Return to Transcripts main page
CNN RIGHT NOW
Mueller Says He Couldn't Clear Trump of Obstruction; White House Response to Mueller Statement Unclear, Past Gives Clues; GOP's Justin Amash on Impeachment: Ball Is in Congress' Court. Aired 1:30-2p ET
Aired May 29, 2019 - 13:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[13:30:00] PHIL MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: 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 a legal process, I could see a 10 percent chance he shows up before the cameras again. I think only 10 percent. He wants to disappear.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: How does Congress handle this, Eliana?
ELIANA JOHNSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think Nadler will want to be true to his word and go through with the subpoena to Mueller. Whether they really try to enforce that subpoena I think is a more difficult question to answer because Democrats have not wanted to go after Mueller. They wanted to preserve his reputation as an arbiter of truth.
I think even more so, after his statement today where he went after the president, a little bit after Bill Barr. Mueller is saying that his report is his testimony.
I think it's important to note that a lot of things Congress wants to know fall outside the boundaries of that report. Most importantly, his conversations with Bill Barr.
They grilled Bill Barr over how he handled discussions with Mueller about the four-page letter Mueller sent to him, about the public release of the report. I think they want to ask Mueller about those conversations with Barr. I think they want to ask Mueller about the conversations that Barr related about how heavily he relied on that DOJ guidance.
Mueller has given his version of that conversation. Excuse me, Barr has given his version of that conversation. But Mueller hasn't given his version. Mueller said he relied on that guidance but didn't say what he told Barr about how heavily he relied on it.
KEILAR: All right, guys, stay with me.
Next here, there are areas that Robert Mueller completely contradicted the president on in his remarks.
Plus, does today's development change Speaker Pelosi's mind on impeachment? She has been resisting, and the pressure is building. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
[13:36:29] Let's get back to our breaking news now. Robert Mueller breaking his silence, during which the special counsel says he could not clear the president of obstruction.
Let's listen to the differences between how the Attorney General Bill Barr portrayed this report versus what Robert Mueller said today.
(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)
KEILAR: It is pretty stunning, Laura. It's not like you say tomato, I say tomato. It's like you say tomato, I say kiwi.
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It is that reason why Mueller felt the needs to speak up. Remember, the timing is odd as to why so much later than Barr's actual conference where he has made these statements.
But it is telling because he is saying it is more than a nuanced semantics argument we're making. I am actually being very clear. I did not exonerate the president. I did not just ignore the OLC opinion. It was the reason I did not go forward in the case. Still, at the end of the day, Congress, the ball is still in your court.
KEILAR: Let's talk about the thing that Mueller wanted to focus on today. This is what he began talking about, this is what he ended talking about, and that is Russian meddling, Russian interference in the election.
His ending words were the most interesting part where he said, "I will reiterate the central allegation of the indictments, that there were multiple systematic efforts to interfere in our election. That allegation deserves the attention of every American."
MUDD: Can you tell me who should speak to every American? In a way, that's a subtle shot. Mueller is not that subtle. But a subtle shot at the president. If you are sitting down in the White House dealing with one of the
most significant issues, I think, in American national security, can Americans vote free and fair, there's one podium that counts.
If every American -- as Mueller said in his last moments, every American should know about this, is the FBI director going to warn them? Who knows who that is? Is the Homeland Security adviser going to warn them? Who knows who that is? There's one person who could tell the Americans this is the threat and this is what we should do.
The president talks more about the threat from Joe Biden than the threat from Russian interference. That tells you something.
KEILAR: The threat of Russian interference benefits the president. We know that. If it plays out again, as it played out before, this isn't something that hurts him.
EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: The Mueller report says they were expecting to benefit from it. I think that's why Volume I is --
KEILAR: But that's not collusion or conspiracy.
PEREZ: Right. That's why it is so important for us to remind people that there are two volumes of the report. Everyone focuses on Volume II and the obstruction part. Volume I is incredibly important.
KEILAR: And it --
PEREZ: And it doesn't get nearly enough attention, not from the president or members of Congress, or Republicans in Congress, who don't want to talk about it because they don't want to say that what Don Jr did or what anybody else did should have been done differently. I think it is very important.
I think the playing of the two clips is very important also, because it shows you that Mueller was passing the baton to Congress on both volumes, Volume I and Volume II. What Bill Barr did in essence was intercept that baton and put his own interpretations of what exactly the Mueller report says.
KEILAR: It's pretty stunning that there has not been a focus in the government as much as there should be on what is going to happen moving forward. We know Russian interference in the election is ongoing. We know that there was hacking into electoral systems in counties in Florida.
[13:40:04] Eliana, this is real. This is happening. This has not been resolved. This is outstanding. This is going to likely happen again.
JOHNSON: I think that's right. I think Evan is exactly right that the food fight between both parties about the obstruction campaign has totally overshadowed the sort of case-closed election interference campaign. We really don't hear from Congress or from the executive branch, from
the president what the plan is to combat that in the future. I think it's a failure of leadership on the president's part and somewhat on Congress's part.
Though I think what we have seen is it is very difficult for Congress to get things done in the absence of executive leadership.
I think there are a lot of Republicans who believe that with an odd- duck president like Donald Trump they can just have him rubber stamp whatever they were sending through and that has clearly proved wrong. I think there are Republicans who, absent Donald Trump, would take action on something like this.
You guys, thank you so much for your insight on all of this.
Any moment, the House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler is going to speak, weighing in on Robert Mueller's statement and his desire not to testify. Those are live pictures as we await the congressman, the chairman, Jerry Nadler. We will bring this to you live.
[13:45:55] KEILAR: Special Counsel Robert Mueller broke his silence on the Russia investigation. In rare remarks, he declined to clear President Trump of obstruction of justice.
While the potential impact the probe will have on the Trump administration is still unclear, we can look to past White House investigations for clues.
I want to bring in CNN presidential historian, Tim Naftali.
Tim, as you look at this and you've looked at these key months of the Mueller investigation, what stood out for you after listening to Mueller's comments today?
TIM NAFTALI, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: The first thing, Brianna, that stood out is how refreshing it in this era of demagogues to hear a civil servant quietly, confidently, but precisely talk about an issue that is of great national importance.
What I wonder about, however, is whether people with quiet careful voices can be heard in this time of shouting and exaggeration.
A couple of key takeaways for me today. One, the fact that Mr. Mueller never used the word "exoneration." He did not exonerate the Trump campaign for possible collusions with the Russian government. He said there was insufficient evidence to charge a conspiracy.
The second thing that stuck out for me was that Mr. Mueller has a very restrained view of his purview, of his mandate. He is very different from Ken Starr, for example. It was a different era. But Ken Starr had a legislative mandate to share with the House of Representatives what he might consider grounds for impeachment. There was no such mandate for Mr. Mueller.
So Mr. Mueller today said, I will not comment further on actions by Congress, which his way of saying, I'm not going to talk about impeachment.
On the other hand, what he didn't do today is take impeachment or further House investigations off the table. What he said to Americans was, read my report. I could not take a position one way or the other on the president's obstruction of my investigation, but that doesn't mean I didn't collect evident that might help you come to a conclusion one way or the other.
KEILAR: So -- so let me --
NAFTALI: The last take away for me is that Mr. Mueller didn't want his report to be the end of the story. It was the end of the story of his investigation, but not the end of the story of looking into these matters.
One, he wanted us to keep foremost in our minds that a foreign government had sophisticatedly intervened in our 2016 election, which means they might do it again.
And, two, he was telling us that the evidence that he brought together and preserved could be used, he implied, by future grand juries and prosecutors. He did not take off the table that Mr. Trump and others might be indicted or looked at by grand juries after they leave office.
KEILAR: Sure. And, Tim, you don't -- part of that is the mandate -- see him as someone who is similar to Ken Starr.
But in terms of historical parallels to characters in history or other defining moments in history, is there anything that stand out to you or does this stand alone?
NAFATLI: How different he was from the Watergate special prosecutors. They didn't have a mandate, by the way, for sharing information with Congress. They found a way to do it. But they didn't have a mandate.
But they did, or at least Leon Jaworski (ph), the second Watergate special prosecutor, did actually come to a conclusion. He thought the president had committed an indictable crime. He didn't want to try the constitutional case to seek an indictment, but he thought the president had done something indictable.
What is interesting about Mr. Mueller is, publicly, he is not willing to say that. He is not willing to say it because he doesn't think it is fair to say it since Mr. Trump wouldn't have an opportunity while in office to defend his good name, if you will.
[13:50:03] But I will tell you, the Watergate team came to a conclusion about Richard Nixon. They certainly though he could be indicted.
And by the way, the one person in the Watergate special prosecution office, as I've determined it, who thought that a sitting president couldn't be indicted, was the Watergate special prosecutor. The rest of the team thought that Richard Nixon could be indicted in office.
So I would say, I'm not a lawyer, but I've studied these matters and I differ from Robert Mueller's point that it is firmly constitutional law that one cannot indict a sitting president. I think that's really up -- to be determined.
KEILAR: Well, he's talking about the long-standing -- he's talking about the long-standing department guidance. So --
NAFTALI: But he did say it would be unconstitutional.
KEILAR: You're right.
NAFTALI: He did use that term.
KEILAR: He did.
Tim, thank you so much. Tim Naftali, we appreciate your insight there.
The lone Republican calling for impeachment is weighing in on Mueller's statement is coming face-to-face with his constituents with surprising results.
KEILAR: The lone Republican to accuse President Trump of committing impeachable offenses has a message for his colleagues. In response today to remarks by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, Justin Amash tweeted this: "The ball is in our court, Congress."
Congressman Amash also attended his first town hall since his impeachment comments and he was greeted with a standing ovation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Amash reminded the crowd why he thinks the president could be impeached.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JUSTIN AMASH (R-MI): Clearly, things that violate the public trust are impeachable.
I'm confident that if you read Volume II, you'll be appalled at much of the conduct.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[13:55:08] KEILAR: Matt Lewis is a CNN political commenter and a senior columnist at "The Daily Beast."
So that is -- that is an interesting moment for the first Republican to say the president may have committed impeachable offenses. What did you think of that?
MATT LEWIS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: This is a guy with moral courage and is intellectually honest and is principled and taking a risk. He got applause. Maybe because it is so rare for politicians to say what they believe. But he's going against a president of his party and he's going to be primaried and lose some campaign donations because of it. And I think it is admirable.
KEILAR: And you wrote this opinion piece, which is -- it is really interesting. "Justin Amash for president, a change conservatives can believe in."
You don't really think he's going to win against a president --
KEILAR: You said that, you wouldn't be so naive to think you could win. So what is the point?
LEWIS: I want someone to vote for. I didn't vote at all in 2016 because I couldn't bring myself to vote for Donald Trump or a liberal Democrat. I'm a central-right guy and a conservative columnist. And I can't bring myself to vote for a Democrat, especially someone who disagrees with me on a lot of fundamental issues.
But I also can't vote for Donald Trump in good conscious. There are very few Republicans I could support or anybody, for that matter. And Justin Amash is in a very small group of people that I could honorably support.
KEILAR: Matt Lewis, thank you so much.
"The case is over. It is time to move on." That is the message from Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham. His counterpart in the House, Chairman Jerry Nadler, will offer his response to Mueller's rare statement any moment. Guaranteed to be something very different, next.
[14:00:01] 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.