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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Interview With Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA); Robert Mueller Finally Speaks Out. Aired 4-4:30p ET
Aired May 29, 2019 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Look, this is where Mattis, the last secretary of defense, had to resign. He felt he couldn't live with what the president decided.
What will be Shanahan's red line? How far is he willing to publicly differ with the president?
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Got it. Barbara Starr, thank you.
And thank you for being with me. I'm Brooke Baldwin.
"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts now.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Bob Mueller did not specifically mention President Donald Trump by name, but he sure seemed to have a message for him.
THE LEAD starts right now.
After two years of waiting, the special counsel finally talks about the Russia probe publicly. He does not clear the president of a crime. And the White House is attempting an, eh, old news strategy.
Mueller's between-the-lines message, it's up to Congress to take action against President Trump or not. So what will Democrats do? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi just weighed in. What did she say?
And some 2020 presidential candidates now calling for impeachment proceedings after Mueller's statement. One of the Democratic hopefuls who has not gone that far will join me live. Has he changed his mind?
Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.
We begin today with our politics lead.
Breaking his silence. After two years of quietly and methodically investigating Russian election interference, special counsel Robert Mueller today spoke publicly on the subject for the first time. And while Mueller did not specifically call out President Donald Trump by name, he did refute many of the false claims the president has been peddling, including the idea that the investigation should never have even begun, that it was a witch-hunt. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT MUELLER, RUSSIA PROBE SPECIAL COUNSEL: Russian intelligence officers who are part of the Russian military launched a concerted attack on our political system.
They needed to be investigated and understood.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Or the notion that this was an investigation conducted by a partisan gang of angry Democrats looking to stage a coup against the Trump presidency.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MUELLER: These individuals who spent nearly two years with the special counsel's office were of the highest integrity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Or, perhaps most importantly, Mueller totally exonerated the president on obstruction of justice, in President Trump's view.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MUELLER: If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Mueller also making clear today he views the 448-page report as his testimony and has zero interest in speaking further with Congress.
As CNN's Sara Murray now reports for us, Mueller, a former FBI director, made sure to end his 10-minute statement where the investigation began, Russian election interference and the ongoing threat from the Kremlin.
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After two years of complete silence on the investigation, special counsel Robert Mueller chose his words carefully, emphasizing he did not clear President Trump of obstructing justice.
MUELLER: 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.
MURRAY: Instead, Mueller says he was unable to make that decision due to Department of Justice regulations.
MUELLER: Under longstanding department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional. Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.
MURRAY: Mueller's own words a sharp contrast to Attorney General William Barr's earlier suggestion that the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, or OLC, guidelines did not weigh heavily on Mueller's decision.
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: 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.
MURRAY: Today, Mueller appeared to point the obstruction issue to Congress, ramping up the pressure on Capitol Hill for impeachment.
MUELLER: The opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.
MURRAY: Mueller also making clear that his personal preference is not to testify, but, if forced, he will stick within the bounds of his report.
MUELLER: We chose those words carefully and the work speaks for itself. And the report is my testimony.
MURRAY: After two years of attacks from President Trump...
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When they talk about obstruction, we fight back. and you know why we fight back? Because I knew how illegal this whole thing was. It was a scam.
MURRAY: ... Mueller defended his investigation, saying the obstruction probe was paramount.
MUELLER: When the subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government's effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.
MURRAY: And despite Trump's constant refrain...
TRUMP: I call it the Russian hoax. It's a total witch-hunt.
MURRAY: ... Mueller's team found evidence that Russia did influence the 2016 election to try to benefit Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton.
MUELLER: Russian intelligence officers who are part of the Russian military launched a concerted attack on our political system.
The releases were designed and timed to interfere with our election and to damage a presidential candidate.
MURRAY: The president tweeting today: "There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our country, a person is innocent. The case is closed."
But while Mueller did not charge the Trump campaign for conspiring with Russians, he did not say there was no evidence, only:
MUELLER: There was insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy.
MURRAY: Now, Bob Mueller said today that he was going to resign and he's going to go back to private life. We are now learning that it will be his last day today as special counsel.
His spokesman, Peter CARROLL: , is confirming that. And, Jake, also, as he was giving this -- comments today, he was sure to go out of his way to thank the members of his team for their integrity, for their fairness. I have to imagine he felt that was important to do, in light of all of these attacks that the president has lobbed against them over the past two years.
TAPPER: All right, and let's chew over all of this, but Sara, let me just ask you, what's the bottom line? What's the most important thing that Mueller said today?
MURRAY: I think the most important thing is, you know, if we could have cleared the president of committing a crime, we would have done that. He was very clear that he felt it was sort of out of his ability to make that decision, to be able to fully exonerate the president because of the evidence that he had available.
And he felt it was out of his bounds to say that the president committed a crime. It would have been unfair. It would have been unconstitutional. And, you know, if you read the report, you can see where there were a number of instances where the president acted in a way that certainly looked like obstruction of justice.
TAPPER: What do you think, Carrie? What do you think the bottom line was for Mueller? What did he want us to walk away with?
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think, first of all, he wanted us to walk away and know that the Russian interference effort was serious. And he made that point specifically.
TAPPER: And ongoing.
CORDERO: And ongoing.
CORDERO: But on -- and so I think he wanted to make that national security point for the country and make sure that that doesn't leave our consciousness as we talk about the politics and everything else.
But this obstruction point is also impossible to look away from, because I think what he was really saying is, Congress has a job to do. And he, as a prosecutor, as a Justice Department prosecutor, under the regulations, has done as much as he possibly can. He can't do more.
It's not prosecutors' job to charge a president of the United States.
TAPPER: And, Juliette, Mueller said nice things about Attorney General Barr, and said whatever -- suggested whatever disagreements he had were in good faith.
But if you look at what Mueller said about how much he relied on the Office of Legal Counsel guidance that a sitting president cannot be indicted and what the attorney general said in April, there's a real disconnect.
Let -- I think we have the sound of the attorney general, question three, if we can run that.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARR: 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: Is that a contradiction, do you think?
JULIETTE KAYYEM, FORMER DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY ASSISTANT SECRETARY: Absolutely.
And I think people like to always say that Mueller is not political. I think he's incredibly political, in a good way. I don't mean that in a bad way, that he did not want the story to be Barr completely misled the American public. He wanted the story to be, basically, volume one and volume two.
Volume one, the Russians, as Carrie was saying, do not forget volume one. It is the Russians. They will continue to do it. They will undermine our democracies, not just here, but, of course, in other democracies.
And then essentially volume two, which essentially says, I'm done, right? I did what I needed to do. It is now a different sort of judgment, a different jury that has to determine where are you going to take the findings of volume two?
So I viewed him as being very political. And that's OK, right? He wants -- there's other audiences. It's either Congress or the American public.
TAPPER: And, Jeremy Diamond, you cover the White House.
The White House put out a fund-raising e-mail declaring this as a hoax and a witch-hunt. And President Trump tweeted: "Nothing changes from the Mueller report. There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our country, a person is innocent. The case is closed. Thank you."
A relatively strained comment from the president as of 4:09 p.m. Eastern.
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: For now.
DIAMOND: For now, yes.
But, at the same time, I think there was also a lot of misleading commentary in both the president's tweet there, where he seems to suggest that the only reason that Bob Mueller concluded or couldn't conclude that he committed a crime on obstruction of justice was because of insufficient evidence.
That was Mueller's justification on the question of a conspiracy with the Russians to interfere in the 2016 election.
DIAMOND: As far as obstruction of justice, Mueller was very clear that it was because of the OLC opinion and because of this idea that he didn't want to accuse a sitting president of a crime when he didn't have the opportunity to defend himself in that way.
But Sarah Sanders also today was repeatedly making this claim that it was a question of insufficient evidence.
And I think that it comes back to the idea of, why did Bob Mueller want to deliver these remarks today? One of the reasons, clearly, is because he feels like a lot of the central points of his report were lost on the American public, in part because of the president's efforts and his allies' efforts to really obfuscate the general conclusions of that and to try to portray them in a much more favorable light to himself.
TAPPER: And perhaps the other reason, Justin Amash, Republican congressman from Michigan, he tweeted: "The ball is in our court, Congress."
That's his interpretation of this. A lot of House Democrats agree with that.
Do you agree? Is that one of the messages that he was saying? The ball's in your court, Congress?
What the special counsel was describing is constitutional responsibilities. He viewed it, as a prosecutor under Department of Justice regulations, that it was outside the bounds of his constitutional sphere to be able to make a recommendation to charge the president with a crime.
But then it is Congress' job. And Congressman Amash is standing up and saying that, as a Republican, that Congress has a job to do. And they can't shirk their constitutional responsibilities.
The other point is that the statement of special counsel Mueller shows that it is impossible to square that with what the attorney general said in his press conference and his letter, and that's just apparent now. The special counsel was specific to what he put in his report, and that is just not what the attorney general led the American people to believe.
TAPPER: And Sarah Sanders was on a different channel, the president's favorite channel, saying there was no collusion, Mueller made it very clear, very specifically, there's no collusion.
Actually, Mueller says, I'm not talking about collusion in this report, because it has no legal term. I'm talking about conspiracy. And the conclusion is not that there was none, but that there was insufficient evidence of it to bring a prosecutable case.
KAYYEM: Right. Absolutely. If he could have exonerated the president -- and I thought that was just a key line -- if I could have exonerated the president, I would have.
TAPPER: To say that out loud.
KAYYEM: I know. Would have in heartbeat. Of course you would have.
And the failure to do it, or -- then we're -- it's up to us to read the silences. Right? And Mueller has given us enough. He doesn't have to lay everything out.
It means their failure to exonerate the president or their not exonerating the president means that there is something to move forward with. Now, whether that is the cases that are ongoing, whether it's impeachment, that's up to us.
And I think, just going back to the Russia issue on volume one, because I just -- we cannot forget volume one, because we have an election coming up. He was clear to say that was the reason why he indicted all of these Russian entities, because, even if we can't get them into court, you're basically naming and shaming them.
TAPPER: And they're doing it again.
TAPPER: He's made it very clear, as have Trump administration officials, if not the president himself.
The White House says, bring on the impeachment proceedings. It could actually help the president, they believe. Should Democrats proceed with caution?
Next, I will talk to presidential candidate, member of the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees, Congressman Eric Swalwell.
Stay with us.
[16:17:16] TAPPER: In our politics lead now, President Trump watched Robert Mueller deliver his first public remarks on the investigation in years, from the White House residence today, sources tell CNN. And the president, as of now, has sent just one tweet with a fairly muted reaction.
But a senior White House official predicts that the Mueller statement will drive Democrats towards impeachment and that will help the president, the official claims.
CNN's Abby Phillip is live for us at the White House now.
Abby, what are sources telling you about how the president is feeling about Mueller and today?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, earlier today, Jake, sources were telling us that the president was pretty even keeled about what was to come. And shortly after Mueller gave his statement, White House officials were telling me that they felt that there was nothing to it. One official described it as a nothingburger.
And I think the sense that we are getting from the White House this afternoon is that they don't think that what Mueller had to say really moved the ball in any substantive way. However, to the extent that it might drive Democrats toward impeachment, the response from President Trump, the White House, and his allies is essentially, bring it on.
A White House official telling me that this would be a great way for them to re-take the house of representatives, believing -- the White House believes that Democrats will go too far on this.
But there is a sort of lingering question about how the White House is describing all of this. Sarah Huckabee Sanders basically said, you know, this is a done deal. If Mueller had any evidence that President Trump should have been charged with obstruction of justice in particular, he should have said so in his report. But, of course, Mueller's made it clear that he couldn't accuse the president of obstruction of justice, because the president cannot be charged while in office. Sarah Sanders' response to that was that Congress should not even bother to take it up, because that has already been investigated thoroughly by the special counsel.
So there is a little bit of spin happening here, as the White House tries to reframe what Robert Mueller had to say. But at the end of the day, I think the president is looking forward to making this a political issue for 2020, believing that it will ultimately help motivate his base going into his re-election bid -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right. Abby Phillip at the White House for us, thank you so much.
We have some news breaking in our politics lead. Just moments ago, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, Democrat of California, responded to Mueller's comments saying, quote: We look forward to Mueller's testimony before congress. While I understand his reluctance to answer hypotheticals or deviate from the carefully worded conclusions he drew on his charging decisions, there are, nevertheless, a great many questions that Mueller can answer that go beyond the report.
And moments ago, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it would be helpful for Mueller to testify. Joining me now is Democratic presidential candidate and congressman,
Eric Swalwell, Democrat of California. He serves on both the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees.
[16:20:00] Congressman, thanks so much for stopping by. We appreciate it.
REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Of course.
TAPPER: You have stopped short of calling for impeachment. Given what you heard today, do you think it's time to initiate proceedings or are you still where you were?
SWALWELL: I'm preparing for impeachment, Jake. No one can question the vigor I've shown to hold this president accountable, but unlike all of the other candidates in the presidential field, I would actually have to try to the case on the Judiciary Committee, and I take that seriously. So I want to make sure we have all the documents, we get all the witnesses first, and that starts with getting the full Mueller report, having the special counsel testify, getting Don McGahn to come in, and we're working on all of that with oversight and winning court fights.
But I'm certainly prepared. And when I go to court and when I was a prosecutor, I had my pencil sharpened, my subpoenas ready and my witnesses and exhibits ready to go because I knew I only had one shot and that's how I'm approaching this.
TAPPER: I want to get your reaction to one key sentence that Mueller had to say today. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT MUELLER, SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: What was your reaction to that, sir?
SWALWELL: Any other American would have been charged with a crime, is what the special counsel was saying. But the president is protected by a Department of Justice policy. Now, I have said is that if elected as president, I would lift that policy on day one.
The president, if he's so confident he didn't commit a crime and Sarah Sanders said that there was no obstruction, he should order the Department of Justice to lift that policy and see if bob Mueller would find that he committed a crime. No other American would be treated above the law, Jake. And this president seems to think that he is.
TAPPER: Mueller made clear that he has no interest in testifying. Do you think that he should be subpoenaed? And would closed testimony be acceptable to you on the Intelligence Committee?
SWALWELL: We're going to hear from special counsel Mueller. I understand he's reluctant and that's, you know, his job is to be reluctant and be objective about this. Our job is to be passionate and pursue his report.
He's going to come in, I believe what will ultimately happen is the Intelligence Committee will hear about the counterintelligence mission below ground, not in the public, not to sacrifice sources and methods. But the Judiciary Committee will ultimately hear from the special counsel in public.
And, Jake, what special counsel Mueller did not say in his report is critical, which is, after 200 pages of contacts between the Russians and the Trumps that he laid out, he never said, these relationships ended. And that's what is really at stake. Are there ongoing threats to our country because the president and his team are still in contact with the Russians who are determined to attack us?
TAPPER: But, Congressman, Mr. Mueller has said that his testimony is the report. And that if he's called to testify, basically, he's just going to read from his report. So, why do you need him to testify?
SWALWELL: So he can read from his report. Seeing is believing. And most Americans -- look, my wife and kid -- my wife and I, we have a hard enough time getting our kids to school, feeding them, picking them up from day care, doing our own jobs, that's the story for most Americans. However, hearing Bob Mueller raise his right hand, testify to congress, seeing the news capture that, that would be quite illuminating for most Americans rather than going and clicking through 400 pages of a report.
And so, that was done during Watergate. I think that would be highly effective if he did that now.
TAPPER: I want to ask you, you said as president you would eliminate the office of legal counsel memo that says a sitting president cannot be indicted.
Wouldn't that open up a can of worms in terms of anytime there's an investigation into the president, he really can't achieve anything for the country? I mean, one of the explanations for the part of the Mueller report where President Trump hears that the special counsel has been appointed and he says, we're F'd, except he doesn't use the word "F'd," one interpretation of that is, oh, my god, I'm not going to be able to accomplish anything for the American people because I'll be dealing with this investigation the whole time.
Wouldn't that be a potential problem? SWALWELL: No, Jake, I actually believe that President Nixon
demonstrated while he was president that he was under investigation and was able to work with Congress to increase the minimum wage, to pass infrastructure bills and that a president under investigation can still work and get things done. I also believe, because of the transparency we have today, unlike ever in American history, that the scrutiny of the media would protect against any unlawful investigation or, you know, any coup attempt that I believe this policy in the past sought to protect against.
And again, this president has demonstrated that this policy goes too far in the way that it protects him from being held accountable.
TAPPER: Congressman Eric Swalwell, Democrat of California, thank you so much for your time, sir. Have fun out there on the campaign trail.
SWALWELL: Thanks, Jake. My pleasure.
TAPPER: What do the rest of House Democrats think is the best step when it comes to President Trump and impeachment? Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[16:29:38] REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): With respect to impeachment question at this point, all options are on the table and nothing should be ruled out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: That's the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Chairman Jerry Nadler, on whether or not he plans on beginning impeachment proceedings against President Trump. He added that no one is above the law.
But the question, of course, for Democrats, what to do next and it is dividing the caucus in the House of Representatives.
Let's chat about this.
Seung Min, Nadler is not taking it off the table, but he really seems to be walking a tight rope here.