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Mueller Speaks About the Russia Investigation. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired May 29, 2019 - 12:30   ET

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


[12:30:00] JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Harris of course has sits on that Judiciary Committee, some other senators and others who are running for president don't have as much jurisdiction but everyone is indeed weighing in. Senator Cory Booker who in fact is on the Judiciary Committee, he is weighing in for the first time.

Let's take a look at what he sent out just a short time ago. He said, "Robert Mueller's statement made it clear Congress has a legal and moral obligation to begin impeachment proceedings immediately." That is the first time that Senator Booker has indeed gone this far.

And Wolf, by day's end, it is hard to imagine that most Democratic presidential candidates will not be in a similar position. Of course, Elizabeth Warren, a senator from Massachusetts who is not on that committee has been out front on this. She's been talking about the need for impeachment inquiry for about a month or so.

She says this, "Mueller's statement makes clear what those who have read his report already know, it's an impeachment referral and it's up to Congress to act. They should."

So, Wolf, we're also seeing similar comments coming from Beto O'Rourke, Mayor Pete Buttigieg and others. We're still waiting for a reaction from former Vice President Joe Biden. He's campaigning in Dallas today, and we do expect him to have a comment on this, as well.

But Wolf, one thing I think the bigger picture politics here to keep in mind, there is no question now Speaker Pelosi is backed into a corner, if you will, by some of this. There are going to be many Democrats running for president and not who are going to be sounding the alarm and beating the drum for an impeachment inquiry. We do not know politically how this will end.

We should point that out at this point, even though the president says he does indeed welcome an impeachment fight, he believes it would rally his base, we have no idea at this point what that dynamic would do. So either Bob Mueller is handing President Trump a lifeline today or he's not, Wolf. But at this early stage, we have a significant shift today in this conversation here about the speed of an impeachment inquiry.

Wolf?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, things are beginning to move pretty quickly. Jeff, thank you very much. I know you're going to get more reaction.

John King, what's going to happen?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's pressure on the speaker now, and you see the Democratic candidates who are competing in a contested primary with 23 candidates through our understanding activist base voters, the ones who turn out in primaries. So that's who you're trying to appeal to there. The people who are most angry at the president and most energized in the Democratic electorate. It's not universal across the Democratic Party but that's why you see these candidates, the shifts started several weeks ago and now today, boom with Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, a former prosecutor.

The question though again is, if you're Speaker Pelosi and you're facing this pressure, one of your tests is, is the country ready for this? Is the country ready for this? And would it hurt the Democrats?

Let's be honest, she's the top Democratic elected official in the country. Would it hurt the Democrats? And the Repub -- so you're watching the Republicans. Having Justin Amash on your side is great. That's one lonely Libertarian Republican who's normally an outlier.

But, Lindsey Graham just issued a statement, he's the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee that Senator Harris sits on. He said move on, I don't see anything new here. The number two in the House leadership Steve Scalise just issued a statement saying it's time to end the madness.

So, whether you agree or disagree on the impeachment question if you read the Mueller report, should the president have told his White House counsel to do such thing? Should the president have picked up and called his former campaign adviser Corey Lewandowski to ask him to get involved in those things?

What about the interference, the Russian interference? Should there be a law or a policy about this question? Can Don Jr. be direct messaging with WikiLeaks during this?

Republicans don't want to touch any of this. And never mind the question of impeachment or investigation, they don't want to talk about any of this. They just want to put their head in the ground and pretend it never happened.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: And just staying on the politics of this, we were talking a little bit about this in the break, about the fact that, yes, Robert Mueller leaned more into the notion that Congress needs to start impeachment proceedings than he has before and that was what Kamala Harris took from it. But, Robert Mueller's statement was incredibly nuanced. You know him well, that's how what he does. He does nuance.

And for the public to come along with Nancy Pelosi, with these Democrats who are saying you need to start this, they do need a Robert Mueller type to be less nuanced and more black and white because that's the world in which we're living. The hope was that he would do that and would be pulled into that via questioning and public testimony on Capitol Hill. What he was trying to say is I'm who I am and I'm not going to change that so don't even bother?

MICHAEL ZELDIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: But he could accomplish that for the Democrats even sticking to his report. Because remember, in his report he said I investigated 10 areas of obstructive conduct. As to at least three of them, I found substantial evidence of that. I'm not charging him, but I found that.

And so if he were able to testify as to those findings of substantial evidence of obstructive conduct, then you have McGahn and Priebus and the note takers and Hope Hicks. Then maybe people who aren't reading this report get a flavor of what really was at the heart of what Mueller was saying in part two of that report.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: I do think though that, look, the other side of this, you know, speaking of moving on, you know who's not moving on, Bill Barr, right?

[12:35:05] He has launched an investigation of the investigation. And I think it's also important to go back to what Mueller was talking about in this -- in his comments today because, you know, a lot has been said by the president about that this is a coup. We know that Bill Barr himself has some deep skepticism about the origins of this investigation. He doesn't really think that this was really something that deserved this, what we have had for the last two years.

And what you saw Mueller say specifically, he said that there were members of the Russian military that launched a concerted attack on our political system. He also says that, you know, they attacked the Clinton campaign, they were releasing e-mails. He says, quote, the releases were designed and timed to interfere with our election and to damage a presidential candidate. He's talking about Hillary Clinton. He mentions Hillary Clinton in here.

So, again, I think it helps to remember where this began because Mueller is telling us, right, that this is not a coup. This was not an illegitimate investigation. This is a real thing. It was an important thing.

And I think it's a message to Congress, you know, read volume one. Don't just focus on volume two. Read volume one because even though we didn't find sufficient evidence to bring -- to charge a broader conspiracy. There is evidence here, there's plenty of evidence of the members of the Trump campaign, people associated with the campaign knowingly encouraging help from the Russians, expecting it, even, right? And never, never calling the FBI to say, hey, there's something weird happening here, we think you should know about it. None -- never does that happen.

And so Mueller was speaking loud and clear here today. Don't just focus on volume two, volume one is also important.

SHAN WU, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, I agree. As you're both saying, Michael and Evan, there is enough evidence that he has uncovered to give Congress the road map. But most importantly, in terms of moving the political ball, I think they need to stop looking back at the historical precedence and be so timid about it. This is not like Watergate. This is not like Clinton. It's not a sex scandal. It's a different scenario.

And they need to use the evidence they have which is voluminous to begin to talk about it, to get more of it, and to educate the American people rather than just being guided by, oh gosh, this went wrong in the past. We don't have this. We don't have somebody. John Dean isn't around for us. We don't have those things. They have other things, though.

KING: You're seeing a very distinct clear difference though between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party. In the sense that if we flip the tables here, and if we just change the names, and have a Republican majority in the House and a Democratic president, the impeachment proceedings would have started already just like we saw a Supreme Court justice blocked in the final year of a presidential election. The Republicans have a history of just plowing into these things. The Democrats are much more cautious. Let's step back.

And that's not a criticism. That's an observation. But in the context of Speaker Pelosi, she lived through this last time. She lived through this last time and she saw the unexpected, the unpredictability of it. And so her word is caution, slow down, think about everything.

And in her case, think particularly about the 20 more -- 20 or so most vulnerable members of her conference who have to go home to districts the president carried or to districts Hillary Clinton just barely carried. So she has a complicated argument to make. The question is, she has been successfully holding out with the let's stretch this out, let's be cautious. How long can she hold that?

BLITZER: And certainly, the White House statement from Sarah Sanders, the press secretary concluded by saying, after two years, the special counsel is moving on with his life and everyone else should do the same. But the White House is still applauding the Attorney General Bill Barr for launching a new investigation of the investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right. And the special counsel is moving on with his life because he's saying there's nothing else I can do here. This is now up to you, Congress. I've done everything within my power. And so it's up to you to move the ball forward.

I mean -- and the White House, look, they're moving on in the sense that they think that the case is closed against the president --

BLITZER: But they want the other investigation to begin.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They want it investigated. And I think to John's point about if the rules were reversed, the other thing that really sits with me on this is, Republicans would be lighting their hair on fire if this were a Democratic candidate. You know, the party of national security, that's how the GOP sees themselves.

KING: Ronald Reagan stand up to the Russians.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. So there was some kind of foreign interference in our election. And, you know, if you really want to move forward, then let the White House take that part seriously, the part about election interference, the part about how our elections are not safe, they are not secured, they are not stable, there is continuing to be, you know, these attempts to influence them by foreign governments.

We have not seen the Republican Party championing those efforts. We don't see the White House talk about it. And frankly, it's the Democrats who are running in 2020 who have introduced these bills that, you know, are calling for paper ballots. And I think that we are going to hear more of that from them on the trail if they don't want to, you know, constantly be talking about impeachment. The other thing you can talk about is, hey, we are for securing our elections.

And that's something that President Trump won't even talk about because he is so scared that it makes his victory look illegitimate.

[12:40:03] KING: But it's across the board, it's not just -- in the (INAUDIBLE) of this issue, you just said the president of the United States just days ago standing next to the Japanese prime minister saying it's no big deal that North Korea is lobbing missiles. And you get two or three Republicans who will speak out against that. Most of them just hope nobody calls me because they don't want to have to give an honest answer because the president still has this party under his thumb.

BLITZER: And as this new investigation, Michael Zeldin, is launched by the Attorney General Bill Barr into the origins of the investigation, we just heard the Special Counsel Robert Mueller making clear this was not a witch hunt, this was not a hoax. He says at the very end of his 10-minute statement, before I step away, I want to thank the attorneys, the FBI agents, the analysts, and the professional staff who helped us conducts this investigation in a fair and independent manner. These individuals who spent nearly two years with the special counsel's office were of the highest integrity.

So, he's not -- and he's telling the president to stop saying what you're saying about these 13 angry Democrats who wanted to remove him in a coup.

ZELDIN: That's right. And the president may rue the day that he asked Bill Barr to investigate this. Because if Bill Barr is an honest broker which I think he is more than he's not, then I think he will find what General Counsel Baker of the FBI said and what Jim Comey said and what everyone else in the intelligence community has said which was there was a proper predicate for the opening of this investigation from foreign intelligence services calling us (INAUDIBLE) election of FBI duty not to open this up.

As to FISA which is a whole other thing, the Foreign Intelligence Court Surveillance Act stuff, there may be improvements that could have been done back a year ago when that was up for consideration, it could be done going forward. But it's not going to undermine the legitimacy of the origins of this investigation.

BLITZER: I spoke to some Republicans who agree that in the end, Bill Barr and the White House, they may rue the day that they decided they had to launch this new investigation.

KING: But just what a damning statement that is about the times we live in. And you say you think the attorney general is more of an honest broker than not. Just think about that. This is the top law enforcement official of the United States of America and we're having a conversation we think he is more of an honest broker than he's not as opposed to, thank God we have an independent attorney general who will read the constitution and make the right call.

And that is -- that's a question, that's a legitimate question because if you read his letter to Congress about the Mueller report and then you read the special counsel's letter or God forbid, and I recommend it at home, it's really great reading, read the 400 pages of the Mueller report, what the attorney general has said publicly, and written publicly is inconsistent with what his employee, Robert Mueller said. So the fact that we have to have this conversation is just a damning indictment of the time.

ZELDIN: Yes.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by, it's 448 pages to be precise.

KING: Amen.

BLITZER: As all of us know. We're going to have a lot more on all the breaking news right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:47:44] BLITZER: Welcome back to our breaking news, our special coverage of the Special Counsel Robert Mueller breaking his silence on the Russia investigation on the Mueller report saying that it speaks for itself. And that if they found that the president of the United States did not commit a crime, they would have said so, but they did not find that. And that is clearly in contrast to what the Attorney General William Barr has said about all of this.

Here's what Barr said back in April.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: We specifically asked him about the OLC opinion and whether or not he was taking the position that he would have found a crime but for the existence of the OLC opinion. And he made it very clear several times that that was not his position. He was not saying that but for the OLC opinion, he would have found a crime. He made it clear that he had not made the determination that there was a crime.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's bring in our CNN Contributor Garrett Graff who is joining us right now. He is the author of "The Threat Matrix: Inside Robert Mueller's FBI". So, what do you think, Garrett? You're an expert in this area.

GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, obviously, we weren't in the room with that conversation between Barr and Mueller. But it certainly seems unlikely given Mueller's comments today that Barr is accurately representing that conversation because Mueller said quite the opposite which is that he was never in a position to charge the president and knew that up front and was never going to. And then he had the incredibly pointed statement that if he could have cleared the president, he would have, but at the conclusion of their investigation, they couldn't do so.

BLITZER: That was a very significant statement. Let me just read it one more time. "If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that. We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime."

You've covered Robert Mueller for many years. Were you surprised to hear him make that specific statement as bluntly as he did?

GRAFF: Not in so far as we have already seen that statement almost word for word in the report itself.

[12:50:01] But I do think it was remarkable that Mueller came out and stressed that single point in his statement today. You know, this -- again, it's the only time he has spoken publicly about the investigation in two years. You know, he was somber, he was brave. There was sort of none of the light that you see in his private interactions.

This was, you know, Mueller at his most serious standing probably for the last time at the podium of the Justice Department where he's given the better part of 50 years of his life. And he went out of his way to say at the conclusion of his investigation I cannot conclude that the president didn't commit a crime.

BLITZER: Knowing Mueller as you do, Garrett, was he effectively saying it's now up to you, members of Congress?

GRAFF: Yes. And I think that's been -- you know, that was one of the things that surprised us when we got the original Mueller report. Was, that that was much more of a referral for impeachment than any of us were expecting given Barr's summary up until that point. And Mueller again today in pretty pointed words for Bob Mueller went out of his way to say the criminal justice system is not the solution for accusing the president of a crime that the constitution lays out a different process to adjudicate that.

That's a message that very clearly he is intending to send to Capitol Hill to say, look, guys, I went out, I gathered the evidence. I gathered the facts. I preserved the evidence, another choice phrase he used. And now it's up to Congress to consider whether this rises to the level of a high crime or misdemeanor.

BLITZER: Yes, the pressure is clearly on Congress right now. Josh Campbell is with us as well. He's our CNN law enforcement analyst, a former FBI agent who worked for both Robert Mueller and James Comey. What stood out to you, Josh?

JOSH CAMPBELL, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: Well, Wolf, I think we're finally seeing now the reason why the president and his allies have engaged in this nonstop campaign of attack against Robert Mueller, his character, his team. Robert Mueller stood in front of the cameras today and all but said the president of the United States committed a crime.

Now, that is jarring to the ear, but that appears to be his recommendation. And also, we know that the president and his team, they've lied about the investigation while it was underway so it's not surprising that they would lie now that it's concluded. No matter how many times the president says there was no obstruction, Robert Mueller does not appear to agree with him which I think is very troubling.

The second thing that was striking there, Wolf, is the claim by Mueller that this will likely be the last that we hear from him which I don't think is going to fly with the American people. Certainly, isn't going to fly on Capitol Hill. I know having worked for him that he rejects the limelight. He's not someone that seeks it out. But this is a collusion between an institutionalist and people who are willing to attack an institution and lie about it.

So, although it's admirable that he's not seeking the spotlight, I think that we can see a congressional subpoena in his future. The American people need to hear from him. He needs to be questioned further.

BLITZER: The -- and Gloria Borger, the pressure clearly will be on those House Democrats if he doesn't come voluntarily to go ahead and issue that kind of subpoena.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, Wolf. As I was -- told you earlier, I heard from a senior Democratic strategist who said that Mueller can't get away with this, they should subpoena him the day he leaves the DOJ which could be the today I believe, and that he needs to answer questions. One of the questions, Wolf, that you were talking about with Garrett Graff earlier is this completely different stories we are hearing now from the attorney general and from Bob Mueller about how important this Office of Legal Counsel opinion was in his decision not to indict the president of the United States or not to come to any conclusion about it because he said today, charging the president with a crime is not an option we could consider. And Barr in April, as you played in that clip said that Rosenstein and I asked Mueller when we met with him on March 5th whether he would have made obstruction a crime but for that Office of Legal Counsel Opinion, and he made it clear that was not his position.

So which is it? Is it that the reason he didn't move on the president is because he knew from day one he could not move on the president? Or is it as Barr says that the reason he didn't come to a decision on indictment is because there wasn't anything to indict. And so, if you listen to the White House, Rudy Giuliani has just released a statement saying a declination is a declination.

But we were hearing something very different from Mueller today, and so I think that the Congress is going to want to dig deeper on this question. Whether he will cooperate or not remains to be seen, but I would not be surprised if they did subpoena him.

[12:55:03] BLITZER: What did you think, Gloria, of the relatively tamed reaction coming from the White House?

BORGER: Whenever anything is tamed coming from the president, you know it's been lawyered. So, I think that there was a different tone coming from the president. He didn't talk about the treasonous investigators as he always does. He didn't say, you know, no collusion, no obstruction.

What he did say was there was insufficient evidence which is very different from the words we've been hearing from him in the past. So I think that when you hear a president who's a little low key, it's because somebody is saying to him keep it a little quieter, Mr. President, and he might have been listening.

BLITZER: Now let's see if he continues to listen to that advice. Gloria, stand by. Everybody, stand by. Our special coverage will continue right after a quick break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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