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Robert Mueller Breaks Silence, Speaks On His Russia Probe Findings; Chairman Nadler Says No One, Not Even The President Of The United States Is Above The Law. Aired 2-2:30p ET
Aired May 29, 2019 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: You are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being here. Two months, after turning in his long awaited report into Russian election interference and potential obstruction by President Trump. Here he is, Robert Mueller, stepping before the mic at the Justice Department, for the first in what he says, "will be the very last time."
Mueller was clear to note that the words in that report were chosen carefully. You could probably say the same thing about his 10-minute statement this morning.
The Special Counsel outlining key findings but also reiterated why his team could not formally charge the President of the United States, and why those claims of no obstruction from Attorney General Bill Barr and the White House are in a word "premature."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT MUELLER, RUSSIA PROBE'S SPECIAL COUNSEL: 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 2 of our report explains that decision.
It explains that under long standing department policy, a present 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.
The 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Mueller added that while his work maybe complete, future actions could still be taken by those outside the Justice Department.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MUELLER: The opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting President of wrongdoing.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: And what he just said there, that was more than enough for Justin Amash, the increasingly vocal Republican Congressman from Michigan, who responded to Mueller with this tweets, quote, "The ball is in our court, Congress."
And speaking of Congress, any minute now, we will be hearing from the man whose committee can begin impeachment proceedings House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler. But right now, let's focus on Mr. Mueller. Let's go to CNN's Laura Jarrett. She is there at the Justice Department. Why do you think he came out and did what he did today?
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Brooke, I think for so long. Mueller had others characterizing his report, his thoughts, his feelings, his conclusions. And today, I think he clearly wanted an opportunity to tell the American people himself what exactly that report stood for, and what exactly it meant and didn't mean.
And he took a couple issues head on, as you laid out in your intro there. One, being the influence of the Justice Department's long standing guidelines on not indicting a sitting President -- something that has been established here for decades.
And Mueller made it pretty crystal clear that at least for the purposes of this investigation, that guideline meant that they didn't even reach the question, they didn't even make a determination about whether the President had obstructed justice.
And also because of principles and fairness, they decided not to go there. And instead, they just laid out all the evidences they sought. And they sought to preserve the evidence so that witness memories were fresh.
But that stands in a bit of a contrast to what the Attorney General Bill Barr had told us last month during that press conference.
We all remember announcing that the Mueller investigation was over and closing it. And he had framed the question very differently.
When I asked him, if Mueller's decision had anything to do with that OLC guidance -- the Office of Legal Counsel. He had said that he asked Mueller that question at a March 5th meeting, and at that meeting, Mueller did not tell him that but for that OLC guidance, he would have charged the President.
But Mueller saying today, "I couldn't even reach the question of whether to charge the President because of this OLC guidance." So, I think there's been a little bit of confusion there, because they're framing the question completely differently. Mueller is not reaching the determination whatsoever on charges.
But one thing that I think also was made really unequivocal today is that Mueller does not want to testify. As we're waiting to hear from the House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler there, I think there had been a lot of pressure on Democrats in particular on Capitol Hill, about whether to subpoena him.
We had been told, he wanted to testify, in terms of making an opening statement but didn't want to do a back and forth Q & A in front of the cameras. So it's really now going to be on members there on Capitol Hill to decide whether to push the point.
As Mueller said today, "My testimony is the report. The report is my testimony."
JARRETT: So, the question is, do they subpoena him? How far do they want to go with this? Because as he said, "I'm not going to go beyond the four corners of my report -- Brooke.
BALDWIN: We wait to hear from Chairman Nadler, right? To see if he accepts that. Essentially, Mueller, as you point out, saying, "You want my testimony? Read my report." Laura Jarrett, you've been all over it. Thank you very much.
[14:05:10] BALDWIN: President Trump, meantime, watched all of this play out like the rest of us. He of course, though, was at the White House watching it all unfold, and now he is downplaying Mueller's rare public comments saying that this is nothing new, he tweeted. Here he is, Chairman Jerry Nadler.
REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): ... Mr. Robert Mueller for service to our nation over the past two years. Mr. Mueller and his team of prosecutors and investigators worked tirelessly to follow the facts and pursue justice to the furthest extent allowed.
Although Department of Justice policy prevented the Special Counsel from bringing criminal charges against the President, the Special Counsel has clearly demonstrated that President Trump is lying.
He is lying about the Special Counsel's findings, lying about the testimony of key witnesses in the Special Counsel's report and the above all, lying and saying that the Special Counsel found no obstruction and no collusion.
In his statement this morning, Special Counsel Mueller reaffirmed his report. It found substantial evidence that Russia attacked our political system, that the Trump campaign benefited from Russian interference, that Trump and those around him repeatedly welcomed Russia's support, and that throughout the subsequent investigation, Trump's sought to obstruct Mueller time and time again.
Special Counsel Mueller, today repeated three central points, which are critical for the American people. One, the Special Counsel did not exonerate the President of the United States of obstruction of justice. Two, obstruction of justice, of which Special Counsel Mueller found substantial evidence, is a serious crime that strikes at the core of our justice system. Three, the Constitution points to Congress to take action to hold the President accountable for his misconduct. Unfortunately, Special Counsel Mueller was unable to pursue criminal
charges against the President, because Department of Justice policy prevents a sitting President from being prosecuted. That policy in my opinion is wrong, but it prevented Special Counsel from pursuing justice to the fullest extent possible.
Therefore, as Mueller again highlighted this morning, it forced the Congress to respond to the crimes, lies, and other wrongdoing of President Trump. We will do so. Make no mistake, no one, not even the President of the United States is above the law. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congressman, will you move then forward with impeachment proceedings. And given what Mueller has said -- meaning that, he feels that the report says all that he needs to say. Will you then subpoena him to testify in front of Congress?
NADLER: With respect to impeachment question at this point, all options are on the table, and nothing should be ruled out. But Special Counsel Mueller said loud and clear today for the American people is that President Trump is lying when he says no collusion, no obstruction, and that he was exonerated.
If Mueller wanted to exonerate the President from having committed the crime, he would have said so. Instead, and he says, he would have said so. Instead, the Special Counsel makes clear that obstruction of justice, which he found substantial evidence of, is a serious crime that strikes at the core of our justice system, and that the Constitution points to Congress to take action to hold the President accountable. That's exactly what we will do.
The President's response to repeatedly lie to the American people and ignore all congressional subpoenas is immoral and unlawful. No one is above the law and we will hold the President accountable.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, if I may call, what would that thing Congressman -- with regards to impeachment, would you then move forward at a given time, you say, it's on the table, but what exactly does that mean?
NADLER: We are following through on our investigation, we will continue to do so. And we'll make decisions as they seem indicated.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And one more question, one more question --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will you subpoena Mueller to testify then?
NADLER: Mr. Mueller told us a lot of what we need to hear today. It's very important to be clear on what he told us and what the special prosecutor told the American people.
He reaffirmed what was in the investigation -- which was in the report about the investigation, which found substantial evidence that Russia attacked our political system, that the Trump campaign benefited from Russia interference, that Trump and those around them repeatedly welcomed Russia's support, and that throughout the investigation, Trump sought to obstruct justice and undermined Mueller and the investigation over and over again.
[14:10:0]1 NADLER: The President -- I'm sorry, the Special Counsel did not exonerate the President from having committed a crime. DOJ policy prevented Mueller from bringing criminal charges against the President.
So the President is lying about the Special Counsel's findings, lying in saying that the Special Counsel found no obstruction and no conclusion.
And I should add, the Attorney General is lying about that, too. That is serious, and we will take action to hold the President accountable for his misconduct. Again, I'll repeat no one not even the President is above the law. Thank you very much. Thank you.
BALDWIN: There you have it. Two quick questions. Congressman, Jerry Nadler, who chairs House Judiciary essentially saying that the Special Counsel Bob Mueller admits that his hands were tied, his hands were tied on charging the President because of DOJ regulations.
So now, he's saying it is up to Congress, and he would not say if he will subpoena Mueller to testify. Let me bring in our White House correspondent Abby Phillip, and our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash.
Dana, I just want to jump right to you that first key question, will you -- because of what Mueller said, will you move with impeachment proceedings, and I heard all options are on the table. What does that mean?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, he was asked that question, "What does that mean?" And he didn't answer it except to say they're going to continue with their investigation. Look, he didn't --you don't have to read very deeply between the lines to see that the pressure is on him even more, and on the House Speaker even more than it was when we all woke up this morning ...
BASH: ... because of the content of what Robert Mueller said. However, you know, he spoke in legalese. And, you know, some nuance what he was saying to the Congress was actually pretty clear. Which is, "I couldn't do this, because I'm not allowed to charge the President with the crime." Not necessarily, because I didn't see that he committed a crime. In fact, just the opposite of that.
And - "It's up to you, folks in the House of Representatives to deal with this."
BASH: "Ball is in your court," as Justin Amash said. So look, he was very careful -- Jerry Nadler. I noticed it was kind of striking that, you know, not only read from a statement to begin with, but read from remarks to answer questions, which I don't think I've seen very much of from politicians. Even -- and especially on the issue of a subpoena for Robert Mueller,
because that should be the next step if they are going to continue to investigate and build the case for the public to potentially impeach. They, obviously, want to hear it from Robert Mueller and Nadler has been has been ...
BALDWIN: But you heard him today?
BASH: ... in intense negotiations, right -- intense negotiations with --
BALDWIN: But you heard him, he's like -- read the report. That's my testimony. He has no interest in --
BASH: Well, exactly, exactly. He doesn't and there has been tension about whether or not he will testify.
BASH: The fact that Nadler didn't say no or yes on the subpoena, and essentially said that Mueller gave us his answers today, made it seem to me like, you know, a subpoena is not in the offing right now. He might be pressured to do that by his own members of the Judiciary Committee, but he doesn't seem inclined to do it at this moment.
BALDWIN: Abby Phillip, over to you with the White House. I also heard a lot of Congressman Nadler -- I heard two words over and over "Trump lying, Trump lying." What did you think of that?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, clearly, Nadler is hearing what is coming out of the White House and thinks that it is a misrepresentation of what's being said. And the truth is, it is in some ways, sort of ignoring some of the content of what Mueller said.
Earlier this morning, the President tweeted that the case is closed, that basically Mueller found no collusion, and that Barr definitively found that there was no obstruction. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders reiterated that in a statement, and implied that that Mueller left it up to Attorney General Bill Barr to come to that conclusion, which frankly, he did not do.
Robert Mueller did not make a conclusion on obstruction. But he didn't say Bill Barr, I would like to you to come to this conclusion. Now, Bill Barr did and that's what the White House is going on now.
And she also added, in some comments to reporters not long ago, that she and the White House believes that it was Mueller's responsibility that if he felt like there was wrongdoing, when it comes to obstruction, it was his moral responsibility to say something about it to put it in the report.
But Mueller did answer that question. He made it clear that he felt like he could not even accuse the President in writing of some kind of crime or wrongdoing if the President had no venue to have that tried in a court of law.
PHILLIP: So, Mueller does answer that critique. But that's the line that we're getting from the White House today. They're criticizing Mueller for, sort of, leaving this door open in some ways on obstruction saying that, "If he have the goods, he should have put it on paper," and saying that, by closing the Special Counsel's Office, saying that this is done, the American public and Democrats should move on.
[14:15:09] PHILLIP: Now, at the same time, Dana's sources, my sources, Gloria Borger's sources -- all telling us that the White House is basically saying on the question of impeachment, "Bring it on, we are ready for it." And that if you go there, we're prepared to use this as a political tool in our favor.
A source -- a White House source telling me this morning that they believe impeachment might be a great way for them to retake the House of Representatives. So, that might, maybe all, sort of, Pollyanna talk here from the White House. But they're sort of, you know, girding for a fight here, believing the Democrats may have no choice but to take that extra step. And if they do, they're prepared to use it in a politically advantageous way.
President Trump is always wanting to sort of be on the offense here. And I think this could be his opportunity to say, hey, Democrats are going way too far here. Even after Robert Mueller said, there is no more really to look into that's their view of the situation. But obviously, the facts are more nuanced than that certainly -- Brooke.
BALDWIN: Of course, as they always are, but those are the bigger conversations we may very well be having about impeachment and about President Trump, you know, daring Democrats and who really would benefit from that, politically speaking. We'll leave it for now. Ladies, thank you very much. Dana and Abby.
Standing by, I have former Nixon White House Counsel, John Dean -- what he says about Robert Mueller, not being able to clear the President of a crime. You are watching CNN special live coverage here. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We will be right back.
[14:21:22] BALDWIN: You're back with the Breaking News. I'm Brooke Baldwin here. The extraordinary moment this morning, where Robert Mueller stood there in Washington D.C. breaking his silence after two years of investigation and said among other things, he could not clear the President of obstruction or wrongdoing.
CNN contributor John Dean was White House Counsel for President Nixon. He is with me now. John Dean, a pleasure to have you back. I mean, listening to Mr. Mueller this morning, of all of the things, what was your biggest takeaway?
JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, my first reaction was that he was really taking it directly to the President. Secondly, he was taking it right to the Attorney General, and telling them that they were spinning it and that they did not have it right.
So I think that he clarified that this morning. And I think the White House's reaction is an effort to spin their spin, and it's not going to work.
BALDWIN: To underscore, you bring up the President, did Mueller, as we saw on Twitter from Republican Congressman Justin Amash, put the ball straight out in Congress' court to impeach?
DEAN: I think he did very much. And I was -- Nadler's comments were very, very guarded. The House clearly is not ready to go into impeachment. I can understand why. They certainly feel that what happened during the Republican era, when they impeached Bill Clinton, and then lost in the Senate, he was found not guilty, you know, it hurt the House badly. They don't want to go there again.
And I think that Speaker Pelosi is proceeding very carefully as is Chairman Nadler, and that's to try to educate the American public more. That really hasn't happened yet, Brooke. So, there's a good bit of process yet to play out.
BALDWIN: And also in that post, Clinton impeachment -- eventually, it was the Republicans who won back the White House. To your point, though on Congressman Nadler and your word "guarded," you know, when he -- guarded in the sense that when he was asked about, you know, moving on impeachment proceedings, and his answer was vague, "All options are on the table."
And Speaker Pelosi, as you well know, has been really reluctant despite the growing cries from within her own caucus to take on impeachment. After what we saw today from Mueller, do they have a choice? Does this force their hand?
DEAN: They have always had a case with -- since the Mueller report has come out. They actually had a case before the Mueller of report came out, out of the Southern District, there's clearly criminal behavior there in the President paying off two mistresses through Michael Cohen, who's testified to that. I'm sure they have more evidence than we even know, in the Southern District. That case has not been put to sleep in the Southern District.
So yes, there's a lot of evidence. But what I meant by Chairman Nadler being guarded, was he really didn't say, we're going to go at -- we're going to require this former Special Counsel Mueller come up here ...
BALDWIN: To testify.
DEAN: ... and explain more.
BALDWIN: Got it. I got it. And do you think -- do you think he should? I mean, if Mueller is saying, my testimony, my word is in that report. I don't want to testify. Do you think Democrats should push it?
DEAN: I think all of them are either going to have to. It could be behind closed -- in a closed session, or partially open and partially closed, but there are a lot of questions that could stem right from the report.
[14:20:08] DEAN: I've gone through it with a very fine toothed comb and I had lots of questions. Now, they'll get some of the underlying evidence while answering some of those. But some of them will be the decision making process to reach the conclusions that were reached in the report. And only Mueller and his team can fill that in.
BALDWIN: Back to your point, a second ago, about the evidence, even pre-Mueller report. Now that we have these words from Mueller, and potentially testimony, depending on what the Democrats decide to do.
If Congress does not ultimately choose to take those steps to impeach, is that not doing their jobs?
DEAN: Well, if they decide not to impeach, I don't think it'll be done in a way that it's giving the President a pass. They're going to continue with the investigations. They're being stonewalled by the White House and the administration. But you know, what's going on also, Brooke, is further obstruction. And this -- if there is an impeachment, can all add up as part of the process.
The Article III against Richard Nixon was really based on his behavior after they started the impeachment proceeding, because he refused to cooperate. He refused to supply his tapes. He couldn't prevent all the witnesses. But he did what he could. But that's what that Article III was based on, not something that happened during the general Watergate investigation, but directly related to the impeachment proceeding.
BALDWIN: Understand. Mr. Dean, let me just jump into DOJ policy when it comes to charging a President. Mueller today said that if he was confident Trump had not committed a crime, he would have said so.
But meantime, flashback to when we heard from Attorney General Bill Barr, about a month ago, when he said that Mueller told him he couldn't make a determination on whether there was a crime. So what does Mueller's statement today do to Bill Barr's overall credibility?
DEAN: It seriously damages it. There's just no -- they are obviously friends. He parsed in a very lawyerly like fashion to compliment him and say there's nothing improper with turning over the report. But he didn't mention a multitude of other things. Like, the four-page letter explaining the report. That was clearly a distortion and -- but his words actually made the point.
So he was being friendly and not jumping on the Attorney General, but yet making the point very clearly in his remarks.
BALDWIN: John Dean, thank you very much.
DEAN: Thank you, Brooke.
BALDWIN: More on our Breaking News. The calls for impeachment are growing louder among some Democrats, including Senator Bernie Sanders, who just said he could support an inquiry. We'll be right back.