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INSIDE POLITICS

Democrats Debate After Mueller Testimony; Dems Fracture Over Impeachment; Mueller Defends Investigation. Aired 12-12:30p ET

Aired July 25, 2019 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00] PAMELA BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: "INSIDE POLITICS" with John King starts right now. Have a great day.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Pam.

And welcome to INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

Nancy Pelosi says her advice to fellow Democrats is, be for impeachment, if that's what helps you back home, but Mueller day did not change the speaker's mind. She is still in go slow mode. And as the House breaks for summer recess, Pelosi's advice to her members is talk more about health care.

Plus, the former special counsel did nothing to move Republicans. The president and GOP leaders say it's time for congressional investigations to end. And Republicans in the Senate blocked votes on measures designed to protect against future foreign election interference.

And the Democrats prepare for debates, round two. Joe Biden gets more aggressive, and a National Urban League meeting highlights the competition for African-American voters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's easy to call Donald Trump a racist now. You get no badge of courage for that.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Today we have a president who embraces these supremacists.

And we have to defeat Donald Trump this time out.

BOOKER: I know folks want to say that the most important thing for a Democratic nominee is to beat Donald Trump. But let me tell you right now, that is a floor. It is not the ceiling.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Back to the 2020 Democrats a bit later. But we begin the hour with the Mueller day fallout and with Democrats divided over what should happen now. No has been House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's answer to impeachment and she

has asked her caucus to wait, including last night for court fights over subpoenas and for other investigations. This morning, Pelosi's public message to Democrats, do whatever you think you need to do.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Are you going to discourage your members at all from mounting support for impeachment inquiry?

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Never have done that. Never, never have done that. They can do whatever they want to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Tomorrow the House goes on a six-week recess, but you hear little urgency this morning on the impeachment question. Why is because the drama many Democrats wanted Robert Mueller to deliver yesterday was simply missing.

If you read the report, the special counsel spent -- if you read the report, the special counsel spent most of his day confirming what you already knew. For Americans who hadn't read it, and tuned in for nearly seven hours of testimony, they did hear a damning portrait of the Trump White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): So the report did not conclude that he did not commit obstruction of justice, is that correct?

ROBERT MUELLER, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL: That is correct.

NADLER: And what about total exoneration, did you accidentally totally exonerate the president?

MUELLER: No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: But there was no break-through, made-for-television moment. The bulk of Mr. Mueller's answers relied on very few words, mostly these, yes, correct, true, no, generally, I can't go into it, I'm not going to discuss that.

When asked to read from his own report and give voice to the words he put on paper, Mr. Mueller refused. His command at times of the 448 pages of facts faltered, repeatedly. The former FBI director rarely strayed outside the safety of his summary. And when he did suggest he would have -- when he did suggest he would have indicted the president if not for a Justice Department guideline, he then later corrected his words.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MUELLER: We did not make any determination with regard to culpability in any way. We did not start that process down -- down the road.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Let's get straight to CNN's Manu Raju up on Capitol Hill.

Manu, has anything changed today?

RAJU: Well, there are Democrats who are calling for an impeachment inquiry, but the speaker at the moment is not there. And she, of course, is the person who will ultimately make that decision.

This has been a subject of debate last night at a closed door caucus meeting. At that time, a number of members pressed their leadership about the way forward. And I'm told that's when the speaker allowed these members to air out their concerns. And she made that case clear, that she wants to move forward in courts first. But a lot of members came away thinking that she is more open to the option of moving forward with impeachment inquiry than she has been in the past.

And when I asked her at a press conference last night if she's still concerned about Republicans controlling the Senate and would effectively quash any impeachment effort, she said that is not her concern. She denied that had been her concern in the past, saying that they need to get their best, strongest case yet.

But, still, there was discussion this morning at a meeting as well. She did mention to her members, do what you need to do. If you need to support impeachment, that's fine. But she also pushed back at some critics who have said that if they don't move forward with impeachment, that they are not honoring their constitutional duty, saying that to her colleagues, I'm told, we all have an oath that we are carrying out. Even if their -- people don't support impeachment does not mean they're honoring their constitutional duties.

But, nevertheless, she wants to move forward one way, go through the courts, put a number of Democrats who I talked to this morning are worried that time is simply running out. They are heading out this week for a recess through the month of August. And, John, there's just not much time left in this congressional calendar afterwards. And then we get into the heat of the 2020 campaign season. So that's why a lot of members are getting antsy, saying if the Mueller hearing was not the triggering event for an impeachment inquiry, then what ultimately will be?

[12:05:19] John.

KING: That's an excellent question. Manu Raju, appreciate that live from The Hill.

With me in studio to share their reporting and their insights, Maggie Haberman with "The New York Times," CNN's Kaitlan Collins, Heather Caygle with "Politico," and Vivian Salama with "The Wall Street Journal."

Before Mueller spoke, a lot of Democrats thought that would be to break the dam, if you will. The number of Democrats calling for impeachment would jump. Only one or two after the hearing yesterday.

Is it fair to say that the likelihood of the Democrats going forward with impeachment is significantly lower today than it was at this time yesterday?

HEATHER CAYGLE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": I would say yes. It's always been an unspoken goal of Pelosi and her leadership team to get to August without launching an impeachment inquiry. Like Manu said, once they get into September, they have to funding the government. Then we get into the election. And this morning, in that closed-door meeting he was talking about, she sounded like she was in the exact same place she was two days ago. She said, we have a lot to protect here. He is not worth dividing the country. And that was her message to members. Her saying, I am not anywhere closer to impeachment than I was two days ago.

VIVIAN SALAMA, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": It wasn't the game-changer that the Democrats had hoped for, right? I mean the optics alone, really, they didn't get the sound bites, they didn't get that sort of one big quote from Mueller that says, you know, definitely this is a problem, there's a crime, anything like that, that the Democrats would have felt they had enough to fuel maybe some public sentiment to move forward with any impeachment proceedings. And so they're struggling at this point. And we're really not in a different place than we were.

KING: Were they wrong to expect that? Were they wrong to build this up as some Washington drama that was going to give them a break-through moment?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I don't really think anyone thought that there was going to be something explosive. Maybe there might have been a few moments that it would have helped things but I don't -- there's nothing new that we learned yesterday. That's what's interesting about even the White House declaring victory here and the president saying that he feels vindicated because the facts are still the same and the report is still a pretty damning portrayal of what's going on inside the White House and what happened with his campaign and how they welcomed Russian interference and Russian help.

But, of course, if the optics don't change, which they didn't yesterday at all, not only does it not seem like they're any closer to impeachment, it seems like now it's been tabled even further.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: What I was struck by, and I do -- I -- look, I understand why they wanted to have this hearing.

KING: Right.

HABERMAN: And the report, I agree with Kaitlan, the report itself is a damning document.

KING: Right.

HABERMAN: In fact, some of the heat that Bob Mueller took yesterday from Republicans was on that front, which was, did you unfairly treat the president by detailing all of this because in our system you're either, you know, charged or you're innocent, but you don't get to just put all the evidence that wasn't used for a charge on display. And essentially that is what Mueller did.

I think that Democrats needed to do a better job of managing expectations heading into this. And I certainly don't understand, and maybe this wasn't -- and, Heather, maybe you know more than I do about this -- but there didn't seem to be a whole lot of understanding that Mueller was not going to be the same Mueller that they had seen in congressional hearings several years ago when he last testified. I think it was about six years ago before Congress. They seemed surprised at how sort of stilted and halting he was at times. And the one big piece of new he made, as you noted earlier, he walked back later.

KING: Right.

HABERMAN: That's not insignificant.

There were some interesting details along the way, though. There was him talking about, you know, disputing, finally from his own mouth, this notion that the president has perpetuated for a while that Mueller was seeking the FBI director job again.

KING: Right.

HABERMAN: He's been saying that for a long time as part of his alleged conflict that he's been maintaining, Mueller has, that nobody else agreed with him on in his own White House. But that's not necessarily going to change minds. And in the minds of the public, this had pretty much halted once the report came out and people read it for themselves. And for people who were very unhappy with the media for suggesting this might not be a durable news story going forward, we have covered Mueller for two years, all of us at this table.

KING: Right.

HABERMAN: In -- on -- really almost every day. It's not like the public doesn't know the body of information there. And that's not what a lot of people are voting on.

KING: Right. And to that point, if you had read the report, you didn't learn a lot yesterday. If you hadn't read the report, you might have been enlightened about some things. But it was the Democrats saying it more than Mueller. He would answer "yes," he would say "true," but he refused to read the report. So you don't have the special counsel reading the most damning things.

To Maggie's point, if you watched all seven and a half hours yesterday or if you read the report, it paints a damning picture of a campaign that was more than willing to accept Russian help, actually encouraging it, of a president and a candidate who told his aides stymie the investigation, get in the way, try to fire Bob Mueller.

Here's one point where Mueller is talking with Val Demings about is the -- was the president of the United States even -- he refused -- the president refused to sit down for an interview. Mueller fought for months. The president refused to sit down for an interview. Mueller ultimately decided not to try a subpoena fight. The president did answer some questions in writing. In this exchange, Mueller essentially says, a lot of those answers were worthless.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. VAL DEMINGS (D-FL): There were many questions that you asked the president that he simply didn't answer, isn't that correct?

[12:10:02] ROBERT MUELLER, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL: True.

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

MUELLER: Yes.

DEMINGS: 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 showed that he wasn't always being truthful?

MUELLER: They're -- I would say generally.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, if you're writing a report on that, there's the special counsel, a former FBI director, a man with more than 30 years in law enforcement saying the president of the United States lied. The president of the United States didn't tell the truth. His answers were contradicted by other evidence in the investigation. But Mueller never said that. He's answering questions with one word, "true," "yes," "generally." That's where he gets you if you do -- if you connect the dots yourself. The Democrats wanted Mueller to connect those dots staring into the camera.

COLLINS: And they wanted him to say something more forceful like, yes, the president wasn't honest completely in his answers. But, instead, just answering in the affirmative doesn't give Democrats what they wanted.

But, of course, it's not really a winning talking point for the White House or the president's allies to say that the special counsel said that the president is generally not truthful in his written answers. And I think that's why you saw the president on the South Lawn yesterday tell the reporters he's glad he didn't sit down with Robert Mueller and he didn't answer that, and that was a big point of contention yesterday that didn't come up until much later on of why they did not subpoena Trump.

HABERMAN: That -- that was exactly what I was about to raise. That was a huge issue throughout this investigation was they were having this year-long back and forth about the parameters of an interview and what it would look like. And so what was interesting was hearing Mueller say, in his own words, for the first time, look, it was going to become a protracted legal fight. We tried various ways.

Mueller, for all of Trumps complaints that he was treated unfairly, it was very clear, if you actually watched what Mueller did yesterday in the hearing, he bent over backwards to be fair to Trump.

COLLINS: Yes.

HABERMAN: Particularly with the question of the subpoena, which was, we were trying to ending this from going longer than it should have. And they believed that the president would challenge the legality of the subpoena if that happened and they didn't -- the decided it wasn't worth it. Did they decide it wasn't worth it in part because they didn't think they were going to get truthful answers? Maybe -- or it wasn't going to shed new light? That's also possible. We don't know because he didn't get asked that. But that was a really, really interesting moment and that did take it to a different place. But that doesn't take it to a place where Democrats wanted it to go.

KING: Right, didn't take it there.

And as we go to break, when we come back we're going to talk more about the president's response and the Republican response.

I just want to show you these numbers as we go to break. Back in May 29th, when Robert Mueller made his first public statement, 38 Democrats were on the record saying let's have an impeachment inquiry. Then it rose in May to 51. Then it got to 80. Then it got to 87. We are at 93 today. Democrats are about to go on a six-week recess. We'll see if that number grows while they're away.

But when we come back, the president says he is totally vindicated. Republicans in Congress say shut down the investigations.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:17:22] KING: The president, not long after the Mueller hearing finished, declaring total victory.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, the president mischaracterizing what Special Counsel Mueller said. But on a morning conference call today with campaign surrogates, Trump campaign officials telling their allies to repeat the president's words over and over again, say it was a bad performance, say it hurt their Democrats, highlight that, in their view, the special counsel landed few, if any, serious blows against the president. Time to move on is the message. But moving on will deprive the president of what has been almost an everyday target that animated him for two plus years.

And that's an interesting question for me. This has been a rallying point almost. The president loves an enemy. The president sometimes needs a punching bag. If Mueller's done, what does he do?

HABERMAN: Well, I think that we're forgetting -- and I was reminded of this by a Trump supporter this morning -- the other half of this coin, which is that Barr is still looking into how the investigators handled the investigation. And I think if we think there's not going to be something that -- that they that they produced from that, I think we're -- we're -- we've -- we haven't been paying attention for the last couple of years.

But, look, I do think that there is a risk for Trump in the fact that this show has moved on from Mueller, that Mueller has had there's -- there's an end point there. The -- a lot of the investigations are still going on.

The more the focus is on Trump's behavior, the more the focus is on policy and how it relates to working class voters, middle class voters, the more that the focus is on things like the president's tweets about the squad, quote/unquote, I don't think that helps him. And so I do think that a lot of the noise around Mueller, despite the conduct that it was describing, was beneficial to him.

The other thing that the president said and mischaracterizing, I just want to say this really quickly, what Mueller said. What Mueller was the most emphatic about was Russian interference in the election and the fact that there is going to be some kind of interference again in 2020. Possibly not only by Russia. That was something he's clearly profoundly disturbed by. He said it in his only other public statement. That is something the president doesn't want to talk about at all, in part because he sees it as undermining his own victory, but that's where we're headed for 2020.

KING: Right. Without a doubt. And I would say that that's where he was most passionate.

HABERMAN: Yes, Mueller was, yes.

KING: And it seemed that volume one -- Mueller was. This, volume one, the second part of the day, the second part of the day, he seemed much more engaged, much more familiar with the body of work, if you will, talking about that.

[12:20:01] The other time where he got passionate, and we've talked in the last bloc about now Democrats didn't get their made-for-TV Mueller looking into the camera and saying, you know, you should impeach him or I would have prosecuted him if not for those guidelines. Democrats didn't get that.

Republicans also didn't get what they were looking for, which is Mueller to concede there was bias or any questions.

HABERMAN: That's right. KING: That's a -- that's the other point. He was most passionate -- most passionate about the Russian interference, which he thinks is ongoing, said is ongoing, and also about defending -- remember the president says 18 angry Democrats. Republicans in Congress have said, ah, ha, they gave to the Clinton campaign. Mueller said my team was a good team.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The integrity part at the end there. He has listened to this criticism for two years. And, again, there's a lot of questions about his performance. A lot of people criticizing his performance. A lot of people asking questions about, was he not familiar with his own report. When it came to these issues, he was pretty passionate.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: And we did expect him to be passionate about that. He -- this guy, you know, he's given his life to public service. The FBI, he was there for 12 years. He's going to be remembered as one of -- probably the best FBI directors. He was there through 9/11, the Boston bombing. There was a lot of things that he sort of has been involved in that I think his legacy -- this is what, in the end, I think him testifying yesterday, I think people around him were very concerned about his legacy, how was this going to show him, because it could be the very last time we hear from him.

And to Maggie's point, I think she makes a very good point about Bill Barr and the investigation of the investigators. I do think there's going to be things there that are going to be favorable for the president and -- because we know that Bill Barr is not a fan of this investigation from the way it started to the fact -- the collusion investigation, so-called collusion investigation, the conspiracy investigation. Barr was not a fan of it. So I do think there's going to be stuff there for the president that we have yet to see, which he is going to latch onto and it is probably going to be helpful for him.

SALAMA: Well, and make no mistake, this subject is not going to go away for the president, even though he might have to start focusing on other things. At his rallies, he is going to point to this investigation every single time and say, look how much I got done despite the witch hunt, despite the hoax that was hanging over. He called it a dark cloud yesterday when he came outside on the South Lawn. He's going to continue to point to that and say, look, I delivered on the economy, I delivered jobs, I delivered whatever he believes his successes to be, all under that cloud of the witch hunt. And so it will always -- it will continue to be a dominating theme in all of his rallies going forward. KING: And speaking of the words "witch hunt," that was another issue

that came up yesterday where Mueller was quite adamant. Again, he has listened to the criticism of his team for two years. He's read the president's tweets, I'm sure, or had them brought to him for two years. He says, you're wrong, sir.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): When Donald trump called your investigation a witch hunt, that was also false, was it not?

ROBERT MUELLER, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL: I'd like to think so, yes.

SCHIFF: Well, your investigation is not a witch hunt, is it (INAUDIBLE)?

MUELLER: It is not a witch hunt.

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

MUELLER: True.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Again, you get one words or two words, sometimes three words. But especially on the last point, Maggie made about the Russian interference, not a hoax, true?

HEATHER CAYGLE, CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER, "POLITICO": Yes, and I -- I do want to say, this is not going away for House Democrats. They will continue to beat this drum. I think Pelosi's overall strategy is death by a thousand cuts. She has six committees investigating various aspects of Trump's administration, personal life, financials, and, in addition, Chairman Nadler announced yesterday they're going to go to court to try to enforce the Don McGahn subpoena, they're going to try to compel the grand jury information from the Mueller report to be turned over. So they are not giving up on this at all. They're not moving on.

KING: Well see what happens in the next chapter.

Up next for us, Joe Biden promises a new strategy in round two of the debates next week. He says he'll be less polite.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:28:28] (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What did you do when you were not running for president to fight for the communities that you now want to represent? It is not enough to show up in our communities today with a promise of a better tomorrow. What were you doing five, ten, 15 or 20 years ago to fight for racial justice, to combat racial inequality and structural inequality?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Cory Booker at the National Urban League taking some veiled shots at the former vice president, Joe Biden, over his record on criminal justice reform. Vice President Biden also spoke to the Urban League. Biden did not use that event to attack his rivals, but he has been more aggressive in recent days, suggesting he's going to draw a sharper contrast, both with Senator Booker and Senator Kamala Harris at the next debate. The Biden campaign taking a poke at Booker on Twitter today too, highlighting two recent polls that show Booker well behind Biden among African-American voters when you see that.

So the Biden campaign, it's no secret, they say, we have to be more aggressive in the next debate. Booker is a bit more surprising to me in the sense that he was the candidate of love, remember, when he got into the race. He was -- says I didn't want to have a fight with his Democrats. He sees what Harris did for her gain in debates round one and it's almost a copycat strategy, right?

[12:29:43] SALAMA: He's got to make his mark, right? I mean everyone is talking about Harris since the debate because of the fact that she went on the offense with Joe Biden on a number of very important and sensitive topics. And now with Joe Biden, after his comfortable lead pre-debate is having to also defend himself, and he's -- he's having to get a little bit more aggressive with his competitors about certain issues. And so you were seeing him ramp up on issues like criminal justice where a lot of his competitors actually say that he is responsible for a lot.