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Mueller To Speak On Russia Probe At 11:00 A.M. ET. Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired May 29, 2019 - 10:00   ET

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


SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Has fed that perception.

[10:00:01]

So with Mueller now finally adding his voice, that will hurt the President's ability to continue this line of total exoneration, Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: Right, especially when it's not true. It doesn't match the facts. Sarah Westwood, thanks very much.

Top of the hour here, I am Jim Sciutto in New York. Our breaking news, a bombshell in the making. Robert Mueller, the Special Counsel, who has not said a word in public since he took over the Russia investigation two years ago this very month, is set to make a public statement, his first public statement one hour from now.

This comes amid weeks of negotiations with the House Judiciary Committee over whether and how he will answer questions on the Hill about the report that he submitted in March and will he take questions, will he take them in public? A lot of open questions there about the testimony. But no question now that in one hour, less than an hour, you will hear from that man there for the first time since the start of this investigation.

Our Dana Bash is in Washington. Dana, you and I have been covering this investigation since the very start. Tell us about the significance of this moment.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You really can't overstate how significant it is, in that, as you said, we have not heard from Robert Mueller. Obviously, we have a very dense, lengthy, detailed report from Mueller and his team about the investigation that lasted two years, the conclusion of what it meant. But even in trial after trial, courtroom after courtroom, we heard and saw members of Mueller's team, not Robert Mueller himself. We basically have, you know, the pictures and the video that our team got of him going in and out of his office all that time.

So this is hugely significant. The fact that they are telling us from the Justice Department that he is going to make a statement. He is not going to take questions, obviously begs a very big question in terms of the content. Why does he feel so compelled to come out to say whatever it is that he's going to say, especially given the back and forth that you've been talking about with our colleagues over whether or not he should or will testify, not just privately, but more importantly, publicly before the House Judiciary Committee.

SCIUTTO: You know, we have not heard his voice, words come out of his mouth, Dana, but as you know, he did submit not one but two letters to the Attorney General following Attorney General Barr's characterization of the Mueller findings, which Mueller in those letters, we now know, says, hey, wait a second, you're not saying what I said in my report here. And I wonder what kind of potential conflict that sets up in these comments here.

Again, we don't know if he's going to repeat that line of argument. We also don't know if Bill Barr signed off on whatever public statement Bob Mueller is about to make here. But the fact is, there is already a public disagreement, is there not, between Bob Mueller and Bill Barr on this?

BASH: Absolutely. Absolutely. A public disagreement that Robert Mueller clearly wanted to be public after he was frustrated, to say the least, by the way that the Attorney General characterized his report in the summary that was sort of the only thing out there for weeks before the actual Mueller report came out. You know, we don't know.

The real -- we hate to say this when we're on television, especially at something so big. We are trying to do reporting, but we don't know the content of what he is going to say in about an hour. It is going to be about the most dramatic moment, I think, it's fair to say, that we have had. And that says a lot, given the drama that we have seen and we have been a part of for all of these months and even years in the Trump era.

SCIUTTO: No question. It makes you think of the Comey testimony a couple of years back after his firing. Dana bash, stand by, certainly a lot more to cover here.

Laura Jarrett is at the Justice Department where, in less than an hour, the Special Counsel will make these groundbreaking public comments, or at least public statement here. Laura, what are you learning now as we get closer to that moment?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Jim, we're still trying to figure out exactly what he will say. But as Dana pointed out, I think the timing here is really interesting. You know, the investigation has been over for quite some time. So why now is the day that he chooses to speak out, of all days? We know that he's been going into work every day. We've been trying to figure out exactly what he's been up to. The Justice Department really won't provide any details on what he's doing every day. And so we've been asking the question on.

And he's finally now going to get to speak for himself. We haven't even heard his voice in many, many years. He hasn't made any public statement. He hasn't come to court. He hasn't appeared at the Justice Department for any of the press conference that other senior justice officials have done on some of the cases, some of the indictments.

[10:05:00]

He has let his deputies handle all of those proceedings.

So it will be interesting to hear how he frames whatever argument or statement that he wants to make about the report itself or about his testimony. We don't yet know whether he will address some of the findings of the report. We recall, as you pointed out, in the last hour, he had concerns about how the Attorney General, Bill Barr, had characterized some of the findings.

He and his team members really wanted the Attorney General to put out those summaries that the team had worked up, because they thought that those will provided a more fulsome explanation of some of their findings and that the public wasn't getting the full picture. Obviously, the Attorney General opted not to do that and instead to release a redacted report.

So we'll see how much of anything he mentions on some of the substance of the findings versus his testimony, which is still in doubt at this time, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Laura, you know how that building works. And I wonder, based on the chain of command, a statement announced by the the Justice Department to be given from the Justice Department, by a Special Counsel who, by the chain of command, serves under the Attorney General, as head of the Justice Department, would that mean that this statement had been vetted by the Attorney General or even perhaps the White House as well?

JARRETT: I think the question is vetted versus given a heads-up. .I know our colleague, Jeremy Diamond, is told by a senior administration official that the White House was given a heads-up, I think, last night, that he was going to make this statement. The Attorney General, Bill Barr, is actually out of the country, in Alaska right now, so we're trying to figure out exactly what the coordination was between those two men. Obviously, they go back quite some time. Bill Barr had been Mueller's boss for many, many years back in the '90s, so they know each other well. We're trying to dig into what is going on there.

But in terms of vetting the statement, I think you get in tricky terrain when you start talking about someone vetting it in terms of editing it. I think Mueller probably has some things that he wants to say and there's nothing anyone could do to stop him at this point, Jim.

SCIUTTO: He's been around a while, he's an old marine scout from Vietnam, he's proven himself to be his own man through the years. Again, if you're just joining us now, Bob Mueller will make his first public comment on the Russia investigation. The Justice Department statement says a statement on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. It will be the first time that we hear from the Special Counsel since the start of this investigation.

I want to go to Joe Johns. He is at the White House. I imagine it's not a stretch to say that the White House is bracing itself for what words will come out of the Special Counsel's mouth in less than an hour now.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That certainly appears to be the case. What is clear to us through our reporting from the White House team is, number one, that the White House got a bit of a heads-up on the fact that he was going to make this statement and also that the White House will not make any statements until after they hear what Mr. Mueller has to say.

One thing I can tell you from my own personal experience in my time covering the Justice Department and the Supreme Court, Bob Mueller appears to be at least reasonably fond of making exit statements. And I know that because I interviewed him when he left the FBI in a round robin with a number of other journalists from around town.

So the question, of course, we've been told for a while that he was about to leave any day now. The question is whether this would be the appropriate time for Mr. Mueller to make an exit statement, if you will, as he leaves the office of the Special Counsel. That's just based on past experience and no direct knowledge, though I have raised the question with the office of the Special Counsel, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Interesting possibility. And, again, as you say, we don't know. But is that what he's going to say, that he's completed his work and now is his time to go home? Open question. We'll know in 52 minutes, a little less than that.

David Gergen is joining us now. He's worked for a handful of presidents through the years. Again, we're in theory territory now because the has not tipped his hand yet. What is your view of what he hopes to accomplish here?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Ha, ha, great question, a dramatic moment. First time Bob Mueller has spoken in two years. He's almost been a sphinx-like character. You know, given what we learned in the last two or three weeks about his reluctance to testify in front of an open hearing in the House or the Senate, that he does not want to get involved in a political circus.

I think that's one pressure he's -- by putting this at the Justice Department with no questions, he can control the message and the atmosphere much better than going up to the hill. So I think he's partly doing that. But he is also under pressure to clarify, because he put out his report and then along comes Barr, the Attorney General, and puts a new gloss on the report, which is much more favorable to the President.

And so you have to -- Mueller has to decide, do I want to take that on or not or do I want to clarify what my thinking was and where we're going?

[10:10:03]

So my sense is he wants to clarify but he does not want a circus, and this is the compromise to get there. SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, because he doesn't want to be seen as political. Okay. But this is a fundamentally political question, is it not? I mean, there is even a theory that what Mueller tried to do here was, in effect, give this evidence and allow Congress, a political body, to decide if this is evidence of impeachable offenses. I mean, we require a whole host of non-political figures, be the intelligence officials, military commanders to testify in public. What's so special about Bob Mueller's status to avoid such public questioning?

GERGEN: I don't think there is all that much difference. But one could understand his reluctance after spending two years of his life doing this and going so seriously into it. He and his -- in the final report, he dodged the political questions. He stuck to the legal issues and dodged the question of whether this -- these would be impeachable offenses, if the House so held, or whether he thought they were impeachable offenses.

And remember, since his report, we've had some 900, is it now, former Justice Department prosecutors on both sides of the aisle who come forward and said in a sense that if what Mueller had presented to us, if Trump were a private citizen, he would be indicted and charged and he'd be facing possible jail time. Well, Mueller has never spoken on that. And I think people are extraordinarily curious to know what's his view, what is his view on obstruction given where we've been and did the Justice Department distort and, in some ways, spin his report in ways that made him uncomfortable?

SCIUTTO: And to be clear, just a reminder, we mentioned this a few moments ago, and we have an image of the letter on screen, on March 27th, Robert Mueller sent a letter that we now have and has been testified about in Congress, it is public, in which he calls out the Attorney General for not properly conveying the weight, the seriousness, the specifics of his findings there. So there's already a public disagreement. Of course, the difference between one in writing versus one -- a spoken public disagreement is different.

GERGEN: Yes, I think that's right. And, Jim, this may be the last time we hear from Mueller. Given his desire to stay out of the spotlight, to stay out of politics, you know, this may be the first and may be the last statement. We'll have to wait and see. It's clearly going to raise new questions about what he thinks, about his judgment, and those reporters are going to be wanting those answers, as will members of various committees on the Hill. But it may be very hard to extract them after this statement. This may be his sayonara.

SCIUTTO: His sayonara. Shan Wu, you've encountered the Special Counsel through the years, Shan, including representing a witness, a significant witness in this investigation, Rick Gates, former deputy campaign chairman for Trump, and now, someone who's pled guilty to crimes. Tell us what questions he needs to address. He's going to answer questions, but what questions he needs to address in this statement?

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think if it is a farewell statement, it kind of gives him a clear shot at saying what he wants to say. I think what would be really important is for him to address the whole question of, there was not enough evidence to bring criminal charges about conspiracy or conclusion with Russia. And the problem is I just can't see Mueller making some type of grand unveiling that, in fact, there was a lot here, it's an impeachable offense. I just can't see him saying that in these circumstances.

So he may just kind of amplify a little bit some summary of his findings. And I think that could be very disappointing. But that would be a really crucial piece of insight for him to give us as to what was really going on there. Do you think that even though there's not enough to bring a criminal charge, that these are very serious problems that you found and very serious misgivings and that you really did want Congress to take a look at that? The problem is, I just can't see him giving that much of an opinion about it.

Now, turning to the obstruction side, he already has opined that he cannot exonerate the President. So there, he might be willing to speak more forcefully and ideally shed light on whether that Office of Legal Counsel opinion really kept him from bringing a charge. And we've heard some rumors that there's actually an indictment drafted. So that would be something I'd really want the answer to is what for that rule that the President would have been charged.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Will he address this? I just want to quote from his letter, March 27th, to Bill Barr, from Robert Mueller. He said the following. The summary letter that the department have sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon on March 24th did not fully capture the context, nature and substance of this office's work and conclusions.

[10:14:56]

That is already, in letter form, a public disagreement between the Special Counsel and how the Attorney General portrayed the Special Counsel's findings as he put them together over those two years of this investigation.

Dana Bash, I believe you're still with us, and I know you're making calls as well, because we're all trying to reach sources in the midst of this, 45 minutes of the Special Counsel's statement. We've already had two people on the air raise the possibility that this could be his swan song, his farewell here. Are you hearing anything in that direction?

BASH: Well, I just spoke with a key republican congressional source, one who should be in the know about what Robert Mueller was going to do, just even the fact that he's going to give this statement. And unlike the White House, which according to our reporting, did get a heads-up, just that he's going to give the statement, that heads-up came last night, that did not happen for republicans, it seems, on Capitol Hill, at least those who are in a position to before kind of, you know, dealing with this kind of thing.

You know, we don't know yet and we're still doing reporting about whether or not the same goes for democrats who are in charge of the House of Representatives. But when it comes to republicans, my understanding in talking to a key republican source is that did not happen, as it seems, to have had with the Trump White House.

SCIUTTO: Now, would Hill need to be notified based on the Special Counsel Law in advance if the Special Counsel was completing his work?

BASH: That's a good question. The answer is no. My understanding, I don't know, maybe you read it a different way, Jim, is because the work has been completed. They did, by law, have to be notified when the Attorney General got the report from Robert Mueller's team and, of course, they got notified when that report was going to be made public. But this is something that seems to be outside the bounds of and the parameters of the Special Counsel rules and regulations that were put in place by the Deputy Attorney General when he appointed Robert Mueller two years ago.

SCIUTTO: We should note, and, again, if you're just joining us now, Special Counsel Robert Mueller is going to give his first public comments since the start of this investigation and, of course, its completion just a number of weeks ago. This is what the advisory from the Justice Department says. It says that he will make a statement on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. His statement will be about the investigation. Is it his involvement in it? Will he offer any clarity on his findings, particularly the characterization of those findings as they differ between what the Attorney General has said about him and what the Special Counsel meant to say in his conclusions in this report? We're going to find that out in 43 minutes, 42.5 minutes right now.

Sunlen Serfaty, I believe you're still with us, up on the Hill. Are you hearing from lawmakers, democrat and republican, as they wait for the Special Counsel's statement?

SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No word from any members yet, Jim. Certainly, I think, many people are waiting to see what he'll be saying in now just under 45 minutes today. And certainly, we've been discussing over the last hour, I think of utmost important to many on the Hill is whether Robert Mueller today says whether he will testify or not.

This has been the source of a lot of back and forth between the teams on the House Judiciary Committee and the Special Counsel's Office over the last days and weeks. This has stretched on for over a month now, active negotiations of the terms of how that testimony, if it happens, might go down. They are still certainly negotiating this.

Many democrats are saying -- are concerned about restrictions placed on his testimony. The fact that the Special Counsel's Office has, behind the scenes, expressed some reluctance for him to testify for not only the opening statement, but the question and answer section in front of TV cameras in public. There have been some negotiations around him potentially allowing to testify behind closed doors for the question and answer section.

And a lot of the democrats are angry about that. They said, this is an issue of utmost gravity of importance and he should appear and explain his findings and be questioned by members of Congress in front of the public. And that should happen before TV cameras. Now, a lot of different potential variables that could come into that, including potentially him testifying behind closed doors and a transcript being made to public, But that not satisfying many democrats who are pushing hard for the entire testimony, when and if it happens, to be in front of TV cameras. The Chairman of the Committee, Jerry Nadler, has been very clear, that he says he will get Mueller in front of his committee one way or the other. He has given him room to try to negotiate this, but he says that he will subpoena it if need be.

And another issue that I know you've been talking about, Mueller still being an employee of the Department of Justice, you know, Nadler has questioned why he still is there.

[10:20:00]

So it will be interesting to see if this is, as you've been talking about, him announcing the end of his official employment there. Nadler intimating that could be a way for him, Robert Mueller, to appear in front of the congressional committees, Despite objections from President Trump.

SCIUTTO: Sunlen Serfaty, thank you. Joe Johns, I understand you've been speaking to House members about their expectation for the statement. What are you hearing?

JOHNS: Yes. I just got off the phone with one of the senior aides on one of the committees that is seeking very much to have Bob Mueller come and testify before them. And the indication I got from that senior aide is there has been no movement on negotiations to get Mr. Mueller to come voluntarily to the committee. Of course, there is that option of a subpoena, which certainly has the potential to be problematic, unless Mueller would want a subpoena in order to do it along those lines.

Also, I do have to mention to you, and it's one of the things that's kind of underreported about the Justice Department, is that, technically, regardless of whether the individual who worked for the Justice Department is an employee or is not an employee, according to DOJ rules, they may still be constrained from speaking publicly, unless they are authorized by the appropriate supervisor, in this case would likely be the Attorney General himself.

And the other thing I think is important to mention is running in the background of all of this is that Mr. Mueller, despite the fact that he did do exit interviews years ago when he left the FBI has been very, very reluctant to go public, to go in front of the cameras, to speak to the news media unless he feels there's just an absolute necessity. Now, of course, the question here is, is this an absolute necessity? It certainly seems to be the case.

Back to you.

SCIUTTO: We're getting new information into CNN, and that is that Bill Barr, of course, the sitting Attorney General, was notified ahead of time as to the Special Counsel's intention to make this statement in just about 40 minutes' time here. Barr not in Washington though. He's traveling in Alaska now, so he will not be physically present. But it is notable that this statement will be coming from the grounds of the Department of Justice. Special Counsel serves under the Department of Justice. And that's where he will be making this statement. Again, no questions to follow there.

Laura Jarrett, you continue to follow this -- sorry, Laura Jarrett is making phone calls. News is breaking, our colleagues are making phone calls to learn more about this.

Evan Perez also covers the Justice Department. Evan, what are you learning as we get ready to hear for the first time from the Special Counsel since the start of this investigation?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, you know, one of the things that people have been puzzled by the is fact that the members of Congress have been pushing for Mueller to come testify and there's been sort of weeks and weeks of talks that have gone nowhere.

And one of the things that I think people don't understand, perhaps going on behind the scenes, is a reluctance by Mueller himself to appear in what he believes is going to be a very partisan, very political setting. And a lot of what the democrats are asking of him, I think what a lot of the questions and a lot of the answers that they're seeking are ones that he most likely won't be able to deliver on. He won't be able to give them exactly what they're looking for. And that's one of the reasons why there's been this hesitation.

As Joe Johns just mentioned, you know, Joe obviously covered the Justice Department for many years. And I covered him for years at the FBI. And these things -- these hearings were always the least favorite thing that he had on his calendar, perhaps just behind talking to reporters.

And one of those reasons -- one of the things that he would prefer to do private briefings for members, he would be able to talk a little bit more frankly. But he believed that his job was not to become part of the partisan jockeying that happens at a lot of these hearings. A lot of the questions are not really questions. They're more about statements and trying to get a TV moment. And so that's one of the things that he dislikes the most. And I think that's one of the sticking points, one of the reasons why it's been so difficult to try to get -- to come to terms to do this public hearing.

SCIUTTO: Well, he wouldn't be the first official who would not -- would prefer not to take those questions, but it's a democracy.

Laura Jarrett is at the Justice Department. You're getting new information, I understand, on what this statement -- the first public comments from the Special Counsel are about.

JARRETT: Well, Jim, we're told that the statement will be substantial. What exactly it will say, how far it will go, whether it will go into the reports' conclusions or whether it will go into Mueller's perception of how the Attorney General depicted those conclusions in that controversial four-page memorandum, all of that remains to be seen. But I am told that it will be substantial, so it will be a substantive statement. It will not be just a two-minute goodbye. He is not taking questions though, however.

[10:25:00]

And so it is important to note, there will be no back and forth with reporters. It will only be Mueller up there making a statement.

I'm also told that the Attorney General, Bill Barr, who is actually traveling right now in Alaska, he did receive a heads-up about this. I know that was a question that you had for me in the last hour. Just in terms of the chain of command here, you know, Mueller does report to the Attorney General, obviously, as the Special Counsel. He has a great deal of autonomy, but he does still report to Barr at the end of the day.

And so he did give his boss a heads-up that he was doing this. And, of course, the White House was also given a heads-up, according to our colleague, Jeremy Diamond, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Laura, just to be clear, and I don't want you to tell me who your sources are, but when you're told that this will be a substantial statement, you're hearing this from the Justice Department?

JARRETT: A source with good, solid knowledge of what he plans to say.

SCIUTTO: Understood. When we say that Barr got a heads-up that the Special Counsel is giving this statement, a heads-up simply that a statement was going to happen or should we expect he also got a heads- up on the content of that statement?

JARRETT: A heads-up on the content and a heads-up that it was going to happen. I don't have any reporting on any sort of back and forth iterative. I don't expect that this was sort of, you know, a real lengthy process, but that he was informed, which should be expected, again, given sort of the chain of command, given the role here, given that under the Special Counsel regulations, Mueller does report to Barr. That is to be expected.

But, again, Barr will not be with him. The Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein is no longer here. There's a new DAG in town, Jeffrey Rosen. So this is not going to be the same show of force that we've seen in the past at press conferences at the Justice Department that have to do with the Russia investigation. This is just Mueller making a statement on his own.

SCIUTTO: A substantial statement, as your sources are telling you.

Final question, and again, this gets to chain of command here. Of course, the Special Counsel serves under the Attorney General, the Attorney General serves under the President, appointed by the President. We know White house got a heads-up that this statement was coming. By past practice, would the White House get an okay on the content of the statement as well? JARRETT: I think that would be unusual. It would be hard to imagine how they would even try to go about something like that. I imagine that the White House Counsel's Office would be involved. You recall during all of the rollout of the actual report and even sort of the closing down of the investigation, the White House lawyer, Emmet Flood, the top White House lawyer who has been sort of working on the Russia investigation, was heavily involved, talking with Barr's staff about how everything was going. So I think that they have been in close contact throughout this investigation.

But in terms of actually making a call on what he would say, I think that that would be unusual to say the least, Jim.

SCIUTTO: All right. Laura Jarrett, I know you're going to stay on top of that. Please get back to us if you get any more information. We're just about a half hour away from the Special Counsel. This is quite a moment for the country. It's been two years since this very consequential investigation started, led by the Special Counsel with a long history in Washington and many senior roles. And now, this is the first time we're going to hear from him at that podium right there about 33 minutes' time at the Justice Department, first public comments from the Special Counsel.

David Gergen remains with us, been involved in a lot of administrations. Tell us your thoughts again as we come up to this moment.

GERGEN: Well, I very much respect Laura's reporting. I must say, Jim, if you were at the Justice Department a senior to Bob Mueller, you would want to see the contents of the statement before he goes out. And the fact he's doing it at the Justice Department, you know, shows very much he's an employee of the Justice Department. And I would think that they would want us to not only see it, but if possible, have editing rights.

So I think that's a crucial question. Is this coming directly from him or has it gone through channels and been approved and check marked and so forth so that -- we will put different weight on it if it's gone through channels, and we will if we were told this is his raw statement and nobody else looked at it.

SCIUTTO: Well, you've been in government long enough to know that the difference between seeing it prior and having editorial power, veto power prior is significant.

GERGEN: It sure is.

SCIUTTO: And this, of course, is a Special Counsel who, at least in written form, has not shied away from differing with his boss, quote, unquote, Bill Barr. He issued a letter, March 27th. We'll put it up on screen again, in which he said, your summary did not get at the context, nature and substance of this office's work. So it is a Special Counsel with some credibility here who you might expect would be willing to say something that he was not told to say, as it were.

GERGEN: Well, because he's not answering any questions, we may never know the absolute answer to that. I'm sure there will be background statements coming out of the Justice Department officials and the White House and the like.

But it would be really helpful if he himself clarifies exactly whose statement this is, whether it's from him and the counsel's team, period, or whether it had to be cleared. I can just tell you from a White House perspective.

[10:30:00]