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Mueller Makes 1st Public Statement on Russia Probe; Mueller: "Charging President with a Crime Was Not an Option We Could Consider" Due to DOJ Policy. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired May 29, 2019 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I would perhaps want to address the question of whether he didn't come to a finding of obstruction because he meant to leave that up to Congress. I mean, he is doing this at the Justice Department.

I think if he does decide to draw those sort of lines of difference from Barr, he will do it gently. Unless this is a very different Robert Mueller than everyone at the Justice Department is used to. Than Michael Zeldin is used to. We're not going to see him coming out and flame throwing.

That said, it wouldn't be surprise me if he does take time to thank his team for their hard work, talking about their professionalism, because they have said essentially nothing in the face of being under attack for two years.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: If you're just joining us, we're expecting within the next minute or so Special Counsel Robert Mueller -- here he is. Let's listen in.

ROBERT MUELLER, SPECIAL COUNSEL: Good morning, everyone, and thank you for being here.

Two years ago, the acting attorney general asked me to serve as special counsel and he created the special counsel's office. The appointment order directed the office to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. This included investigating any links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign.

Now, I have not spoken publicly during our investigation. I am speaking out today because our investigation is complete. The attorney general has made the report on our investigation largely public.

We are formally closing the special counsel's office and, as well, I'm resigning from the Department of Justice to return to private life.

I'll make a few remarks about the results of our work. But beyond these few remarks, it is important that the office's written work speak for itself.

Let me begin where the appointment order begins, and that is interference in the 2016 presidential election.

As alleged by the grand jury in an indictment, Russian intelligence officers who are part of the Russian military launched a concerted attack on our political system. The indictment alleges that they used sophisticated cyber techniques to hack into computers and networks used by the Clinton campaign.

They stole private information and then released that information through fake online identities and through the organization WikiLeaks. The releases were designed and timed to interfere with our election and to damage a presidential candidate.

And at the same time as the grand jury alleged in a separate indictment, a private Russian entity engaged in a social media operation, where Russian citizens posed as Americans in order to influence an election. These indictments contain allegations and we are not commenting on the guilt or the innocence of any specific defendant. Every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The indictments allege and the other activities in our report describe efforts to interfere in our political system. They needed to be investigated and understood. And that is among the reasons why the Department of Justice established our office.

That is also a reason we investigated efforts to obstruct the investigation. The matters we investigated were of paramount importance. It was critical for us to obtain full and accurate information from every person we questioned. When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of their government's effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.

Let me say a word about the report. The report has two parts, addressing the two main issues we were asked to investigate. The first volume of the report details numerous efforts emanating from Russia to influence the election. This Volume Includes a discussion of the Trump campaign's response to this activity as well as our conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy.

And in the second volume, the report describes the results and analysis of our obstruction of justice investigation involving the president.

The order appointing me special counsel authorized us to investigate actions that could obstruct the investigation. We conducted that investigation and we kept the office of the acting attorney general apprised of the progress of our work.

And as set forth in the report, after that investigation, if we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so. We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime. The introduction to the Volume II of our report explains that decision. [11:05:22] It explains that under long-standing department policy, a

president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional. Even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public view, that, too, is prohibited.

A special counsel's office is part of the Department of Justice, and by regulation, it was bound by that department policy. Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.

The department's written opinion explaining the policy makes several important points that further informed our handling of the obstruction investigation. Those points are summarized in our report and I will describe two of them for you.

First, the opinion explicitly permits the investigation of a sitting president, because it is important to preserve evidence while memories are fresh and documents available. Among other things, that evidence could be used if there were co-conspirators who could be charged now.

And, second, the opinion says that the constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.

And beyond department policy, we were guided by principles of fairness. It would be unfair to potentially -- it would be unfair to potentially accuse somebody of a crime when there can be no court resolution of the actual charge.

So that was Justice Department policy. Those were the principles under which we operated. And from them, we concluded that we would not reach a determination one way or the other about whether the president committed a crime.

That is the office's final position and we will not comment on any other conclusions or hypotheticals about the president.

We conducted an independent criminal investigation and reported the results to the attorney general, as required by department regulations. The attorney general then concluded that it was appropriate to provide our report to Congress and to the American people.

At one point in time, I requested that certain portions of the report be released and the attorney general preferred to make -- preferred to make the entire report public all at once. And we appreciate that the attorney general made the report largely public. And I certainly do not question the attorney general's good faith in that decision.

Now, I hope and expect this to be the only time that I will speak to you in this manner. I am making that decision myself. No one has told me whether I can or should testify or speak further about this matter.

There has been discussion about an appearance before Congress. Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report. It contains our findings and analysis and the reasons for the decisions we made. We chose those words carefully and the work speaks for itself.

And the report is my testimony. I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress.

In addition, access to our underlying work product is being decided in a process that does not involve our office.

So beyond what I've said here today and what is contained in our written work, I do not believe it is appropriate for me to speak further about the investigation or to comment on the actions of the Justice Department or Congress. And it's for that reason I will not be taking questions today, as well.

Now, before I step away, I want to thank the attorneys, the FBI agents, the analysts, the professional staff who helped us conduct this investigation in a fair and independent manner. These individuals who spent nearly two years with the special counsel's office were of the highest integrity.

And I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments, that there were multiple, systemic efforts to interfere in our election. And that allegation deserves the attention of every American.

Thank you. Thank you for being here today.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Sir, if you're subpoenaed will you appear before Congress?

MUELLER: No questions.

[11:10:16] WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: A 10-minute statement from Robert Mueller, the special counsel, soon to be the former special counsel.

But with some significant news, Jake, especially his point, what he has said, he has said. Not saying anymore. Doesn't want to have to go before Congress and testify. He defended the investigation. He was very specific in articulating its conclusions.

TAPPER: There were a number of things he said that could be interpreted as specific pushbacks to things that we hear from the White House.

But I have to say, the last statement he made, one presumes that he thinks that that is the most important thing that he's saying, because it's what he's leaving everybody with, and that is, there were multiple, systemic attempts, by the Russians, to interfere in the 2016 election. And that is something that amidst all of the political back and forth, all of the false claims from the White House and from the president's detractors, keeps getting lost. Other countries are trying to interfere in our elections and we are not, according to experts, doing enough to stop that.

And that is, I think, what he wanted his last message to be. Beyond that, there were a number of things he said that I thought were

rather pointed, standing up for the people on his investigation, saying that they are of the highest integrity, despite all of the falsehoods we keep hearing about them from the White House and others.

And obviously, saying that if we had evidence that the president did not commit a crime, we would have said so.

BLITZER: And he kept saying that the long-standing Justice Department guideline is that a sitting president of the United States can't be indicted, can't be charged with a crime, and as a result, they didn't go ahead and charge him with any crime, in part because of that.

TAPPER: And, Sara Murray, one of the things he definitely made clear, Robert Mueller is, I do not want to testify publicly. I want this to be the last of it. If you want to know what I think, read the report.

MURRAY: That's right. He made it very clear that if he is essentially forced to show up, all you're getting from him is what's already in the report. This is his work product. He wouldn't go beyond that. He was speaking publicly.

The furthest he went beyond the words of the report is that we would not reach a determination on whether the president obstructed justice. Not that they could not do it. We decided we would not reach a conclusion on this based on our Justice Department guidelines and based on our view of fairness.

But it's very clear Bob Mueller wants his work product to stand for itself. And he wants this to not to be a political football. We saw what happened when Barr decided to make a determination, when Barr went up to the Hill, when Barr wrote these letters and then everyone starts to beyond what's on these pages and everyone begin feel like it's tinged by politics.

And I think that Robert Mueller very much feels like he wants this product to stand as is.

TAPPER: Although, I should say, he defended Mr. Barr, the attorney general.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: He really, he did. But I will say, just outside of what -- I agree with everything Sara said. He clearly does not -- he wants the report to speak for itself, but he also wants to have it the other way. And he essentially punted to Congress at that podium today.

He said that the Constitution requires a process outside of the criminal justice system, outside of the Justice Department system, to handle what the president is accused of doing here.

He's saying, essentially, what he did not say in this report, by the way, you know, if they had -- by the way, if he had said that in the report, I think it would have been a lot less speculation about, well, did he -- was Mueller trying to punt to Congress. Today, he made clear, I think, that that is exactly what this was intended to do. That we couldn't do it at the Justice Department, we can't even indict

a sitting president under seal, and unseal it after he leaves office. What we are allowed to do is investigate and then allow a separate process to handle it, if that is necessary.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In this report, obviously, we said this at the time, is a road map for impeachment. And like Evan said, what he just described for the first time, hearing him and seeing him, was why they did this, and more importantly, why he fundamentally did not believe that they could go any further within their probe.

TAPPER: He said it would be unconstitutional.

BASH: It would be unconstitutional and just unfair to charge somebody or accuse somebody with a crime and then not allow them to be tried.

But I think that what you said earlier is really key. He also explicitly repeated the notion that, had he felt he could exonerate the president, he would have done so.

BLITZER: Because he said, John King, he said, "If the president had not committed a crime, we would have said so."

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's very clear Director Mueller does not want to be part of the daily conversation about this. He wants this document to speak for itself.

But to the point Jake made right out of the gate, he hadn't spoken in two years. He knew every word he said today would be parsed closely and he pushed back about every single argument that the president and his team have made about this report.

From the beginning, they interfered to damage a presidential candidate. But they took sides. The Russians took sides. The president says, no big deal, they did something, they had some Facebook accounts. Jared Kushner has said, no, they interfered to damage a presidential candidate out of the box. He didn't say there was no collusion, to your point. He said, we had insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy.

[11:15:20] There's a lot of footsie between the Trump campaign and the Russians and WikiLeaks laid out in this document. He said, "insufficient evidence." He didn't say, there was no "there" there.

Then he went on to the obstruction part and he said, "we did not make a determination as to whether they didn't commit a crime," because he could not. Because h could not. And then he says he lays out the evidence there. Throughout this.

And at the very end, to your point at the very end, not only did he say, come back to the interference and say the integrity of American elections, he said, it deserves the attention of every American. What's the last thing he said? The president of the United States gives it no attention. Robert Mueller knew what he was saying.


BLITZER: Laura Jarrett is over at the Justice Department.

You were there inside the room, Laura, when the special counsel spoke out. What were you seeing?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, it was interesting, Wolf, he was be himself. I had wondered whether members of his team, his core deputies would be there along with him, some of the faces that we've seen in court when he hasn't been there.

And today, it was really just he be himself. There were some top- level officials from the Justice Department in the Criminal Division, the National Security Division, the deputy attorney general's office, which has been overseeing this investigation for the better part of two years. But Mueller was by himself. Which was just a striking image to have him be the sole voice there. Obviously, the attorney general, Bill Barr, not there either.

And given that Barr was not in the room, I wondered how much he would contradict Barr in terms of, we already had known that he had some issues with how Barr had laid out Mueller's principle conclusions in that controversial four-page memo.

And as all of you have been discussing, he clearly felt constrained by the long-standing DOJ protocol on not indicting a sitting president. He said, simply, that it wasn't an option we could consider, they thought it was unconstitutional. So they didn't even get to that point given the longstanding DOJ protocol.

I also thought it was interesting that he pointed out that, even if he was to give testimony, it will not go beyond the report. He seemed to be setting the stage there, managing expectations a little bit, on both sides.

Obviously, Democrats have a lot invested in what this man would say. Republicans have said they want to hear from him, as well, for different reasons.

But the fact that he was trying to sort of explain to everyone, as much as you have invested in this, I am not going to go beyond the contents of the report, and said almost, don't expect to even hear from me again after this report. This is the last statement I really want to make on the substance.

And finally, I just wanted to point out, I thought it was very interesting at the end that he took a moment to thank the FBI agents, the analysts, the attorneys, everyone who had work on this case, given the drumbeat that we have heard from the president himself about all of the so-called coup that has gone on, all of the statements the president has made, relentlessly attacking this man and his deputies for so long. It was interesting to hear from Mueller himself, thanking his team.

TAPPER: That's right. He described them as being fair and independent and of the highest integrity. Certainly a blowback to the insane "coup" charge.

I want to bring in CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Jennifer Rodgers, to get her take.

Jennifer, what did you think?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I thought that Mueller's main point was throughout this statement to defend the investigation. I mean, yes, he defended the investigators personally, too, which I think was important.

But all of these attacks on the investigation and how it got started and what they did in the early days, it was really important, I think, for Mueller to come out and say, no, this investigation is really important. Here's what was happening in Russia. Here's how they were attacking our electoral systems. Here's why it was important for us to look at this. By the way, they could be used later. This evidence could have been used in a criminal case, could be against co- conspirators. Here's why it's important to gather it. Here's why we went into the obstruction side of things.

I think that's what he was doing. Really saying, this investigation was important, it was worthwhile, it was necessary. My team and I did our jobs the way we were supposed to do them. And trying to kind of tamp down and push back on all of those attacks on how the investigation got going and how it was conducted.

BLITZER: You know, it was very significant -- I want to play the clip -- what this special counsel said about the evidence that he collected and if there had been specific evidence he might have done something else. Listen to this.


MUELLER: The order appointing me special counsel authorized us to investigate actions that could obstruct the investigation. Now, we conducted that investigation and we kept the office of the acting attorney general apprised of the progress of our work.

And as set forth in the report, after that investigation, if we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so. We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime.


[11:20:10] BLITZER: All right, Michael Zeldin, that's a powerful statement we just heard from the special counsel.

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right. This was quintessential Mueller. A man of few words. And what he did in this 10 minutes was to deliver the executive summary that he wanted to be delivered with his report.

He hit all the highlights of the testimony that's in that report in a very succinct fashion, saying the two important things that we've all talked about, one, there was an interference with the election and that the Trump administration was receptive to that. And I did not charge, not because of any reason other than the evidence didn't allow me to charge it by DOJ policy. Those are two important statements for Mueller to have made.

BASH: But the other way to look at it is that he's saying, look, the president, you know, could have committed a crime here. Maybe did commit a crime here. By saying explicitly, if I could clear him, I would have, the flip side of that is he committed a crime and I did not have the power --


BASH: -- constitutionally to pursue it through a trial and, therefore, it was unfair to make that public accusation.

TAPPER: And, Shan, let me bring you in.

Do you agree that the headline here is, President Trump likely committed a crime but I cannot charge him because of the legal guidance that sitting presidents cannot be charged?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALAYST: Yes, I think he made it crystal clear that he could not charge Trump. He thought it would be unconstitutional to do so. He was bound by that OLC regulation.

TAPPER: Office of Legal Counsel.


KING: He said he would be unfair. He said, "not an option we could consider." And since you can't take the president to court, that there would be no proceeding while he was president, it would be unfair to the president.

But he essentially said, here it is. Here's 10 counts of potential obstruction --


KING: -- for those of you who of you who do have that option. I didn't have it.

PEREZ: I think that's the most important bit of daylight we've seen now between Mueller and Barr. Until today, we hadn't really heard exactly what Mueller has to say about Barr's contention that if you remember, Barr said that if it wasn't for the OLC, it didn't really matter. The OLC guidance did not really matter in the decision that they did not bring any charges on obstruction.

What Mueller clearly said today is, that is the only reason why. And so I think that that is an important clarification for us to have heard today from Robert Mueller's own mouth.

You know, because, again, his friend, Bill Barr, has led us to believe that Mueller told him, look, the OLC guidance didn't really matter here. That, you know, we were just -- we just chose not to make a decision.

TAPPER: And there's also a falsehood that's been put out by the White House, there have been several, obviously, but there's one having the idea that you can't obstruct an investigation if there's no underlying crime.

Obviously, many prosecutors have brought charges against individuals, including this Department of Justice in the last few months.

MURRAY: Roger Stone! Currently facing charges.

TAPPER: Yes, even though they weren't able to get proof of an underlying crime. And it seems very clear that Mueller does not subscribe to that falsehood. He lays out the cases of obstruction and said, if we could have cleared the president, we would have.

ZELDIN: Exactly. What he did was repeat his findings in this report in a very succinct way. He didn't say, but for, explicitly, but for the OLC opinion, I would have charged him, but he did say, because of the OLC opinion, we didn't reach a decision. I think there's a little bit of a difference.


BASH: But he also said, "If we had confidence that the president did not commit a crime, we would have said so."

ZELDIN: Exactly, exactly. And he said then --

BASH: That's the other side of the same coin.

ZELDIN: That's right. And he says, "In addition to that, the process exists outside of the criminal indictment process for this to be resolved," which is exactly what he said in the report.

PEREZ: Bit I think he also said, we could not consider this.

TAPPER: They couldn't even consider it.

PEREZ: They couldn't even consider it because of the OLC guidelines.

TAPPER: Which also, by the way, might have its roots in him saying that, in the fact that there's this book by Michael Wolff that claims that he had written up charges, an indictment of the president, which Mueller's office says is not true in any way, shape, or form. Mueller today saying, we never even could consider such a thing, might have had something to do with that as well.

PEREZ: I think that's an important thing for him to say, publicly, because that's what the Democrats -- that's the biggest thing the Democrats want to hear from him in a testimony. I think they want to hear, look, you know, could you tell us, did you draw up charges and someone told you you couldn't do it? Those are the big questions that I think people wanted to hear from him. And today he made explicitly clear that we could not even consider it because of the office of legal counsel. BLITZER: Because he said he accepts the long-standing Department of

Justice policy that a sitting president of the United States can't be charged while in office. And as a result, they obviously did not file any formal charges against the president.

And Gloria Borger, as we listened to this, clearly, what we just heard from the Special Counsel Robert Mueller will give the Democrats in the House of Representatives and maybe even more than one Republican -- we know there's at least one Republican -- this impetus to go forward now and formally launch impeachment proceedings.

[11:25:] GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLTITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think. And to follow up what you all are saying, and to John King's point, Robert Mueller's a company man.

And first, what he did was he said what he had said what he said to the president's attorneys privately, more than a year ago, which is, I'm not going to take on this long-standing Department of Justice policy, which says I can't indict a sitting president and charging the president with a crime was never anything we could consider. Then he went to the next point, which was, therefore, they didn't do it.

But if you read between the lines, he made it completely clear that if they could have done it, they would have done it, because they couldn't clear him. And you know, Dana -- Dana made that point.

So he was, he was, I think, telling everybody, look at what I'm saying. I couldn't do it, because the law would not allow me to, but even if the law did not allow me to charge him, I still could not clear him, and I am telling you that.

And it was also interesting to me that they probably investigated whether a president could be charged, even if kept under seal.

That's something that we hadn't really thought about before, but obviously, this team of lawyers looked into that. And said, well, maybe we can't charge him now, but we could keep it under seal and eventually when he leaves office, charge him. And the answer to that was also "no."

So he was bound by policy, he works for the Department of Justice, he works for the attorney general. And this is how he proceeded.

But I do think he laid it out for the Congress, Wolf, to answer your question. And I think they're going to take a look at this and say, OK, we really don't have to read between the lines here anymore. This policy kept him from indicting.

And remember, Mueller was criticized. You know, when you're an attorney, you either indict or you don't indict. You don't give this middle ground. Well, most lawyers are not bound bit Office of Legal Counsel opinion, which says you can indict somebody you're looking into, and that is why he did it this way.

So, I think he wanted to quash that criticism and let the Congress know, you know, I would have if I could have. TAPPER: And the point -- to the point you're making, Gloria, he said

specifically, the special counsel's office is part of the Department of Justice, and by regulation --

BORGER: Yes, yes.

TAPPER: -- his office was bound by the department policy.

And he also suggested, without talking about the House bringing up impeachment, that there was a way forward outside of the traditional criminal justice system or the Justice Department.

BORGER: That's right. And so I think he was saying, I couldn't, but you do what you need to do.

And you know, Jake, I remember early on in this, talking to all of the attorneys involved in this case, that Mueller made it clear, very early on, that he was bound by this policy. That he was not going to go rogue. He's not the kind of guy that does. That he wasn't going to go rogue and indict a sitting president, but he was criticized when he didn't do it.

And I think this was his answer to that, which was, look, I would have done it, but I was bound by your policy at the Department of Justice. So maybe he was letting Barr know, in his own way, well, this policy kept me from doing my job.

TAPPER: And, Sara Murray, three things that he made very clear in the body of -- we were told they were going to be substantial and substantive, and they were. One, this wasn't a witch hunt, despite what President Trump says. Two, my office has conducted itself with the highest integrity, unlike what President Trump says. Three, we did not clear the president of anything, unlike what President Trump says.

MURRAY: Right. And I think the thing we have to remember is that this is a guy who hasn't spoken in two years. And he decided very carefully every sentence of those remarks that he was going to make in only 10 minutes.

And in those 10 minutes, that's what he decided to cover. He wanted to make crystal clear that he was not exonerating the president, despite what Bill Barr may have said, and that there was an avenue to continue this inquiry and that that avenue was Congress.

The other thing that he said that I thought was interesting was this election interference was important and it needed to be investigated. And that's an important thing to remember, is that Bill Barr is looking into the origins of this investigation. Bob Mueller came out there and said, they tried to interfere in our election. This will continue. It needed to be investigated then and needs to be taken seriously now.


PEREZ: -- by the way. That's not -- even now, we don't know what Bill Barr is going to come up with as part of his review. You know, he's hired some very seasoned people, some people with good reputations to do this investigation of the investigations.

[11:30:07] But it should be reminded to everyone that how this began is because of Russian interference.