Return to Transcripts main page
CNN RIGHT NOW
Mueller Speaks about Russia Probe; Sen. Mark Warner on Mueller Report; White House Responds to Mueller's Statement; Pelosi Responds to Mueller's Statement. Aired 1-1:30p ET
Aired May 29, 2019 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:00:20] ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Brianna Keilar, live from CNN's Washington headquarters.
And we begin with an extraordinary moment two years in the making. Robert Mueller has broken his silence, speaking directly to the American people for the first time since his probe began. He defended his team. He defended his investigation. He defended his findings. But perhaps most important is what he did not do. He did not clear the president. In fact, he did the opposite. Essentially Mueller told the country that the president is not innocent and suggested that Trump is not facing criminal charges right now, not because his actions don't warrant them, but because DOJ policy does not allow it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT MUELLER, 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 two of our report explains that decision.
It explains that under long standing department policy, a 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)
KEILAR: CNN justice reporter Laura Jarrett is live for us at the Justice Department.
And how significant, as you listen to this today, how significant was his statement?
LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Brianna, I think it was a moment of great significance, not just for the legacy and history of this important investigation into Russian interference into our election in 2016, but also because it may be the last time we actually hear from the special counsel, Robert Mueller, especially if he has his way.
And while he sort of closely hued to the findings in his report, I think what he chose to highlight today speaks volumes, especially after having, for so long, others characterizing his work.
And one of the issues that he really honed in on is this issue of the Justice Department's long standing guidance on not indicting a sitting president. And he explained this in the report, but even more sharply today just explaining the weight and significance of it and how much it meant -- how much the significance meant that he could not even reach a determination of whether the president committed a crime.
And so he's not weighing in on that. He's not making a determination on that at all. But what he is saying is that he also can't exonerate him, Brianna.
KEILAR: No, that's such a key point. And also what was key was what he said on the issue of conspiracy, or as it's frequently referred to in political conversations, collusion. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MUELLER: The first volume of the report details numerous efforts emanating from Russia to influence the election. This volume includes a discussion of the Trump campaign's response to this activity, as well as our conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: He didn't say that there was no evidence, Laura, he said there was insufficient evidence. Is that an important distinction?
JARRETT: Yes, that is code word for, it didn't reach the legal bar of what can be prosecuted, but it doesn't meant here wasn't a there there. And as the report itself lays out, sort of all of the litany of different instances and the receptivity of the Trump campaign to Russian help, I think the report makes clear that it just simply couldn't reach the legal determination that a crime had been committed and it seems as if Mueller is there implicitly pushing back on this narrative that we heard for so long, no collusion, no obstruction out of this White House. Mueller essentially saying today that's not true, Brianna.
KEILAR: All right, Laura Jarrett at the Department of Justice, thank you so much.
Let's listen in to Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat on the Senate Intel Committee, ranking member, live.
SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA): What I heard from Special Prosecutor Mueller, both at the beginning of his statement and at the end of his statement was how significant the Russian intervention was in our 2016 elections, how that intervention was to benefit one candidate, Trump, and to hurt another candidate, Clinton, outlined how they did it and left the clear implications that they will be back. And it would be extraordinarily irresponsible if Congress wouldn't act.
[13:05:02] So my hope is, next week, when Congress comes back, we would at least take three steps. First, that we would go ahead and pass bipartisan election security legislation. Second, that we would take up and pass legislation that I've been working on, and others, that would provide some guard rails around social media. We saw just this last week with the manipulation of the video of Speaker Pelosi how this technology continues to change and iterate. We will see foreign powers like Russia use those tools going forward. And, third, I think it's time to pass legislation that would say, if a foreign agent tries to offer dirt or offer help to any campaign in 2020, there ought to be an obligation to report that to law enforcement.
Those three items I think Congress needs to take up and pass. Candidly, the White House won't deal with this issue. We saw earlier where the secretary of Homeland Security wanted to have a meeting on election security at the cabinet level in the White House and that was turned down because it might offend the sensibilities of Donald Trump. Well, if we're going to take anything out of the Mueller report, it is that foreign powers intervened. And if we don't put better protections in place, they will be back.
QUESTION: Senator, Robert Mueller today was pretty insistent that he does not want to come back here on Capitol Hill and testify. Would you like to see a subpoena for him to compel him to do so? Do you think he has that responsibility?
WARNER: I think it's very important that we hear from Special Prosecutor Mueller in my imagination -- let me start again. I think it's very important that we hear from Special Prosecutor Mueller, but I believe that will be led by -- I'm sorry, what do you keep --
WARNER: Pardon me?
WARNER: I'm sorry.
I think it is important that we hear from Bob Mueller. I think Judiciary Committee in the House is probably taking the lead. What I'm hoping is that we will -- from the Intelligence Committee's standpoint, get the underlying evidence, counterintelligence evidence, our investigation was not a law enforcement investigation. It was a counter intelligence investigation. And we need to see those documents. I think we're starting to see those this week because, again, I go back to where Mueller started his presentation and ended his presentation. The Russians intervened and they will -- and -- or they or others will be back.
QUESTION: Do you think there's anything more Robert Mueller could say publically given how clear he was that he testified through his report today and was very clear that he doesn't see himself being in another public forum. So what's to be gained?
WARNER: Well, again, I think when he becomes a private citizen, there will be those in Congress, probably led by the House, that will urge him to testify. And I think he'll have a responsibility to do so.
QUESTION: How does this change your calculus personally about starting an impeachment inquiry?
WARNER: Listen, that -- I think Speaker Pelosi has dealt with this the right way to allow the House investigations to continue to unearth facts and at some point in time there may be a decision to move forward, but I'm going to leave that to Speaker Pelosi.
What I'm going to keep working on is our bipartisan counter intelligence investigation on how we protect our country in the 2020 election cycle.
QUESTION: What's your personal opinion? You said there are a lot of unanswered questions today.
WARNER: There are unanswered questions. And I like, I think most Americans, would like to get the answers to those questions. And I believe that some of the activities of the House will get some of those questions answered. I also think, from a how we protect our country in the 2020 elections, I'm proud of the fact that the Senate investigation is the last remaining bipartisan investigation. And we're going to continue our work.
QUESTION: What did you take from the message from Mueller --
KEILAR: What a big day in Washington today.
Let's get to the White House. We have chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta joining us now to talk about the reaction that we're getting there.
The president responded, Jim, in a tweet. He claimed that Mueller's comments don't change anything. What are you hearing?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brianna. I should tell you that I've talked to a Trump legal team source just a short while ago. They are clearly frustrated with a portion of what Robert Mueller had to say during that statement to the press when he said, if we had confidence that the president did not commit a crime, we would have said so. This Trump legal team source said that that remark was, quote, gratuitous because essentially what Mueller did was leave the door open to the imagination of the American people that perhaps the president did commit some sort of crime and that was not welcomed inside the president's legal team.
But you mentioned the president's tweet just a short while ago. We can put that up on screen. He says nothing changes from the Mueller report. There was insufficient evidence and therefore in our country a person is innocent. The case is closed. Thank you.
And, Brianna, going beyond that, the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, she also put out a statement. And we can show you some of that. She says the special counsel has completed the investigation, closed his office and has closed the case. Mr. Mueller explicitly said that he has nothing to add beyond the report and therefore does not plan to testify before Congress. The report was clear, there was no collusion, not conspiracy and the Department of Justice confirmed there was no obstruction. Special Counsel Mueller also stated that Attorney General Barr acted in good faith in his handling of the report. After two years, the special counsel is moving on with his life and everyone else should do the same.
[13:10:22] A little jab there from the White House press secretary at the end of that statement.
One thing we should note, Brianna, is that they are not exactly moving on with their lives over here at the White House and inside the president's team of advisers and lawyers. As you know, they have been talking about this notion of investigating the investigators, that is investigating the origins, the genesis of the Russia investigation. And so that is I think quite demonstrably not letting things go and not moving on with one's life. And so while the White House is eager to see Robert Mueller hop on his horse and ride off into the sunset, there are clearly aspects of this that they want to keep investigating.
And the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, we've heard some rumblings that she may be making some kind of on camera statement this afternoon. If she does that, we'll have more to bring you later on this afternoon.
KEILAR: All right, Jim Acosta at the White House. Thank you for that.
ACOSTA: You bet.
KEILAR: Now, this was something that Mueller made clear today, that the ball is not in the court of the criminal justice system. So where is it? In Congress' court. And Speaker Pelosi then is the focus now. She just responded.
Phil Mattingly, tell us what the speaker said.
PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna, as you can expect, the responses from all sorts of members of Congress, the House and the Senate, have been coming fast and furious. But there's really only two that you need to watch in terms of what the next steps will be from the Democratic led House. And the first is Speaker Nancy Pelosi. As you noted, just putting out a statement that says in part, the Congress holds sacred its constitutional responsibility to investigate and hold the president accountable for his abuse of power. The Congress will continue to investigate and legislate to protect our elections and secure our democracy.
Now, what the speaker does not weigh in on is any push that you've heard from some of her rank-and-file members to launch an impeachment inquiry, anything to the idea that Bob Mueller essentially laid out a road map and it is now up to Congress to pick up the ball and run with it.
The other individual that you need to keep a very close eye on is the House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler. His team behind the scenes has been in negotiations with Special Counsel Mueller's team about coming up to publically testify, something the special counsel said today it was his hope he would not have to do, saying repeatedly the report essentially speaks for itself and he would not go beyond the report.
Nadler also putting out a statement saying, given that Special Counsel Mueller was unable to pursue criminal charges against the president, it falls to Congress to respond to the crimes, lies and other wrong doings by President Trump, and we will do so. Again, not addressing the issue of a potential impeachment inquiry or what next steps the Congress would be willing to take.
It's worth noting, the House Judiciary Committee, Speaker Pelosi has tasked several committee chairs with multiple investigations across several fronts. It has been Speaker Pelosi's preferred route to let those investigations play out and then let them lead them to whether or not they would decide to pursue impeachment. There's been no at least public change in that despite Special Counsel Mueller's statement.
The other key issue, as I mentioned, was whether or not the special counsel will testify, making clear today that he doesn't want to, at this point. And if he is forced to testify, he will just reiterate the report. Something to keep in mind here in talking with Democrats who are kind of involved in this process, they note that while the special counsel did not say anything publically today that necessarily diverges or differs from what's in the private report, or in the report that's been released up to this point, the power of having the visual, the power of having somebody up on a stand, on a witness stand, making that statement is something the Democrats, as they continue to move towards those investigations, likely want.
Now, Jerry Nadler did say earlier this month that if Bob Mueller was not willing to come up on his own volition he would subpoena Bob Mueller. We'll see if that stands. He's supposed to speak in a little bit.
To give you an idea of the political dynamics here, Brianna, Senator Lindsey Graham, who's the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, obviously the Senate run by Republicans, putting out a statement saying today, Mr. Mueller reinforces the findings from his report. As for me, the case is over. Mr. Mueller has decided to move on and let the report speak for itself. Congress should follow his lead.
That's important because the Republican-led Senate plays heavily into Speaker Pelosi's decision, at least up to this point, not to push for impeachment, knowing that it wouldn't go anywhere in the United States Senate. You haven't seen Republicans short of Justin Amash really diverge from Lindsey Graham's position and, at least at this point, it doesn't look like they're likely to any time soon.
Brianna. KEILAR: All right, Phil Mattingly on The Hill. Thank you.
Let's discuss this with our legal analyst Laura Coates, our counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd, and we also have our political analyst Eliana Johnson and senior justice correspondent Evan Perez, who has been following this story now for years, Evan.
OK, so, Mueller made it clear that the Constitution, Laura, requires the DOJ policy doesn't allow the indictment of a sitting president. This was a very key part. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT MUELLER, SPECIAL COUNSEL: The opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrong doing. And beyond department policy, we were guided by principles of fairness. It would be unfair to potentially -- it would be unfair to potentially accuse somebody of a crime when there can be no court resolution of the actual charge. So that was Justice Department policy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[13:15:20] KEILAR: Paging Congress.
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Absolutely. And, of course, we know that there is something in the Constitution that deals with the idea of a political recourse if a president is miss stepping or outside of the bounds. That's called impeachment. So he essentially is signaling there's impeachment there.
Also the notion of a sitting president is very important here because he goes on to talk about how he tried to almost preserve the evidence while it was fresh in people's minds. Now, why would you do that? Because there's the word "sitting president." There are term limits. And there is a congressional role to fill. So he's actually saying in more words than a few that, listen, there is a responsibility of Congress to act in this particular case. It was baked into the Constitution. And he has provided information that they could use towards that goal.
KEILAR: I'm curious, though, about what we've -- just trying to square what Bill Barr, the attorney general, Evan, has said in comparison to what Robert Mueller has said, because he said he talked with Mueller about this office of legal counsel opinion and he said we specifically asked him about the OLC opinion and whether or not he was taking a position that he would have found a crime but for the existence of the OLC opinion, he made it very clear several times that was not his position. That does not square.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: It doesn't. And that's the reason why when we read the report, we were all shocked because the last thing we heard was from the four page memorandum that he sent to -- that Bill Barr sent to members of Congress in which he said exactly those words. And so we thought, OK, well, the OLC memo was not central to -- to why Mueller did not reach a conclusion. It turns out, as we read the report and as we heard from Mueller
himself today, that that was a chief reason why he didn't even -- couldn't even consider.
KEILAR: So, what's going on?
PEREZ: Well, I think Mueller spoke -- frankly it was very important for us to hear that today. You don't -- you don't see a lot of daylight between Mueller and his bosses. I think he's trying to be respectful. I think Bill Barr is still a friend of his. He's trying to say that Bill Barr is an honest broker in the handling of this report.
But, you know, clearly, they disagree on the importance of that Office of Legal Counsel memo. And the idea is that they couldn't even consider charging this president because of this memo. Without it, you know, perhaps they would have been able to reach something there. But, again, just the idea that this memo exists. And it is binding on Mueller. He said that they couldn't even consider this.
ELIANA JOHNSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I don't think these are in head on conflict, but I do think you have to be a very good lawyer to see how they can fit together. Barr used the term "but for," meaning that this is the only reason that Mueller didn't -- that the OLC guidance is the only reason that Mueller didn't charge the president. Mueller said that was one important reason and also that the principle of fairness guided him. I think that's the distinction between the two, noting that it was unfair to accuse the president of a crime if he couldn't be charged. And he said there's other ways, there's another forum where this can be resolved and that's impeachment.
So I think that they seem that there's a real tension between the two and that you need to be a good lawyer to press him. Obviously Mueller's a very good lawyer and Barr is a very good lawyer.
PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: I think there's a different way to interpret this. I spent four and a half years with Director Mueller. Not a subtle guy. I mean we're legalizing this. There's a legal argument here. I think it's sort of a flamingo leg legal argument. You can stand on it, but it's a little bit slender.
Let me make this real simple. Mueller says, as -- he's a former Marine. That's how he defined himself when I was at the FBI. I don't do hypotheticals. You realize what Barr is offering is a hypothetical. If the OLC memo weren't out there, what would you do? And if I were Mueller, as he said today, he'd say, well, I'm sorry, that's a hypothetical. So you could square both of them. It's a little --
KEILAR: How's that a hypothetical?
MUDD: Because the OLC memo is there. So Mueller's saying, I didn't even bother to consider whether --
KEILAR: Oh, I see.
MUDD: The OLC memo's there. Not if it were not there. Well, sorry, I don't do that, as Mueller would say, it's hypothetical.
COATES: I think we're being way too generous to Bill Barr because I think Bill Barr clearly misled people when he said essentially his narrative was, Mueller said, oh, no, the reason I haven't indicted is because -- not because of that. I didn't even consider that aspect of it. When, in fact, it was the prudential reason he chose not to go down that road. But yet he still preserved evidence.
And, of course, we know -- we could parse the words. And you're right, there is a bit of lawyering going on in the statements and nuance. But if you're the attorney general of the United States, you shouldn't just be technically right. You should actually have the context for the American people on a report of this nature.
And I look at this and I say to myself, well, the reason that Mueller did not reach a conclusion is because there was an OLC opinion that he was bound by. Congress is not bound by it. But he is bound by it. And in doing so, he still chose to endeavor towards and said, listen, I cannot reach it and out of the Comey factor I call it of fairness that you alluded to, Eliana, is the notion of, if I can't actually charge you and you can't answer to this crime, it's inherently unfair to do so, not --
[13:20:05] KEILAR: So then he -- but he knew that from the beginning then going into this.
COATES: He did. But that's for the president of the United States only. Remember, there are people who were all --
KEILAR: That's right. There are many other people. And he talked about how important all of the facts that were found has to do with certain Russian entities, as well as domestic ones. But when it comes to the president, which was the biggest question, he knew that going in despite the fact that so many observers here in Washington, outside of Washington, thought he might draw a conclusion on that.
COATES: But, you see, he could be precluded from investigating the president and know that inherently about whether to reach that conclusion, but there was an orbit. If was a campaign that was led by the now president of the United States of America. And so he had to, in good conscience, and not dereliction of duty, pursue in the entirety of it. Just because Trump was not inherently implicated in this, doesn't mean you shouldn't pursue that.
KEILAR: Can -- I want to ask you -- one last question because we have to take a break here real quick though. But when Jim reported from the White House that the White House officials on -- on the -- well, I should say, on the president's personal legal team, to be clear, this part that Mueller said, if we had confidence the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that. They thought it was gratuitous because it leaves the impression that they may have committed the crime. Yes, that's the point.
PEREZ: Yes, no, I think -- and, look, I think Phil Mudd knows this, and I covered Mueller during the time he was the FBI director. He's right, I mean, he does not do -- he does not do, you know, hypotheticals. And, you know what, he chooses his words very carefully. And I think he did that today on purpose. And I think, again, because -- it's a signal to everybody. Again, he's speaking to people in Congress. Look, this is not for me to do, but if you guys are -- you guys have the power constitutionally, right, to do something about this if you choose, you can have at it.
And, by the way, he also mentions that they have -- they could perhaps get access to the underlying evidence, right, which is something that he says he's not going to be involved in. That's something they're going to have to negotiate with, with the members of Congress.
But I -- one last thing I just think we -- it's important for us to say. The beginning of Mueller's comments, he goes right to the idea that this was a concerted attack on our political system. And he ends by reiterating again that he says the central allegation of our indictments that there was a -- there were multiple systemic efforts to interfere in our election, that allegation deserves the attention of every American.
I think that's a rejoinder, not only to the president, to Republicans in Congress who say this is an, you know, illegitimate investigation and also to Bill Barr, by the way, who has skepticism about the origins of this investigation. This is Mueller saying, this was legitimate. This needed to be done. And, American people, members of Congress, you've got to pay attention to this. This, volume one, is still very important.
KEILAR: That's right. And he may not traffic in hypotheticals, but he certainly left open the possibility, which is so key.
All right, you guys, stay with me, if you will.
Ahead, will Mueller be subpoenaed? And why the last line of Mueller's statement may be the most important one, as we just heard Evan say.
This is CNN's special live coverage.
[13:27:51] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT MUELLER, SPECIAL COUNSEL: There has been discussion about an appearance before Congress. Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report. It contains our findings and analysis and the reasons for the decisions we made. We chose those words carefully and the work speaks for itself.
And the report is my testimony. I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress.
In addition, access to our underlying work product is being decided in a process that does not involve our office.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: All right, let's talk about this. He says I -- this is my testimony. I won't go beyond what's in the report in my testimony. That said, if he's before Congress for hours talking about what's in his testimony, that is hugely significant beyond just the report, which, let's be honest, most people didn't read.
So do you think he wants to testify? Do you think he's going to testify?
COATES: I think he does not want to testify because he wants to stay to those four corners. But I also know, this must be the reason that Trump's team gave as to why they need not testify in person because my written answers will suffice. They wouldn't settle for that, but this is his attempt to say, listen, the testimony I want to give you is already in the report. You want to go beyond that because of course there are reasons about motivations, reasons about conversations (ph) with Bill Barr you want to know about, reasons about why you didn't interview the president of the United States. He can't just hide behind, hey, the report speaks for itself. Well, we'd like you to speak now.
KEILAR: Why -- why wouldn't he want to testify?
MUDD: I mean you look at the guy defined again by psychology of being a former Marine. He's there saying, this is a political process. It's a circus in Congress. The Democrats are going to try to push me political. The Republicans are going to try to push me political. His focus, including at the end of his comment today, was the American people need to notice the election was interfered with by the Russians regardless of this political process. Maybe you should pay attention to that.
[13:29:44] I'll give you one 10 percent chance here. Let's distinguish between going out to represent the Mueller report, in other words, doing what he did today and saying 57 times to every Republican, Democrat, read the report. And if there's an impeachment process and somebody, including the president, is in the crosshairs of a legal process and he's a witness in the legal process, I could see a ten percent chance he shows up before the cameras again. I think only 10 percent.