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Sarah Sanders on Mueller Report; White House Response to Mueller Report. Aired 8:30-9a ET

Aired March 25, 2019 - 08:30   ET



[08:33:33] JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Time for the "5 Things to Know for Your New Day."

President Trump claims the result of the Mueller investigation is a complete and total exoneration. The special counsel report found that no Trump/Russia -- found no Trump/Russia conspiracy but it stopped short of exonerating the president on obstruction of justice.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Florida police say a second student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has died of an apparent suicide. The Parkland community was already mourning last week's suicide of Sydney Aiello, who suffered from post-traumatic stress after the attack on her high school last year.

BERMAN: Israel's military blames Hamas for a rocket strike on a house in -- house north of Tel Aviv that injured even people. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to cut his U.S. visit short as a result.

CAMEROTA: Pilots of U.S. carriers that fly Boeing's 737 Max planes tested a Boeing software update meant to prevent a repeat of the Lion Air crash. A source briefed on the simulations tells CNN that Southwest, American and United pilots landed the plane without incident.

BERMAN: The Viking Sky Cruise Ship is now docked in Norway after a harrowing day adrift at sea with engine failure. Rescue teams airlifted 479 people from the ship in stormy seas on Saturday. Yikes. Twenty people were injured.

CAMEROTA: That looks really unpleasant.

BERMAN: No, not good.

CAMEROTA: Fly -- you can't fly. You can't go on cruise ships. We just should stay here and work.

BERMAN: Yes, fly or walk everywhere.

CAMEROTA: For more on the "5 Things to Know," go to for the latest. [08:35:02] BERMAN: All right, President Trump now calls the Mueller investigation an illegal takedown that failed, but is touting its conclusion that there is no conspiracy with Russia. White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders joins us live, next.


BERMAN: President Trump claims that he is completely vindicated after Robert Mueller did not find that the president or his campaign conspired with Russia to win the 2016 election. But the special counsel stopped short of exonerating the president on obstruction of justice.

Joining me now is White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders.

Sarah, thanks so much for being with us this morning.

And, you know, I was thinking you, as one of the people who did have to answer questions to the Mueller team, what was your first response when you read what William Barr had to write?

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think everyone here, and everyone frankly across America was happy. Even some in the media which, frankly, I was surprised by, have said that this is a good thing for America, that they found that absolutely no American citizen, including the president, including everyone on his team had anything to do with interfering in the election in 2016. It was another great reminder that the reason that the president is the president and sitting behind me in this building right now is because he was the best candidate, he had the best message, he had the best vision for this country, and he outworked his opponent. He delivered on -- in 2016, and he's been delivering every single day since he was elected. And that -- yesterday was another great reminder of exactly why he's president and why he's had such historic success.

[08:40:29] BERMAN: Is it a great reminder also of the rule of law?

SANDERS: It is, but it's also a sad reminder of the lack of accountability that started to seep into the media and into Democrats that have gone out for the last two years -- actually over two years and accused the president, the United States president, of being an agent of a foreign government. Take a second and let that sink in. Take a minute and realize how outrageous and how serious and how malicious an accusation like that is. They literally accused the president of the United States of being an agent for a foreign government. That's equivalent to treason. That is punishable by death in this country. And that is outrageous.

BERMAN: But Robert Mueller isn't among them, correct?

SANDERS: And they claimed --

BERMAN: But Robert Mueller --

SANDERS: And they claimed --

BERMAN: But Robert Mueller's not among them, right? Robert Mueller wasn't among those people.

SANDERS: Hold on -- hold on, John. They claimed to have actual evidence. They said it was true. And they lied. They didn't just lie on TV, they lied to the American people and they tried to take something away from the 63 million Americans that voted for this president. It's outrageous. And I hope that they will stand up and say how wrong they were throughout this process.

BERMAN: We have been playing sound from Democrats all morning long who have said that they saw evidence of collusion. What they have been telling us this morning, and I'm just laying it out there so people know in response to what you're saying, what they're telling us this morning is, well, we saw evidence in plain sight of collusion, which isn't chargeable for a crime, but Robert Mueller -- and I want to just be clear, Robert Mueller's team, as quoted by William Barr, says there is no -- they established no evidence to charge the president or anyone connected with him with conspiracy or coordination. I just wanted to clear that up.

Now, you --

SANDERS: I hope that when you play those quotes, you'll also play the ones where they said that Robert Mueller had all of this credibility --

BERMAN: Sure. Sure.

SANDERS: And now they're saying that his investigation isn't thorough enough after two years --

BERMAN: But -- but --

SANDERS: After 2,800 subpoenas --


SANDERS: Five hundred witnesses, millions of pages in documents and $25 million wasted of taxpayer dollars. That still isn't enough for Democrats.

BERMAN: Sarah --

SANDERS: That is outrageous.

BERMAN: Sarah, again, though, if we're going to play that sound, we might also play the sound of the president calling the Mueller investigation an illegal takedown that failed. You --

SANDERS: I don't disagree with him. He's 100 percent right. These are people that tried to overthrow the president of the United States.

BERMAN: Robert Mueller -- just to be crystal -- I just want to be clear of who they are. Did Robert Mueller try to overthrow the president of the United States?

SANDERS: I'm specifically talking about Democrats and the media who perpetuated this absurd lie.

BERMAN: OK. Were Democrats or the media part of the Mueller investigation? Were they among the team of his investigators?

SANDERS: They were among the people that helped make that possible, that pushed this narrative that created the entire spectacle in the first place.

BERMAN: Rod Rosenstein --

SANDERS: They were behind pushing a fake dossier. They were in behind the wiretapping. They were behind spying on a U.S. campaign. One hundred percent they were behind it. Let's look at all of the different comments and things said by Clapper and Comey and Brennan.

BERMAN: Well -- OK.

SANDERS: Democrats --

BERMAN: James Clapper -- James Clapper, just to be crystal clear, because he said it on this show again, and we've seen the sound rom January, James Clapper went on TV and made crystal clear that he had seen no evidence of collusion. So, in some ways, James Clapper was making this case from the very beginning, no evidence of collusion.

The investigation, as you know, Sarah, was started after concerns of conversations that George Papadopoulos had. The investigation was begun back then and Robert Mueller, in this report, which I can totally understand why the White House is looking at it and praising it this morning, William Barr notes that the Mueller team and his investigators did find two large areas where Russia did try to interfere with the campaign. First of all, social media misinformation. Second of all, the hacks of the Democratic e-mails.

Does the president concur that Russia did try to attack our election?

SANDERS: Certainly. And we've said that a number of times before. Russia and others tried to interfere with our elections. We know that they tried to interfere. But the question that has constantly been ignored is, who was in charge of government at the time that they interfered? It wasn't Donald Trump. It was Barack Obama.

BERMAN: Oh, and --

SANDERS: It was his intelligence committee --

BERMAN: Right.

SANDERS: That not only knew about it but did nothing to stop it.

BERMAN: "The Washington Post" --

SANDERS: They did nothing to fix it.

BERMAN: "The Washington Post" --

SANDERS: And then they tried to blame it on the president.

BERMAN: I will say, "The Washington Post" and others have reported very closely, as CNN from the beginning here, of some of the missed opportunities to take action. The Obama team says, well, look, we went to Congress and the gang of four and Mitch McConnell objected to us going public with a strong -- more strongly worded letter about the Russian intentions there. That's their version of that.

[08:45:10] Let me ask you about some specifics here.

Do you want the president to make public, or the attorney general to make public the entire report?

SANDERS: Look, the president's fully open to transparency. He said last week. But he's leaving that decision at this point into the hands of the attorney general, and he'll make that determination at the appropriate time.

One thing we do want to be clear on is we want to make sure that we protect the office of the presidency.


SANDERS: And with that, we want to make sure that executive privilege and other things -- and frankly, the innocent people. Let's not forget, 500 people were witnesses in this investigation. We want to make sure we protect innocent people throughout this process, that we protect sources and methods, that the intelligence community uses. Those are things that matter not just for this president but they matter for every president. And we want to make sure that a shameful process like this, that's gone on for the last 22 months, never happens to another American president.

BERMAN: You keep saying shameful process again while welcoming the findings of the Mueller report. The Mueller report -- and Mitch McConnell, by the way, is one of them who says Russia's ongoing efforts to interfere with our democracy are dangerous and disturbing and I welcome the special counsel's contributions to our efforts to understand better Russia's activities in this regard.

Have White House lawyers --

SANDERS: John, don't let this -- don't let this investigation confuse you. This was not about looking at whether or not Russia interfered. The purpose of this was to determine whether or not Russia interfered and the Trump campaign had something to do with it.

BERMAN: Right.

SANDERS: They didn't. We said that from day one yet Democrats and the media perpetuated that lie day in and day out --

BERMAN: Well --

SANDERS: And breathlessly covered every single second of negative attention that they thought would be the one moment that would bring this president down. They were wrong in 2016 when he beat them and they've been wrong every day since about this president, which is why he continues to do so well. The American people are smarter than that and they're not buying it.

BERMAN: Well, the two things -- there are two things -- there are two things here -- two things, again, that we know from this report. Number one, that Russia did attack this election. Number two, that the Mueller team found no evidence that the Trump campaign or people associated with it conspired.

But there is a third thing here as well, Sarah, which is that Robert Mueller's team uncovered evidence that President Trump obstructed justice here.

Now, we're also told that they uncovered evidence and they have arguments why he may not be criminally -- be able to be criminally prosecuted for that. But the idea that there are signs they said that there is evidence of obstruction of justice, that might help to indicate why there was so much attention to it over the last year, correct?

SANDERS: Let's start with this. First, it's very hard to obstruct a crime that never took place. The whole idea was that collusion happened between the president, his team and Russia.

BERMAN: You're obstruct of the investigation into the --

SANDERS: And -- and there was no collusion. So start with that.

BERMAN: You're obstructing -- just to be clear, you're obstructing the investigation into the crime. And Martha Stewart, who served time in jail, knows that you can go to jail for obstructing an investigation into a situation where there's no underlying crime.

Just to make that -- I want to make that very clear there.

But -- but, again --

SANDERS: And -- and -- but the second part of that -- but, hold on, John, the second part of that is that they sent that decision because they couldn't make a determination. They sent that to the attorney general and the deputy attorney general to make that determination. They did. And they made it based on the evidence in Mueller's own investigation.

BERMAN: Do you know -- do you know -- can I ask --

SANDERS: They took that information. They made a decision and they moved forward.

BERMAN: Can I -- because this is actually a very important fact. Do you know that Robert Mueller -- do you know for a fact that Robert Mueller wanted the attorney general to make that determination? Or did Mueller want Congress to make that determination?

SANDERS: That's a question you'll have to ask Robert Mueller. But what we know is that they couldn't make the determination in a legal --

BERMAN: We know they did --

SANDERS: Hold on, and the legal process --

BERMAN: We know they didn't make the decision. We know they didn't make the determination.

SANDERS: That's what I said, they didn't.

BERMAN: We didn't know that they couldn't. We didn't know that they -- you said they couldn't. The didn't make that determination.

SANDERS: They didn't make that determination and the legal process then goes to the attorney general and the deputy attorney general to be able to make that determination. And they did. They did their jobs. And I think that everyone should be thankful that they have.

BERMAN: Sarah Sanders, it's a pleasure to have you on this morning. I know this is a day that the White House looked forward to for a long time. We appreciate you being on NEW DAY.

SANDERS: Thank you. And, John, to be clear, I think it's a day America's looked forward to for a long time. It's a great day for America when a decision like this comes forward and, frankly, it's a great thing that we can move back, that the media and everyone can move back to focusing on things like the economy, the defeat of ISIS and rising wages in this country, the things that the president's been focused on the last two years.

Thank you for having me on.

BERMAN: Sarah Sanders, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

Again, I think everyone can agree it's good that the president, the special counsel found, didn't try to rig the election with Russia, didn't conspire to rig the election. I think that's a point that everyone can agree on.

CAMEROTA: That's universal.

BERMAN: Absolutely.


So, where does the battle over the Mueller report go from here? We get "The Bottom Line," next.


[08:52:37] CAMEROTA: The White House is celebrating the conclusion of the Mueller investigation, while attacking the investigation that has loomed over the Trump presidency for nearly two years.

What happens now?

Let's get "The Bottom Line" with CNN's senior political analyst John Avlon and CNN's chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

Great to have both of you to try to wrap up and make sense of this entire day.

Let's start with Sarah Sanders, what we just heard.

I was confused. She said that the investigation was shameful but that the investigation everybody should accept the investigation and that they're accepting the outcome of it. What part was -- I'm confused, what part was shameful about the investigation, John?

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: This is the contradiction of the line they're trying to watch and the president set the tone up yesterday. They've been vindicate, but they're also being very vindictive about the process that exonerated them.

And the thing is, you can't really have it both ways. This was not a shameful process. This actually is a vindication of the rule of law despite all the partisan venom that has been directed towards it. And also -- she also said that people are saying there's not enough information. I think what people are saying is, let's get all the information out there about the full report and not simply Attorney General Barr's summation.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I don't think Sarah Sanders' position is all that contradictory. I mean what she's saying is this -- this investigation never should have started. It was -- it was in -- the people who were behind it were engaged in bad faith. But even they did not find any collusion. I mean that's --

CAMEROTA: Well, how -- I mean --

TOOBIN: I don't think that's necessarily contradictory.


CAMEROTA: Hold on one second. Let me just remind people, 34 people were charged as a result of this investigation, six of them Trump associates, five people are going to prison, many of whom lied about contacts with Russia. We weren't supposed to investigate any of that?

TOOBIN: I'm not -- I'm not agreeing with Sarah Sanders' point. All I'm saying is I don't think it's internally contradictory. I -- you know, I think the idea that this investigation was useless is preposterous, as you point out. It was -- it --

CAMEROTA: Bore a lot of fruit.

TOOBIN: It bore a lot of fruit both in terms of criminal prosecutions and I think, once the report comes out, it will enlighten the public in a very important way.

All I'm saying is, I don't think the White House position is internally contradictory. You can say it was a lousy investigation and that it vindicated the president. AVLON: I'm not so sure because she can't say there were bad actors who

were being motivated by bias, but they came out with an unbiased report and result. And again, there are two different things happening here, right? There's the question of collusion and Russia and whether that rose to an approachable standard. Then there's the question of obstruction, where it does appear Attorney General Barr bent over backwards to not push that issue for the president, which has been an impeachable offense under Bill Clinton and other presidents.

[08:55:17] BERMAN: You know, I did ask directly whether or not Robert Mueller asked to have William Barr weigh in or not, and Sarah maybe didn't know the answer to that question, but we didn't get an answer there, because she kept on saying Mueller decided to have Barr, you know, weigh in on whether or not there was obstruction. And that's -- we don't know that that's the case.

TOOBIN: We don't know that that's the case.

And one of the very interesting and significant unanswered questions about the Mueller report, not the Barr report, is why did he not reach a -- why did Mueller not reach a conclusion about the issue of obstruction of justice. Was it because he thought it was an issue for Congress to address in the impeachment arena, or did he think that Barr should make that determination.

BERMAN: And just on the word choice there. Sarah kept on saying, he couldn't make a determination, and I told her, I don't know that that's the case. He didn't make a determination. We don't know that he couldn't. He chose not to. And those are two different things.

TOOBIN: Indeed.

AVLON: That's right. And it's all the more reason why it's so imperative for the American people, for the public record, for this report to actually come out and not simply be the characterization of the attorney general, which he said he wants to do, but now we need to see the follow-through.

CAMEROTA: Because, listen, I think that you can accept the conclusion, which I think most Americans are, but still have lots of questions.

BERMAN: Yes. Sure.

CAMEROTA: We've heard so much for the past two years about the Trump Tower meeting and why they were open for business, as David Gregory has said. We've heard so much about Paul Manafort handing over proprietary polling data. Why did he do that? What -- to what end? There are still lots of questions we have.

BERMAN: Can I ask Jeffrey one quick question?

TOOBIN: You may.

BERMAN: Because you're willing to buy the White House line that, you know, the investigation was a sham but it also was good.

How about the Democrats' line when they've said, we see evidence of collusion but now Robert Mueller says no collusion.

TOOBIN: It's a problem for Democrats. I mean, you know, do they continue investigating this, notwithstanding Mueller's conclusion? They are going to have to explain to the public why it's still worth investigating. I don't think it's out of the question, but they're going to have to explain that.

BERMAN: Jeffrey Toobin, John Avlon, what a morning. Thank you all very much.

CAMEROTA: Thanks so much, guys.

BERMAN: The White House calls it a complete and total exoneration, but that is not, in fact, completely the case. CNN's special live coverage continues right after this.