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Robert Mueller Testifies Before Congress. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired July 24, 2019 - 15:00   ET

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


[15:00:00]

WELCH: And you found in your investigation that on July 27, candidate Trump called on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton's e-mail, something for the first time they did about five hours later. Correct?

MUELLER: That's correct.

WELCH: And you also found that on August 2, Mr. Manafort met with the person tied to Russian intelligence, Mr. Kilimnik and gave him internal campaign strategy where that Russia was intending to do a misinformation social media campaign, correct?

MUELLER: I'm not certain of the tie there.

WELCH: But the fact of that meeting, do you agree with?

MUELLER: The fact that the meeting took place is accurate.

WELCH: In your investigation, as I understand it, also found that in late summer of 2016 the Trump campaign, in fact, devised its strategy in messaging around WikiLeaks releases of materials that were stolen from the Democratic National Committee. Correct?

MUELLER: Is that from the report?

WELCH: Yes. It's according to Mr. Gates.

MUELLER: Yes. Yes.

WELCH: Thank you. And you also talked earlier about the finding in your investigation that in September and October of 2016, Donald Trump, Jr. had e-mail communications with WikiLeaks now indicted about releasing information damaging to the Clinton campaign, correct?

MUELLER: True. True.

WELCH: So, I understand you made a decision, prosecutorial decision, that this would not rise to proof beyond a reasonable doubt, but I ask if you share my concern. And my concern is, have we established a new normal from this past campaign that is going to apply to future campaigns, so that if any one of us running for the U.S. House, any candidate for the U.S. Senate, and candidacy for the presidency of the United States, aware that if hostile foreign powers trying to influence an election has no duty to report that to the FBI or their authorities ... MUELLER: Well, I hope ...

WELCH: Go ahead.

MUELLER: I hope this is not the new normal, but I fear it is.

WELCH: And would, in fact, have the ability, without fear of legal repercussion to meet with agents of that foreign entity hostile to the American election?

MUELLER: I'm sorry, what is the question?

WELCH: Is that an apprehension that you share with me.

MUELLER: Yes.

WELCH: And that there would be no repercussions whatsoever to Russia if they did this again, and as you stated earlier, as we sit here, they're doing it now. Is that correct?

MUELLER: You're absolutely right.

: Do you have any advice to this Congress as together what we should do to protect our electoral system and accept responsibility on our part to report to you or your successor when we're aware of hostile foreign engagement in our elections?

MUELLER: I would say the basis -- the first line of defense really is the ability of the various agencies who have some piece of this to not only share information, but share expertise, share targets and we use the full resources that we have to address this problem.

WELCH: Thank you Director Mueller, I yield back.

SCHIFF: Mr. Maloney.

MALONEY: Mr. Mueller, thank you. I know it's been a long day and I want to make clear how much respect I have for your service and for your extraordinary career and I want you to understand my questions in that context sir.

I'm going to be asking you about appendix C to you report and, in particular, the decision not to do a sworn interview with the president. It's really the only subject I want to talk to you about, sir.

Why didn't you subpoena the president?

MUELLER: Well, at the outset, after we took over and initiated the investigation.

MALONEY: If I could ask you to speak into the microphone.

MUELLER: Yes, of course. At the outset, after we took over the investigation and began it and pursued it, quite obviously one of the things we anticipated wanting to accomplish in that is getting -- having the interview of the president.

We negotiated from -- with him for a little over a year and I think what you adverted in the appendix lays out our expectations as a result of those negotiations. But finally, we were almost towards the end of our investigation and we had had little success in pushing to get the interview of the president. We decided that we did not want to exercise the subpoena powers because of them as a necessity of expediting the end of the investigation.

MALONEY: Was that -- was that -- excuse me -- did you want to ...

MUELLER: I was going to say, the expectation was, if we did subpoena the president, he would fight the subpoena and we would be in the midst of the investigation for a substantial period of time.

MALONEY: Right, but as we sit here, you've never had an opportunity to ask the president, in person, questions under oath, and so obviously that must have been a difficult decision. And you're right, appendix C lays that out, and indeed, I believe you describe the in-person interview as vital. That's you word.

And of course, you make clear, you had the authority and the legal justification to do it, as you point out. You waited a year, you put up with a lot of negotiations, you made numerous accommodations, which you lay out, so that he could prepare and not be surprised. I take it you were trying to be fair to the president. And, by the way, you were going to limit the questions, when you got to written question, to Russia only.

And, in fact, you did go with written questions after about nine months, sir, right? And the president responded to those and you have some hard language for what you thought of those responses. What did you think of the president's written responses Mr. Mueller?

MUELLER: It was certainly not as useful as the interview would be.

MALONEY: In fact -- in fact, you pointed out, and by my count, there were more than 30 times when the president said he didn't recall, he didn't remember, no independent recollection, no current recollection and I take it by your answer that it wasn't as helpful, that's why you used words like incomplete, imprecise, inadequate, insufficient. Is that a fair summary of what you thought of those written answers?

MUELLER: That is a fair summary. And I presume that comes from the report.

MALONEY: And yet, sir, and I ask this respectfully -- by the way, the president didn't ever claim the Fifth Amendment, did he?

MUELLER: I'm not going to talk to that.

MALONEY: Well I -- from what I can tell sir, at one point it was vital and then at another point it wasn't vital. And my question to you is, why did it stop being vital, and I can only think of three explanations. One is, that somebody told you couldn't do it, but nobody told you couldn't subpoena the president, is that right? MUELLER: No, we understood we could subpoena the president.

MALONEY: Rosenstein didn't tell you, Whitaker didn't tell you, Barr didn't tell you, you couldn't ...

MUELLER: We could serve a subpoena.

MALONEY: So, the only other explanation -- well, there's two others I guess, one, that you just flinched. That you had the opportunity to do it and you didn't do it. But sir, you don't strike me as the kind of guy who flinches.

MUELLER: I'd hope not.

MALONEY: Well then the third explanation -- I hope not too sir. And the third explanation I can think of is that -- is that you didn't think you needed it. And in fact, what caught my eye was page 13 in volume 2, where you said, in fact, you had a substantial body of evidence and you sight a bunch of cases there don't you, about how you often have to prove intent to obstruct justice without an in-person interview, that's the kind of nature of it, and you used terms like a substantial body of evidence, significant evidence of the president's intent.

So, my question sir is, did you have sufficient evidence of the president's intent to obstruct justice and is that why you didn't do the interview.

MUELLER: No, there's a balance. In other words, how much evidence you have that would satisfy the last element, against how much time are you willing to spend in the courts litigating a -- the -- interviewing the president?

MALONEY: In this case, you felt that you had enough evidence of the president's intent?

MUELLER: We had to make a balanced decision in terms of how much evidence we had, compared to length of time it would take...

MALONEY: And sir, because I have limited time, you thought that if you gave it to the attorney general or to this Congress, that there was sufficient evidence that it better than that delay?

MUELLER: Can you state that again?

MALONEY: Well, that it was better than the delay to present the sufficient evidence, your term of the President's intent to obstruct justice to the attorney general and to this committee. Isn't that why you didn't do the interview?

MUELLER: No. The reason the why -- the reason we didn't do the interview was because of the length of time that it would take to resolve the issues attended to that.

MALONEY: Thank you, sir.

SCHIFF: Ms. Demings.

DEMINGS: Thank you so much Mr. Chairman and Director Mueller, thank you so much for being a person of honor and integrity. Thank you for your service to the nation, we are certainly better for it.

Director Mueller, I too want to focus on the written responses that the president did provide and the continued efforts to lie and cover up what happened during the 2016 election. Were the president answers submitted under oath?

MUELLER: Yes, yes.

DEMINGS: Thank you, they were. Were these all the answers your office wanted to ask the president about Russia interference in the 2016 election?

MUELLER: No, not necessarily.

DEMINGS: So there were other...

MUELLER: Yes.

DEMINGS: ...questions that you wanted to answer.

Did you analyze his written answers on Russia interference to draw conclusions about the president's credibility?

MUELLER: No, it was perhaps one of the factors, but nothing more than that.

DEMINGS: It was one of the factors? So, what did you determine about the president's credibility?

MUELLER: And that I can't get into.

DEMINGS: Director Mueller, I know based on your decades of experience, you've probably had an opportunity to analyze the credibility of countless witnesses, but you weren't able to do so with this witness?

MUELLER: Well with every witness, particularly a -- a leading witness, one assesses the credibility day by day, witness by witness, document by document. And that's what happened in this case, so we started with very little and then by the end we ended up with a fair amount -- fair amount.

DEMINGS: Thank you. Well let's go through some of the answers to take a closer look at his credibility, because it seems to me, Director Mueller, that his answers were not credible at all.

Did some of President Trump's incomplete answers relate to Trump Tower Moscow?

MUELLER: Yes.

DEMINGS: For example, did you ask the president whether he had had at any time, directed or suggested that -- that discussions about Trump Moscow project should cease?

MUELLER: Should what?

DEMINGS: Cease.

MUELLER: Do you have a citation?

DEMINGS: Yes. We're still in Appendix C, Section 1, 7.

MUELLER: The first page?

DEMINGS: Yes. Because the president did not answer whether he had at any time directed or suggested that discussions about the Trump Moscow project should cease, but he has since made public comments about this topic.

MUELLER: OK. And the question was?

DEMINGS: Did the president -- well let me go onto the next. Did the president fully answer that question in his written statement to you about the Trump Moscow project ceasing? Again, in Appendix C.

MUELLER: No. And can you direct me to the particular paragraph your inverting (ph) to?

DEMINGS: It would be Appendix C-C1, but let me move forward.

Nine days after he submitted his written answers, didn't the president say publicly that he, quote, "decided not to do the project, " unquote. And that is in your report.

MUELLER: I am not -- I'd ask you -- I'd ask you if you would to point out the particular paragraph that you're focused on --

DEMINGS: OK, we can move on. Did the president answer your follow-up questions? According to the report there were follow-up questions because of the president's incomplete answers about the Moscow project.

Did the president answer your follow up questions either in writing or orally? We're now in Volume 2, page 150-151.

MUELLER: No.

DEMINGS: He did not. In fact, there were many questions that you asked the president that he simply didn't answer, isn't that correct?

MUELLER: True.

DEMINGS: And there were many answers that contradicted other evidence you had gathered during the investigation, isn't that correct Director Mueller?

MUELLER: Yes.

DEMINGS: Director Mueller, for example the president is written as or stated (ph) he did not recall having advanced knowledge of WikiLeaks releases, is that correct?

MUELLER: I think that's what he said.

DEMINGS: But didn't your investigation uncover evidence that the president did in fact have advanced knowledge of WikiLeaks public releases of e-mails damaging to his opponent?

MUELLER: And I can't get in to that area.

DEMINGS: Did your investigation determine after very careful vetting or Rick Gates and Michael Cohen's that you found them to be credible?

MUELLER: That we found the president to be credible?

DEMINGS: That you found Gates and Cohen to be credible in their statements about WikiLeaks --

MUELLER: Those are areas I'm not going to discuss.

DEMINGS: OK. Could you say Director Mueller that the president was credible?

MUELLER: I can't answer that question.

DEMINGS: Director Mueller, isn't it fair to say that 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 show that he wasn't always being truthful.

MUELLER: There (ph) -- I would say generally.

DEMINGS: "Generally." Director Mueller it's one thing for the president to lie to the American people about your investigation, falsely claiming that you found no collusion and no obstruction -- but its (ph) something else altogether for him to get away with not answering your questions and lying about them. And as a former law enforcement officer of almost 30 years, I find that a disgrace to our criminal justice system.

Thank you so much, I yield back to the Chairman.

SCHIFF: Mr. Krishnamoorthi.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Director Mueller, thank you for your devoted service to your country. Earlier today you described your report as "detailing a criminal investigation," correct?

MUELLER: Yes.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Director, since it was outside the purview of your investigation, your report did not reach counterintelligence conclusions regarding the subject matter of your report.

MUELLER: That's true.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: For instance, since it was outside your purview, your report did not reach counterintelligence conclusions regarding any Trump administration officials who might potentially be vulnerable to compromise of blackmail by Russia, correct?

MUELLER: Those decisions probably were made in the FBI.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: But not in your report, correct?

MUELLER: Not in our report. We avert to the counterintelligence goals of our investigation which were secondary to any criminal wrongdoing that we could find.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Let's talk about one administration official in particularly namely President Donald Trump. Other than Trump Tower Moscow, your report does not address or detail the president's financial ties or dealings with Russia, correct?

MUELLER: Correct.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Similarly since it was outside your purview your report does not address the question of whether Russian oligarchs engaged in money laundering through any of the president's businesses, correct?

MUELLER: Correct.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: And of course your office did not obtain the president's tax returns which could otherwise show foreign financial sources, correct?

MUELLER: I'm not going to speak to that.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: In July 2017 the president said his personal finances were off limits, or outside the purview of your investigation and he drew a "red line," around his personal finances. Were the president's personal finances outside the purview of your investigation?

MUELLER: I'm not going to get in to that.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Were you instructed by anyone not to investigate the president's personal finances?

MUELLER: No.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Mr. Mueller, I'd like to turn your attention to counterintelligence risks associated with lying. Individuals can be subject to blackmail if they lie about their interactions with foreign countries, correct?

MUELLER: True.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: For example, you successfully charged former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn of lying to federal agents about this conversations with Russian officials, correct?

MUELLER: Correct. KRISHNAMOORTHI: Since it was outside the purview of your investigation your report did not address how Flynn's false statements could pose a national security risk because the Russians knew the falsity of those statements, right?

MUELLER: I cannot get in to that, mainly because there are many elements of the FBI that are looking at different aspects of that issue.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Currently?

MUELLER: Currently.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you. As you noted in Volume two of your report, Donald Trump repeated five times in one press conference, Mr. Mueller in 2016 "I have nothing to do with Russia."

Of course Michael Cohen said Donald Trump was not being truthful, because at this time Trump was attempting to build Trump Tower Moscow. Your report does not address whether Donald Trump was compromised in any way because of any potential false statements that he made about Trump Tower Moscow, correct?

MUELLER: I think that's right -- I think that's right.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Director Mueller, I want to turn your attention to a couple of other issues. You've served as FBI Director during three presidential elections, correct?

MUELLER: Yes.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: And during those three presidential elections you have never initiated an investigation at the FBI looking in to whether a foreign government interfered in our elections the same way you did in this particular instance, correct?

MUELLER: I would say, I personally no -- but the FBI quite obviously has the defense and attack (ph) such as the Russians undertook in 2016.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Now Director Mueller, is there any information you'd like to share with this Committee that you have not so far today?

MUELLER: Well that's a broad question. And it'd take me a while to get an answer to it, but I'll say no.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Mr. Mueller, you said that every American should pay very close attention to the systematic and sweeping fashion in which the Russians interfered in our democracy. Are you concerned that we are not doing enough currently to prevent this from happening again?

MUELLER: Well I'll speak generally, and what I said in my opening statement this morning -- and hear (ph) that much more needs to be done in order to protect against this intrusions -- not just by the Russians but others as well.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you, Director.

SCHIFF: We have two, five minute periods remaining -- Mr. Nunes and myself. Mr. Nunes you are recognized.

NUNES: Mr. Mueller it's been a long day for you, and you've had a long, great career. I want to thank you for your longtime service starting in Vietnam, obviously in the U.S. attorney's office, Department of Justice and the FBI. And I want to thank you for doing something you didn't have to do. You came here upon your own free will and we appreciate your time today. With that I yield back.

MUELLER: Thank you, sir.

SCHIFF: Director Mueller, I want to close out my questions, turn to some of the exchange you had with Mr. Welsh a bit earlier. I'd like to see if we can broaden the aperture at the end of your hearing. From your testimony today I'd gather that knowingly accepting assistance from a foreign government is an unethical thing to do.

MUELLER: And a crime.

SCHIFF: And a crime.

MUELLER: Given the circumstances.

SCHIFF: And to the degree that it undermines our democracy and our institutions, we can also agree that it's unpatriotic.

MUELLER: True.

SCHIFF: And wrong.

MUELLER: True.

SCHIFF: The standard behavior of a presidential candidate, or any candidate for that matter shouldn't be merely whether something is criminal, it should be held to a higher standard, you would agree?

MUELLER: I'm not going to answer that because it goes to the standards to be applied by other institutions besides ours.

SCHIFF: I'm just referring to ethical standards. We should hold our elected officials to a higher standard than mere evidence of criminality, shouldn't we?

MUELLER: Absolutely.

SCHIFF: You have served this country for decades, you've taken an oath to defend the Constitution. You hold yourself to a standard of doing what's right.

MUELLER: I would hope.

SCHIFF: You have, I think we can all see that. And befitting the times, I'm sure your reward will be unending criticism, but we are grateful. The need to act in ethical manner is not just a moral one, but when people act unethically it also exposes them to compromise particularly in dealing with foreign powers, is that true?

MUELLER: True.

SCHIFF: Because when someone acts unethically in connection with a foreign partner, that foreign partner can expose their wrongdoing and extort them.

MUELLER: True.

SCHIFF: And that conduct -- that unethical conduct can be of a financial nature if you have a financial motive or elicit business dealing, am I right?

MUELLER: Yes.

SCHIFF: It could also just involve deception. If you are lying about something that can be exposed, then you can be blackmailed.

MUELLER: Also true.

SCHIFF: In the case of Michael Flynn, he was secretly doing business with Turkey, correct?

MUELLER: Yes.

SCHIFF: That could open him up to compromise that financial relationship.

MUELLER: I presume.

SCHIFF: He also lied about his discussions with the Russian ambassador and since the Russians were on the other side of the conversation, they could have exposed that, could they not?

MUELLER: Yes.

SCHIFF: If a presidential candidate was doing business in Russia and saying he wasn't, Russians could expose that too, could they not?

MUELLER: I leave that to you.

SCHIFF: Well, let's look at Dmitry Pskov, the spokesperson for the Kremlin, someone that the Trump organization was in contact with to make that deal happen. Your report indicates that Michael Cohen had a long conversation on the phone with someone from Dmitry Pskov's officer. Presumably, the Russians could have tape recorded that conversation, could they not?

MUELLER: Yes.

SCHIFF: and so we have Candidate Trump whose saying "I have no dealings with the Russians," but if the Russians had a tape recording, they could expose that, could they not?

MUELLER: Yes.

SCHIFF: That's the stuff of counterintelligence nightmares, is it not?

MUELLER: It has to do with counterintelligence and the need for a strong counterintelligence entity.

SCHIFF: It does indeed. And when this was revealed that there were these communications notwithstanding president's denials, the president was confronted about this and he said two things. First of all, that's not a crime. But I think you and I have already agreed that shouldn't be the standard, right, Mr. Mueller?

MUELLER: True.

SCHIFF: The second thing you said was why should I miss out on all those opportunities? I mean, why indeed merely running a presidential campaign, why should you miss out on making all that money was the import of his statement. Were you ever able to ascertain whether Donald Trump still intends to build that tower when he leaves office?

MUELLER: Is that a question, sir?

SCHIFF: Yes. Were you able to ascertain, because he wouldn't answer your questions completely, whether or if he ever ended that desire to build that tower?

MUELLER: I'm not going to speculate on that.

SCHIFF: If the president was concerned that if he lost the election, he didn't want to miss out on that money, might he have the same concern about losing his reelection?

MUELLER: Again, speculation.

SCHIFF: The difficulty with this, of course, is we are all left to wonder whether the president is representing us or his financial interests. That concludes my questions. Mr. Nunes, do you have any concluding remarks?

Director Mueller, let me close by returning to where I began. Thank you for your service and thank you for leading this investigation. The facts you set out in your report and have elucidated here today tell a disturbing tale of a massive Russian intervention in our election, of a campaign so eager to win, so driven by greed, that it was willing to accept the help of a hostile foreign power, and a presidential election decided by a handful of votes in a few key states.

Your work tells of a campaign so determined to conceal their corrupt use of foreign help that they risked going to jail by lying to you, to the FBI and to Congress about it and, indeed, some have gone to jail over such lies. And your work speaks of a president who committed countless acts of obstruction of justice that in my opinion and that of many other prosecutors, had it been anyone else in the country, they would have been indicted.

Notwithstanding, the many things you have addressed today and in your report, there were some questions you could not answer given the constraints you're operating under. You would not tell us whether you would have indicted the president but for the OLC only that you could not, and so the Justice Department will have to make that decision when the president leaves office, both as to the crime of obstruction of justice and as to the campaign finance fraud scheme (ph) that individual one directed and coordinated and for which Michael Cohen went to jail.

You would not tell us whether the president should be impeached, nor did we ask you since it is our responsibility to determine the proper remedy for the conduct outlined in your report. Whether we decide to impeach the president in the House or we do not, we must take any action necessary to protect the country while he is in office.

You would not tell us the results or whether other bodies looked into Russian compromise in the form of money laundering, so we must do so. You would not tell us whether the counterintelligence investigation revealed whether people still serving within the administration pose a risk of compromise and should never have been given a security clearance, so we must find out.

We did not bother to ask whether financial inducements from any gulf nations were influencing this U.S. policy, since it is outside the four corners of your report, and so we must find out.

One thing is clear from your report, your testimony from Director Wray's statements yesterday, the Russians massively intervened in 2016, and they are prepared to do so again in voting that is set to begin a mere eight months from now.

The president seems to welcome the help again. And so, we must make all efforts to harden our election's infrastructure to ensure there is a paper trail for all voting, to deter the Russians from meddling, to discover it when they do, to disrupt it, and to make them pay.

Protecting the sanctity of our elections begins, however, with the recognition that accepting foreign help is disloyal to our country, unethical, and wrong. We cannot control what the Russians do, not completely, but we can decide what we do and that the centuries old experiment we call American democracy is worth cherishing.

Director Mueller, thank you again for being here today. And before I adjourn, I'd like to excuse you and Mr. Zebley. Everyone else please remain seated. This hearing is adjourned.

[15:29:10]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: So, there it is.

He showed up this morning at the House Judiciary Committee hearing around 8:30 a.m. Eastern, now seven hours later wraps up the second round of questioning from the House Intelligence Committee, seven hours, with a break in between for lunch, a couple other little breaks.

But he basically stuck to his report, 448 pages. He tried not to deviate. He basically didn't deviate at all. And, in the process, Jake, he refused to answer a lot of questions,

which was his -- his goal today. He wasn't going to get into other issues, even though Republicans and Democrats repeatedly tried.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Yes, there were a few characterizations that might have been a little bit outside the scope of the report, but, generally, you're right. He -- he refused to answer questions again, deferred answers.

There was one exchange with Florida Congresswoman Val Demings that we -- that all of our ears perked up when it happened.

And I want to -- I want to roll that right now and just get everybody here to react.

This came towards

[15:30:00]