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Barr's Framing of Mueller Report Omitted Major Findings; Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-PA) Discusses the Mueller Report, Impeachment of Trump, Bill Barr; Biden Expected to Announce Presidential Run Next Week; Historian: Trump Suffers Nixon's Fate if Not for GOP Congress, Conservative Media. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired April 19, 2019 - 13:30   ET


[13:30:00] JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right after that line, the special counsel really goes on to say that their hands were tied because, of course, the OLC opinion at the Justice Department clearly states that a sitting president cannot be indicted. So the special counsel not stating conclusively that there was no obstruction of justice, coming to no conclusion on that, but then also saying they can't do anything because of that OLC opinion here at the DOJ -- Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: What about the question of whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to sway the election?

SCHNEIDER: There was the whole section, the whole Volume One on collusion. And this is what's directly from Robert Mueller's report that was released yesterday saying, "Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome and that the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that the members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference efforts."

So that was the entire conclusion from Robert Mueller. Robert Mueller saying that the Trump campaign team, they really were willing to take this information that was put out there from the Russians. Attorney General Bill Barr didn't go that far. Really he narrowed is down from no collusion, no conspiracy. Putting it this way, saying, "The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference efforts."

And then as to the collusion question in a broad sense, both Mueller and Barr did effectively say it somewhat similarly. So this is what the report said, saying, "We understand coordination to require an agreement, tacit or express, between the Trump campaign and the Russian government on election interference." The report here adding another line, saying, "That requires more than two parties taking actions that were informed by or responsive to the other's actions or interests." Barr, on the other hand, put it quite similarly omitting the second line, saying, "In assessing potential conspiracy charges, the special counsel also considered whether members of the Trump campaign coordinated with Russian election interference activities. The special counsel, as was said above, defined coordination as an agreement, tacit or express, between the Trump campaign and the Russian government on election interference."

Brianna, as a whole, this was a large voluminous report from the special counsel, and really the attorney general had to summarize this, in a sense, with that four-page letter to Congress and then that fairly short press conference yesterday. Mueller's report, a lot more nuanced, detailed and perhaps even damaging -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Jessica Schneider, at the Justice Department, thank you.

And I want to bring in Pennsylvania Congresswoman Madeleine Dean, a Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

Thanks for being with us.

REP. MADELEINE DEAN (D-PA): My pleasure.

KEILAR: Your colleague, Congressman and presidential candidate, Eric Swalwell, has called on Bill Barr to resign as attorney general because of his mischaracterizations of the Mueller report. Do you think that Barr should resign?

DEAN: Well, I'm a member of the Judiciary Committee along with Eric Swalwell, so I -- I'm a big fan, and he's smart guy. What I believe is -- I don't know whether it's worth talking about resignation. What I believe is true is that Attorney General Barr has displayed an unbelievable lack of professionalism, an unbelievable cover for this president. It's stunning when you saw that press conference yesterday, the press conference, frankly, about nothing but cover, press conference prior to release the report, where he characterized the president as upset and emotional and angry, instead of standing there and being our attorney general, and standing up for the rule of law, he's giving the president cover and claiming full exoneration and going on -- you talked in your reporting about no collusion. Notice how often the president and the attorney general have said no collusion. And what did Robert Mueller say? We're not investigating collusion. The American people are not that foolish. But I think Attorney General Barr gave away his credibility in buckets with that shameful press conference.

KEILAR: What do you mean by Robert Mueller said he wasn't investigating collusion?

DEAN: Because it's not a legally indictable thing. The report actually says that. So this has been a bit of a charade and a masquerade. No collusion, no collusion. That's not the criminally chargeable thing. We're talking about obstruction of justice or conspiracy. Those are the chargeable things. So for --


KEILAR: But --

(CROSSTALK) KEILAR: The coordination with it -- I understand what you're saying, but the coordination between the campaign -- what was alleged coordination between the campaign and the Russians, that was not founded in this report. So you're saying it's a semantic difference and yet -- there you --

[13:35:05] DEAN: It's an important semantic difference.


DEAN: That's not what is being investigated. They were looking for coordination that would lead to and possibly rise to the level of conspiracy. The more important part of this report, as we are digging in, is the obstruction of justice. And what I think what Mueller has done in this is laid out that there are multiple times where it appears that this president or members of his administration attempted to obstruction justice, most importantly the president, with trying to get Don McGahn, for example, to fire Special Counsel Mueller. And when McGahn would not do that and it made the media, the president then layered on a request of McGahn that he actually correct the record, falsely correct the record and say, no, he was never asked by the president. Imagine that kind of interference with this investigation, asking for his underling, a subordinate, to fire the special counsel.

KEILAR: Well, so to that point, Robert Mueller basically said that the only reason obstruction charges weren't brought was because or -- or what -- really what we saw was obstruction wasn't brought because people like Don McGahn got in the way multiple times, not just once, but many, many times. In the end though --


DEAN: I don't believe that's real the takeaway. Not because somebody got in the way. That isn't what is required for obstruction of justice. You don't have to have succeeded at it. Really, Mueller very thoughtfully lays how the in the beginning of Volume Two that he had some legal barriers in his way --


KEILAR: The Justice Department's rule, right? The Justice Department's rule --

DEAN: Absolutely.

KEILAR: -- that you can't indict a signature president.

DEAN: Yes.

KEILAR: He lays that out.

DEAN: You know what else he said?

KEILAR: He lays it out.

DEAN: Do you know what else he said?

KEILAR: He laid out the road map for Congress though. I want to quote this and see what you think --


KEILAR: -- "The conclusion that Congress may apply obstruction laws to the president's corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balance, and the principle that no person is above the law."

What is your takeaway from that and what is Congress going to do with that?

DEAN: I think, absolutely, Congress has the obligation, the duty -- I know our committee, the Judiciary Committee, as well as other oversight committees, believe it is our duty to take exactly a look at what the behaviors of the president were. What Mueller said he's talking about the notion that he's talking about preserving the integrity of our criminal justice system and preserving the evidence. Notice that he says that. Under the Department of Justice takeaway that you can't indict a sitting president, Robert Mueller want to very specifically preserve the evidence and the corresponding documentation. Notice that the president did not fully cooperate, as Attorney General Barr tried to say by -- because he actually did not come in and testify, gave limited responses, including he didn't recall about 36 times in written responses, and then some of his associates destroyed documentation. Mueller very carefully said I'm trying to preserve the record here in terms of our criminal justice system. So much is at stake.

KEILAR: And now it's -- there's a ball in the court Congress. Is impeachment on the table, Congresswoman?

DEAN: I think it's not off the table. I think we are going down the process that we have laid out very, very carefully. You've heard from Chairman Nadler that we will have Barr before us on May the 2nd. We have a letter out to Special Counsel Mueller that he come before us before May 23rd, so we are doing everything in our power to complete the oversight to get at a central thing, and that's the truth. Notice how disrespectful this administration has been of offering the truth to the American people, whether it's interfering with this investigation or coming before the press and spewing things that simply are not true. We need to get at the truth. We will fulfill our obligation. We will not be dissuaded by the redactions of this report. We have a subpoena out, as you know, that we get the entire report and all of its underlying documents by May the 1st. There's so much at stake. And the American people -- I was just at my local barbershop in Glenside and person after person came up to me and said, please, get at the truth, our democracy is at stake.

KEILAR: Congresswoman Madeleine Dean, thank you so much for talking with us.

DEAN: Thank you for having me on.

KEILAR: Coming up, former Vice President Joe Biden is set to announce his White House bid next week. What that means for the 2020 race.

[13:39:34] Plus, just in, the outgoing French ambassador to the United States getting candid about President Trump, calling him, quote, "a big mouth who reads basically nothing." Details ahead.


KEILAR: Joe Biden's long-awaited announcement that he'll jump into the 2020 presidential race is expected to happen next week. This is according to people who are close to the former vice president. And even though he's yet to make an official White House bid, Biden has been leading polls, appearing to be the most formidable opponent to take on President Trump.

We have CNN senior political writer and analyst, Harry Enten, following all the details here.

Tell us about the timing of this announcement and when you think about it.

HARRY ENTEN, CNN POLITICS SENIOR WRITER & ANALYST: Yes. It's later than all of the other candidate got in, but if you think of when Mitt Romney formed his exploratory committee back in 2012 or 2011, this is well times with that. And when Hillary Clinton announced her 2016 bid, this is well-timed by that. Biden wanted to be the last one in and wanted to get in after the first-quarter financial filings so he'll have a full quarter to raise a lot of money. And he's timed his bid to perfectly do exactly that.

[13:45:10] KEILAR: Where is his lean here, especially when you look at this field, this huge field, is there anybody who he'll be crowding out a little bit?

ENTEN: To me, Joe Biden almost has his own lane. Name a candidate right now who is trying to appeal to the more moderate wing of the Democratic Party, the older voters in the Democratic Party. So far, the Democratic candidates seem to be mostly going to the left. Perhaps one person who he might crowd out is Amy Klobuchar, the Senator from Minnesota, but she's only polling around 2 percent right now. To me, Joe Biden has his own lane and message and that's why he's leading in the polls right now.

KEILAR: All right. We'll await this, Harry Enten. We'll be chatting with you next week as well. Thank you so much.

ENTEN: Thanks for having me.

KEILAR: So there have been more than enough comparisons of the Russia investigation to Nixon's Watergate investigation, but that led to Nixon's resignation and President Trump is still in the White House. My next guest explains why that's the case.


[13:50:33] KEILAR: President Trump's statements that the Mueller investigation was a witch hunt and his claims that the press is out to get him could have been taken from the recordings of Richard Nixon more than 40 years ago, right down to the rough language where Trump says, I'm blanked -- F'ed is what he said -- when he learned of Mueller's appointment. The Mueller report even revealed that Trump's desire to fire the special counsel, an echo of Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre. For both presidents, a broad investigation led to the departure of senior officials and a raft of criminal charges while each president went after his opponents. Since Trump is still in office, do these comparisons end there.

We have Nicole Hemmer with us, a presidential historian and author who specializes in the Nixon administration.

Thank you so much for being with us.

You say that the fact that Congress isn't abandoning Trump like it did Nixon, that is the beginning of the end for him. A clear end for him was Republicans abandoned him. You say that is the big reason why Trump won't meet the same fate as Nixon.

NICOLE HEMMER, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR IN PRESIDENTIAL STUDIES, MILLER CENTER & AUTHOR: Right. The parallels between Trump and Nixon are surprising and a little on the nose. But the difference here, having a Congress that, especially Republicans in Congress, that just don't show any signs of wiggling when it comes to President Trump. It seems pretty likely that they're going to stand behind him and that President Trump has a conservative media organization working for him. Those are things Nixon would have loved to have had.

KEILAR: Well, and exactly, because there was no FOX News, there was no similar conservative media during Nixon's term. How big of a role is that sympathetic media playing in the Trump's ability to avoid what happened to Nixon?

HEMMER: It is important because when Nixon was calling Watergate a witch hunt, that was reported but it wasn't repeated credulously about the media or he didn't have a defense built by a conservative media, at least not one of any note. So Trump has that. And we could look at the polling and see that FOX News viewers were about 10 points more likely to dismiss Mueller's investigation than other run-of-the-mill Republicans. And so that is a pretty significant benefit for a president to have.

KEILAR: A big part of Nixon's downfall was the discovery that he been taping himself. And so his decision to tape himself and verifiable proof of his voice, that was really an issue for him.

HEMMER: Right. And we know that President Trump does not like there to be any note-taking happening anywhere around him, so even just written notes are unlikely. But it was interesting reading the Mueller report, there was kind of that same sense that you get when listening to the Nixon tapes of having a fly on the wall perspective and hearing the president's reactions to things. Hearing him trying to obstruct justice by removing various players. And even though it is not the tapes, and I think that does matter, it is not his voice, it is not his words, there's something very compelling and persuasive and insightery about the report that gives it an extra oomph. KEILAR: And his advisors, especially we think of Don McGahn,

resisting the order to make a firing. His aides seem to have gotten in the way of there being a Saturday Night Massacre like there was for Nixon. If they have not resisted and the president had been effective, what do you think would have happened?

HEMMER: So I think that, you're right, that is an important difference. And I think that people like Don McGahn learned from the Nixon administration there's only so far you can go in helping the president out on issues like this. I still am not sure that Republicans would have broken from Donald Trump if he had done those kinds of firings. There's just no sign that they would have abandoned him at that point. And as long as the special counsel's office believes that it can't do any sort of indicting, that that has to be left to Congress, I think we probably would still be in the exact same place that we are now.

[13:54:38] KEILAR: Nicole Hemmer, thank you for being with us.

The news continues in a moment.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Anderson Cooper. Thank you for joining us.

On the day after the Robert Mueller redacted 448-page report was released to the public, two things are clear. Number one, while a nearly two-year investigation may officially be over, the political battle seems to just be beginning. Number two, the document gives an up-close look at a White House where demands from President Trump himself to obscure the truth put some of his closest aides and administration in legal jeopardy. We'll have more on that a moment.

[13:59:53] But first, let's look at the fallout. Today, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, a Democrat, has issued a subpoena for the full report, saying Bill Barr is, in Nadler's words, "an agent of the president who misled Americans." On the issues, Barr's conclusion there was no obstruction by the president, even as the report clearly states the special counsel could not definitively rule out any criminal conduct.