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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Robert Mueller Testifies Before House Judiciary and House Intelligence Committees. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 24, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:02]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

A historic day on Capitol Hill, former special counsel and FBI Director Robert Mueller testifying before the House Judiciary Committee and the House Intelligence Committee, spelling out his team's findings for American public and directly contradicting President Trump at times.

Trump, who despite decrying the investigation as a witch-hunt and a hoax, has claimed complete and total exoneration, but today Mueller said the president has not been exonerated and it was not a witch- hunt.

Mueller this afternoon clarifying some of his testimony from earlier in the day, making clear his team did not make a determination as to whether President Trump committed the crime of obstruction of justice.

And though Mueller did say it is true a president could be prosecuted after he leaves office, he refused to say whether his report recommended impeachment.

On the question of potential conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign, Mueller once again affirmed that there was not sufficient evidence to charge any member of the Trump campaign with taking part in any criminal conspiracy with Russia.

Mueller's brief, at times halting answers and refusal to speculate on many issues was surely not what many Democrats were hoping for, though there was at least one time when Mueller seemed to go outside the boundaries of his report, weighing in on comments from President Trump as a candidate about WikiLeaks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MIKE QUIGLEY (D-IL): "This just came out, WikiLeaks. I love WikiLeaks," Donald Trump, October 10, 2016. "This WikiLeaks stuff is unbelievable. It tells you the inner heart. You got to read it," Donald Trump, October 12, 2016.

"This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove," Donald Trump, October 31, 2016. "Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks," Donald Trump, November 4, 2016.

Would any of those quotes disturb you, Mr. Director?

ROBERT MUELLER, RUSSIA PROBE SPECIAL COUNSEL: I'm not certain I would say...

QUIGLEY: How do you react to them?

MUELLER: Well, it is probably -- problematic is an understatement.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: "Problematic is an understatement."

As CNN's Sara Murray reports to us now, Democrats are claiming today's testimony only bolsters their case for impeachment proceedings to begin, while Republicans are saying they learned nothing new, case closed.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Prize witness on the stand. Democrats tried to drive home President Trump's alleged misconduct.

REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): The report did not conclude that he did not commit obstruction of justice; is that correct?

MUELLER: That is correct.

NADLER: And what about total exoneration? Did you actually totally exonerate the president?

MUELLER: No.

MURRAY: Special counsel Robert Mueller neutered Trump's favorite line of defense.

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Well, your investigation is not a witch- hunt, is it?

MUELLER: It is not a witch-hunt.

SCHIFF: When the president said the Russian interference was a hoax, that was false, wasn't it?

MUELLER: True.

MURRAY: But Mueller may have failed to deliver the sparks Democrats hoped for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was the point of this hearing to get Mr. Mueller to recommend impeachment?

NADLER: That is not a fair point of inquiry. MURRAY: The hearings plodded along. Members read sections of the

report, and Mueller offered halting answers, often responded with one word, and more than 100 times citing the more than 400-page Russia report.

At one point, Mueller signaled the only reason Trump wasn't indicted is because he's a sitting president.

REP. TED LIEU (D-CA): I would like to ask you. The reason again that you did not indict Donald Trump is because of OLC opinion stating that you cannot indict a sitting president, correct?

MUELLER: That is correct.

MURRAY: But he later clarified.

MUELLER: We did not reach a determination as to whether the president committed a crime.

MURRAY: Still, it's clear Justice Department guidelines that a sitting president cannot be indicted weighed heavily on Mueller's decision-making.

REP. GUY RESCHENTHALER (R-PA): You had an obligation to either prosecute or not prosecute.

MUELLER: Well, generally, that is the case, although most cases are not done in the context of the president.

RESCHENTHALER: And in this case, you made a decision not to prosecute, correct?

MUELLER: No. We made a decision not to decide whether to prosecute or not.

REP. KEN BUCK (R-CO): Could you charge the president with a trial after he left office?

MUELLER: Yes.

MURRAY: Mueller also wouldn't say whether he intended for Congress to pursue impeachment proceedings.

REP. JAMES SENSENBRENNER (R-WI): You never use the term raising to impeachable conduct.

MUELLER: Our mandate does not go to other ways of addressing conduct.

MURRAY: For their part, Republican scoffed at the investigation.

REP. DEVIN NUNES (R-CA): It's time for the curtain to close on the Russia hoax. The conspiracy theory is dead.

MURRAY: And pressed Mueller on its origins, particularly the dossier, which is under investigation by the Justice Department. REP. GREG STEUBE (R-FL): You had two years to investigate. Not once did you consider it worthy to investigate how an unverified document that was paid for by a political opponent was used to obtain a warrant to spy on the opposition political campaign. Did you do any investigation in that whatsoever?

MUELLER: I do not accept your characterization of what occurred.

STEUBE: What would you -- what would be your characterization?

MUELLER: I'm not going to speak anymore to it.

MURRAY: While Republicans aimed to discredit, attacks on his team drew the strongest pushback.

[16:05:03]

MUELLER: We strove to hire those individuals that could do the job.

I have been in this business for almost 25 years. And in those 25 years, I have not had occasion once to ask somebody about their political affiliation. It is not done. What I care about is the capability of the individual to do the job and do the job quickly and seriously and with integrity.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MURRAY: Now, Jake, Bob Mueller seemed a little bit more expressive in that second hearing about conspiracy. He said he was afraid it could be the new normal that campaigns will see foreign powers, foreign hostile powers, trying to interfere in U.S. elections, and not feel compelled to tell the authorities.

And he also pointed out that, in some circumstances, it is a crime if you accept help from foreign powers if you are a campaign. Obviously, that is a message he wanted to get across clearly, even if Donald Trump is not going to face any consequences.

TAPPER: All right, Sara Murray, thanks so much.

Let's chew over all this with my experts here.

Jen Psaki, let me start with you.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Democrat Elijah Cummings said today he thinks Democrats did a good job, but he's not sure this is going to shift public opinion. What do you think?

JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I think that's right, or it's too soon to know.

The other layer of opinion, though, is members of Congress. And there are members who have been in the wings waiting to call for impeachment hearings even before today. So I expect we will see a slew of those over the next couple of days.

TAPPER: Oh, you think it's -- more Democrats will call for impeachment?

PSAKI: I fully expect that. I think many have been waiting for a reason to do that, even before the hearings started today.

And this gives them a reason to do that. So if that happens, some things to watch our, who are these Democrats? Are they vulnerable freshmen? Are they experienced leaders who are more moderate in the party?

Are there people who send a message to Nancy Pelosi that actually the politics in the caucus are shifting? If that happens, that's what she's looking for, you could certainly see a shift in her strategy as well.

TAPPER: Mike Rogers, what do you think?

MIKE ROGERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, I don't think anything's changed today. I would look for one number that's going to make a big important impact on this. And that's Nancy Pelosi.

If you see her shifting at all on the notion that impeachment is possible, or that could help maintain that majority, she will move. And if you don't hear that kind of language today or tomorrow or in the next few days, it doesn't matter if five or 10 or 50 Democrats come out. She's going to make sure that will or will not happen.

And, again, she has stated pretty clearly her goal in this is to maintain the majority.

PSAKI: But I think that will be based on where her members go.

TAPPER: Right. She's a temperature taker.

PSAKI: Yes, there's a connection. So if there's a domino, it could impact her as well.

TAPPER: And, obviously, Mueller today -- and you have worked with him in the past -- Mueller today really wanted to stay within the confines of the report. More than 100 times, he refused to answer the question or said he wasn't going to get into it.

Here's just a little sample.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MUELLER: I direct you to the report. I rely on the report. I would send you back to the report. I can't beyond what's in the report. I am not going to get into that. I can't get into the discussions on that. I can't get into it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Were you surprised at all at how often he refused to answer the question, just said he wouldn't get into it?

And, also, what do you make of some of the criticism of him, that he couldn't hear all the questions? He seemed not always as familiar with the report as other people on the committee?

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Mm-hmm.

I was not surprised that he didn't answer a lot of questions and that he did refer back to the report a lot, because that is exactly what he said he was going to do. He said it all along. He said it in his May statement, that he was sticking to the report. He said it leading up to the hearing.

So I do think that he did what he said in sticking to the contours of the report.

I think he actually, though -- especially in the second hearing, he contradicted the president's main talking point, which is that the entire investigation was a hoax.

This investigation was not a hoax. And in the second hearing, the House intelligence hearing, he was more engaging because I think what he is most concerned about, Mueller, is the national security issue and the threat that Russian interference played in the election and plays today and going forward.

And so I think he was more engaging on that issue. And he absolutely contradicted what is the president's main talking point consistently, which is that there was no basis for this investigation, the investigation was a hoax and the entire Mueller investigation had no purpose.

That is not what Bob Mueller said today. Did he do it in the most engaging way that I think people would have perhaps liked to see? No, but he said it, and he stuck to that, and he was most, I won't say animated, but he was most engaged on that national security issue.

TAPPER: And, Elliot, in addition to taking -- not taking away, because I'm sure we will hear it anyway -- but in addition to disputing the witch-hunt, hoax talking points from President Trump, he also very clearly said that the no obstruction and other -- what's the one I'm...

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER DEPUTY U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: No collusion?

TAPPER: Well, no. He backed the no collusion, no obstruction -- exoneration, total exoneration, he contradicted those as well. It was not an exoneration, he said, and he didn't reach a conclusion on obstruction.

[16:10:04]

WILLIAMS: Right.

And all this talk about Robert Moore's demeanor and was he slow or was he -- look, look at what got on the record today, and, like you said, no obstruction. There was evidence of obstruction at least 11 or 10 instances, four of which met all the elements of the criminal offense.

The collusion, he sort of didn't completely dispel. But, again, on the question of you had a foreign actor willing to and wanting to interfere in our elections and a campaign wanting to accept it, that -- there was testimony about that today.

And all this talk about, was Robert Mueller there and once he as sharp, or should he have been younger, it's ancillary to the point that what we heard was clear evidence today of what was in this report, laying out damaging evidence for the president of the United States.

Now, we can disagree -- and people can disagree as to what you ought to do with it, whether it was a road map or a template for impeachment, or whether it was a template or a road map for future prosecution.

But at the end of the day, there is evidence on the record in Congress now of serious misdeeds by a presidential campaign and the president of the United States, full stop.

TAPPER: And I want to play one specific exchange about something that Mueller would not talk about. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ERIC SWALWELL (D-CA): Did you want to interview Donald Trump Jr.?

MUELLER: I'm not going to discuss that.

SWALWELL: Did you subpoena Donald Trump Jr.?

MUELLER: And I'm not going to discuss that.

SWALWELL: Did you want to interview the president?

MUELLER: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: So, I'm confused. Does anybody have any insight? Why would he not answer the questions about Donald Trump Jr.? He made it clear -- you know. Why?

CORDERO: Yes, because he's a private individual.

TAPPER: He is a private individual.

CORDERO: Yes.

So this goes to, if we look at the actual report itself, the report itself does not get into -- and there are sections that are redacted that I think probably pertain to that category of information that Attorney General Barr said they would not release, which is derogatory information about a private individual.

I think that's why he was willing to answer more questions about the president, because he's the president. He's a public official. (CROSSTALK)

ROGERS: Section C outlined exactly that whole deliberation, which I thought was unusual, but they put it in the schedule, in the report, about talking about why they ended up going with written questions vs. not.

And I think that's probably also...

(CROSSTALK)

WILLIAMS: The other question about Trump Jr. is that if you read between the lines where he's referenced, they leave the implication that he asserted his Fifth Amendment right.

Because that dealt with the grand jury and some secrecy questions, he probably just didn't want to go there. But also with respect to the president United States, he also says that the president's answers were inadequate a number of times.

ROGERS: And untruthful, which surprised me a little.

TAPPER: Today, he said that, untruthful.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: It will be interesting to see if he walks that back.

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS: I thought that was shocking.

TAPPER: It was shocking.

Congressman -- Congresswoman Val Demings -- and we will get to that in a little bit.

Any minute, we expect President Trump to leave the White House. He's on his way to West Virginia for a fund-raiser. Is he going to comment on the testimony from special counsel Robert Mueller, on the congressional hearings?

Stay with us?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:17:00] TAPPER: And we're back with breaking news. Robert Mueller today finally testifying before Congress. The former special counsel largely sticking within the confines of his 448-page report, refusing to say whether the report recommended impeachment, though Mueller did affirm that the president could be charged with a crime after leaving office theoretically.

Let's continue the conversation. And I want to bring in this clip from Florida Congresswoman Val Demings asking Robert Mueller and perhaps the most surprising part of the testimony except for the part that he walked back earlier, where basically she said was the president honest in his written answers about Russian election interference.

Let's play the clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. VAL DEMINGS (D-FL): Could you say Director Mueller that the president was credible?

ROBERT MUELLER, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL: I can't answer that question.

DEMINGS: Director Mueller, isn't it fair to say the president's written answers were not only inadequate and incomplete because he didn't answer many of your questions, but where he did his answers showed that he wasn't always being truthful?

MUELLER: There -- I would say -- generally.

DEMINGS: Generally. Director Mueller --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: I mean, that's a pretty stunning moment. Generally, the president was not truthful in sworn answers to a special counsel?

PSAKI: Right. And this is where Mueller's demeanor, which was not super energetic but somber could be very effective for the Democrats because there are moments like that or in his back and forth with Adam Schiff which was kind of similar where he asked him whether the Trump campaign had intervened or had welcomed the intervention and they said yes. Did they lie to cover it up? Yes.

Where it is very clear and he's not being -- he's not pounding his fist on the desk, he's not being dramatic. He's giving clear, somber answers. That's what the Democrats were looking for.

But it is not surprising to those of us who have been closely watching President Trump that he lied but it is certainly -- that is a moment that the Democrats certainly would have wanted out of this hearing I think.

TAPPER: And it is also new. The idea that of all of the things that the presidents and his team did wrong, if not illegal, I mean, if he's going to stick by that and don't know that he is, the idea that president was not honest in sworn answers to testimony, that's a crime.

MIKE ROGERS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: I found it so stunning. I mean, politically, calling the president a liar is one thing. When you have the counsel who is talking about the report of which they spent two years and a lots of money and lots of investigation saying he didn't believe the president's answers under oath were truthful, that to me is another category altogether.

I was just a little surprised he went there. It will be interesting to see if he walks that back --

TAPPER: Yes.

ROGERS: -- because that is not referenced in the report. That is beyond what he said in the report. And I think that is not -- certainly not helpful to the president.

WILLIAMS: And what is so remarkable about today in any other parallel universe testimony like that would have been devastating to a president of the United States -- Barack Obama, George W. Bush, whatever. But the fact is -- I guess I don't know if it is congressional oversight in the age of Twitter where you need the viral moment or if we've become so desensitized to the spin and fabrication, to use Jen's term, lies, from the president of the United States that you have the special counsel of the United States or of the Justice Department saying the president wasn't truthful in answers.

[16:20:17] That's -- it is just mind-boggling.

TAPPER: I mean, Carrie, we know that Mueller is guided by the Office of Legal Counsel, the OLC memo that said a sitting president cannot be indicted. That guided the entire report. But for him to say President Trump was generally not truthful in his sworn answers to the special counsel's office, is that not even more of a reason, theoretically, if Mueller stands by it for Democrats to open an impeachment inquiry?

CORDERO: It certainly is one additional fact. Look, I think they could open an impeachment hearing based on the text in the report, whether or not that is one additional fact that might change some members' minds, maybe it is and one more thing. But the entire testimony underlies the fact that the president is a liar and that the special counsel's report demonstrates that he's a liar and now the special counsel said he's a liar, and the only reason that he didn't subpoena him to come and testify under oath or be interviewed under oath because they were worried about influencing the election.

And I think that even influence because here we are in July of 2019 and the campaign is underway, I think that even still is underlying Director Mueller's reticent in being a little bit more expansive about things. I think he is so concerned about improperly being -- being interpreted as improperly affecting an ongoing campaign as we look toward 2020.

TAPPER: All right. Everyone, stick around. The big question on Capitol Hill, did Mueller's testimony help or hurt calls for an impeachment inquiry?

We're going to bring you the new reaction coming in. That's next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[16:26:30] REP. JIM SENSENBRENNER (R-WI): Is it true that there is nothing in volume two of the report that says that the president may have engaged in impeachable conduct?

MUELLER: Well, we have studiously kept in the center of our investigation the -- our mandate. And our mandate does not go to other ways of addressing conduct.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Special Counsel Robert Mueller testifying before Congress today refusing to answer a question from Congressman Sensenbrenner about if there's anything in the second volume of the report that said President Trump may have engaged in impeachable conduct, as the number of Democratic members of Congress calling for impeachment proceedings grows to at least 92.

Manu Raju is live on Capitol Hill.

And, Manu, what are you hearing from lawmakers about the push for impeachment today? Ninety-two is few more than we started the day with. I think it was 88. But that's still a minority of the Democratic Caucus.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and Democrats do expect that number to grow. Even if Robert Mueller may not have delivered the command performance that some Democrats may have wanted, they said ultimately that their objective was fulfilled.

I talked to a number of Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee and Intelligence Committee, particularly ones who support calls for an impeachment inquiry, they do expect that essentially, their case has been bolstered. They believe more support will grow from this regard.

And I talked to one member who had not publicly announced support for an impeachment inquiry, that's Sean Maloney, and he said it is time to move forward. So expect more of that.

A number of Democrats said that their leadership and others perhaps may be swayed by growing public support in the aftermath of this hearing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JAMIE RASKIN (D-MD): There is overwhelming evidence of obstruction of justice which, after all, was a key article in the impeachment articles against both Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.

RAJU: Did he change the dial on impeachment?

REP. CEDRIC RICHMOND (D-LA): I'm not sure if he changed the dial. I think it will depend on how the public views what they saw today.

REP. DAVID CICILLINE (D-RI): We believe, many of us, that the time has long passed to open a formal impeachment inquiry. I think today's testimony further supports that argument.

(END VIDEO CLIP)] RAJU: And, Jake, in just a matter of moments, we'll hear from the person who will make that decision, Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She is expected to address reporters. Of course, that's going to be a key question. She has resisted calls for moving forward on impeachment proceedings, saying the current course, investigations being split up by six committees is a right way to go, concerned the Republican-led Senate would ultimately kill any impeachment effort.

But we do know that the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler, has privately supported an impeachment inquiry. We'll see if his tune has changed and Adam Schiff, too, has resisted calls for opening an impeachment inquiry. He also will join the speaker. We'll hear what they have to say in just a matter of moments -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Manu Raju, thanks so much.

Let's talk about this. I think one of the big myths out there among the public is the idea that impeachment has to do with some sort of legal standard because, you know, there is nothing that we learned today with a couple of exceptions that isn't in the report that came out several months ago, but this isn't about legal standards. This is about politics.

PSAKI: Right. And I think this is what's often misunderstood about Nancy Pelosi's strategy. She's making a political calculation right now that it is better -- it's going to easier to get Donald Trump out of office by waiting until the election in 2020. That it will help him if there is an impeachment inquiry, that it will fail on the Senate and it's not the right step to make.

Her political calculus could certainly change but it's not based to your point on what is in the legal documents or the legal process. It's based on political calculation. And she is the speaker of the House, has a huge amount of power in deciding that, but she also has decades of experience --

[16:30:00]