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Mueller Makes Clear That Congress Has Role On Trump's Fate; Mueller Emphasizes Russia's Efforts To Undermine U.S. Political System; 2020 Democratic Candidates, GOP's Amash Pushing For Impeachment. Aired 2:30-3p ET
Aired May 29, 2019 - 14:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[14:32:30] BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: We're back. You're watching CNN special live coverage.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller surprising everyone today by making a statement on his finding, which included the underscoring of the blatant attacks on America by the Russians.
When it comes to the president, Mueller could not clear him of wrongdoing and did not pursue solely due to DOJ policy.
Let's continue with all these legal questions with our legal analysts. With me now, CNN Legal Analyst, Elie Honig, former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, CNN Legal Analyst, Anne Milgram, is former attorney general for the state of New Jersey, and Jon Sale is a former assistant special Watergate prosecutor.
So with all of this legal power up here, ladies first, round robin.
Biggest takeaway of what we saw from Robert Mueller this morning.
ANNE MILGRAM, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Biggest takeaway, there are a couple, One, very clearly, Robert Mueller was saying, I did my job and now it is up to Congress to do their job.
He went through and sort of said, I didn't indict because of the Office of Legal Counsel opinion but I've set out the facts and this is what it is.
The second, I think, major takeaway is the Russia piece, which is where Mueller started and stopped, and I don't think we can ignore that.
BALDWIN: A whole segment on that coming up because it is so, so important.
JON SALE, FORMER ASSISTANT WATERGATE SPECIAL PROSECUTOR: Well, when you say I didn't indict because the Constitution says I couldn't, I think he just decided not to indict. And everyone is saying, he did not exonerate the president. Prosecutors don't exonerate. They either charge or they don't charge.
I've done this for a long time as a defense lawyer. I'm waiting for my first exoneration. I don't know how many you are getting. But --
BALDWIN: That is a word the president kept using, right, at Twitter publicly, I've been exonerated, I've been exonerated. So perhaps that is the reason for the word.
SALE: Yes, but they just don't exonerate.
BALDWIN: Yes. You just don't do it?
SALE: Well, it doesn't happen. I mean, if you have somebody who's wrongfully imprisoned for rape and DNA and that is exoneration.
BALDWIN: Sure, sure.
SALE: But they either charge or don't charge.
But one thing to Mueller's credit, I think he did a great job. He pointed out that his report, which I've read from cover to cover, is a prosecutor's report. And he said everybody is presumed innocent and they remain so until they are proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. And people are losing sight of that.
BALDWIN: Elie, your takeaway?
ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Look, Robert Mueller might as well have walked up to Capitol Hill and dropped it in the well of the House of Representatives today. I think his intent is clear. As Anne said, I think he was saying, I've done my job.
And Jon made, I think, a good point, usually prosecutors either indict or don't indict but this is not usual. This is the president of the United States.
And I think Mueller made very clear today that his hands were tied by that DOJ policy and he didn't believe there was anything he could do. But who can do something is Congress and I think that is what he left us.
BALDWIN: So when he says -- when we they say, do something or drop it in the well of the House --
BALDWIN: -- or to your point, does that mean he's saying to Congress, impeach?
[14:35:12] MILGRAM: I think if you look at it, what I think Mueller was saying today is the Office of Legal Counsel opinion doesn't let him charge.
BALDWIN: His hands are tied.
MILGRAM: His hands are tied. And he went on to say, and because of that, the fundamental view of fairness, in his view, is it's not fair to go out and say, I would charge, because I can't charge. And so he's saying, I don't want to be the grand jury, the judge and the jury.
But that leaves us with questions about, how does the president get held accountable and how is there vetting of the evidence. Usually, it would be a trial. How does that happen? And the only mechanism in the Constitution is the impeachment process in the House.
BALDWIN: And Speaker Pelosi, she has been reluctant to -- to go there on impeachment. Do you think that this forces her hand?
HONIG: I think it pressures her quite a bit. Look, there's -- going to be a conflict between what is expedient politically and what does the Constitution require of the members of Congress.
And I understand why there's a reluctant to have a prosecutor -- and we've all been prosecutors, prosecutors are obsessed with accountability. And there's only two ways a president can be held accountable, and one of them we know is off the table and indictment, and that only leaves impeachment.
And to me, it is really hard to look at that report and conclude anything other than the president committed massive obstruction of justice.
And once you're there, what happens? Can it really be nothing? Can it be we just all walk away from this because the politics, the polling doesn't measure up? I think that is hard pill to swallow.
BALDWIN: And you are saying prosecutors are obsessed with accountability. But aren't Americans as well?
HONIG: Yes. All people. That includes. That is who we speak for.
BALDWIN: One of the striking things tonight is the disconnect between what A.G. Bill Barr said to the public on the policy and what Mueller said today. So let me play both of those for you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: There was no evidence of the Trump campaign collusion with the Russian government's hacking.
ROBERT MUELLER, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL: There was insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy.
BARR: The deputy attorney general and I concluded that the evidence developed by the special counsel is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction of justice offense.
MUELLER: If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BALDWIN: Jon, does that not totally --
SALE: Well, Rod Rosenstein -- Rod Rosenstein is the big puzzle. He's the person that talked about invoking the 25th Amendment and wearing a wire on the president. Yet he agreed that there was insufficient evidence to charge with obstruction.
And I don't think they -- I'm not here to defend the president. But I don't think that it needs the Mueller report to tell Congress that they have the constitutional prerogative to start an impeachment inquiry. It is a political judgment. If they want to do it, they could do so.
BALDWIN: But isn't there --
SALE: There's one other way to hold him accountable --
BALDWIN: Hang on. Hang on one second.
SALE: -- and that is at the ballot box.
BALDWIN: Yes, of course, in November of 2020. But even before then, to juxtaposition Barr and Mueller today, does that -- does Mueller's words not ding the A.G.'s credibility?
SALE: The reason I don't think so is, what is difference between what he said in this press conference, Barr or the four-page letter. The attorney general, let's look at what he did, not what he said. He released almost all of the report. And Mueller today said I appreciate the attorney general releasing substantially the entire report for everyone to read.
BALDWIN: Do you agree?
HONIG: No, I respectfully disagree with Jon.
No, I think Bill Barr's credibility has already been damage and, I think, took another serious blow today. We saw the side-by-side.
And, yes, Bill Barr did release the report. And he didn't have to technically. Don't know that, politically, he could have gotten away with not releasing it.
But the problem is how he spun it. That four-page letter, which Mueller himself said previously misstates the context and nature and substance of our findings, there's not much other than context and nature and substance.
Look, I can say that Bill Barr has misrepresented the Mueller report all day long and there are ways that Bill Barr did misrepresent the report, but to hear it from Robert Mueller's mouth directly, like I think we heard today, was powerful.
MILGRAM: I agree. It was powerful.
What we saw today, Mueller said what was largely in the report but to hear him say it and to see it directly contradicting what Barr said and how Barr tried to spin it, I think it really -- it hit home for me to just see it like that.
Anne and Jon and Elie, thank you guys very, very much --
HONIG: Thank you.
[14:39:23] BALDWIN: -- on all of that.
Just ahead here on CNN, Robert Mueller said it, is one issue, to Anne's point, that deserves the attention of every American, the Russian government and the concerted attacks on the entire U.S. political system. We'll talk about what we are learning about Russia's ongoing efforts, speaking of 2020, to undermine your vote.
BALDWIN: Special Counsel Robert Mueller today finally breaking his silence, stepping in front of camera for the first time since the release of the nearly two-year investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Mueller rarely speaks publicly, and has a reputation of choosing his words very carefully. And he chose to close his 10-minute statement with these words of warning on Russia.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MUELLER: And I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments, that there were multiple systematic efforts to interfere in our election. And that allegation deserves the attention of every American.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[14:45:02] BALDWIN: CNN Chief National Security Correspondent and Anchor, Jim Sciutto, whose book out now, called, "The Shadow War," takes us inside Russia and China's the efforts to defeat America.
You wrote the book about this. You know about this. And to think that is how Mr. Mueller chose to end his whole moment today.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Every American should pay attention. And that is a message to us. And, frankly, also a message to our leaders among them the president, right, who has not been at the forefront of this issue to say the least.
Because for many years, he has denied that this election interference happened or that it was significant enough to matter, right? And it has not made it a priority if terms of securing election processes and institutions, et cetera, in 2018 and 2020, when we're told repeatedly it is still a threat. So that is a problem.
And that, to me, was a purposeful message from the special counsel. The thing -- and what the book gets into is that, while Americans are generally aware that Russia interfered in the election, that that is one of many fronts where Russia is undermining it, whether it is in space, in submarine warfare, invasions in Europe, undermining NATO, and it is a significant front as the special counsel made clear of many fronts that Russians waging a war against the U.S.
BALDWIN: And you point out in your book it is not just Russia but also China.
But let me bring it back to today. So for the past two years, we've heard President Trump, we've heard his allies rail on this investigation, treasonous, a witch hunt and angry Democrats. And then in this one sentence today from Mueller, "I want to thank the attorneys and the FBI analysts and the professional staff that helped us conduct this investigation in a fair and independent manner."
Did he just totally shut Trump down?
SCIUTTO: He did. He contradicted the president there. The president, only a couple of days ago, use the word "treason" to describe participants in the early days of this investigation. And you heard that from other Republican lawmakers. Liz Cheney repeated that language this week.
The special counsel is saying, no, I worked with these people and they are doing the nation's work in terms of carrying out this investigation. And that is a direct challenge to this president. And it is one with purpose.
And you could tell, as he was standing there, one that was heartfelt, coming from the special counsel, who served as the director of the FBI in years prior, and many other positions throughout government.
BALDWIN: Jim Sciutto. Again, the book, "The Shadow War", Inside Russia and China's Secret Operations to Defeat America."
Thank you, Jim.
SCIUTTO: Thanks so much for having me.
BALDWIN: Thank you.
Ahead here on CNN, 2020 Democrats pouncing on the Mueller's new remarks. And see which candidate says Mueller provided a road map to impeach this president. And before Election Day, they are determined to follow it.
We'll be right back.
[14:52:14] BALDWIN: Reaction to Robert Mueller's on-camera statement this morning is coming from the candidates looking to beat President Trump in 2020. And most are saying it is clear that President Trump was not exonerated and that it is time to start impeachment proceedings.
Kyung Lah is our CNN senior national correspondent. She's there in South Carolina on the trail where Senator Kamala Harris is campaigning today.
And you talked to her about this. What was her reaction to Mueller?
KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, she said that it was certainly a public press conference but she heard Mueller speaking to Congress and asking them to fulfill their constitutional duty and move forward with impeachment proceedings.
She also said that what she heard in his statements were that he would have returned an indictment except he was limited by the memo, the Department of Justice memo of the guidelines of the special prosecutor.
Here is what they said to us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS (D), CALIFORNIA: Most importantly, what we learned is that the special counsel did not return an indictment because of that memo. In other words, but for that memo, I believe a fair inference from what we heard from Bob Mueller is there could have been indictment returned against this president.
And the other thing we learned today, is that the current attorney general of the United States misled the American people.
I think it is a fair inference, from what we heard in that press conference, that Bob Mueller was essentially referring impeachment to the United States Congress.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LAH: A number of other 2020 candidates are echoing her sentiments. But others are being a bit more cautious. Bernie Sanders put out a tweet saying that he was going to stop short of calling for impeachment proceedings.
And it is a similar tone that we're seeing from former Vice President Joe Biden. Take a look at the statement that he issued just a short time ago. He wrote, quote, "Vice President Biden agrees with Speaker Pelosi that no one would relative a divisive impeachment process but that it may be unavoidable if this administration continues on its path."
Both of those two candidates, leading in the polls, Brooke, are not going all out and calling for impeachment at this point after Mueller spoke.
BALDWIN: Does this force the hand of Democrats or not? We wait to see. Kyung Lah, thank you very much.
At the top of the hour, speaking of Democrats, House Speaker Pelosi will be seated in one of those chairs. She will be answering questions after Mueller's new remarks this morning. She is facing renewed pressure to pursue impeachment from fellow Democrats.
[14:54:52] Quick break. We're back in a moment.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being here.
What a day. After two years of investigation and speculation, the Special Counsel Robert Mueller finally spoke out on the report that bears his name.
In a 10-minute statement at the Department of Justice today, the special counsel officially closed up shop.
But not before once again outlining why he did not charge the president with obstruction of justice and pushing back on claims by Attorney General Bill Barr and the White House that that no obstruction occurred.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[14:59:55] 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. The introduction to the Volume II of our report explains that decision.