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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Robert Mueller Testifies Before Congress; Democrats Propose Election Security Legislation; Mueller's Testimony Contradicts Trump's Repeated Claims Of Total Exoneration; First Trump Comments After Testimony From Robert Mueller. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired July 24, 2019 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JEN PSAKI, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: 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 in determining what the right path forward is.
Now, as I touched on earlier, I think she's not someone who's saying never impeachment, we're never moving forward. If the political winds change, if the public changes, if her caucus changes, then I think she could also change her view.
It's a matter of timing as well.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And, Congressman Rogers, we had a Republican congressman from Michigan, your home state. Now he's no longer Republican, but Justin Amash, he came out in favor of impeachment a couple months ago.
So it was at one point a bipartisan effort, no longer, I guess, because he's an independent.
MIKE ROGERS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, he was a libertarian. He ran, said very vocally when he ran. So many in the Republican Party never counted him as a Republican in the first place.
And then he -- then he went independent, still significant, but he was never a part of the Republican Party ever. He always had his libertarian bent.
That being said, I think what Nancy Pelosi is looking at on this is, what is this doing for average Americans? I mean, if you look at it, I don't think this moves the needle a bit, which is why she has the strategy that she has, that she learned through the health care debate, you can't do this all by yourself on something this big.
I think she looks at this in that political context. And if it doesn't move the needle in small-town America across the country, you're going to get the same Nancy Pelosi tomorrow and next week and the week thereafter, which is, we should be focused on doing some other things.
TAPPER: Go ahead.
PSAKI: I was going to say, that's exactly right. And a lot of the Democrats I talk to who are not necessarily on the front page of newspapers every day, but are in moderate districts or just rank-and- file members, will say they want to get back to talking about health care, they want to talk about the issues that help them get elected in 2018.
They don't want to talk about this anymore. That could change. But that's where their politics and their views are right now.
CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: All right. Let me give you the counter argument that counters Nancy Pelosi's political argument, which is that the Constitution provides a mechanism through which Congress, as a separate branch of government, is supposed to hold a president accountable or other executive branch officials.
Volume one of the report, which covers the national security issues, lays out information that the campaign was willing to receive foreign assistance, and the president's statements since then indicate he still is.
Volume two lays out almost 10 different -- up to 10 different potential acts of obstructive behavior. If this doesn't meet the standard, what's in this report, if this doesn't meet the standard of at least opening an impeachment inquiry, what does that say about future ability for a Congress to hold a president accountable for inappropriate and potentially illegal behavior?
TAPPER: I want to bring in CNN's Abby Phillip right now. She's at the White House.
And, Abby, President Trump is speaking right now. What did he have to say?
ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, it should come as no surprise, given what we have heard so far, that President Trump is taking a victory lap to reporters on the South Lawn as we speak, telling them it was a good day for him, a good day for the Republican Party, and repeating the talking points that the Mueller testimony today that we all saw, in his view, confirmed that this was all a hoax, even though that contradicted literally what Robert Mueller testified today on the Hill.
But it gives you a window into where President Trump is on all of this. He is saying this is a great day for him. And he has -- to reporters in this gaggle that's ongoing praised the Republicans who led off the Republican side of the question. He called them his warriors.
And he's also adding that he is not going to weigh in on whether or not Robert Mueller's performance was good or bad. But he believes that the content of what was revealed today did not move the ball in the Democrats' direction. When this tape comes out, as the president is still talking, I think
we're going to see a pretty fiery performance from President Trump. At one point, according to the reporters who are out there, he was asked about whether he was worried that he might be charged with some crimes after leaving office, which Mueller testified today was possible.
The president lashed out at that reporter, calling them fake news. So a fiery response from President Trump that we're going to get in just a few minutes, Jake, but from the reports of it, President Trump is feeling pretty good today and feeling like this was not the kind of performance from Robert Mueller that he believes set him back. He thinks it was a good day for him.
TAPPER: All right, Abby Phillip, thank you so much.
And, Elliot, obviously, the president claiming a win. The substance of the hearing would contradict that. You had Robert Mueller, the special counsel, say that the president was not exonerated, that he didn't reach a conclusion on obstruction, both of those contradicting the president, that this was not a witch-hunt, that it was not a hoax, that the Russian -- that the Russians approached team Trump and team Trump welcomed their support, and then repeatedly lied about it.
ELLIOT WILLIAMS, FORMER DEPUTY U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Right, no obstruction, no collusion, you don't get two bites at the apple, all of those statements are untrue.
No obstruction, no collusion, and the two bites of the apple point isn't true, because Congress is not the same as the Justice Department. It's an independent body, just as Carrie had said, that has an obligation to at least look into allegations of presidential misconduct.
And, more importantly, members of Congress -- this is back to the political question with Nancy Pelosi -- it ties into that -- members of Congress don't take an oath to their constituents. It's their obligation to get reelected and to serve them.
But their oath is to the Constitution. And if they believe and have found there's been a violation of the Constitution in some way, then they do have some duty to at least open inquiries and look into it.
And Robert Mueller, in effect, handed it to them with his response to the OLC guidance. And here's why. By acknowledging that he could not charge the president, but still continuing to gather evidence, that evidence goes nowhere, it serves no purpose if the goal wasn't to hand it off to some other investigative body.
Now, that's either a future Justice Department that could prosecute or investigate private citizen Donald Trump or Congress. And so he didn't say it today. He was asked the question, should we -- in not so many words, should we impeach, and he sort of backed away from it. But there's no clearer evidence of the fact that he spent two years handing them evidence than the fact that he was teeing it up for them to take it and run with it, if they so chose.
TAPPER: But one point, Elliot Williams, you said no collusion was proven to be false, but, actually, I think he meant no exoneration.
WILLIAMS: No exoneration.
TAPPER: No exoneration.
But the president does have an argument to make in the sense that Mueller testified and the report states they could not find any prosecutable evidence of conspiracy that the Trump team worked with the Russians.
And that was originally what this was all about.
PSAKI: Well, it was.
And that's why I have been saying for a long time that the special counsel's report is but one piece of understanding the bigger picture. One thing that Bob Mueller I think was really clear about today was that he viewed his role solely as a prosecutor.
And a prosecutor's job is to determine -- to conduct investigation and determine whether or not criminal charges can be brought. And that was the limits of his role.
Prosecutorial function is not necessarily the best way -- sometimes it is, but sometimes it's not a comprehensive way to address a national security threat or a president that is engaging in behavior that's inconsistent with his oath of office.
There are other mechanisms to deal with that.
TAPPER: All right, everyone, stick around.
Coming up, how the Trump campaign is hoping to use today's testimony from Robert Mueller.
We will be right back.
TAPPER: And we have some breaking news for you now.
Democrats are now planning to bring election security legislation to the floor of the Senate following Bob Mueller's testimony.
CNN's Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill for us.
Manu, tell us more.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
Senator Mark Warner, who's the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, along with a couple of other Democrats, plan to go to the floor in the aftermath of the Mueller testimony to propose election security legislation that has been languishing in the Senate.
There's been objections, mainly by the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who does not believe that there's any need for further legislative action over election security.
But Democrats in that chamber have been trying to push bills that do have support from some Republicans to try to get this moving. Now, expect this to fail. There's going to be an effort to try to get this quickly passed in the United States Senate. Any member can object.
We do expect a Republican objection. So what the Democrats are essentially trying to do is make their point about how they want to respond legislatively, other Democrats, and make -- expect this to be a part of the Democratic argument going forward too in the House, as Democrats try to propose bills that they believe could further safeguard elections.
Some Republicans don't believe that they're -- what they're proposing is the right way to go. So this debate about how to proceed and how to deal with some of the vulnerabilities outlined by the special counsel, there's no good agreement on Capitol Hill on how to deal with just that, as calls from the left also grow about moving forward on an impeachment inquiry, which the leadership at the moment is showing no signs of getting behind -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.
Let's talk about this.
It would seem that bipartisan election security legislation would be a no-brainer. Why would Republicans oppose it?
ROGERS: It really does depend on what's in the legislation.
ROGERS: It's like a guy that can't breathe. And you say, I'm going to put this 10-pound weight on your chest. I'm sure this will help you through your episode.
Right now, today was interesting. The NSA came out and announced a new directorate to handle this, to coordinate this kind of an activity to protect the elections. It was from a woman named Anne Neuberger, who is, by the way, a national treasure. She's been with NSA a while. Brilliant, bright.
I'm glad she's there. She now has this new directorate. She's very, very good. And that gives her the authority to kind of corral the other intelligence agencies to get this done.
Also, Dan Coats, over the last few months, came out and had each intelligence agency designate someone, a leadership person in each agency designed to get after and collect information and get it up, I assume now to Anne Neuberger, who's going to be the new NSA director.
I think they ought to look at that. They ought to see if that's working. I wouldn't be in a hurry to lay something over just to thump your chest and say we did it. You don't want to do more harm than good.
This, to me, was really important, because the one thing lacking was a person to make a decision. Now it looks like they have one. And the coordination, somebody that could call up the CIA and say, I'm not asking, I'm telling you, give me this information. Same with the FBI and other agencies.
TAPPER: And people in the administration say that they have been able to do everything they need to do for election security, although they do privately bemoan the fact that the commander in chief is not helping them in the education of the public and, in fact, continues to sow seeds of doubt about whether or not election interference actually ever happened.
PSAKI: Well, the problem with that is that it's a cooperative effort with states.
So I'm not sure we're hearing that from governors and election officials and states. They're the ones who are controlling voting and ensuring people aren't getting into the voting systems. And one of the things we tried to do was to educate and to work with States to prevent that.
So I think it's all well and good what they're doing now but what they should have done is done this two and a half years ago. And this election -- this proposal that Warner is putting out is not new. There's been a push in the Senate for this for some time. He's just trying to take advantage of the focus on Mueller.
So I think that's good to hear about the administration but there's a lot of additional steps that need to happen. We're getting pretty close to the election. We're getting pretty close to voting and more needs to happen now.
TAPPER: All right, everyone stick around. We're standing by now for a new reaction from President Trump about Mueller's testimony. We're going to bring that to you as soon as we get the tape. Stay with us.
[16:50:00] TAPPER: And we're back with the breaking news. Robert Mueller testifying on Capitol Hill today. We are waiting now to hear from President Trump. He just spoke at the White House at length. We're going to bring that to you as soon as the tape comes in. But until then, let's talk about this.
I want you to, Carrie, listen to one key answer from Mueller regarding the idea of charging President Trump after he's no longer president.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): Under the Department of Justice policy, the president could be prosecuted for obstruction of justice crimes after he leaves office, is it correct?
ROBERT MUELLER, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL: True.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TAPPER: True, true. He could be prosecuted for obstruction of justice crimes after he leaves office. But we know Mueller -- there are no sealed indictments so there's nothing -- we're waiting to hear from the Mueller team who would bring such a charge forward.
CORDERO: It would have to be -- if it was obstruction, it would have to come from the Justice Department, a U.S. Attorney's Office. Since he was here in D.C., the most likely would be the U.S. Attorney's Office here in D.C.
Again, that U.S. attorney works for the Attorney General so a lot of that decision-making process would be an evaluation of the evidence and would that go all the way up to whoever would be the Attorney General, and so it would matter a lot I would suspect on what year that might take place.
I think there was also another exchange perhaps later in that hearing where the statute of limitations came up and Director Mueller wasn't really in a position to be able to answer that question and how would it affect it. So a legal analysis would need to be done as to whether or not those charges could be brought.
But it also raises an issue that Elliot raised earlier which is that the process -- potential prosecution later is one potential reason that they could have preserved the evidence, but then the other Avenue is that they preserve the evidence for Congress to be able to act.
What's clear is that they knew pretty early on -- the special counsel's team knew pretty early on that they weren't going to make a prosecutorial judgment, and they conducted their investigation anyway to make sure that the evidence was there.
WILLIAMS: And that's why even -- so if you remember in the morning, he answers the question directly to Ted Lieu and says, yes, you know, we knew right away that we weren't going to charge the President and then walks it back. Under either circumstance, it's damaging information for the president, and under either circumstance you know, they're opening the door to future -- to bringing future charges against the president.
But again, you know, the big picture point here is we're getting caught up in this question of what's criminally chargeable versus what's not, and not the bigger picture question of what conduct is appropriate from a President of the United States and a presidential campaign, right? It's sort of -- sorry, go ahead.
CORDERO: Yes, and let me just add one other thing. Sometimes I hear people say, you know, that there's -- I think there's a group of people that perhaps is expecting that at some point they're going to see President Trump -- and these are political pundits, they're going to see President Trump going to jail. I think that's fantasy.
TAPPER: All right, let's take a listen to President Trump responding.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We had a very good day today, the Republican Party, our country. There was no defense of what Robert Mueller was trying to defend in all fairness to Robert Mueller. Whether his performance was a bad one or a good one, I think everybody understands that. I think everybody understands what's going on.
There was no defense to this ridiculous hoax, this witch hunt that's been going on for a long time, pretty much from the time I came down on the escalator with our First Lady and it's a disgrace what happened. But I think today proved a lot to everybody. In fact, some of my biggest opponents wrote things today that I wouldn't have believed they would have written and I appreciate that they did that.
This has been a very bad thing for our country. And despite everything we've been through, it's been an incredible two and a half years for our country. The administration, our president, me, we've done a great job.
We've got the strongest stock market, the best unemployment numbers, the most number of people ever working in the history of our country right now almost 160 million, our military has been rebuilt and getting even stronger. We've done a great job and we've done it under this terrible, phony cloud, a phony cloud, that's all it was, and they should be ashamed of themselves, absolutely ashamed.
And you know who knew it was a phony cloud more than anyone else is Schiff, and Nadler, and Schumer, and Pelosi, every one of them. They all knew it was phony stuff. And you look at the polls, the polls are showing it may be more than anybody else or anything else, and I've had my best polls and I don't say why, but people see what's gone on in our country with this whole thing.
[16:55:09] I've been going through it for three years, for three years, old nonsense. So this was a very big day for our country, this was a very big day for the Republican Party, and you could say it was the great day for me but I don't even like to say that it's great. I'll tell you what, I very much appreciate those incredible warriors that you watched today on television, Republicans that defended something and defended something very powerful, very important because they were really defending our country, more than anything else they were defending our country.
But they were warriors and they've been warriors for a long time. And everybody knew it was a hoax especially the Democrats. I wish we could be a fly in the wall in those rooms where the Democrats would go in and talk before and after meetings and they'd be laughing and smiling and say can you believe that we're getting away with this. But in the end, they didn't get away with it. Yes?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)
TRUMP: So there is no such thing. He didn't have the right to exonerate. And you know it's very interesting, people mention exoneration, that was something where he totally folded because he never had the right to exonerate. And it was covered very well by Congressman Turner and put to a conclusion.
We were -- if you take a look at not only the report, beyond the report, take a look at not what he said but what he was forced to say. And even your networks, and your network, and your network -- every one of these networks, they put up their hands.
You know we had a couple of cases with -- actually, we had about six cases where they asked our people, our representatives, television networks, please don't come in tonight. We're not going to be doing much on it. And the reason they're not because it's over. Go ahead.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you concerned you could be indicted out of office (INAUDIBLE)
TRUMP: So WikiLeaks is a hoax just like everything else. And all of those problems having to do with crime were the biggest hoax of all. It was the witch hunt, a total witch hunt. And when you saw Robert Mueller's statement, the earlier statement and then he did a recap, he did a correction later on in the afternoon. And you know what that correction was and you still ask the question, you know why? Because you're fake news and you're one of the most.
And let me tell you, the fact that you even ask that question, you're fake news, because you know what, he totally corrected himself in the afternoon and you know that just as well as anybody. Kaitlan, Kaitlan.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE)
TRUMP: I don't know whose answers weren't, I guess his answers weren't, because if you look the whole report, you take a look at what they did, some of the things that he didn't even know about, some of the things he didn't even know what's going on.
But you know, in the end, what he did, he actually probably came through for himself. The performance was obviously not very good, he had a lot of problems, but what he showed more than anything else is that this whole thing has been three years of embarrassment and waste of time for our country.
And you know what? The Democrats thought they could win an election like this. I think they hurt themselves very badly for 2020.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE)
TRUMP: Did I what?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did your son Donald Trump Jr. speak with Robert Mueller.
TRUMP: I don't know. I really don't know. I never had -- don't know. Yes, go ahead.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. President, are you concerned about --
TRUMP: I mean, frankly whether or not he did, it wouldn't matter to me because he did nothing wrong. He did nothing wrong. Because it is so unimportant -- it was always a very unimportant meeting. It was only important to the fake news. Go ahead.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mueller said you could be charged once you --
TRUMP: No, he didn't say that. Again, you're fake news and you're right at the top of the list also. Let me just tell you, go back to what -- it is not what he said. Read his correction.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That was not what he --
TRUMP: Read his correction. If you read his correction, you'll find out. That is why people don't deal with you, because you're not an honest reporter.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)
TRUMP: John, they are devastated.