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Robert Mueller to Testify Before Congress in Moments; Robert Mueller Arrives on Capitol Hill to Testify before Congress; House Republicans and Democrats on Judiciary and Intelligence Committees Prepare Questions for Robert Mueller's Testimony. Aired 8-8:30a ET
Aired July 24, 2019 - 08:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[08:00:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: -- fire you. And the fifth one is what the Democrats consider to be witness tampering, inducements for Manafort to not cooperate, inducements to Cohen to not cooperate, and then threats to his family according to Democrats after he did start cooperating. Do you think that the Democrats can actually make that case with those five elements?
PREET BHARARA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: It's a lot of stuff. It depends on how much Mueller wants to stay, how much he wants to amplify. As we've been talking about, the best way might be to have a member of the Democratic side recite the fact and just ask Mueller to agree with it, and maybe he'll embellish a little bit, but his staff will do much more. But the way you laid it out, if Bob Mueller said it in the way you just did, listed it out, talked about how significant those things were, that will be a very momentous thing. I don't know that he'll do that.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I want to welcome all our viewers here in the United States and around the world. We have special live coverage of Robert Mueller under oath. More than three months after releasing his report, the former Special Counsel Robert Mueller is set to testify publicly about his investigation into Russia's attack on the 2016 election here in the United States and allegations of obstruction by the president. I'm Wolf Blitzer.
TAPPER: And I'm Jake Tapper. It is a doubleheader, of sorts. Mueller will hear before the Judiciary Committee, which will focus on episodes of potential obstruction of justice detailed in Mueller's report. Democrats there would like Mueller to say whether President Trump would have been charged if he was not a sitting president. But Mueller has made it clear he wants to stick to the 448-page report and not deviate from it in any way.
BLITZER: The Judiciary hearing is expected to last about three hours with each member of the committee getting only five minutes to question Mueller. Then the Intelligence Committee will focus in on Russia's election interference.
TAPPER: For more than 90 Democrats who are pushing for an impeachment inquiry to begin in the House of Representatives, this could potentially be a do or die moment for. For Republican, on the other hand, it could be a chance to close the book on the Mueller investigation, case closed. For President Trump, the stakes are huge. He has stepped up his attacks and efforts to distract ahead of the testimony, but he concedes he might watch, quote, a little bit of it.
Let's turn to CNN Justice Correspondent Jessica Schneider right now who is standing by at the Justice Department. Jessica, what's the latest there?
JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, we just saw Robert Mueller walk in to Capitol Hill, accompanying him at least one member of his security team. But I have learned that accompanying him in the actual hearing and for his testimony will be at least several members of the Special Counsel's team, members who have worked with him throughout the past two years working on this investigation, working to issue this 448-paige report.
I talked with Robert Mueller's spokesman this morning. He said that several members of those teams will be accompanying Robert Mueller. They'll likely be sitting just behind him as we see him begin to testify. These are likely the same members of his team who have been helping Robert Mueller diligently prepare for this testimony. I've learned that over the past few days, past few weeks, Robert Mueller has been using unoccupied office space at the WilmerHale Law Offices, that's Robert Mueller's previous law firm to prepare for this. Robert Mueller's spokesperson wouldn't get into the content of the preparation but again reiterated that Robert Mueller will stick to his report. Wouldn't give much indication about his demeanor either, other than saying Robert Mueller will be prepared as he always is.
But of course, someone who will be next to Robert Mueller is the deputy, former deputy Special Counsel Aaron Zebley. He'll be next to him in this first set of hearings before the House Judiciary Committee. And then we understand that he will also be sworn in as a witness before the House Intelligence Committee in that second set of hearings. This is something that the Department of Justice objects to. It is against department practice to have line attorneys in this type of setting sitting next to the Special Counsel testifying. But of course, since Aaron Zebley is a private citizen, there's really nothing more that the Department of Justice can do than sort of informally object her.
I've talked to the spokesperson for Robert Mueller. He would not comment as to whether the Department of Justice had issued any more formal objection, but again, at this point, there's really nothing that can be done. Aaron Zebley was the deputy special counsel, he really was really in charge of the day to day operations of the Special Counsel's office, so of course we know that in this last minute late night request from Robert Mueller he did request that Aaron Zebley be there with him for this testimony to potentially help him answer any questions that he might not exactly be able to answer, and that could go to some of the day-to-day operational questions, perhaps questions about any personnel.
So we know that Aaron Zebley will be there with him next to him at this first set of this hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, and then also will be sworn in as a witness potentially answering question as we go into that noon hour with the House Intelligence Committee.
So we know that Robert Mueller showing up very prepared today, having prepped for days if not weeks with members of the Special Counsel's team, members who will be likely sitting behind him as he begins this testimony in just less than a half-an-hour. Jake and Wolf?
[08:05:08] TAPPER: Jessica Schneider, thank you so much.
BLITZER: Clearly, Jake, the stakes are enormous right now, especially over at the White House, even as the president throws around his catchphrase "witch hunt." He also says he may watch a little of the Mueller hearings. I want to go to our White House correspondent Boris Sanchez. Boris, the president obviously has been busy tweeting this morning.
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. President Trump has also been phoning allies asking them what they can expect, what he can expect from Mueller's testimony. The president obviously interested in what Mueller has to say. Sources have told us that he's not anxious about Mueller's testimony, but he is irritated. I think the right way to describe the president right now is obsessed, consumed. And you can tell by his Twitter feed. The president sending out at least six tweets this morning about Mueller's testimony, bringing up all sorts of deep state conspiracy theories that we've heard this president peddle before, also suggesting that Robert Mueller, again, has a conflict of interest because he met with the president to potentially discuss taking on the role of FBI director, a position that he had held for 12 years. The president seeming to suggest that Mueller had a vendetta against President Trump.
The president also tweeting about Aaron Zebley, Mueller deputy special counsel, suggesting that he's a never-Trumper, a Democrat who is also out to get the president. Zebley has no clear political bias here. According to federal records he's never donated to either political party. But the president is continuing to smear the Special Counsel, and suggest that this is all basically a deep state conspiracy out to get him.
And so the question of whether or not the president is actually going to be watching, you mentioned he did play coy the other day and suggest that he would watch bits and pieces of it. Given just how much this president consumes news even when he's abroad visiting foreign leaders, we know that he likes to weigh in when it concerns him. It is likely we will see the president continue tweeting as Mueller is testifying, and we will certainly hear from the president later today. He has a fundraiser in West Virginia, and there's no question we're going to hear from him as he departs the White House, Jake and Wolf.
BLITZER: That's going to be around 4:00 p.m. eastern when he's scheduled to leave the White House, head over to Marine One and join Base Andrews on his way to West Virginia.
TAPPER: Originally this hearing was supposed to be a week ago, and the president put together a little counter programming, which I believe ended up being the Greenville, North Carolina, rally that ended up being somewhat controversial because of the "send her back "chants.
BLITZER: Somewhat controversial?
TAPPER: I'm trying to be restrained this morning. Let's go to Capitol Hill right now, CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju is monitoring all the goings on. Manu, tell us what you're seeing.
MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, anticipation building in these hallways. People have been camped out overnight waiting for a chance to get in this room. Those are just the people in the audience in this tiny hearing room. Democrats and Republicans recognize the state of this hearing as well, for days preparing intensely, more than any hearing in recent memory, holding mock hearings and narrowing down their line of questioning.
Democrats in the House Judiciary Committee plan to focus on a handful of episodes of obstruction of justice and try to drill home the idea in their view that the president was engaged in criminal conduct in the White House, trying to focus on witness tampering, allegations, he tried to fire the Special Counsel, and potential that the president tried to limit the scope of the investigation to exclude him.
Republicans have a different objective. They want to raise questions about the credibility of Mueller's team, the credibility why this investigation started in the first place, and also drill home the point that nobody on the Trump team was charged with a criminal conspiracy with the Russians.
Ultimately, though, the question is how much has this changed the perception in the minds of voters and the public. Democrats right now, some are raising expectations, believing it could change the course of the House on impeachment proceedings of this president. Others saying the American public is dead set in its views of the president, trying to say that there's not a whole lot that would change. But nevertheless, everybody waiting for Robert Mueller to see what he has to say, whether he goes beyond anything that we don't know already, how much he provides this committee still an open question. He arrived moments ago, did not answer questions, of course, to reporters. We'll see how many questions he ultimately agrees to answer in this open session in just a matter of minutes, guys.
TAPPER: Manu Raju, thanks so much.
Wolf, one of the key sentences in the Mueller report, the investigation did not establish members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in election interference activities. If that was the only sentence on it that we hear today, it would be great for the Republicans, great for President Trump. Unfortunately for them, there are a whole lot of other details that are rather unseemly even if they are not illegal.
BLITZER: And they're going to be pressing the Democrats for a whole bunch of answers from Mueller. [08:10:00] The Republicans will have a very, very different agenda,
and we'll see that unfold. Five minutes for a Democrat, five minutes for a Republican. Our coverage will continue right after this quick break.
BLITZER: We're just a few minutes away now from the start of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's unprecedented testimony up on Capitol Hill. Let's bring back our correspondents and our analysts. You're watching some specific indicators right now, Dana.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. We just went back to find it, page eight of volume two in case anyone is playing along at home. This is such a key question, and the question for us is whether or not Democrats can get Robert Mueller to elaborate on it, which is when he said at the same time, if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the fact that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.
So fleshing that out in any way, shape, or form, well, why don't you have confidence that the president of the United States did not commit a crime? It's a bit of a double negative, but that could be key for any question of whether or not there is legitimacy for an impeachment inquiry to begin.
Having said that, knowing and studying Robert Mueller the way all of us have, it's probably unlikely that he's going to go there because he's more likely to say, I didn't feel that I had enough -- I couldn't prosecute the president so therefore I didn't look into it, so it's not appropriate for me to talk about it.
But if they can get even a nugget out of him, it would be huge for Democrats.
PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: And I think one of the things that Democrats could hone in with that is an apparent inconsistency. Because before that he also says it would be unfair to accuse the president of a crime when he wouldn't have the legal recourse to clear his name because we can't charge him because we're bound by the OLC memo. So they can hone in on that. Then you go onto say if we were confident he didn't commit a crime we would so state, and hone in on this idea that if he wasn't president would you have charged him. I think that's a key question.
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. Was it the policy, was it the Office of Legal Counsel memo that prevented him from doing that? Because he cites nearly a dozen incidences of possible obstruction which is some evidence.
Was the decision based on there not being sufficient evidence to proceed or on the policy? That's an obvious question for Democrats. Will he give them an answer? It remains to be seen. BASH: And this to me is the biggest clue in that road map to
potential impeachment we talked about. What he is saying I couldn't do it. It's your job.
LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: By the way, he made a decision not to do it, but why did you make that decision, Robert Mueller? Was it very early on? Or why when you mentioned the idea of the importance of preserving evidence, was it because you had an eye to a future indictment, a future prosecution of a now non-sitting president?
Wasn't it because you wanted to provide to Congress, look, I can't do it, but they haven't spoken to you, they will stone wall you? What was the reason and when did you decide? It's going to be a very important question for Mueller.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And, Preet, one of the other cases obviously that the Intelligence Committee is going to be focusing on is the question of Russian election interference and Democrats on the committee are going to try to make the case, look, Russians offered help, and the Trump campaign welcomed help, and then the Trump team lied about it. And whether or not there was any demonstrable way to prosecute them, which there was not according to Robert Mueller, those facts are unassailable.
And again, it's a public education campaign.
PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, look, I think that's very important. And I think bob Mueller, some of those forceful things he's said both in the report and when he did his press conference was about these simple unassailable facts you just recited. The Russians attacked us through interfering in our elections and it can't happen again.
I'll tell you another thing I think is very important, is to establish through Bob Mueller if you can what the proper conduct is for campaigns in 2020. Some senators asked this question to Bill Barr, I think it was Senator Coons, try to get the sitting attorney general of the United States to state on the record, what is your view of what a campaign should do if it is approached in the 2020 election with information that's derogatory about an opponent from a foreign government?
And actually, Bill Barr hemmed and hawed a little bit and narrowed his answer to say it was from a foreign power when the intelligence service said you should call the FBI. I'd like to see some members of the House go really strong with Bob Mueller about it so that he says in an unequivocal way that the proper conduct and the proper patriotism for a campaign is the moment you get approached by someone who seems to have some connection with a foreign government with derogatory information about an opponent, dirt on an opponent, you go straight to the FBI.
SCIUTTO: He's -- the reason why Barr's answer was hugely problematic as we saw in the Russian interference in the election in 2016, the lines between Russian intelligence and Russian businessmen, oligarchs, et cetera are blurred. You don't have to be wearing a uniform of the FSB to be an intelligence asset of Russia.
They speak to the Kremlin. They are under the control of the Kremlin or they feel influenced by it. So his answer saying they're with the intelligence, what does that mean exactly? We know many of Putin's friends are in contact with Trump and many people here in the U.S. have ties to the Russian intelligence services. That was -- it was an opportunity for the attorney general to make it very clear. He did not.
TAPPER: And, Garrett, one of the other things going on here I suspect we're going to hear in both hearings is Republicans have this counter narrative. Not necessarily grounded in fact, but grounded in theory that the Obama administration -- again, this is not based on fact.
The Obama administration basically set Trump up, that this is all just a hoax. This is what President Trump refers to treasonous falsely. This is what he's talking about. And I imagine we're going to hear some of that today.
GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, I mean, I think you're going to hear over the next couple of hours lots of shouting about Peter Strzok and Lisa Page and Christopher Steele, you know, and George Papadopoulos getting rail railroaded.
[08:20:04] And I think going back to what the point that Preet was just making, it's important to remember that Donald Trump's campaign got themselves into this trouble. You know, it was their action, it was their willingness. And the criminality that we have already seen out of the Trump campaign in 2016, you know, that alone should be one of the biggest political scandals in American political history.
I mean, you had a campaign manager who was indicted as an agent of a foreign power. You had a deputy campaign manager, you have the security advisor as a separate agent of a separate foreign power. I mean, this is sort of unprecedented levels of political corruption.
TAPPER: And yet no charges for conspiracy, for conspiring with Russia to interfere in the election even if there was a lot of smoke.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: And that's why the Republicans if they can keep off their tinfoil hat, have a lot to work with here, because they can say to Mueller you had an unlimited budget. You had dozens of FBI agents working for you. You had no political interference from the Trump administration, and yet you still couldn't find any criminality in terms of the relationship between the Russians and the Trump campaign.
That's true, and it doesn't require them to go off into crazy land with Christopher Steele and all the rest.
BASH: But you made this point in your podcast, shameless plug for you --
BHARARA: Thank you.
BASH: -- that it's not just -- yes, they said very clearly in this report that they couldn't charge him with anything, charge anybody with anything on collusion or conspiracy. It doesn't say that they didn't find evidence of conspiracy.
BASH: And that's a key question.
TAPPER: Prosecutable evidence, right.
TOOBIN: What are the six words that we hear from Donald Trump over and over again? That no collusion, no obstruction, total exoneration. Are those six words true?
TOOBIN: That's right. And the question is will Mueller -- will Mueller acknowledge or assert that the president has been lying about his report over and over again?
TAPPER: And that's also one of the main points that House Democrats talk about is they think that the last three months has been a big misinformation campaign from President Trump, from Attorney General Barr as well about what's in this report. That it basically is the salesmanship has been repeated over and over no obstruction, no collusion, total exoneration which is not the case.
BASH: And, Jake, and you know what? It works. It is not an accident that Bill Barr came out and set the narrative before anyone saw the report. It is not an accident that Bill Barr came out and said things like the president was exonerated, and that's not what this report says.
He knew what he was doing politically. They knew what they were doing dragging their feet to get any counter narrative out there for months and months and months to bake this into the public.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I should point out, we're looking at live pictures from the House Judiciary Committee hearing room. You see the witness table, the photographers standing in front of the witness table. That's where Robert Mueller will walk in and he will be seated.
There are two chairs there, and that's significant, two chairs, Pamela, because his long time deputy is also going to be seated, and they're going to be consulting presumably during the course of the next three hours.
BROWN: Yes, that's right. And it's not unusual someone like Robert Mueller will have his counsel there with him to confer with him over the questions. But what is unusual is that Aaron Zebley is both his counsel and a witness to this investigation.
He was this deputy during the special counsel probe. He played a key role in the day to day operations. And in the first hearing with the House Judiciary Committee, he's going to be sitting along side him. But then in the second one he's been sworn in, and so, we could hear from Aaron Zebley himself. He could also be testifying alongside Robert Mueller, and so that is pretty unique.
The president has been tweeting about this, this morning. Clearly, this is on his mind. He's making a big deal out of the fact that this is a last minute request from Robert Mueller and that he's going to be helping with some of the answers, which is pretty rich because the president also conferred with his lawyers, when he answered the questions of the special counsel.
BLITZER: And one of the questions I assume will be asked and, Preet, maybe you can help us on this, why didn't you demand a sit down interview with the president of the United States? Why did you only allow written questions and written answers?
BHARARA: So, Bob Mueller addressed that in part in the report reciting how there are a lot of cases in which you either bring or decide not to bring an obstruction case without talking to the potential target. My view has always been he had a tough decision to make and that the timing of it was such that if you went down this road to try to force the testimony, compel the testimony by going to court and multiple courts because of appeals, that might drag on until the middle of the next year, closer to the election.
[08:25:02] And given that the rest of the investigation could be done, and they, you know, have 12 to 14 other investigations, that they didn't want to hold up everything else for the purpose of getting the president's compelled testimony, it was going to be such a long fight. And there would have been a lot of criticism about Mueller and the investigation if it dragged on over that fight. That the end of which, there was still the possibility that the president, although unlikely, the possibility that you get to that point and the president pleads the Fifth and then you've wasted a lot of time.
TAPPER: So I want to go down the line in the five minutes we have before the hearings begins and just get a quick reaction from each of you what is the one thing you're looking for in the hearing that is about to begin in five minutes.
GRAFF: The answer to the logic problem, I would have exonerated the president if I could, I haven't, what does that mean, Bob Mueller?
BHARARA: The same. I don't know he'll answer it, but this weird conundrum that he was in that he couldn't say what I think he believes that there was obstruction of justice. It will take good and clever questioning to get an answer to that.
COATES: Well, in terms of Barr, why do you believe that Barr has made statements to craft the narrative, to show the president of the United States and his response and lack of cooperation was because he's angry with the media? Was that your rationale as well or something more?
TOOBIN: Persuasive public evidence that the president committed crimes.
TAPPER: Do you think he will offer that?
TOOBIN: That's why I'm watching with you. I want to see.
BASH: A green light and maybe even a nudge to members of Congress that they should pick this up because that is what the Constitution prescribes when you're talking about the president of the United States. Because the way he read it obviously not because the way the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel read it is they had a wall that they hit in looking at the president of the United States because that's Congress' job.
TAPPER: So basically confirmation this is referral to Congress.
BASH: Yes, precisely.
BROWN: Yes, this is clearly a wish list, but the big question if he wasn't president, would you have charged him? Should he be charged after he's president? Would you consider a sealed indictment?
SCIUTTO: On Russian interference, the other main topic of this report, can he pierce the partisan bubble on this grave, clear and present danger to American democracy. It happened in 2016, it will happen again in 2020. Can Mueller pierce that bubble and get the president to act definitively on this?
BLITZER: Let's go down the line once again and, Garret, I'll start with you. If you could ask Mueller one question, what would that be?
GRAFF: I think it's the question that Dana raises, which is, did you intend for Congress to pick this up? And I think he sort of danced around answering that but I think that's the most important message Congress needs to hear.
BHARARA: I like that question too but he's not going to answer. I would like a simple answer to a simple question along the lines of what Jeffrey said, which is, did your investigation find evidence of obstruction of justice by the president? Followed up by, did the investigation find substantial evidence of obstruction by the president?
COATES: Which of the 11 instances of obstruction do you find the most troubling that Congress should actually on?
TOOBIN: Has the president been lying about your report for the past six months? TAPPER: That's a big one.
BASH: That's a really good one.
TAPPER: I don't think he's going to answer that.
TOOBIN: I -- you asked me what I wanted. Not (ph) I would get it.
BASH: Yes, and also, I do think it'd be interesting to hear him answer the question from Republicans, why did you hire people who have donated to Democrats, what was the reason behind that? We haven't heard that. All we've heard is the Republican pounding on him. Well, why did you do it?
BROWN: Yes, what I said earlier, but also, did you not make a decision on obstruction because you wanted Congress to take this up?
SCIUTTO: Was it the evidence or department policy that kept you from indicting the president?
TAPPER: I'd like to hear a little more focus on him on what the Russians did and what he thinks the Trump campaign should have done in response since obviously they did not find prosecutable evidence of conspiracy with the Russians. Does that mean that any other campaign in a similar situation would, should, could, do the exact same thing and not get in trouble for it the way it happened here?
SCIUTTO: Since the president has said he would accept.
TAPPER: He said information from foreign governments, he would definitely take a look at again.
BLITZER: Robert Mueller is about to walk into the House Judiciary Committee hearing room. It's a packed room right now.
The members are -- a lot of the members are already there. They've arrived. They're going to be asking the questions.
The chairman, Jerry Nadler, will open with a statement, the ranking member. The Republican Representative Collins will then have an opening statement. Mueller will be sworn in.
He will make his opening statement, Jake. And then it's Q&A. It's questions by the members, answers by Mueller.
TAPPER: And one of the things we've gotten used to in Washington, D.C. is people asking questions to members of Congress asking questions and they're not really asking questions. They're giving little speeches. They don't actually care what the answer will be.
I suspect especially when it comes to the Democrats, they will want to have Robert Mueller speak as much as possible because they want Mueller to --
BLITZER: Look at the chairman.
TAPPER: -- convict the president for want of a better term. They want sound bites from Robert Mueller.