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Mueller: "Charging President with a Crime Was Not an Option We Could Consider" Due to DOJ Policy; Republican Rep. Justin Amash Critical of Trump; Trump Reacts to Mueller Speech. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired May 29, 2019 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: 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.

But it should be reminded to everyone that how this began is because of Russian interference, Russians' efforts to, you know, hurt one candidate and help another one. That's where this began.

You know, a lot of people will focus on the dossier, a lot of people will focus on a FISA, of Carter Page, and they'll say they were spying on a campaign. But at the beginning, this is all about what Russia was doing and that's the first line of what Mueller's --


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: He made no mention of this new investigation that the Attorney General Bill Barr --

PEREZ: Right.

BLITZER: -- has launched, an investigation into the investigation, why this investigation was launched to begin with.

PEREZ: And I bet you there's a reason why, Wolf. I guess he believes that whatever facts will come out will come out. And if anybody made mistakes, that should be exposed. I don't think he's opposed to essentially that.

But I think the political part of this, which is coming from the White House and from Republicans in Congress, that this was an illegitimate investigation, it's clearly not true.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And just to kind of take this notion of this report being a road map, a step further to include what we actually heard from Robert Mueller's lips about the fact that he seems to think that the president committed a crime but he can't do anything about it, and this is your job, Congress.

A huge political debate that we have been discussing since the Mueller report came out. The pressure that has been increasing on Nancy Pelosi from her caucus and from presidential candidates to start the impeachment inquiry, to hear from Robert Mueller, effectively saying, OK, go for it! It's going to only increase the pressure even more.

BLITZER: You know, I just want to point out -- John, I want you to weigh in -- because we keep hearing from the president of the United States, no collusion, no obstruction. He keeps saying it over and over and over again. That's clearly not what we heard from the special counsel.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, as we've been having this conversation the last few minutes, the Trump campaign sent out a fund-raising email with "witch hunt" in the first paragraph. This is not going to stop.

This is not going to stop, which is why words from the special counsel are so important after no words for two years. A man who, anybody except those in the president's inner orbit, has impeccable integrity. One-hundred to nothing was the vote in the United States Senate when they extended his term as the FBI director in the Obama administration. He carried over. One-hundred to nothing. That tells you something in polarized Washington.

I think to follow up on Dana's point, the words were so important. Number one -- and Evan discussed this also -- I do not question the attorney general's good faith. He didn't say, I agree with the attorney general. He didn't say we're fine. He said, I don't question his good faith.

It's very clear that Robert Mueller has differences with the attorney general. He's just not saying he's a bad person or he deliberately did anything. He's just made clear, I don't question his good faith. Implicit in that is, I don't agree with what he has said.

And to the other point, the report is my testimony. The report is my testimony. We did not charge the president because we could not. So we never even considered it. But the report is my testimony. Two smart lawyers at the table.

If you read the second half of this report, if that were John Doe or John King or Sara Murray or Wolf Blitzer, that person would be charged with obstruction of justice.

BLITZER: Not Wolf Blitzer.


TAPPER: I want to bring in Jim Sciutto right now.

Jim, obviously, the beginning and the end of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's conversations have to do specifically with the fact that Russians attempted and succeeded in an interference campaign in the 2016 election. He says, "Russian intelligence officers, who are part of the Russian military, launched a concerted attack on our political system."

That's how he began his remarks, and he ended it, with that, "There were multiple systemic attempts to interfere in our election. That allegation deserves the attention of every American." JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Here is a

special counsel, who has not spoken in public for two years since the start of this investigation, takes a rare decision to do that, and how does he use his voice? He contradicts the president on two fundamental issues.

One, as you note, Jake, on interference in the election. He says this is something that deserves attention from every American. That's not a message you've heard from the president on the significance of this.

He also stated explicitly that this Russian interference, which he called sophisticated, was designed and timed to damage a presidential candidate. That, of course, Hillary Clinton.

Again, we have a sitting president who has downplayed both the effects or even the existence of Russian interference in the election. So here you have a special counsel taking his first moment in public to use some of those precious minutes of that first public statement to highlight the seriousness, the depth of this risk and this danger to American democracy that he makes clear still remains.

The other point I would make, Jake, is just on the issue that you've been talking about here, which is contradicting the president on that key question, and really contradicting Bill Barr on the key question of no obstruction, right? The president has often repeated the phrase.

Bill Barr seemingly, misleadingly, misread the report to say, we didn't have the evidence, but the special counsel made clear, it wasn't the evidence that was the deciding factor, it was, as you and Wolf and others noted there, it was Department of Justice policy.

[11:35:09] That was in the report. We all read the report. We know it was in there. But clearly, as it's been digested and spun in Washington, there are players, including the president, who are taking something from the report that was not in the report.

And again, he uses precious moments in his first public speech in two years on this to make clear, no, it was the policy that precluded an indictment. That's remarkable to hear from a Robert Mueller at this moment in time.

TAPPER: And also, let me bring Michael Zeldin.

It's beyond the fact that President Trump might be the only senior person in the administration who hasn't fully acknowledged the idea that the Russians interfered in the 2016 election.

Beyond that, President Trump did not bring it up in his last phone conversation with Vladimir Putin when they were discussing Venezuela and other matters. He did not raise the subject that the Russians are, according to President Trump's own officials, still doing this.

And beyond that, Rudy Giuliani, the president's attorney, told me that there's nothing necessarily wrong with getting information from the Russians, depending on what it is. MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: And it is because he thinks that

the more you talk about that, the more it delegitimizes his election, and he just cannot tolerate that notion, that he was not legitimately elected, which he, of course, was.

The thing that I think is important to note, too, is that I think Mueller made an important point by saying, I couldn't indict him, constitutionally, by the OLC opinion, but I could investigate him and preserve the evidence when the memories were fresh. And he has put that now in a box and it's got a ribbon around it.

And when the president leaves office, I think Mueller is also saying to future prosecutors, when it's Donald Trump, private citizen, you may want to look at this then.

So Congress, you can look at it, future prosecutors, you may look at it, I couldn't look at it. And while I couldn't exonerate him, I didn't charge him.

TAPPER: Justin Amash -- you going to do it? Go ahead.

Justin Amash, from Michigan, Republican, something of an outlier in the Republican caucus, has been very critical of President Trump, especially on issues having to do with the Constitution.

Go ahead, Dana.

BASH: Well, it just says right there, the ball is in our court, Congress. As you said, he is a lone GOP voice.

But, Jake, in addition to that, the House Judiciary chairman, who has been trying to balance on the head of a pin on this question of whether or not to pursue impeachment, and thanks to conversations with the Democratic leadership.

He also just released a statement saying, "At the end, it falls to Congress to respond to the crime, lies and other wrongdoing of President Trump and we will do so. No one, not even the president of the United States is above the law."

He doesn't say, OK, impeachment inquiry coming. But that's leaning pretty far into --


KING: The box around the Democrats is getting smaller.

BASH: Exactly.

KING: The flexibility they have.

PEREZ: If you heard from what Bob Mueller just said, too, I mean, he discussed the fact that there's underlying evidence and that there's a process being worked on with the Justice Department perhaps for Congress to be able to access that. You notice, he didn't say, they shouldn't. He mentions it. And I

think that's an important thing, also. I think Congress should take those words and see it as encouragement that it is something that they should work on.

I mean, there's now precedent, thanks to President Trump and the Republicans, the Republican majority, right, in the last couple of years, to get access to FBI interviews, 302s and so on. So now perhaps they can get access some of these interviews that were part of the obstruction inquiry.

BLITZER: We're getting reaction now from the president of the United States.

Abby Phillip is over at the White House.

Clearly, he's using his favorite medium, namely Twitter.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And I think this is basically what folks expected. The president himself weighing in and basically saying, this is old news. He says, "Nothing changes from the Mueller report. There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our country, a person is innocent. The case is closed." And he ends, "Thank you."

But as you've been discussing, what Mueller really said was that there was a lot of evidence, but they could not, according to DOJ regulations, do anything with it.

The president is spinning that into, there's insufficient evidence and he is therefore innocent.

There was clearly no effort to charge the president, no trial, and Mueller makes it clear the reason that there wasn't any sort of charge or trial was because, quite simply, they could not charge a sitting president.

So I think this is what you're going to be hearing from the White House today. They are downplaying this totally by basically saying Mueller didn't advance the ball in any way, did not provide any additional evidence.

But I think the question now turns to, did Mueller punt the ball over to Congress saying, we couldn't do anything, now it's up to you.

[11:40:04] This is the other thing that President Trump has been very concerned about. He has been saying that the Democrats just simply want to impeach me, just because they want to damage him politically. I think this is really going to put the spotlight on that issue of impeachment going forward.

TAPPER: All right, Abby Phillip, thank you so much.

A fairly restrained comment from President Trump, I would say. "Insufficient evidence, therefore, the case is closed, thank you." None of the, "Mueller has conflicts of interest," he had, "19 angry Democrats," no all caps, no, "No collusion," no, "No obstruction."


BLITZER: That's coming later. Just wait.


TAPPER: That comment, the old news, nothing to see, case closed, is the more traditional kind of White House response, one that perhaps the president would have benefited himself had he stuck with it the whole time. I suspect that's not going to be the last we hear.

SARA MURRAY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You can't rewind 200 years of railing against the special counsel -- or two years! Feels like 200!


Two years of railing against the special counsel on Twitter.

But of course, he says, the case is closed. Wouldn't anyone who is being investigated for a crime like to announce, the case is closed and we're done here.

That's not what Bob Mueller said, he basically said, Congress, over to you, and Bill Barr, the one who Donald Trump handpicked to put in that job, is the one who said the case is closed. Robert Mueller said, that's not our case to make. It's not my call to make. It's not Bill Barr's call to make. Over to you, Congress.

ZELDIN: The one thing we have to remember, though, is he said his report is his testimony. He's not saying anything today different than that, which is in his report.

In his report, he says he does not want to preempt congressional ability to look into this. He does not have the ability to charge. And he is not exonerating. That's his testimony. So his testimony is his report.

And I think we have to be careful not to say what he said today is different than what he said in his report, because he said twice, this is my testimony.

But he also said, importantly, that there's a process that doesn't concern me, Mueller, to get the underlying documents. And I think that's interesting, that he acknowledges that that is a process.


KING: But to Jake's point about the president's tone, because that is different. It's very different to say, you know, there's insufficient evidence, therefore, case closed. The president was watching this in the residence, we're told. I would be really interested to know who was around him. Whether there were --

(CROSSTALK) KING: Whether there were staff or lawyers just to tell him to tone it down.

Because saying there was insufficient evidence is very different than saying, this was a deep state coup, it was illegal, everything they did is wrong and wicked and evil. That's a very different tone. Now we'll see the president's mood and tone often changes on these things.

But it's really interesting that the first thing he says is a much more legalistic argument, let's move on, as opposed to the normal political, "They're all out to get me and it's illegal and every bit of it is a crime"

TAPPER: And, Shan, let's reiterate what I think there's some consensus that we agree is the most important sentence that Robert Mueller said today, the special counsel, quote, "If we had confidence that the president did not commit a crime, we would have said so."

That's a pretty damning thing for the special counsel to say.

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. Huge emphasis on that point. And he's a man of so few words that the ones he utters takes on great significance.

Also, to the whole road map point, as John points out is in the report, he also chose to emphasize it was part of their charge to preserve the evidence while it was fresh. We did that. It's here for you. And that was another point emphasized that we've laid it out for you, it's, therefore, for you to use.

Could be for future prosecutors. But it also seems, he also emphasized the alternate process, not criminal investigation, which is obviously Congress. He put those two together. It seems a pretty simple equation.

BLITZER: He's clearly sending a message to Congress, now it's up to you. You guys figure this out. I've said what I have to say. I'm not saying anything else. He may be subpoenaed. He may be forced to come up and testify before Congress, but he clearly does not want to do so.

Joining us on the phone right now is James Clapper, the former director of National Intelligence. He's a CNN national security analyst right now.

So what was your reaction, General Clapper?

JAMES CLAPPER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST (via telephone): Well, first, I thought it was, as has been noted, classic Bob Mueller, understated, but I think he clearly thought about every word.

And I'll just reinforce a point that Jake made earlier. I think the most important thing he said was at the end, and that is about the Russian interference in our election and the attempt to damage one of the candidates. And what an important message that is for the American people. I really resonate strongly about that. I've felt strongly about this

ever since we did our Intelligence Community assessment about this and delivered to President Obama on the 5th of January of 2017 and president-elect Trump the next day.

[11:45:00] And I thought it was a very compelling -- understated but compelling rebuttal of a lot of the attacks on him and his team. And I thought, in a gentle way, it was kind of a pushback on the attorney general, as well.

BLITZER: Well, he made it clear that his conclusion, the conclusion of his investigators, is exactly the same as the U.S. Intelligence Community has concluded during the Obama administration and even during the Trump administration, that, A, the Russians interfered, the initial goal was to sew dissent in the United States.

The second goal was to embarrass and hurt Hillary Clinton in case he was selected president to weaken her as much as possible.

But the third goal was to help Donald Trump, because they thought he would be better for Russian than Hillary Clinton would be, even though they assumed Hillary Clinton would be elected.

And he has reiterated that position, which the Intelligence Community has stated, but the president, General Clapper, is reluctant to state himself.

CLAPPER: Yes, exactly, Wolf. And you have it exactly right. Three essential teams of that original Intelligence Community assessment, which, by the way, the current leadership of the Intelligence Community has reiterated on more than one occasion.

And you're also quite right, and this is what is, I think, dangerous and disturbing, is the president's refusal to acknowledge that.


TAPPER: And, General Clapper, I was noting earlier, not only has the president not acknowledged it in a forthright way, that the Russians attempted to interfere in the 2016 election, they tried to help him, they tried to hurt Hillary Clinton, they're still going to try to interfere in the election. They did so, they tried in 2018, they're going to try in 2020.

But in a phone call with Vladimir Putin, he did not even raise the subject. And Rudy Giuliani, the president's attorney, at CNN, told me in a "STATE OF THE UNION" interview, that there's nothing necessarily wrong with accepting information from the Russians, and to Chuck Todd, he went so far as to say, even if that information was stolen.

So one wonders if this happened in 2016 and the president and his team think there's nothing wrong with it, excluding his national security officials and his intelligence officials, what's going to happen with in 2020?

CLAPPER: That's a great question, Jake. I assume that the rest of the government will continue to do what it has done, at least my impression, is to take measures to prevent a recurrence of what happened in 2016. And even in the absence of the president acknowledging it and worse, taking a leadership to do something about it.

And that's what's missing here, there's a void here and I've long contended this, because of the unique bully pulpit that only the president occupies to galvanize the American public's attention and concern about this.

And I think Mueller's statement is yet another attempt to do that. It's just something all Americans should think about.

TAPPER: Thank you, General Clapper. We appreciate your time.

I want to bring in CNN's Gloria Borger right now.

Gloria, a lot of responses coming in from Capitol Hill, from the White House, all over town.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. And I can't emphasize enough, and we've all been talking about this, that what Mueller d without saying anything, in a way, that he didn't sort of state in the report, is he said to Jerry Nadler and he said to Nancy Pelosi and he said to the Democrats in Congress, my hands were tied, but yours are not. You can do whatever you want to do, but I was bound and gagged. I could not indict the president of the United States.

But you can follow up with what you're going to do, whether it's impeachment. He didn't mention the word, obviously. But he made it very clear, I think, that there were still other things Congress could do.

And in reading Jerry Nadler's statement, a couple of things are interesting to me. One is, he didn't say, we're going to demand Bob Mueller come and testify. We, you know, Bob Mueller made it very clear, I'm sorry. Even if you had me up there, I'd effectively read from my report to you. So what would be the point of having me up there? I am not going to answer any hypotheticals, as he put it. And so it's not going to be worth your time.

So Jerry Nadler really did not address that. What he did say, what he did say is that if, you know, Congress is going to respond to the crimes, lies and other wrongdoing of President Trump and we will do so.

So he was listening to Bob Mueller as well. And I wonder now, whether, as John King was saying, the walls are closing in on the leadership and they're going to have to do something after Mueller spoke.

BLITZER: Yes, clearly, the pressure now has intensified --

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: -- I would say pretty dramatically in the aftermath of Mueller's statement --

BORGER: Yes, yes.

BLITZER: -- that we just had on the Democrats in the House of Representatives, and they are the majority, to formally launch impeachment inquiries, impeachment proceedings.

[11:50:17] It's interesting, Dana -- Gloria, as you point out, in the final statement from Jerry Nadler, "Given that Special Counsel Mueller was unable to pursue criminal charges against the president, it falls to Congress to respond to the crimes, lies and other wrongdoing of President Trump and we will do so. No one, not even the president of the United States is above the law."

Let's go to Laura Jarrett over at the Justice Department. She is getting more information, as well.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Wolf, I'm told by a source familiar that in terms of looking at whether Mueller wants to testify as you were speaking about Nadler's position on all this, we should focus in on his words where he says, "My hope and my expectation is that this is the last you will hear from me," meaning the last you will hear from me, period.

"I do not want to testify in front of Congress," which is consistent with what we have been reporting over the last couple of weeks that he was concerned about being part of the political spectacle. But he went on to say if the issue is forced or compelled to come, I am not going to go beyond the four corners of this report.

You see a lot of members of Congress reacting to his statement today in front of the cameras. But in many ways, the statement tracks what he said in the report itself. He did not provide really any new evidence or conclusions today that we hadn't heard in that report. So I think it is just important to highlight that he wants to try to stick to the report.

Separately, I wanted to highlight a little bit the issue that we had been talking about on the predominance of how much the long-standing guidance from the Justice Department on not indicting a sitting president really weighed on the special counsel's team here and the difference between what they're saying and what the attorney general had said a couple weeks ago.

We had the sound from the attorney general, Bill Barr, announcing the closing of the investigation. I want to play for you what the attorney general told me on that day.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Mr. Attorney general, we don't have the report in hand. So could you explain for us the special counsel's articulated reason for not reaching a decision on obstruction of justice and if it had anything to do with the department's long- standing guidance on not indicting a sitting president and you saying you disagreed with legal theories. What did you disagree with him on? ROBERT MUELLER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENRAL: I leave it to his description

in the report, the special counsel's own articulation of why he did not want to make a determination as to whether or not there was an obstruction offense.

But I will say when we met with him -- Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and I met with him, along with Ed O'Callahan (ph), who is the principle associate deputy, on March 5, we specifically asked him about the OLC opinion and whether or not he was taking the position that he would have found a crime but for the existence of the OLC opinion.

And he made it very clear several times that that was not his position. He was not saying that, but for the OLC opinion, he would have found a crime. He made it clear that he had not made the determination that there was a crime.


JARRETT: So the key there obviously for Barr is this "but for" sort of causality situation that he is setting up there.

But it almost misses the point because as we heard from Mueller today and as we saw in the report, the OLC guidance, Office of Legal Counsel, which provides guidance on not indicting a sitting president, really did weigh heavily on the special counsel's team, so much so that they didn't even reach that question. It's almost as if it was irrelevant.

As the special counsel articulated today, in his view, it would be unfair to try to even look at that question because you can't defend yourself in court since you can't indict him, but it also was unconstitutional, at least according to Mueller's articulation of it today.

So I wanted to highlight how almost Barr and Mueller are talking past each other on this issue of indicting a sitting president guidance -- Jake, Wolf?

TAPPER: All right, Laura Jarrett, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Shan, let me bring you in.

If you listen to what the attorney general, he said, in April, and then put it up to next to what Robert Mueller said today, you can give him good faith or not, but it doesn't sound like Attorney General Barr represented accurately what Special Counsel Mueller thinks.

WU: Bob Mueller can give him good faith. I don't think I can. Extraordinarily misleading the way he parsed those words.

[11:55:06] His statement that his discussion with the representative from the special counsel's office indicated that the OLC, Office of Legal Counsel, opinion did not prevent them from finding a crime. That is a red herring. Because what Mueller says that opinion prevented them from even considering whether they could reach that conclusion.

So Barr carefully parsed that to make it sound like the OLC opinion had nothing to do with this. Actually, it completely stopped them from considering that path, so very misleading.

TAPPER: Also the idea, Michael Zeldin, the idea that even without the OLC opinion memo, Robert Mueller did not think that the president had committed any sort of crime. That's something else that the attorney general suggested in his remarks, also not supported by what Robert Mueller said today.

ZELDIN: He didn't find, Mueller, evidence of an underlying crime.


TAPPER: Underlying crime.

ZELDIN: That's right. That's what Barr said. Barr said, in obstruction of justice, typically, you have an underlying crime, obstructive acts geared toward a particular tribunal.


ZELDIN: He said -- no, no. I'm saying this is what Barr said, because there was no evidence of an underlying crime, I, in my discretion as attorney general, determined.

Mueller's language is different. He said, "If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would have said so. Based on the facts and applicable legal standards, however, we were unable to reach that judgment."

That's not exactly, but for the legal opinion, we would have. He is saying there are complicated legal facts and law and we were unable to.

BLITZER: A historic day unfolding here in Washington, D.C. For the first time, we have heard directly, publicly from the Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Our special coverage will continue right after a quick break.