Return to Transcripts main page
CNN RIGHT NOW
Damning Portrait of Trump in Mueller Report; Trump Lies Exposed by Mueller Report; Trump's aides Ignored Orders; McGahn Saves Trump's Presidency; Mueller Didn't Prosecute Trump Junior; Barr's Framing of Mueller Report. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired April 19, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:30] BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.
Underway right now, we start with the fallout from the Mueller report. The culmination of a nearly two-year investigation. And as we've waded through it, it's become apparent it's not what the attorney general made it out to be. It's now clear AG Bill Barr white washed it first with his four-page summary of it four weeks ago and then again yesterday morning with his press conference just before the report was released. Both are stunningly unrepresentative of the picture the report paints of all the president's lies and his efforts to thwart the investigation into his campaign.
Ten episodes of attempted obstruction stymied the special counsel says from becoming actual obstruction, not by the president, but by his aide. His advisers ignoring the president's orders to obstruct and ironically saving their boss' skin.
The president's son, Donald Junior, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, saved in part by a defense of ignorance lacking, quote, a general knowledge that their conduct was unlawful.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler this morning issuing a subpoena demanding the full report, along with thousands of supporting documents. He wants the full, unredacted story.
And the president is huddled at Mar-a-Lago, his safe haven in Florida, far away from the chaos in Washington, firing off tweets today, calling parts of the report, quote, total bullshit. His words. We'll be taking an in-depth look at the report over the next hour.
We have CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta at the White House for us.
So, Jim, what's the White House saying?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, yesterday you said it was whitewashing. Today it's more like white noise. We're not hearing much of anything from the White House, just those two tweets from the president which he didn't finish the thought in those tweets earlier this morning. The White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders was on a couple of the morning talk shows, as you saw earlier this morning, trying to explain her own admission in the Mueller report that she was passing on false information to reporters over here at the White House when it came to the president's firing of the FBI Director James Comey.
But I want to take you back, Brianna, to something I've just learned in the last hour, and this is from a former senior administration official who was familiar with the Mueller report and some of the events that are described in the Mueller report. This official confirmed to me that the president did say when Mueller was appointed, quote, this is the end of my presidency. I'm f'd. According to this former senior administration official, this person said, the president was not trying to whine about his current situation at that point. He was trying to convey to the former Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Don McGahn, the White House counsel, how much they had let him down, according to this former official. And it came across as, quote, tactical bullying in the words of this former official.
And so while the president is on Twitter this morning saying, you know, some of the events that are talked about in the Mueller report are total BS, I talked to one former senior administration official who is very deeply wired into the situation over here when all of these events were unfolding who confirmed that is what the president said.
Now, in terms of the White House press secretary, she is certainly under fire right now. She's been under fire for the last 24 hours. We have not seen her over here at the White House today. We did see deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley, who was on a couple of conservative media outlets. He did not stop and talk to reporters about where the president is in terms of his confidence in the White House press secretary.
Brianna, it goes without saying. You covered the White House. It's not every day when federal prosecutors put out a report that states that the White House press secretary had been lying to the public, had been giving false information to the public, but that's indeed what has happened. Sarah Sanders was on those morning news shows earlier today defending herself and insisting that she wasn't lying to the public But, according to that Mueller report, what she said was not -- not founded in any kind of facts. It sounded as though she was just making things up. But at the time when she said it, and it certainly seems like that's the case now, Brianna.
KEILAR: Yes, and things she repeated over and over.
ACOSTA: That's right.
KEILAR: Jim Acosta at the White House. Thank you so much.
Now, despite the spin from the White House, the Mueller report does expose the president's key emissions and outright lies on several topics. For instance, the fundamental claim by Trump that the whole Mueller investigation was witch hunt, from lying to voters on the campaign trail about his business interests in Russia, to his knowing misleading explanation of the Trump Tower meeting with the Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin, there were plenty of reasons to investigate the president and his associates' entanglements with Russia.
Evan Perez is with us now.
So, Evan, there is a long list of lies that were exposed by this report. Can you walk us through a few of them, starting with the fact that it appears there was plenty of attempted collusion.
[13:05:09] EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Oh, absolutely, Brianna. And you can understand now why the president's lawyers tried to protect him and stopped him from testifying or giving testimony to the special counsel because of all of these lies.
Now, let's start with his business deals in Russia. He repeatedly told us that he had no interest in Russia. It turns out there was a letter of intent that was signed in 2015 for a Trump Tower Moscow. That is something that goes right through the report. You see repeatedly efforts by people associated with the president to try to pursue that business deal.
We know he sought the -- Clinton's e-mails. He was obsessed with trying to read -- find those 30,000 deleted Hillary Clinton e-mails from her -- from her private server. And we know that people that -- inside the campaign went looking for it, tried to contact people who they thought were going to be able to help them get them.
The purpose of the Trump Tower meeting was one of the things that we know the president has lied repeatedly about. Obviously they talked about that it was about adoptions. It turns out they were told that it was about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton. And, of course, the response, once that became public, the president essentially dictated what were false accounts of what exactly was behind that.
He ordered Don McGahn to try to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and then once that story came out, he tried to get Don McGahn to go out and publically say that it did not happen. Again, that's something we learned in the report that had been report previously and that the president lied about.
Lots of contact with Russians, obviously, as you mentioned. There was a lot of collusion. It may not be a criminal violation, it may not have been enough for them to bring charges against anyone, but you can see that there were multiple people from his family members to people associated with the campaign who were in content contact with Russians. And that's what the special counsel was focusing on in volume one of his report.
And, of course, the reason for firing Comey, we know that he was -- he's told NBC News that it was in part because of the Russia thing. And the special counsel report details exactly how much he had in mind about the -- about the Russia investigation and how much he -- that was occupying him when he fired James Comey. And, of course, interference with the special counsel investigation.
We know that repeatedly he was trying to undermine it. A lot of it we saw in public as the special counsel reports that there's a lot of these things, including people who are associated with -- with the White House, trying to get to them to try to get the scope of the investigation to be narrowed.
Repeatedly, Brianna, you see a president and a White House that's, frankly, just replete with dishonesty. And it's what comes across in that report.
KEILAR: All right, Evan Perez, thank you so much. And in the Mueller report, it wasn't just what the president did do that piqued the special counsel's interest. It's what he tried to do but then was unable to accomplish because his closest advisers ignored his orders.
We have CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins here with us.
So, Kaitlan, tell us about these aides who saved the president and it appears themselves by refusing to execute the president's demands.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna, and some people were more willing than others to go along with what the president had directed them to do. But essentially what we're seeing is that there were some orders from the president that seemed to border on brink of breaking the law and they were not willing to go along with it. What their motives were, whether personal or if it was for the president's sake, is still unclear and not determined in the report.
But at the eye of the storm was really Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, who had a lot to do with so many things involving the Mueller report. But one of the key ones was, of course, when the president wanted him to call Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, and essentially instigate the firing of the special counsel. Now, Don McGahn didn't want to do that. It almost led to him resigning at the time. But it's just one instance that Don McGahn was involved also,
Also, McGahn did not go along with that, but then right after that, when it was reported months later that the president tried to fire the special counsel, he wanted Don McGahn to come out and say that that just wasn't true. Don McGahn refused to do that because he told people it was true, so he wasn't going to go out there and put his name on the line by denying something that had actually happened. That's another instance of the president pressuring people to go along with what he's demanded.
One interesting one that people did not see coming is Cory Lewandowski, who worked on the president's campaign, does not work in the White House and never has. But the president tried to get him to send a message to the attorney general, Jeff Sessions,, basically telling him that he wanted him to curtail the Russia investigation. Lewandowski clearly realized that was a problem. He did not go along with it and tried to pass it on to someone else in the White House who also did not want to follow through on it. So you see several instances here, Brianna. And essentially what they
all portray is a president that is being managed by his staff. That's not a depiction that the president likes. The thing is, just because the Mueller investigation is over, we are still told by sources that this is something that happens. People either slow walk the president's demands or simply refuse to carry them out and hope that he forgets he gave them.
[13:10:11] KEILAR: Yes, managed by his staff and maybe saved by his staff.
Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much.
Former White House Counsel Don McGahn may, in the end, be credited with saving the Trump presidency.
We have Pamela Brown here with us. She's been covering this investigation from the beginning. And our legal minds, Seth Berenzweig and Carrier Cordero are joining us as well.
When you see some of these details in this report, Carrie, about Don McGahn, do you think that he will be credited with saving the presidency?
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, maybe in -- first of all, his incident was one of many that the special counsel's laid out. So they laid out over ten different categories and instances that they said created a pattern of what potentially could be obstruction and obstructive behavior on the part of the president. So I don't know that we can point to McGahn as maybe preventing one specific thing from happening, but there were a whole host of other things. And, remember, McGahn, like some of the others who may have not taken an actual act on behalf of the president, it's not that they were just saving the president, they were saving themselves --
KEILAR: That's right.
CORDERO: From their own legal jeopardy. So had he -- and he's a sophisticated enough person and a lawyer and a good lawyer to know this, had he actually engaged in the activity the president was directing him to do, he would have himself been potentially part of an obstruction or a conspiracy investigation.
KEILAR: What do you think about this, Seth, though, because I know a lot of people -- lay people who have been watching this will say, but he tried. The president tried over and over and it was people protecting him and themselves from being attached to certainly his terrible instincts when it came to what was legal or appropriate?
SETH BERENZWEIG, BUSINESS AND COMPLIANCE ATTORNEY: Right.
KEILAR: Who may have saved the day multiple times.
BERENZWEIG: Well, under the law, you can attempt badly and not succeed, but it's still a criminal act because the predicate criminal act exists with regard to intent and the obstruction is still there as far as the allegations are set forth in detail in the Mueller report.
I think when you really step back and look at this in the broader perspective, we're really living in a constitutionally defining moment because right now, as we sit here today, Bob Mueller has taken the obstruction ball and really passed it over to the Congress. And now Congress has to decide whether it's going to act as a constitutional barrier to protect the country. And really what it's going to do is really the key question as we sit here today. They have a lot of granular information with respect to obstruction. As you're pointing out, maybe it was more akin to an attempt at a felony. But this is a lot of information that was passed over to Congress. We know what the Justice Department's going to do with this, and we saw that at the 9:30 presser. That speaks for itself. So really that's the cloud hovering over the Congress right now
KEILAR: All right, I want to listen to something that Lindsey Graham said, not recently, this was back in the day, right, 1999, when he was talking about Bill Clinton and his transgressions. He's, of course, now the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Lindsey Graham in 1999.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R-SC): He doesn't have to say go lie for me to be a crime. You don't have to say let's obstruct justice for it to be a crime. You judge people on their conduct, not magic phrases.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Clearly, Pamela, when you look at this, President Trump doesn't measure up to the Lindsey Graham standard that he had for Bill Clinton, but the question will be, what does a Republican Congress do when it comes to President Trump? And he seems pretty confident that they're going to be on his side.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he seems confident they're going to be on his side and for good reason in some respect. I mean there are some Republicans on Capitol Hill who seem to be in the same category as Bill Barr, the attorney general, and saying, look, this is an obstruction. This is a president who was fighting back, who is a sympathetic figure, who was a victim here, who really thought that his presidency was being clouded by what he viewed as an illegitimate investigation.
And, yes, it is true that the -- that Mueller did not find a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia. But then you look through the Mueller report and in terms of understanding the why. Why is he acting like this and was there corrupt intent? And Mueller's team had a different view. It wasn't just that the president is a victim and that he felt like this investigation was undermining his presidency, but they lay out, I believe it's on page 76 of volume two. I read it a few times.
KEILAR: She has is memorized.
BROWN: That the FBI could uncover information that the president could perceive as a crime or they could uncover information that could be personally or politically concerning, and that was the motive.
KEILAR: That was very important to know.
Pamela, Seth and Carrie, you're going to stand by for me.
So why didn't Mueller prosecute the president's son, Donald Junior? We have three interesting reasons why.
[13:15:00] Plus, the new attorney general being blasted over his handling of this report, including how he omitted and mischaracterized Mueller's words.
And one historian says there are two reasons the president is not suffering the same fate as Richard Nixon right now.
KEILAR: Robert Mueller's team decided not to prosecute Donald Trump Junior and other members of Trump's campaign for campaign finance violations because they didn't feel that they could prove that they willfully violated the law. Trump Junior, Jared Kushner and then campaign chairman Paul Manafort met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya about possibly getting dirt on the Clinton campaign.
Carrie, Seth and Pamela are back with me now to talk about this.
And you've reported, talking to your sources, Pamela, that they never actually -- the special counsel never interviewed Donald Trump Junior. Why?
[13:20:05] BROWN: Yes, that's right. That was one of the big questions that we've had as a team covering this. You know, we know they didn't get the interview with President Trump, but now in reading this report, it does raise even more questions about why they didn't push harder to interview Don Junior because it appears they -- they looked at bringing a case against him, and they weighed the pros and cons and they determined that it would be too difficult to determine the thing of value, this information on Hillary Clinton and his state of mind, whether it was willful and so forth.
We do know that there were efforts made by Robert Mueller's team to interview him and that Don Junior, through his attorneys, resisted those efforts. And it appears there wasn't a subpoena.
Now, there could be various reasons for that. Robert Mueller laid out the reasons for the president, that it would prolong the investigation if there was a subpoena fight and they felt like they had all they need. That could have been the case in Don Junior's situation because he did testify to Congress under oath to various committees and so they could have looked at the testimony and thought they had enough. But it certainly is sort of an open question.
KEILAR: I want to quote the report, which says in part, a prosecution would encounter difficulties proving that campaign officials or individuals connected to the campaign willfully violated the law. That's what Pamela is speaking to there. Why is it so important, Carrie, whether they willfully violated the
law or not?
CORDERO: Well, I think that's something specific to the campaign finance laws. So there's specific aspects as far as the campaign finance laws, whether or not they actually would have known what they were doing.
I think also part of the problem that the special counsel's office might have encountered is that the campaign finance laws weren't necessarily a good fit for trying to get at what happened at that Trump Tower meeting. So one of the questions would be, was there a thing of value that they were obtaining on behalf of the campaign, whether that thing was actually transferred, what would it have been. And I think this is one of the broader challenges going forward when we're dealing with information that is coming from, in this case, a hostile foreign power. How do -- how are our laws going to deal with that situation and future campaign?
KEILAR: So at least in terms of the campaign finance violations, is it legally they're not in trouble because they were playing tic-tac-toe instead of chess?
BERENZWEIG: Well, it's -- in other words, you know, if you really weren't that sharp understanding and appreciating the legal consequences of your conduct, is that real kind of, you know, your ticket out of jail?
This aspect of the charges really need to be looked through the lens of New York and in D.C. In New York, the campaign finance violations are still alive and well in the Southern District. So that story is still yet to be told.
But you're right, in the Mueller report, as far as the situation here is concerned, there was literally a finding that he really could not have appreciated the legal consequences of his conduct, which is one of the stunning results of this because one of the precepts of law that they teach us in law school is that the ignorance of the law is no excuse. So if when you're driving home tonight you get pulled over doing an 85 in a 45, you can't look out the window and say, I didn't know it was a 45-mile-per-hour zone.
Now, that's a little bit of a simplification, but if that's really what the special counsel is doing, it demonstrates that the president's crying crocodile tears when he says that we're mistreated. Robert Mueller applied in these kinds of examples a very deferential standard to the president and his family, which is one of the reasons why aspect of this report are so controversial.
KEILAR: All right, thank you guys so much for your insights.
We now know how the president answered Mueller's questions and it turns out president's memory isn't the best after all.
Plus, see how Attorney General Bill Barr omitted, mischaracterized and took Mueller's words out of context as some Democrats call on him to resign.
[13:28:26] KEILAR: Robert Mueller's team was unable to conclude that no criminal conduct occurred when it comes to obstruction of justice. In fact, the report outlines several examples of potential obstruction and says that if it -- if it could have ruled out obstruction, quote, we would so state.
Those examples dismissed by the attorney general prompting critics to question if Barr is serving President Trump rather than the country.
We will have CNN justice correspondent Jessica Schneider for us at the Justice Department.
And, Jess, walk us through how the attorney general's descriptions of the report differ from what's actually in the report.
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, of course, Brianna, we got from the attorney general really four pages in that letter to Congress, plus that 17-minute or so press conference yesterday, whereas, you know, the special counsel, this was a nearly 450-page report, and it turns out it was a lot more detailed and nuanced, of course, than what the attorney general has put forward.
So let's just start with that overarching issue of obstruction of justice. So here's how the attorney general put it. He said, the special counsel states that while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.
Now, granted, that was the bottom line from the special counsel, that the president was not exonerated by this report.
However, Mueller's team expanded even further, putting it this way, saying, if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.
[13:29:55] And then right after that line the special counsel really goes on to say that their hands were tied here because, of course, the opinion, the OLC opinion here at the Justice Department clearly states that a sitting president cannot be