ongoing in the Southern District of New York. A lot of those investigations that Mueller farmed out, those ultimately are under the control the attorney general, are they not?

WILLIAMS: They are. But I guess, what's -- what are you getting at there?

COOPER: Well, I mean, is that a concern, if Democrats are putting their faith in investigations that ultimately the attorney general can have a hand in shaping in some way?

WILLIAMS: Well, we hope not. Right?

The department that -- look, I worked there for many years. The department works on -- with a great degree of independence out in the field. And if this is the Southern District of New York or D.C. or Virginia, and so on, we would hope that there wouldn't be political interference of the sort that we sort of have seen from the attorney general over the last couple of days.

Now, even if it's not interference, there's certainly a willingness to show a bunch of leg, for lack of a better term, about how things respond and so on. But I know Gene knows this too, having been in the Eastern District of Virginia for a long time.

ROSSI: Yes.

WILLIAMS: There is a certain degree of independence with these cases.

COOPER: Do you agree with that, Gene?

ROSSI: Absolutely. We both worked in the Justice Department, very proud of that.

I was in Eastern District of Virginia. And I can tell you this. If the attorney general tried to put his thumb on the scale on an important investigation, there would be holy hell raised by the line attorneys, the career prosecutors and the career supervisors.

And we're talking about the Southern District of New York that prides itself on being called the sovereign district. And there is no way the attorney general would dare put his thumb on the scale on what they do in the Southern District of New York.

WILLIAMS: You would hear about it.

(CROSSTALK)

WILLIAMS: I mean, the simple fact is..

BORGER: We would hear about it.

(CROSSTALK)

ROSSI: Leak. Leak. You would hear a leak.

WILLIAMS: No, absolutely.

Look, there's no question that -- and, again, we're talking about the U.S. attorney's offices around the country.

COOPER: Right.

WILLIAMS: So, yes, I don't think there's any question about that.

COOPER: The issue of impeachment, obviously, Democrats are facing a difficult -- in Congress are facing a difficult decision.

BORGER: Yes, they are, because you have got liberals in the Congress who are saying, we got to impeach, we got to impeach. You have Nancy Pelosi, who, by the way, is also a liberal, but she's saying, look, we have to have the American public with us. And the polls are not there. The people don't want to live through it, and we need to talk about our agenda.

So she's got a bit of a conundrum on our hands. I think, however, they do have an oversight role. So, they can walk and chew gum at the same time. They can -- they can investigate things. They can bring people before the Congress, like Bob Mueller. Maybe they will bring Don McGahn. Who knows.

[15:10:18]

And they can have these hearings for the American public, so they can listen to these people tell their stories, in their own words, much like Iran-Contra did. So they can -- they can do that.

But it is a delicate balance.

WILLIAMS: An important point is that we have been hearing for months now, maybe even more than a year, that the Justice Department can't or won't, however you choose to characterize it, prosecute a sitting president or hold a sitting president accountable. Whether you agree with that decision or not, that's the policy of the

Justice Department. Mueller all but is clear and explicit that this is now Congress' duty, even if it's not an impeachment matter, as an oversight matter, to, just as Gloria had said, bring witnesses in, ask them the questions, and get to the bottom of whether was their misconduct, even if you're not...

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: He also made it clear, by the way, in a couple of paragraphs in this voluminous report that this -- the OLC decision that you can't indict a sitting president doesn't mean you can indict a president when he's out of office.

WILLIAMS: Right.

BORGER: And that's why we have this voluminous report, so that you can go back and look at all of the documentation.

COOPER: Right. He talked about doing this while memories are fresh and getting sort of everything on the record.

BORGER: Exactly. Exactly.

COOPER: We're going to take a quick break. We're going to have more head.

Congressman Denny Heck joins us live to discuss how the House Intelligence Committee will continue its investigation of the president.

Plus, we're digging deeper on President Trump's lapse in memory regarding just about everything Mueller asked him details on. Dozens of times, he responded that he could not recall in written -- in written answers that his lawyers helped him prepare.

And, later, the outgoing French ambassador has a few choice words about the president, calling him a -- quote -- "big mouth who reads nothing" -- ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:16:13]

COOPER: While President Trump never sat for an in-person interview with the Mueller team, we're getting new insight into his written answers.

The report shows those answers were -- were not -- well, they were unsatisfying to Mueller. He called them inadequate, noted that more than 30 times the president responded that he does not recall or can't remember.

It's an interesting note for the man who has boasted about his exceptional memory.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: There's no hesitation. One of the great memories of all time. There was no hesitation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: One of the great memories of all time.

President Trump seems to have some strong opinions about people who have a hard time remembering things under oath.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Hillary and her top aides told the FBI and others related in the lawsuits that they couldn't recall or remember. Can't remember anything.

By the way, if she really can't remember, she can't be president. She has to remember anything.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: She doesn't even remember whether or not she was instructed on how to use e-mails. Were you instructed on how to use? I can't remember.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: The panel is back, CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger, former Deputy Assistant Attorney General Elliot Williams, and former federal prosecutor Gene Rossi.

I mean, Gene, it is...

ROSSI: Yes.

COOPER: You know, it's one thing for the president to attack Hillary Clinton for not remembering. It is clearly -- you know, any smart attorney will tell the president, just say you can't remember, rather than going down into a rabbit hole.

ROSSI: Well, it's a fine line.

And I had witnesses in many trials as a prosecutor, if you sincerely can't remember, if you sincerely can't remember, then say that. But if you're just using "I don't recall" as a legal shield, then you have broken the law. And it's either obstruction or perjury, because he did sign those written answers under oath.

COOPER: But it is interesting, though.

A, for written answers, there were no questions allowed about obstruction, which would obviously be very important.

WILLIAMS: Right. COOPER: But even in -- the fact that, in written answers, he's

claiming he can't remember, I mean, you can actually do a little research and look at your date book and you can kind of recall things.

WILLIAMS: So, this is the wisdom and the brilliance of Donald Trump's second set of attorneys.

Now, remember, the first group of folks wanted him to cooperate with the investigation, and let's -- because we believe in the integrity of government and our legal system, let's -- let's help out. And the second set of folks, the Rudy Giuliani and Jay Sekulow, they took the position that, no, we're not going to cooperate at all.

Had the president sat down for an interview, you would have seen that president that we just saw on video, with the puffery and the lies and the fabrications of the truths. And even the places where his lawyers put "I don't remember" on the paper, he would have actually tried to fabricate answers.

So, it actually acted to his tremendous benefit to not sit down because of the very point you're talking about right here, Anderson.

BORGER: Right.

COOPER: And, Gloria, and those who did actually sit down with the special counsel, some of the added information is now in the Mueller report, Don McGahn, for instance, and, clearly, the president is not happy about that.

BORGER: No.

And I think Don McGahn knows the president wasn't going to be happy about it. He spoke with the special counsel, I think, it was for 30 hours. And I think he gave him chapter and verse of how he was treated, and don't forget, inside this White House.

And McGahn stayed inside the White House, even though he and Donald Trump were at loggerheads, particularly after that "New York Times" story came out, and he refused to say that it wasn't true.

COOPER: Right, the "New York Times" story in which it was revealed that the president tried to get Don McGahn to do something improper with the Department of Justice and getting rid of Mueller.

BORGER: Right, yes, to get rid of Mueller.

And the president said, you have to say it's not true. And McGahn said, no, I'm not -- I'm not going to do that.

Well, after that point, they were barely on speaking terms. But I think Don McGahn, who was a White House counsel, felt the need to be completely honest with the special counsel. He's not going to lie under oath.

[15:20:07]

And now the president is out there today, of course, saying that all these people are full of total B.S.

WILLIAMS: Because so much of this comes down to people's express loyalty to the president of the United States.

And the folks who survived were the folks who expressed loyalty to the United States. What I found to be the most -- to the president.

What I found to be the most telling line -- everybody is flipping out about the F-word that he uses. In that paragraph of the report, they also say he says, "Jeff, I can't believe you let this happen to me," the attorney general of the United States, that somehow the attorney general's obligation was to stand between the president and personal liability.

And that's just not what the role of the A.G. should be.

COOPER: Right, but you get a sense of where he would get that belief, because, in what he said to Don McGahn about he, first of all, was concerned Don McGahn was taking notes, and said that he'd never seen a lawyer taking notes before.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: And Don McGahn said, "I'm a real lawyer."

And then the president said: "Well, I have worked with the best lawyers. I worked with Roy Cohn -- Roy Cohn, and you're no Roy Cohn."

I mean, the idea that Roy Cohn is his model for what an attorney should be is telling.

WILLIAMS: Yes, absolutely.

ROSSI: But he also had Michael Cohen. Michael Cohen didn't take notes. He just had a tape recorder.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: Well, yes. Exactly right, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: Although now Michael Cohen was just a bit player in the Trump orbit, according to the president, except he's been, you know...

ROSSI: Absolutely.

But I want to say this about Don McGahn. And I hope he's listening. He may not be. I'm very proud that he did what he did, because he honored the legal profession.

The president of the United States asked him to lie, asked him to lie, as the White House counsel. And he said no. That showed a lot of courage. WILLIAMS: But, Gene, I -- I mean, I'm sort of torn on this issue, because, yes, we need adults in the room to help the place stand up.

But I think somebody whose name is cited, Rachel Brand, is the smartest one. She was the associate attorney general at the Justice Department.

ROSSI: Right.

WILLIAMS: And the president wanted to lean pressure on her.

And I think she did the smart thing, which was get out of there, because...

BORGER: Right.

ROSSI: Right.

WILLIAMS: ... I think the reputational harm to attorneys and to people who respect the integrity of government...

ROSSI: Yes.

WILLIAMS: ... and the rule of law was so high and so great.

And you change a couple sentences in this book, and Don McGahn is also subject to criminal liability as well, had he just gone a little bit further or actually followed through with what the president told him to do.

ROSSI: Right.

(CROSSTALK)

BORGER: But to go back to that first thing we were talking about in the last segment about the anonymous report, these are people -- you could argue the other side of it -- who say they're staying there to save the government.

WILLIAMS: It's just -- and that's why I'm saying -- and I actually was careful to say, I'm torn about it, because we do need the government to function and to be saved and so.

BORGER: Right.

WILLIAMS: But, at a certain point, when you're being asked to violate the law by the head of the executive branch, you have a very serious question.

(CROSSTALK)

WILLIAMS: And I think it's pretty clear that Rachel Brand did leave --- I mean, that's the suspicion over this.

But the timing was rather odd, that someone who had just gotten into job... COOPER: But if you're being asked to lie, you can always get a job in the press office, though. So, it's...

WILLIAMS: Heyo!

(LAUGHTER)

COOPER: Elliot Williams, thank you. Gene Rossi, thank you very much.

ROSSI: Thank you.

COOPER: Gloria Borger as well.

Be sure to join me at 8:00 Eastern on "A.C. 360," a live interview with former White House lawyer Ty Cobb.

Up next, I will speak live with a member of the House Intelligence Committee. We will ask what Congressman Denny Heck wants to hear from Robert Mueller if he agrees to testify.

Plus, what we have learned about the night former FBI Director James Comey was fired -- details on the lies told and the orders that some of President Trump's inner circle ignored in the hours immediately after.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:28:04]

COOPER: The Mueller report shines a new light on a pivotal moment of Donald Trump's presidency, his abrupt decision to fire FBI Director James Comey.

In the 24 hours after Comey's firing in May of 2017, several White House officials lied about the circumstances of his dismissal, blaming it on a recommendation by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN SPICER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Rod Rosenstein was confirmed on April 25, two weeks ago, by a vote of 94-6, in a very, obviously, bipartisan manner.

He's very familiar with the Department of Justice, obviously the FBI. And he made a decision, clearly, based on his -- the letter that he submitted, that the FBI director had lost his confidence.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, TRUMP SENIOR ADVISER: He has lost confidence in the FBI director. And he took the recommendation of Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, who -- to whom the FBI director reports to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: So, yes, that was -- those were just lies.

And we knew it at the time, actually. During that time, Sarah Sanders, who was then deputy press secretary,

told reporters she'd heard from countless, in her words, FBI agents who were pleased that Trump fire Comey.

We now know she admitted to the special counsel it was not true. Here she is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: What led you and the White House to believe that he had lost the confidence in the rank and file of the FBI, when the acting director says it's exactly the opposite?

SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I can speak to my own personal experience. I have heard from countless members of the FBI that are grateful and thankful for the president's decision.

And I think that we may have to agree to disagree. I'm sure that there are some people that are disappointed, but I have certainly heard from a large number of individuals. And that's just myself. And I don't even know that many people in the FBI.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, according to Mueller's report, the truth is that Trump decided to fire Comey before Rosenstein was even informed.

But the White House tried to get Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, to lie and take the blame.

Mueller writes: "That night, the White House press office called the Department of Justice and said the White House wanted to put out a statement saying that it was Rosenstein's idea to fire Comey.

[15:30:00]