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CUOMO PRIME TIME

Mueller Expressed Misgivings to Barr About Four-Page Memo; Barr to Face Grilling on Capitol Hill Tomorrow; Barr Claimed Trump Acted With "Non-Corrupt Motives". Aired 9-10p ET

Aired April 30, 2019 - 21:00   ET

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


[21:00:00] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR, ANDERSON COOPER 360: So, want to hand it over to Chris for CUOMO PRIME TIME. Chris?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, CUOMO PRIME TIME: All right, thank you, Anderson. I am Chris Cuomo and welcome to PRIME TIME.

Big news again on our watch. Did the Democrats just get a green light from Mr. Mueller himself to take up obstruction for themselves?

The words from The Washington Post and The New York Times excerpted from a letter that Mr. Mueller wrote to the Attorney General that his memo to Congress did not capture the context, nature, and substance of the work done by Mr. Mueller and his team, especially with regard to obstruction.

Now, that language suggests that what the A.G., Mr. Barr told us was not exactly what the man who made the report felt about his own findings. What does this disagreement mean?

Well we're going to have to get into it deeper. We have one of the reporters who broke the story. We have experts to give us an understanding of the context. But the words are going to matter.

And you're going to hear a lot of Democrats and a lot of people on the Left say that this means everything. And I'm telling you, read the reports, and let's go through the analysis together. Tomorrow is now a huge day.

The A.G. is going before the Senate Judiciary Committee. It was supposed to be a pretty friendly thing where Republicans were going to ask him more about spying than anything else, but not with this reporting.

Now, Mr. Barr is going to have to answer for the nature of the relationship with Mr. Mueller. Why weren't these misgivings back in March reported when he came forward now? Why not?

What does it mean in terms of what Mr. Mueller believes about his obstruction? How much will the A.G. say? How much will the A.G. have to answer for having said in the past that doesn't square with this reporting?

There is a lot to go through. Let's get after it matters as much as ever tonight. Take a listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a lot of public interest in the absence of the Special Counsel and members of his team. Was he invited to join you up on the podium? Why is he not here? This is his report, obviously, that you're talking about today.

WILLIAM BARR, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL: No, it's not. It's a report he did for me, as the Attorney General. He is required under the regulation to - to provide me with a confidential report.

I'm here to discuss my response to that report, and my decision, entirely discretionary, to make it public, since these reports are not supposed to be made public. That's what I'm here to discuss.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't forget the reason (ph)--

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it impropriety for you to come out and sort of - what appears to be, sort of, spinning the report--

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the last question.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: --before public - the public gets a chance to read it?

BARR: No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CUOMO: Now, couple of things. First, this by-the-book thing, it now requires context. A lot of what this Attorney General has done is subjective. I'm not saying it's wrong. It's certainly not illegal. It's within his cause.

But he hasn't been going by the book. He's been going by his own book. And he's played by these rules before.

We saw him do this. We saw him stymie Congress in an earlier administration, not wanting to give out reports that they had a right to get. Him saying here, "You know, there is no requirement," it's true.

But the only other time we've had a Special Counsel was during the Clinton administration. And then A.G., Janet Reno did exactly what this A.G. didn't want to do. She had the report go right from the Special Counsel to the people with minimal reductions. Why? Because she could. It was in her purview, just like it was in his.

Now there's another chapter, and certainly another layer to this story. The answer he just gave about why Mr. Mueller wasn't there didn't suggest anything that went along with the letter that Mr. Mueller sent him and a telephone call that he had with Mr. Mueller reportedly some 15 minutes thereafter. Why not?

For the reporting, let's bring in Mark Mazzetti, New York Times reporter, been working the story tonight. Good for you bringing this to light on the eve of this now all-important testimony by the Attorney General before the U.S. Senate tomorrow.

Tell us about the reporting. What is your major takeaway?

MARK MAZZETTI, WASHINGTON INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Thanks, Chris.

So, the - what we're reporting tonight is that just days after that four-page Barr letter that came out on a Sunday in the end of March, there was a letter from Robert Mueller, in consultation with members of his team, expressing objections, concerns, about how Barr characterized the findings.

It's a big deal because it's the first time we really know about what Mueller thought about how Barr had characterized the conclusions, and for that matter, the first sense we have of Mueller's thinking, period, since we now learn what was in this long-awaited report.

So, it's significant. And - and for a - a pretty small C conservative by-the-book prosecutor like Mueller, for him to take this step to write to his boss because that's who Barr is, telling him that he had problems with this, it's a significant thing for him to do.

[21:05:00] CUOMO: And then, in The Washington Post, I don't know if you guys had it as well, but the reporting that they also had a phone conversation the next day that was seen as more cordial, according to these Justice Department officials, but again, it was about whether or not the public was getting the sense of what had been done with obstruction, especially.

Do you have that?

MAZZETTI: Yes. That's right. So, there was - there was a - we understand that Barr said "Well, let's talk about this," and they discussed, and they - they sort of air out what some of the issues were.

We - we're still trying to learn exactly the substance of the call. We don't think it was heated or contentious. But certainly, Mueller was making his case to back up what he had put in that letter.

And in there, it doesn't indeed seem to be a discussion about how the conclusions on obstruction of justice that Barr laid out in that letter were taken out of context. And we're not sort of - more sort of fully explained about how they reached their conclusion.

CUOMO: Now there's a finesse point here that I want your help with that I think is really important, and this is just getting out there.

So, very often, we hit the major points, and then you get to the more subtle, and the more nuanced aspects of this kind of reporting. But I think it's a good time to deal with this.

So, it seems that Mr. Mueller felt that this sense that with the - with the quote that's here is the nature, context, and substance wasn't accurate, but he didn't say that he felt that what Mr. Barr had said was wrong or inaccurate. How do you reconcile those two?

MAZZETTI: Well I think we have to wait to see what is actually in the full, you know, the - the - the - the full text of the letter. But - and we're not reporting that he's saying that Barr had, you know, completely changed the conclusions or doctored them in any way.

CUOMO: Right.

MAZZETTI: But the context certainly does matter. You recall that in that four-page letter, for instance, there was a sentence fragment saying that, you know, there had been no conclusion of conspiracy--

CUOMO: Right.

MAZZETTI: --with the Russians.

But if you now read the full report, you see there's a whole other clause to that sentence, which talks about how the Trump campaign had welcomed this help or knew that the Russian campaign was going to help them electorally - electorally.

And - and that's not in the Barr letter. So, in that case, the context certainly does matter.

CUOMO: Sure.

MAZZETTI: And the - the cherry-picking to a degree did change, in Mueller's view, a perception of the report.

CUOMO: Right. And, you know, there's some interesting language in the reporting about how Mueller was concerned about well how - well - the media coverage of it is giving people a sense that he doesn't believe reflects the reporting.

Now, we don't know if that's finesse from the Department of Justice. We don't know if that's from Mueller's mouth himself. We don't know if it was just him being polite.

But there - there are two aspects here that I think are going to matter. This one, which is when Barr pressed him whether he thought Barr's letter was inaccurate, Mueller said he did not. Now, that's going to be used as a defense to implication here.

People are going to say, who support the A.G. and this President, "This is a nothing-burger. Mazzetti has it right. Good for him and The Washington Post for getting the reporting out there. But it means nothing because Mueller was ultimately OK with what Barr did."

Is that a fair reading in your appraisal?

MAZZETTI: Well, I mean, no, he wasn't OK with what Barr did in the sense that he showed - took the active step to write a letter--

CUOMO: Right. And a phone call.

MAZZETTI: --saying he wasn't OK with it. And a phone call, right.

And - and that clearly there was enough anger and frustration among him and his team, as we actually reported several weeks ago, and I was here on your show talking about it, that led them - we didn't know at the time that they actually took this concrete step to write the letter.

We now know that they wrote the letter. So, it was more than just simmering anger that they kept to themselves. They decided to write a letter because they thought that the context actually did, to some degree, distort the findings.

CUOMO: Now, something else that's important that this is going to make more relevant than ever.

You remember the summaries, you remember when word of the summaries came out, I certainly - it was certainly you and a couple of other people were saying, "Why didn't we get the summaries?"

And Barr said, "Well, you know, we didn't find them necessary. You know, they needed some additional classification work on the redaction."

According to the reporting now, that's what Mueller wanted too was for the summaries to be put out as quickly as possible. Barr didn't want to do it.

The discrepancies in the reporting about why and how that goes, that'll be fleshed out tomorrow, and when Mr. Mueller gets to give his voice to the American people, in front of Congress, which is going to be now, more certain than ever.

Let's do this, Mark, let's unpack this more. Please, stick around. This deserves it tonight. Push off your dinner plans, brother.

I'm also going to bring in a couple of experts to help give some context to what this means. We have Phil Mudd and Mike Rogers.

[21:10:00] These are two men who have done the job of intelligence, who understands what matters, and can put some context, some meat on the bones of what this kind of difference in opinion means for tomorrow, and the way forward for our Congress.

Stay with us.

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CUOMO: Now, you can look at this new reporting as removing some ambiguity. How so?

Well, according to The New York Times and The Washington Post, we now know that all was not the perfect picture of symmetry as the A.G. presented it to us. "Mr. Mueller? Oh, he's not here. But it doesn't mean anything. He's fine with everything that I'm doing."

We now know Mr. Mueller, after the Barr memo came out, wrote him a letter that said the A.G.'s summarizations did not, quote, fully capture the context, nature, and substance of his investigation, especially with regard to obstruction of justice by the President of the United States.

Mark Mazzetti broke this reporting with his team at The New York Times. He's with us. Also, let's bring in Phil Mudd, and Mike Rogers, lots of experience in intelligence work, how these investigations are supposed to work, and what this means.

Mark, as we're having the discussion, if there's something that your reporting highlights some insight into, just pipe up, OK? Thank you very much.

Now, let's just start big and get smaller and smaller about what this means.

[21:15:00] Phil Mudd, from the outset, the idea that Mr. Mueller doesn't believe that what A.G. Barr did, did full service to his reporting, we never heard this until now, even though the letter came out just a few days after that initial memo.

Significance?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST, FORMER CIA COUNTERTERRORISM OFFICIAL: This is a wake-up call. Let me - let me explain the psychology of Robert Mueller.

You can get a wake-up call, Chris, when you wake up in the morning, and the sun gently touches your face, or you can get a baseball bat. This is a baseball bat wake-up call.

When I used to travel with Director Mueller domestically to U.S. offices and overseas, in particular, to Iraq and Afghanistan, oftentimes he would get a question from FBI staff.

"Director Mueller, what would you advise my son to do, what would you advise my daughter to do as they chart a path forward?" And he would say the same thing every time. He would say the formative experience in his life was being a Marine Officer, duty, honor, country.

Duty includes staying in your lane in the road. We do investigations, as he did in this case, as he did as an FBI Director. DOJ, Department of Justice does prosecutions. White House does politics. The - the Congress does the law. The media does news reporting. For him to step out his lane, and to say, "We concluded the investigation and I disagree with the public characterization of what we did," Chris, I don't know how to explain this.

After having spent 4.5 years with that guy, maybe 2,000 meetings, you cannot underestimate what he's saying, stepping out as a former Marine from his lane and saying, "I cannot agree outside my realm of an investigation with how you're characterizing this publicly," it's stunning.

CUOMO: All right, so that's what it could mean in terms of a real frothy feel for it. Mike, how - how about the way that this--

MUDD: That's what it does mean, by the way.

CUOMO: Look, I hear you. I respect your opinion, Phil. I wish you'd stay in your box. Your head's all over the place. You keep talking about staying in your lane. You can't even stay in your box.

Mike, let me ask you this. When you look at it--

MIKE ROGERS, FORMER HOUSE INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY COMMENTATOR: I want to see the frothing from Phil Mudd.

CUOMO: --when you look at it, Mike, we're talking about what it could mean. What could it also not mean? When you read this, in terms of looking at it for minimal exposure, what does that take?

ROGERS: Yes. If I were looking at it from, you know, what's - what's the minimal side of this, the Attorney General had a decision to make. They couldn't come or did not come probably more accurately to a conclusion on obstruction. So, it was handed to him to make a decision.

He had to make that decision. And his, probably, interpretation was, "If you guys couldn't figure this out," and there was dissension in the investigation, I think their report shows some of that, "that I'm going to have to make this call."

And he answered the two big questions facing America. I think he's going to have to account for this now. And one was, was there conclusion? Would the - the empaneled Grand Jury have said indictment? And candidly, it said no on collusion, and couldn't come to a conclusion on obstruction.

And, at the end of the day, that means that person walks free, right? And so, if you're the Attorney General, I think you're looking at it, saying, "Those are the two big questions. I couldn't get answers for the two big questions. Here's my conclusion," that's on the minimal side.

I think there's a lot more to be accounting here.

And I also worked with Bob Mueller when I was Chairman. And I - I agree with Phil in the sense that if he took the time to write this, and the one word in there that struck me more than anything wasn't the context and the new - it was the substance. And that - that threw me.

When Bob Mueller says, you didn't get the substance of my report right, I - I sat back and said, "Boy we're going to - I'm going to re- read this thing."

MUDD: Yes.

ROGERS: "I want to make sure I understand what he's talking about."

CUOMO: Well, look, and just to be clear, you know, Phil, the first part of the question was we hadn't heard any of this before.

If the A.G. felt so confident about what he was doing, if he was by- the-book Bill instead of no-holds Barr in terms of trying to help out the President, why didn't he tell us about this? He had to know it was going to come out.

MUDD: Well--

CUOMO: What does that tell you?

MUDD: There - there's parts of this I can figure out and parts I can't. For the part I can't figure out is why wouldn't you simply reflect the words of the Mueller report because you know it's going to become public?

The words said there's no collusion, as you know, a non-legal term, but there's no collusion. They couldn't determine, as the Congressman said, the questions on obstruction, so I made a decision.

Why not just reflect what Mueller said because you know somebody's going to see the Mueller report and then say here's my decision? I don't understand that. The piece I do understand is why this is coming out in public.

The - the Attorney General is going to come in front of a hearing.

CUOMO: Yes.

MUDD: He cannot afford to go in front of a hearing and have people discover a week or two later that there was an exchange with the Special Counsel about differences in their views of this without fronting that before the hearing. That would be devastating, I think.

CUOMO: And that's a great thing to - to tee up.

MAZZETTI: Well, I - just, I have to--

CUOMO: Go ahead, Mark. What do you have on that?

[21:20:00] MAZZETTI: Well I just have to take some issue with what Phil said for a - for a - for a moment.

You know, we were actually reporting on this story for several days. The fact that the Justice Department put out a statement about it the eve of the testimony doesn't mean it came from them. That's all I'll say.

CUOMO: Oh, no. Absolutely, appreciate you, respect - respect the context on your sourcing. Shame on you, Phil Mudd!

No, listen, let's take - let's take a quick break, and then let's talk about what this means tomorrow, and going forward, and what the A.G. is going to have to answer for. And, remember, this is before Congress. You tell the truth or you pay a penalty, even if you're the A.G.

Mike and Phil, stay with us. Stay with the show.

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CUOMO: All right, back now with Phil Mudd and Mike Rogers on tonight's breaking news, what could certainly be a gift in Democrats' eyes. What is it?

Proof that Bob Mueller himself went to Attorney General Bill Barr and said, "What you put out in that memo does not capture the substance and context of what we did in the investigation with respect to obstruction."

He didn't think that you were getting a fair sense of what it was about. That's a big deal when people are trying to decide on the Democratic side of Congress whether or not to take up obstruction as their own set of accountability questions and hearings and who knows what else with this President.

[21:25:00] Now, the biggest piece of exposure, because this changed tomorrow. We don't know if it changes anything else, fellas, but it certainly changes tomorrow.

I want to play you a little bit of sound of Bob - of Bill Barr being asked about Bob Mueller and his feelings. Listen to this.

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SEN. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-MD): Did Bob Mueller support your conclusion?

BARR: I don't know whether Bob Mueller supported my conclusion.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CUOMO: This is before Congress. Mike Rogers, this was after he got the letter. This was after he had the phone call. Was that an accurate answer?

ROGERS: Boy, it sure doesn't sound good. But I would have to know more about the context of the conversation.

Was it, you know, Bob Mueller saying, "Hey, these are the things I didn't like?" Although, you know, the one catch that may save him is the fact that when someone said did he say it was wrong or purposefully wrong, he said no?

So, there is that little nuance in there that - that may be the only thing he can hang his hat on. It just doesn't sound good. And I - you know, Bill Barr's a - a great attorney. And I - you know, he did great work before as Attorney General.

You know, his - he's going to get tarnished in this thing if he just doesn't, I think, fully cooperative in the roll-out of this thing. They're going to get it all. They're going to get it redacted - they being Congress, a redacted version, they're going to get to read.

They obviously have the report now. They're going to have Bob Mueller before Congress. What I don't understand is this kind of slow roll kind of maybe, "OK, I guess I'll get to the point where I need to tell you everything."

CUOMO: Sure, you do.

ROGERS: I just don't understand that.

CUOMO: You get it.

ROGERS: I don't think it's good for them.

CUOMO: This is the same thing that Bill Barr has done well twice before. He protects the President. And, by the way, I've said this about Eric Holder. I've said it about politics, in general. This ain't unusual.

It's just an unusual context that we're living through right now. AGs are not in the habit of going against the President of the United States.

Yes, in Watergate, we saw what happened. But that guy wound up going to jail for his role in what happened in Watergate, Mitchell.

ROGERS: Yes.

CUOMO: So, fairness to Mr. Barr, he's not that unusual.

But, Phil Mudd, to bounce the point to you, he covered for Bush. He covered when he was at the Office of Legal Counsel. He made it hard for people to get the things that might be bad for a President.

That's what he did now. The only thing that changed is for some reason when he said, "I'm going to go by the book and the guidelines, and I'll do whatever I can," people decided to believe him.

MUDD: Yes. But it's going to get worse. It's going to get worse. I think the significance of this and the spotlight here is not necessarily on the Barr testimony. It's on the Mueller testimony.

Let me give you an example or two.

Number one, Barr shows up in the next day or two, as soon as Mueller shows up, somebody's going to look at the air gap between whatever Barr says and whatever Mueller wrote, and say, "Director Mueller, can you interpret for us the letter you wrote to Barr?"

And if there's any difference between Barr's testimony and what Mueller said, Barr's in trouble.

CUOMO: Now, the good news for Mr. Barr is and, by the way, look, I don't know why everything has to end in a prosecution these days, and like that's the bar for satisfaction by our politicians and the American people.

Sometimes, it's just good to know the truth, and there doesn't have to be a penalty of perjury attached to it. But it is in their call where Mr. Barr and Mr. Mueller discussed whether or not Mueller thought Barr's letter was inaccurate and Mueller said he did not think it was inaccurate.

That's from the call. We don't have a record of that. In the letter, the letter, and what is excerpted from the letter, it does not make Mr. Barr look complete accurate and honest in his answer before Congress.

MUDD: So, again, when you're Mueller up on the Hill the - let me give you two questions. Number one, can you characterize precisely the differences between what you wrote and what Mr. Barr wrote that became public knowledge?

Let me give you the question I would ask. Director Mueller, again, a former Marine, do not ask him political questions. Do not try to game him. I want precise yes-or-no questions for a career prosecutor. Here's the one I would have.

"Director Mueller, former U.S. Attorney in San Francisco, if you saw this kind of obstruction in a case that did not involve the Oval Office, would you have brought charges? Yes or no."

That's the kind of precision I want to see from the Congress. I don't know if they'll do it.

CUOMO: Also, look, I think, Mike, he can handle that pretty easily. It's on page one of part two of the report. I don't know why the A.G. and the people in the White House have been spinning this.

All people have to do is read it. I guess they just don't have enough confidence, you know, that the American people will do their homework or they have lots of confidence that they won't. He says we follow the guidance of this in exercising prosecutorial jurisdiction, OK, not discretion, jurisdiction, meaning, I can't indict a sitting President. He went into this knowing that.

And then, he applied a second reason, which wasn't "It's too hard a case to call." There's not - he never said anything like that in the report.

[21:30:00] What he did say though was, and if I did indict, it wouldn't even be fair because the President wouldn't get his day in court. He wouldn't be able to deal with it because of these restrictions on him. Don't we know that already?

ROGERS: Yes. But I - I mean this - this is Bob Mueller being Bob Mueller in this particular case. He's going to be fair to the nth degree. He's going to follow the law to the nth degree.

You know, for the fact that he wrote this letter tells me that he was not amused that the - the - the context of those - those four-page letter that Barr did. But at the same time, he will follow it.

And I'm not sure he'd take the bait, I mean, Phil. I - I'm not sure, if I were him, I wouldn't take the bait about saying, "Listen, these circumstances and any other circumstances--

CUOMO: Yes.

ROGERS: --obstruction of justice, two very different things, and I'm not going to be speculative." That's the answer I would give if I were him because he's in a bad spot.

MUDD: Yes--

ROGERS: I mean it's not necessarily a hot mess. But it certainly is a spicy disaster. I mean, think about where this - you're going to ask Bob Mueller to come in. You know he's got some differences with Barr.

One team is going to try to get him to fan those flames and make it as bad as possible. The other team's going to say, "Ah, nothing to see here, move along."

CUOMO: And, remember, Mazzetti already had the reporting.

ROGERS: He's - he's going to try to maintain his character in this whole process.

CUOMO: But, remember, Mazzetti had the reporting, the - the Reporter from The New York Times, he was on the show earlier, he had it already that Mueller's team wasn't happy about this. Remember that that had come out.

ROGERS: That - that had leaked out though before. I mean we had heard this before. I think it was reported right here on CNN--

CUOMO: Yes.

ROGERS: --right after that came out that investigators were not pleased with that assessment.

CUOMO: Right. That was it. That was Mazzetti and some other reporters who had it. So, this has been bubbling up. But, Phil, where do you think it all winds up? What does this ultimately wind up meaning in the path forward?

MUDD: Boy, this is painful. I think in the testimony - the Congressman is too smart to be a Congressman. I think that's why he left the - the Congress. I mean he's right. I - that question was a little imprecise.

Let me answer you, Chris. I think a question you might ask is, "Did you look at the facts of the case and - in - based on that - your judgment about the facts, were you impeded from deciding on obstruction because of the Office of the President?"

That's a more precise, non-speculative (ph)--

CUOMO: He's going to have to say yes. He already put it in the report.

MUDD: But I - no, no--

CUOMO: You're not good at asking questions, Phil. Your questions are soft, I'm just telling.

MUDD: Really? Chris, I'll crush you and drink you for breakfast. Look--

CUOMO: Wow. That's--

MUDD: --here - no, I - I--

CUOMO: That's threatening.

MUDD: I think where this--

CUOMO: That's spicy.

MUDD: I think where this ends up is where we started, which is, in the report, initially, Director Mueller got half a step from telling the Congress, you ought to pick up the ball.

Nancy Pelosi has basically said, I think, we're not going to pick up the ball because the Senate will never support us in an impeachment conversation.

Legally, you might say this would be a useful conversation for the Congress to have in terms of how Republicans and Democrats are positioned in the Senate, this ain't going nowhere now. Wait till 2020.

CUOMO: Fair point. You may drink me on the basis of that answer. Phil Mudd, Mike Rogers, thank you very much for helping us understand what this will mean going forward.

ROGERS: Thanks, Chris. CUOMO: All right, when we return, I played that piece of sound for a reason. And, by the way, I just think these days we all have to be straight about our intentions. I think it matters what he said before Congress.

I think he's going to have to answer for it tomorrow in the context of what Mueller put in his letter. That's why it's out there. Not everything has to be a crime in order to count these days in politics.

But what he said under oath before Congress now has questions attached to it. So, we're going to bring in Cuomo's Court into session, two very capable legal minds, to figure out what this reporting means, going forward, and not.

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CUOMO: All right, there are three dates that you have to keep in mind here in the analysis of what this new information means about Mueller and Barr, and the discrepancy between what Mueller thought should be explained about the report and what A.G. Barr decided to explain.

First, March 27. That's the day Mueller wrote a letter to Bill Barr objecting to his summary of the Russia investigation.

Second date, March 28, Barr calls Mueller, talk about the letter, supposedly cordial. They're not fighting. This isn't about animus and hatred, betrayal. No need for drama, just facts.

The third date, April 10, two weeks later, now that's when the A.G. says this under oath.

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VAN HOLLEN: Did Bob Mueller support your conclusion?

BARR: I don't know whether Bob Mueller supported my conclusion.

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CUOMO: Was that accurate? Was it complete? This is what Congressman Nadler says, and this is a man with power, all right? This is the Chairman to the House Judiciary.

"I note with interest A.G. Barr's 4/10 Senate testimony. "Question: Did Mueller support your conclusion? A: I don't know whether Mueller supported my conclusion." Now it appears that Mueller objected in his 3/27 letter."

Objected, I know this can frustrate people. But in the law, words matter. Is this going to be in a court? No, not necessarily. But it kind of is with these deals before Congress.

So, let's take it to Cuomo's Court, Asha Rangappa, Ken Cuccinelli.

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CUOMO: On the face of it, Asha, we can talk about what all this means. I am very interested in what you both have to say. But this one discrete issue, first, Asha, do you believe the A.G. has trouble about what he said before and what he may have known at the time?

ASHA RANGAPPA, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT, CNN LEGAL & NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Absolutely.

And, Chris, I just want to emphasize here a big picture that goes beyond whether he broke the law, as you've been mentioning, which is the purpose of appointing a Special Counsel, when there may be an internal conflict or some appearance of impropriety within the Department of Justice, is to have an independent prosecutor come in, so that it will restore the public's confidence in the outcome of the Department of Justice's investigations. That's the whole point.

And so, when Barr comes out, and he starts pulling these shenanigans, and mischaracterizing, and obfuscating, he has actually undermined the entire purpose of the Special Counsel, and really, the purpose of the Department of Justice.

CUOMO: All right, I get the broader argument. But let's save that for one second, Asha.

RANGAPPA: So, frankly, you know--

CUOMO: Let me just get Ken on this discrete issue, and then, we'll talk about what this means and doesn't. And, again, I invite both sides on this.

Ken, this discrete issue, did he--

KEN CUCCINELLI, FORMER VIRGINIA ATTORNEY GENERAL, SENATE CONSERVATIVES FUND PRESIDENT: Yes, absolutely--

CUOMO: Did he disagree?

CUCCINELLI: --absolutely not.

CUOMO: OK. Because?

CUCCINELLI: I'm sorry. Did he disagree? I was answering the same question as Asha.

CUOMO: I'm saying the question to - the - the question to Barr, just to remind you was, you know, "Did Mueller disagree with your conclusion?" He said, "I don't know how he felt about it."

[21:40:00] How do you feel he is exposed on that in terms of the truthfulness of the testimony?

CUCCINELLI: Yes. I don't - I don't think he's exposed at all. I want to - let me read one line from The Post reporting.

When Barr pressed him, meaning Mueller, whether he thought Barr's letter was inaccurate, Mueller said he did not, but felt that the media coverage of the letter was misinterpreting the investigation, officials said.

That's where the heart of Mueller's complaint was. And if you go back to Barr's answer that you played for us that put - in that context, it doesn't sound wrong at all. He's not in any trouble at all.

CUOMO: Because?

RANGAPPA: I disagree.

CUOMO: OK. But I just want to get his reasoning.

You don't think he's in trouble because if pressed, at some point, it would come out from Mr. Mueller that "No, I didn't disagree with what he put. I didn't think it was inaccurate."

See, that's the problem. It's all words, right?

CUCCINELLI: Yes.

CUOMO: He says that it wasn't inaccurate. Now, this is somebody's reckoning of a phone call.

CUCCINELLI: Right. Well that's true. You're right, Chris.

CUOMO: The letter is going to be words that we can read. The rest is going to be interpretations until Mueller provides the same.

CUCCINELLI: Right. But the reality is that the summary was less than 1 percent of the length of the report. Of course, you're not going to get all the details. Of course, you're not going to get all the context.

And if Mueller wanted the second part of his report, which didn't read like a prosecutor wrote it, where he did not have enough to go forward on obstruction, despite how you've characterized it in the show, Chris, he didn't do it.

CUOMO: I know. Hold on, hold on, Ken.

CUCCINELLI: He didn't say he would. He didn't say he could.

CUOMO: Hold on. Give me a break on this.

CUCCINELLI: And that's the only decision--

CUOMO: I'm saying he says on page one--

CUCCINELLI: --that's the only decision for a prosecutor to make.

CUOMO: Ken, I agree with you. I've said it a million times in this show prosecutors don't usually say "Can't exonerate you" either. That's not what they're in the business of. But this was a little different. And on page of the report, he says--

CUCCINELLI: That's right.

CUOMO: --I'm taking my - my guidance from the OLC in exercising prosecutorial jurisdiction.

And I'm saying he went into this saying, "I can't indict a sitting President." And he added to that. And it wouldn't be fair to the President because he wouldn't get his day in court.

So, you know, I've never said that he wanted to do it. I'm just saying this is what he said.

CUCCINELLI: No. But - but - but - look, Chris--

RANGAPPA: Chris, can I - can I--

CUCCINELLI: --you - you - you're implying that suggests he would otherwise - wait a minute. You - you're suggesting that he would have otherwise. And if one reads the - that whole portion of the report, you get the distinctly opposite conclusion, which, by the way--

CUOMO: Look, I think that's a matter of opinion.

CUCCINELLI: --Rod Rosenstein, who is the darling of the Democrats--

CUOMO: That's certainly not my intention.

CUCCINELLI: --agreed with Barr.

RANGAPPA: That's not true.

CUOMO: He is no darling of the Democrats. All right, let me get Asha in here. Go ahead.

RANGAPPA: Yes. So, with - in terms of the mischaracterizing, you know, Chris, let's say that a movie reviewer sees a movie, and says this movie will never win an Oscar, and this - the movie poster says, "We'll win an Oscar."

I mean it's not inaccurate in the sense that that he's actually quoted the words, but he has mischaracterized it, and taken it out of context, to have it mean something completely different. And that's what Barr did. He didn't even cite complete words from Mueller's report. He took them. He cherry-picked them. He put them in particular phrases to give a completely different conclusion than what he reached.

And Ken, you are absolutely wrong, and Chris is correct. What Mueller did in the obstruction section is--

CUOMO: I like this part. Go ahead.

RANGAPPA: --Mueller went through 10 potential counts of obstruction of justice and three elements in each of the 10 counts, that's 30 different sections, and went through, and to say how much evidence he had on each of those.

And, arguably, on eight of those 10 counts, he had substantial evidence of obstruction. And what he said, as Chris just noted, is that because of due process principles, because there is not a forum for the President to clear his name, he could not formally accuse the President.

But he took pains to note "If I could exonerate the President, I would do that. But based on this evidence, I cannot." That is a - that is a strong statement from a prosecutor. That's not a clearing.

CUOMO: He also included that language about Congress, Ken. He didn't have to - he didn't have to say the exonerate stuff.

RANGAPPA: Yes.

CUOMO: And he didn't have to put in there that, you know, Congress can look at this.

CUCCINELLI: Well that's right. That's a part of why--

CUOMO: Here's - here's the language on the - on the screen for people.

CUCCINELLI: --that's a part of why the whole--

RANGAPPA: Or a future prosecutor. Or a future prosecutor--

CUOMO: Right.

RANGAPPA: --after he leaves office. He mentioned that as well.

CUCCINELLI: That's - that why the entire second volume of the report was pure political trash job by Mueller. It was not prosecutor's work.

CUOMO: Oh, now, now it's - well, hold on a second.

CUCCINELLI: And yes, there were, yes, there--

RANGAPPA: It's all legal analysis, Ken.

CUCCINELLI: Hey, let's just cut to the chase, Chris. Let's - let's--

CUOMO: Go ahead. CUCCINELLI: No. No, it was not. No, it was not. That was - it is - the first half--

RANGAPPA: It's legal analysis.

CUCCINELLI: --of his report reads - I - I - I didn't interrupt you. The first half of this report--

CUOMO: All right, go ahead, go ahead.

CUCCINELLI: --volume one read like a prosecutor wrote it. Volume two read like someone interested in politics.

CUOMO: Someone who's not allowed--

CUCCINELLI: So, it maybe someone who has an extremely broad view - one--

CUOMO: --to prosecute, Ken.

CUCCINELLI: Well, but that was true on the first part with respect to the President. You guys aren't applying the same standard to volume one in this discussion--

CUOMO: Because he wasn't asked to do the same thing. If you look at the mandate--

CUCCINELLI: --that you're applying to volume two.

[21:45:00] CUOMO: Mel, do me a favor. Pull the original letter of jurisdiction to Mueller from Rosenstein.

CUCCINELLI: Right. The one-pager.

CUOMO: You and I had cross-overs (ph) about this before. And I was right then too. He was asked to look for proof of coordination as an extension of the counterintelligence investigation that he inherited. He was also then asked to look for crimes.

CUCCINELLI: Right.

CUOMO: He did both. The first section was here's the story of the counterintelligence. Here's what we think about the coordination and the context of what it means and what it doesn't. We don't see a criminal conspiracy.

Part two was, now, as to obstruction, and he prefaces it by saying, "But I can't indict him." That was only about the President obstruction. The first part was about like a dozen people, Ken. You have to see the distinction.

RANGAPPA: And, Chris - Chris, you know, what I want to say to Ken is--

CUCCINELLI: Yes. But the same - the - yes, but the President is the one that is relevant here.

CUOMO: And certainly in the second party. And that's why he said I'm not allowed to indict him. Go ahead, Asha.

RANGAPPA: Yes. So, Ken, I would say pick your poison. So, first of all, you said that volume two completely exonerates the President. Then when we point out the holes in your argument, you say that it's just political.

And I - you know, so you're - you're talking out of both sides of your mouth. But - and I don't know if you've just not read the report. But you just have to look at it to see that there are factual conclusions.

And a good chunk, by the way, of volume two is Mueller dismantling the statutory and Constitutional defenses of the President. It's basically a legal brief that's ready to go for the Supreme Court were the President to ever challenge it.

That is not even required by the regulations. He put it in there both to --both to fight back against the President and also Bill Barr who is the one who made this argument that the President can't obstruct justice.

It's a legal analysis, Ken. It's not political. And you're lying when you say to - to the American public that that's what it is.

CUCCINELLI: No. Whoa, whoa, whoa, you have - you have dramatically overstated this. Bill Barr's legal position was that in exercising his Article II powers, the President can't obstruct justice, not that the President can't obstruct justice. Period!

RANGAPPA: And that's addressed in the report. That's addressed in the report.

CUCCINELLI: Which is what you just said.

CUOMO: All right, listen, let's--

RANGAPPA: That's addressed in the report in the Constitutional section.

CUCCINELLI: And, interestingly enough, in - in volume two of the report, the one relevant precedent from - from Walsh in the Bush era--

CUOMO: Right.

CUCCINELLI: --was not even mentioned.

CUOMO: Because he can't indict a sitting President.

CUCCINELLI: Not even mentioned.

CUOMO: And he went into it knowing that. And that's OK.

CUCCINELLI: No, Chris. You're missing - you're missing the point of this.

CUOMO: How so?

CUCCINELLI: You're missing the point of that reference.

CUOMO: How so?

CUCCINELLI: That precedent was where - Walsh--

CUOMO: Right.

CUCCINELLI: --in the Walsh instance, Bush pardoned Weinberger--

CUOMO: Right.

CUCCINELLI: --prior to trial.

CUOMO: Right.

CUCCINELLI: And I want to say five others.

CUOMO: Right.

CUCCINELLI: An exercise of the Article II authority of the President.

CUOMO: Right.

CUCCINELLI: Walsh threw a temper tantrum over it, and I don't literally mean that, but--

CUOMO: Right, right.

CUCCINELLI: --but he was upset by it, and yet did not proceed as that was an obstruction because it was an exercise of the President's Article II authority.

CUOMO: Right. But that was his discretion at the time. And we don't have--

CUCCINELLI: The same position Bill Barr has. And it's a real--

CUOMO: We don't have statutory--

CUCCINELLI: --world example.

CUOMO: We don't have spot-on precedent on this, and you know that. We don't have a statute to go with on it. It's about discretion and it's about guidance from the DOJ.

CUCCINELLI: Well then why didn't he mention the closest precedent, Chris?

CUOMO: Because he can't prosecute--

CUCCINELLI: Why didn't he mention the closest precedent--

CUOMO: --the man, so he wasn't going to do it.

RANGAPPA: Because it wasn't applicable.

CUOMO: Anyway, I got to leave it there. I appreciate the arguments.

CUCCINELLI: And - and - and Lawrence Walsh was in the same position.

CUOMO: I hear you. But you're - you're offering it up as food for thought and that's fine. But if you want to say it didn't read like a prosecutor's report, it--

CUCCINELLI: That's precedent.

CUOMO: --it wasn't a law review article either, OK?

So, let's just leave it there. He didn't need to provide President - when he - precedent, when he knew he couldn't indict the President. Asha, Ken, I appreciate your arguments, as always.

CUCCINELLI: It's just - and this (ph) case was, look, he was writing a brief.

CUOMO: I got to go.

CUCCINELLI: And he left out the most important case.

CUOMO: All right, thank you to both of you.

CUCCINELLI: All right.

CUOMO: It wasn't a brief - anyway. Look, this is going to continue, especially now. Here's the problem with when you don't play it straight, OK?

When you don't play it straight, and now you have the guy who created the report saying, essentially, you didn't really get it right for the American people, now you're going to have problems, and you'll see that tomorrow.

Something else that's getting a lot of scrutiny that we're going to play for you, next, just to lighten it up for a minute, it's going to matter, next.

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TEXT: CUOMO PRIME TIME.

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TEXT: LET'S GET AFTER IT.

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CUOMO: All right, just before the Mueller report was released, Attorney General Barr argued that the President did not object - obstruct justice. Remember that? He also portrayed the President as a victim. Reminder.

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BARR: There is substantial evidence to show that the President was frustrated and angered by his sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his Presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks. Nonetheless, the White House fully cooperated with the Special Counsel's investigation.

This evidence of non-corrupt motives weighs heavily against any allegation that the President had a corrupt intent to obstruct the investigation.

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CUOMO: Now, be very clear about something, to Ken Cuccinelli's point, who was a brilliant A.G., by the way, and a very smart lawyer, does that sound like what a prosecutor would say about somebody?

No. It sounds like what a defendant's lawyer would say about them, and that's been the problem from the beginning.

Let's bring in D. Lemon. That's what this reporting, I believe, is going to mean as motivation going forward, certainly for the Democrats. Is it dispositive? Is it proof of something dirty? No, not necessarily. But it shows that this A.G.--

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR, CNN TONIGHT WITH DON LEMON: Well--

CUOMO: --has been an agent for the President more than for the American people.

LEMON: Or a political hack, if you just want to be that blunt about it, a political hack. A kinder word would be a mercenary for the President.

But that sounded more to me like a guidance counselor, or maybe a psychologist, or maybe an excuse that your parents would make for you that "Well, you know, Chris was so upset by all of this, you can - we can understand his actions. Even if they were wrong, he had a reason to do it."

That's what that sounds like to me.

CUOMO: Well, you know, it does. But I'll tell you something. The law is a funny thing. And this law is a funny thing. Obstruction is a funny thing because it requires an odd sort of intent, corrupt intent.

There are all these different words for it in the law. But this has specific language for the statute. And you do have to prove that somebody had that bribery feel that, you know, quid pro quo feel going into it.

But for the A.G. to make the case for the President of the United States was not his role here, and that's the problem.

LEMON: No.

CUOMO: The question is what does it mean tomorrow and going forward?

LEMON: Well, and - and what does it mean for the hearings that are coming up. But, listen, one doesn't have to be - listen, I respect that you're a lawyer. I respect whatever - what Ken, you know, his - his knowledge of the law.

You don't have to be a lawyer to see when someone is trying to pull the wool over your eyes. You don't have to be a lawyer to understand why William Barr got this job, how he auditioned for it, how he conducted himself during the hearings, and how he conducted himself at the initial press conference with the letter, and the second press conference.

He tried to shape the narrative. Everything that we have been reporting about this letter and the A.G. trying to shape the narrative has turned out to be true. You can fool some of the people some of the time. But you can't fool all the people all of the time.

[21:55:00] John Pistole who was a deputy to Robert Mueller when he was FBI Director will join me in moments to discuss why would Robert Mueller write this letter? Why would he put it pen to paper or type it in because he wants it memorialized? That means something.

CUOMO: And ask him why the A.G. wouldn't have had the sense to mention it before he knew it was going to get out?

LEMON: Or during the hearing, when he was asked.

CUOMO: Why did he go before Congress - that's right.

LEMON: When he was asked does--

CUOMO: Why did he go before Congress and not mention it? Why didn't he tell us?

LEMON: --does Robert Mueller - he was asked specifically, and we'll play this sound bite, does Robert Mueller--

CUOMO: Right.

LEMON: --agree with your letter? "I don't know."

CUOMO: Right. That's--

LEMON: That is a lie. He knew.

CUOMO: You're going to hear that a lot tomorrow, and tonight, and I'll be watching your show.

LEMON: Yes.

CUOMO: I'll see you in a second.

All right, few more thoughts of what this is going to mean going forward. I do believe this is one of those moments where you're going to look at this and you can see it in accurate way.

It doesn't have to be just viewed through a partisan lens like everything else seems to be this day. There are things that we just know now, next.

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TEXT: CLOSING ARGUMENT.

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CUOMO: We're going to have continuing coverage on CNN TONIGHT of this breaking news. But tomorrow is now a really big day.

The A.G. goes before the Senate. And he told the Congress before that he didn't know if Mr. Mueller agreed with his conclusions. He did have reason to know.

This letter from Mueller proves that the A.G. has been playing to advantage this President. And he's been doing it from the beginning. And that is not his job.

Now, the question is, will Republican Senators tomorrow do their job or will the favoritism continue?

This doesn't have to be about criminality. It has to be about what is right, what is wrong, and what is reasonable. And a big day for that to be held forth, we'll all be watching tomorrow.

That's all for us tonight. Let's get right to CNN TONIGHT WITH DON LEMON.