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Mueller to Testify before Congress; Robert Mueller's Testimony before Congressional Committee. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired July 24, 2019 - 08:30   ET

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


[08:30:00] JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: As possible because they want Mueller to --

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Look, there's the chairman.

TAPPER: Convict the president, for want of a better term. They -- they want sound bites from Robert Mueller.

I don't know what Republicans will be doing.

BLITZER: This is Jerry Nadler looking -- the -- the Democrat from New York City. He's the chairman.

They're very well organized on the House Judiciary Committee. They're been starting pretty much on time. It's 8:30 a.m. here on the East Coast right now. This is supposed to begin right now.

Three hours, we're told, of questioning. We'll see if there's a break in between. Then there will be a half-hour break, we're told, before the -- the special -- the former special counsel goes before the House Intelligence Committee.

And, Dana, we're told they will meet in the same room. So, logistically, it will be a little bit easier.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And, look, this is -- how many hearings have we seen over the years where we say this is big, this is momentous. This is big. This is momentous. I mean this is of all -- there are so many wow moments of the Trump presidency. I would venture to say this is -- even if it doesn't go beyond the four corners, just the -- the theater and the implications of actually hearing from Robert Mueller and seeing him questioned under oath, probably one of the biggest moments so far of the Trump presidency.

BLITZER: Here we go.

TAPPER: Here comes Robert Mueller, former FBI director, special counsel, somebody that Democrats have been trying to get to this hearing room for months and months and months. Finally, Mueller made it very clear they would have subpoena him if they wanted him to come before the hearing, and he is finally here.

He asked for the Justice Department to give him some sort of instructions as to what to talk about. They told him to stay within the confines of the report, the Mueller report.

BLITZER: He is going to be seated. There will be opening statements. I believe after the opening statements by the chairman and the ranking member, he will be sworn in. He will then deliver his opening statement and then respond to questions.

This is a little -- and, Dana, you've covered Congress a long time. They always do a little photo op before so the photographers can get some pictures.

BASH: Yes. And how many times did you say he's been -- he's testified?

TAPPER: Eighty-eight, I believe. Eighty-eight.

BASH: Eighty-eight. Yes. So he -- he knows there's -- he knows (INAUDIBLE) --

TAPPER: Because, obviously, as former FBI director he's testified a number of times.

BASH: Yes, exactly.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: And -- and every single time in a white shirt.

BASH: Every single day in a white shirt. Yes.

GARRETT GRAFF, AUTHOR, "THE THREAT MATRIX": Like the G-man (ph).

BLITZER: And, not a surprise, a heckler is trying to disrupt already.

GRAFF: And I would say -- I'd like to sort of add sort of a moment of poignantness. You know, this is some -- Bob Mueller has spent almost 40 years with the Department of Justice, testified before Congress 88 times. I think if Bob Mueller has his way, this is the last time he'll speak in public in his life.

PREET BHARARA, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY: I see Andrew Goldstein, who used to work in my office, as the chief of corruption, who's one of the people on the special counsel's team, is -- is -- was reported earlier with him today.

TAPPER: And, again, as you noted, it's going to be interesting to see if Robert Mueller defends the integrity of his team. They have seen their names dragged through the mud by President Trump and by Republicans in the House for their alleged partisan affiliation and more.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): The Judiciary Committee will come to order. Without objection, the chair is authorized to declare recesses of the committee at any time.

We welcome everyone to today's hearing on oversight of the report and the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

I will now recognize myself for a brief opening statement.

Director Mueller, thank you for being here.

I want to say just a few words about our themes today: responsibility, integrity and accountability. Your career, for example, is a model of responsibility. You are a decorated Marine officer. You were awarded a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for Valor in Vietnam. You served in senior roles at the Department of Justice, and in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, you served as director of the FBI.

Two years ago you returned to public service to lead the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections. You conducted that investigation with remarkable integrity.

For 22 months, you never commented in public about your work, even when you were subjected to repeated and grossly unfair personal attacks. Instead, your indictments spoke for you, and in astonishing detail.

Over the course of your investigation, you obtained criminal indictments against 37 people and entities. You secure the conviction of President Trump's campaign chairman, his deputy campaign manager, his national security advisor and his personal lawyer, among others. In the Paul Manafort case alone you recovered as much as $42 million, so that the cost of your investigation to the taxpayers approaches zero.

And in your report you offer the country accountability, as well. In Volume 1 you find that the Russian government attacked our 2016 elections, quote, "in a sweeping and systematic fashion," and that the attacks were designed to benefit the Trump campaign.

[08:35:00]

Volume 2 walks us through 10 separate incidents of possible obstruction of justice where, in your words, President Trump attempted to exert undue influence over your investigation. The president's behavior included, and I quote from your report, quote, "public attacks on the investigation, nonpublic efforts to control it, and efforts in both public and private to encourage witnesses not to cooperate," close quote.

Among the most shocking of these incidents, President Trump ordered his White House counsel to have you fired, and then to -- to lie and deny that it had happened, he ordered his former campaign manager to convince the recused attorney general to step in and limit your work, and he attempted to prevent witnesses from cooperating with your investigation.

NADLER: Although department policy barred you from indicting the president for this conduct, you made clear that he is not exonerated. Any other person who acted in this way would have been charged with crimes, and in this nation, not even the president is above the law.

Which brings me to this committee's work. Responsibility, integrity and accountability: These are the marks by which we who serve on this committee will be measured as well.

Director Mueller, we have a responsibility to address the evidence that you have uncovered. You recognize as much when you said, quote, "The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrong doing," close quote.

That process begins with the work of this committee. We will follow your example, Director Mueller. We will act with integrity. We will follow the facts where they lead. We will consider all appropriate remedies. We will make our recommendation to the House when our work concludes. We will do this work because there must be accountability for the conduct described in your report especially as it relates to the president.

Thank you again, Director Mueller. We look forward to your testimony.

It is now my pleasure to recognize the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, the gentleman from Georgia, Mr. Collins, for his opening statement.

COLLINS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

And thank you, Mr. Mueller, for being here.

For two years leading up to the release of the Mueller report and in the three months since Americans were first told what to expect and then what to believe. Collusion, we were told, was in plain sight even if the special counsel's team didn't find it.

When Mr. Mueller produced his report and Attorney General Barr provided to every American, we read, "No American conspired with Russia to interfere in our elections," but learned the depths of Russia's malice toward America.

We are here to ask serious questions about Mr. Mueller's work and we will do that.

After an extended, unhampered investigation, today marks an end to Mr. Mueller's involvement in an investigation that closed in April. The burden of proof for accusations that remain unproven is extremely high and especially in light of the special counsel's thoroughness.

We were told this investigation began as an inquiry into whether Russia meddled in our 2016 election. Mr. Mueller, you concluded they did. Russians accessed Democrat servers and disseminated sensitive information by tricking campaign insiders into revealing protected information.

The investigation also reviewed whether Donald Trump, the president, sought Russian assistance as a candidate to win the presidency. Mr. Mueller concluded he did not. His family or advisers did not. In fact, the report concludes no one in the president's campaign colluded, collaborated or conspired with the Russians.

The president watched the public narrative surrounding this investigation that assumes -- (inaudible) assume his guilt while he knew the extent of his innocence. Volume 2 of Mr. Mueller's report details the president's reaction to a frustrating investigation where his innocence was established early on.

The president's attitude toward the investigation was understandably negative, yet the president did not use his authority to close the investigation. He asked his lawyer if Mr. Mueller had conflicts that disqualified Mr. Mueller from the job, but he did not shut down the investigation. The president knew he was innocent.

Those are the facts of the Mueller report. Russia meddled in the 2016 election, the president did not conspire with the Russians and nothing we hear here today will change those facts.

But one element of this story remains: the beginnings of the FBI investigation into the president. I look forward to Mr. Mueller's testimony about what he found during his review of the origins of the investigation.

In addition, the inspector general continues to review how baseless gossip can be used to launch an FBI investigation against a private citizen and eventually a president. Those results will be released and we will need to learn from them to ensure government intelligence and law enforcement powers are never again used and turned on a private citizen or a potential -- or political candidate as a result of the political leanings of a handful of FBI agents.

[08:40:00]

The origins and conclusions of the Mueller investigation are the same things: what it means to be American. Every American has a voice in our democracy. We must protect the sanctity of their voice by combating election interference. Every American enjoys the presumption of innocence and guarantee of due process.

If we carry nothing -- anything away today, it must be that we increase our vigilance against foreign election interference, while we ensure our government officials don't weaponize their power against the constitutional rights guaranteed to every U.S. citizen.

Finally, we must agree that the opportunity cost here is too high. The months we have spent investigating from this dais failed to end the border crisis or contribute to the growing job market. Instead, we have gotten stuck and it's paralyzed this committee and this House.

And as a side note, every week I leave my family and kids, the most important things to me, to come to this place because I believe this place is a place where we can actually do things and help people.

Six and a half years ago, I came here to work on behalf of the people of the 9th District and this country. And we accomplished a lot in those first six years on a bipartisan basis, with many of my friends across the aisle sitting on this dais with me today.

However, this year, because of the majority's dislike of this president and the endless hearings into a closed investigation have caused us to accomplish nothing except talk about the problems of our country while our border is on fire, in crisis, and everything else is stopped.

This hearing is long overdue. We've had the truth for months: No American conspired to throw our election. What we need today is to let that truth bring us confidence. And I hope, Mr. Chairman, closure.

With that, I yield back.

NADLER: Thank you, Mr. Collins.

I will now introduce today's witness.

Robert Mueller served as director of the FBI from 2001 to 2013, and he most recently served as special counsel in the Department of Justice, overseeing the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 special election. He received his B.A. from Princeton University, an M.A. from New York University -- in my district -- and his J.D. from the University of Virginia.

Mr. Mueller is accompanied by his -- by Counsel Aaron Zebley, who served as deputy special counsel on the investigation.

We welcome our distinguished witness and we thank you for participating in today's hearing. Now, if you would please rise, I will begin by swearing you in.

Would you raise your right hand, please? Left hand.

Do you swear or affirm under penalty of perjury that the testimony you are about to give is true and correct to the best of your knowledge, information and belief, so help you God?

Let the record show the witness answered in the affirmative.

Thank you, and please be seated.

Please note that your written statement will be entered into the record in its entirely. Accordingly, I ask that you summarize your testimony in five minutes.

Director Mueller, you may begin.

MUELLER: Good morning, Chairman Nadler, the -- and Ranking Member Collins, and the members of the committee.

As you know, in May 2017, the acting attorney general asked me to serve as special counsel. I undertook that role because I believe that it was of paramount interest to the nation to determine whether a foreign adversary had interfered in the presidential election.

As the acting attorney general said at the time, the appointment was necessary in order for the American people to have full confidence in the outcome.

My staff and I carried out this assignment with that critical objective in mind: to work quietly, thoroughly and with integrity so that the public would have full confidence in the outcome.

MUELLER: The order appointing me as special counsel directed our office to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. This included investigating any links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign. It also included investigating efforts to interfere with or obstruct our investigation.

Throughout the investigation I continually stressed two things to the team that we had assembled.

First, we needed to do our work as thoroughly as possible and expeditiously as possible. It was in the public interest for our investigation to be complete, but not to last a day longer than was necessary.

Second, the investigation needed to be conducted fairly and with absolute integrity.

[08:45:00]

Our team would not leak or take other actions that could compromise the integrity of our work. All decisions were made based on the facts and the law.

During the course of our investigation we charged more than 30 defendants with committing federal crimes, including 12 officers of the Russian military. Seven defendants have been convicted or plead guilty.

Certain of the charges we brought remain pending today. And for those matters I stress that the indictments contain allegations and every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

In addition to the criminal charges we brought, as required by Justice Department regulations, we submitted a confidential report to the attorney general at the conclusion of our investigation. The report set forth the results of our work and the reasons for our charging and declination decisions. The attorney general later made the report largely public.

As you know, I made a few limited remarks -- limited remarks about our report when we closed the special counsel's office in May of this year. There are certain points that bear emphasis.

First, our investigation found that the Russian government interfered in our election in sweeping and systematic fashion.

Second, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government in its election interference activities. We did not address collusion, which is not a legal term; rather we focused on whether the evidence was sufficient to charge any member of the campaign with taking part in a criminal conspiracy, and there was not.

Third, our investigation of efforts to obstruct the investigation and lie to investigators was of critical importance. Obstruction of justice strikes at the core of the government's effort to find the truth and to hold wrongdoers accountable.

Finally, as described in Volume 2 of our report, we investigated a series of actions by the president towards the investigation. Based on Justice Department policy and principles of fairness, we decided we would not make a decision as to whether the president committed a crime. That was our decision then and it remains our decision today.

Let me say a further word about my appearance today. It is unusual for a prosecutor to testify about a criminal investigation. And given my role as a prosecutor, there are reasons why my testimony -- testimony will necessarily be limited.

First, public testimony could affect several ongoing matters. In some of these matters, court rules or judicial orders limit the disclosure of information to protect -- to protect the fairness of the proceedings. And consistent with longstanding Justice Department policy, it would be inappropriate for me to comment in any way that could affect an ongoing matter.

Second, the Justice Department has asserted privileges concerning investigative information and decisions, ongoing matters within the Justice Department, and deliberations within our office. These are Justice Department privileges that I will respect.

The department has released the letter discussing the restrictions of my testimony. I, therefore, will not be able to answer questions about certain areas that I know are of public interest.

For example, I am unable to address questions about the initial opening of the FBI's Russia investigation which occurred months before my appointment or matters related to the so-called Steele dossier. These matters are subject of ongoing review by the department. Any questions on these topics should, therefore, be directed to the FBI or the Justice Department.

As I explained when we closed the Special Counsel's Office in May, our report contains our findings and analysis and the reasons for the decisions we made. We conducted an extensive investigation over two years. In writing the report, we stated the results of our investigation with precision. We scrutinized every word.

I do not intend to summarize or describe the results of our work in a different way in the course of my testimony today. And as I said on May 29th, the report is my testimony, and I will stay within that text.

[08:50:00] And as I stated in May, I will not comment on the actions of the attorney general or of Congress. I was appointed as a prosecutor, and I intend -- intend to adhere to that role and to the department's standards that govern it.

I'll be joined today by Deputy Special Counsel Aaron Zebley. Mr. Zebley has extensive experience as a federal prosecutor and at the FBI, where he served as my chief of staff. Mr. Zebley was responsible for the day-to-day oversight on the investigations conducted by our office.

Now, I also want to, again, say thank you to the attorneys, the FBI agents, the analysts and professional staff who helped us conduct this investigation in a fair and independent matter. These individuals who spent nearly two years of -- working on this matter were of the highest integrity.

Let me say one more thing. Over the course of my career, I have seen a number of challenges to our democracy. The Russian government's effort to interfere in our election is among the most serious. And as I said on May 29, this deserves the attention of every American.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

NADLER: Thank you. Thank you.

We will now proceed, under the five-minute rule, with questions. I will begin by recognizing myself for five minutes.

Director Mueller, the president has repeatedly claimed that your report found there was no obstruction and that it completely and totally exonerated him, but that is not what your report said, is it?

MUELLER: Correct. That is not what the report said.

NADLER: Now, reading from page 2 of Volume 2 of your report that's on the screen, you wrote, quote, "If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment," close quote.

Now does that say there was no obstruction?

MUELLER: No.

NADLER: In fact, you were actually unable to conclude the president did not commit obstruction of justice, is that correct?

MUELLER: Well, we at the outset determined that we -- when it came to the president's culpability, we needed to -- we needed -- we needed to go forward only after taking into account the OLC opinion that indicated that a president -- sitting president cannot be indicted.

NADLER: So 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.

NADLER: Now, in fact, your report expressly states that it does not exonerate the president.

MUELLER: It does.

NADLER: And your investigation actually found, quote, "multiple acts by the president that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations, including the Russian interference and obstruction investigations." Is that correct?

MUELLER: Correct.

NADLER: Now, Director Mueller, can you explain in plain terms what that finding means so the American people can understand it?

MUELLER: Well, the finding indicates that the president was not -- that the president was not exculpated for the acts that he allegedly committed.

NADLER: In fact, you were talking about incidents, quote, "in which the president sought to use his official power outside of usual channels," unquote, to exert undo influence over your investigations, is that right?

MUELLER: That's correct.

NADLER: Now, am I correct that on page 7 of Volume 2 of your report, you wrote, quote, "The president became aware that his own conduct was being investigated in an obstruction of justice inquiry. At that point, the president engaged in a second phase of conduct, involving public attacks on the investigation, non-public efforts to control it, and efforts in both public and private to encourage witnesses not to cooperate with the investigation," close quote.

So President Trump's efforts to exert undo influence over your investigation intensified after the president became aware that he personally was being investigated?

MUELLER: I stick with the language that you have in front of you, which comes from page 7, Volume 2.

[08:55:00]

NADLER: Now, is it correct that if you concluded that the president committed the crime of obstruction, you could not publicly state that in your report or here today?

MUELLER: Can you repeat the question, sir? NADLER: Is it correct that if you had concluded that the president committed the crime of obstruction, you could not publicly state that in your report or here today?

MUELLER: Well, I would say you could -- the statement would be to -- that you would not indict, and you would not indict because under the OLC opinion a sitting president -- excuse me -- cannot be indicted. It would be unconstitutional.

NADLER: So you could not state that because of the OLC opinion, if that would have been your conclusion.

MUELLER: OLC opinion was some guide, yes.

NADLER: But under DOJ -- under Department of Justice policy, the president could be prosecuted for obstruction of justice crimes after he leaves office, correct?

MUELLER: True.

NADLER: Thank you.

Did any senior White House official refuse or request to be interviewed by you and your team?

MUELLER: I don't believe so.

NADLER: The president...

MUELLER: Well, I take -- let me take that back. I would have to look at it, but I'm not certain that that was the case.

NADLER: Did the president refuse a request to be interviewed by you and your team?

MUELLER: Yes.

NADLER: Yes.

And is it true that you tried for more than a year to secure an interview with the president?

MUELLER: Yes.

NADLER: And is it true that you and your team advised the president's lawyer that, quote, "an interview with the president is vital to our investigation," close quote?

MUELLER: Yes. Yes.

NADLER: And is it true that you also, quote, "stated that it is in the interest of the presidency and the public for an interview to take place," close quote?

MUELLER: Yes.

NADLER: But the president still refused to sit for an interview by you or your team?

MUELLER: True. True.

NADLER: And did you also ask him to provide written answers to questions on the 10 possible episodes of obstruction of justice crimes involving him?

MUELLER: Yes.

NADLER: Did he provide any answers to a single question about whether he engaged in obstruction of justice crimes?

MUELLER: I would have to check on that. I'm not certain.

NADLER: Director Mueller, we are grateful that you are here to explain your investigation and findings. Having reviewed your work, I believe anyone else who'd engage in the conduct described in your report would have been criminally prosecuted. Your work is vitally important to this committee and the American people because no one is above the law.

I now -- I now recognize the gentleman from Georgia, Mr. Collins.

COLLINS: Thank you, Mr. Chair.

And we're moving on. I want to (inaudible) just reiterate the five- minute rule. Mr. Mueller, I have several questions, many of which you just answered. Will begin (ph) questions here in a moment, but I want to lay some foundation. So we'll go through these fairly quickly. I'll talk slowly. It's said that I talk fast; I will talk slowly.

MUELLER: Thank you, sir.

COLLINS: In your press conference you said any testimony from your office would not go beyond our report. "We chose these words carefully. The word speaks for itself. I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress." Do you stand by that statement?

MUELLER: Yes.

COLLINS: Since closing the special counsel's office in May of 2019, have you conducted any additional interviews or obtained any new information in your role as special counsel?

MUELLER: In the -- in the -- in the wake of the report?

COLLINS: Since the -- since the closing of the office in May of 2019.

MUELLER: And the question was, have we conducted...

COLLINS: Have you conducted any new interviews, any new witnesses, anything?

MUELLER: No.

COLLINS: And you can confirm you're no longer special counsel, correct?

MUELLER: I am no longer special counsel.

COLLINS: At any time in the investigation, was your investigation curtailed or stopped or hindered?

MUELLER: No.

COLLINS: Were you or your team provided any questions by members of Congress (inaudible) the majority ahead of your hearing today?

MUELLER: No.

COLLINS: Your report states that your investigative team included 19 lawyers and approximately 40 FBI agents and analysts and accountants. Are those numbers accurate?

MUELLER: Could you repeat that, please?

COLLINS: Forty FBI agents, 19 lawyers, intelligence analysts and forensic accountants; are those numbers accurate? This was in your report.

MUELLER: Generally, yes.

COLLINS: Is it also true that you issued over 2,800 subpoenas, executed nearly 500 search warrants, obtained more than 230 orders for communication records and 50 pin registers?

MUELLER: That went a little fast for me.

COLLINS: OK. In your report -- I'll make this very simple -- you did a lot of work, correct?

MUELLER: Yes, that I agree to.

COLLINS: A lot of subpoenas, a lot of pin registers...

MUELLER: A lot of subpoenas.

COLLINS: OK, we'll walk this really slow if we need to.

MUELLER: A lot of search warrants.

COLLINS: All right, a lot of search warrants, a lot of things, so you are very thorough.

MUELLER: What?

COLLINS: In your opinion, very thorough, you listed this out in your report, correct?

MUELLER: Yes.

COLLINS: Thank you. Is it true, the evidence gathered during your investigation -- given the questions that you've just answered, is it true the evidence gathered during your investigation did not establish that the president was involved in the underlying crime related to Russian election interference as stated in Volume 1, page 7?

MUELLER: We found insufficient evidence of the president's culpability.

COLLINS: So that would be a yes.

MUELLER: Pardon?

COLLINS: That would be a yes.

MUELLER: Yes.

COLLINS: Thank you.

Isn't it true the evidence did not establish that the president or those close to him were involved in the charged (ph) Russian computer hacking or active measure conspiracies or that the president otherwise had unlawful relationships with any Russian official, Volume 2, page 76? Correct?

MUELLER: I will leave the answer to our report.

COLLINS: So that is a yes.

Is that any true your investigation did not...

END