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Release of Redacted Mueller Report Is Imminent; Redacted Mueller Report Released to Congress & Public; Mueller on Obstruction: Unable to Conclude That "No Criminal Conduct Occurred". Aired 11- 11:30a ET

Aired April 18, 2019 - 11:00   ET


[11:00:00] DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I've been communicating with more than one attorney, four people who are absolutely going to be named in this report, and guess what, you're right, they didn't get a heads up. They didn't get a chance to read this report. So far, at least, as far as we've found, it's just one person, and that's the president of the United States. So that blows out of the water the argument of why he gave him a heads up. And even more, giving even more suspicion even more gives even more suspicion to the reality that they wanted to allow the president's team to really work on this rebuttal report and get them ready politically.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: John, it's 11:00 a.m. here now on the east coast. We're told that the document is being made available to the chairman and the ranking member of the House and Senate Judiciary Committee. They and their staff will begin to go through it, but it's 400 pages. That takes a while.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So we'll see reactions coming out within minutes of them getting it. We were covering the White House back in the Starr report day, when we were reading it live on cable television. Not recommending we go back to that. And I think it's important that we take our time and take a breath and that we read things.

My biggest question is whether we will do that here, and I hope Americans -- what's interesting to me yesterday watching Barnes & Noble and other companies telling Americans, we'll make this available to you instantly. It would be nice if people read it, took a breath, took a walk, talked about it and friends and family and colleagues to go through some points of disagreement. We don't live in that world. Think about what we have been going through the last couple hours, let alone, the last two years in reading tweets every day attacking the investigators, attacking the Justice Department, the Democrat saying things about the president that they can't back up with facts yet, out over their skis that there is collusion before they knew that. So both sides are guilty players. We could make a judgment on who's done more of it, but both sides are guilty players in this political environment. And now we're going to get the results of an investigation, led by a man, who when he began the investigation, everybody said was the perfect guy to do this job.

Will people actually read it and process it factually and not through their partisan spectrum? Forgive me, but I'm skeptical. JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: One other thing that's interesting to

contrast what's going on today with the release of the special counsel report, redacted, and as redacted by the attorney general, and what happened 20 years ago with Bill Clinton and the independent counsel, Ken Starr. Ken Starr was truly independent. He released his report. There were no redactions. This isn't the day of dial-up, so not everybody was able to access it online at the same time. But people in the political world, not in the media world, but people in the political world were so upset with how little recourse and oversight the executive branch had over what Ken Starr did that they rewrote the law. And Robert Mueller and Donald Trump are benefitting, compared to what Bill Clinton went through, because of that.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALAYST: The story of these independent investigations is the story of reactions to the last war. You know, after the Saturday Night Massacre in 1973, Congress got upset about the ability of a president to be able to fire the independent counsel -- to fire a special prosecutor, as Archibald Cox was fired, so they passed the Ethics in Government Act, which established the independent counsel as someone who was outside the Department of Justice and not answerable to the attorney general. In response to that, Democrats got upset with Ken Starr's what they thought over-investigation, overreaction, over-impending counsel investigations. They let the Ethics in Government Act lapse, turning it all back to the Justice Department. Now, Democrats don't like the fact that the special prosecutor, the special counsel, is in fact the subordinate of the attorney general, so Democrats are starting to like the independent counsel law again. It's about whose is scored and there's no perfect solution on how do these politically --


TOOBIN: -- investigations.

TAPPER: I want to go back to Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.

Manu, it's almost 11:04 a.m. on the east coast. Does Congress have the redacted Mueller report?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, in fact, the House Judiciary Committee, Jake, just received a copy of the redacted version of the report. We're told this by Jerry Nadler -- the House Judiciary chairman's spokesman came out and told reporters who were waiting outside the room that an individual did walk in and drop off this disk. This courier, it appears, came in and dropped this off to the House Judiciary Committee. We expect that also to happen momentarily with the Senate Judiciary Committee to receive the redacted version of the report. Other committees, too, are expecting to get some version of this, including the Senate Intelligence Committee, the House Intelligence Committee. But just moments ago, we're told by Jerry Nadler's office that they did for the first time receive the redacted version of the report that apparently the White House counsel's office has had a chance to review but now Democrats and Republicans on this committee will look at it, and the public momentarily will also get a chance to see the redacted report.


[11:05:03] TAPPER: How do they find a computer to use a disk?


TAPEPR: It is up. It is online. You can go to

BLITZER: Let's go to Pamela Brown.

Pamela, you're getting initial word on this report. What are you learning?

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We're just waiting to learn. It's 11:05 a.m. The attorney general said, at 11:00 a.m. Eastern time, this report would be handed to Congress. And so we're just waiting to find out more. I'm sure everyone is eagerly hitting the refresh button on the Department of Justice Web site where the attorney general said that the link to the report, the redacted report, would be made to the public. At this point, we're all just very anxious to start reading.

WOLF: You haven't started reading yet.

Jim, you had a point.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: We talked about Ken Starr. I remember when that report came out, reading through it. A more recent historical comparison is the James Comey press conference three years ago. Remember, he came out, did not indict, said the use of personal emails didn't amount to wrongdoing by Hillary Clinton, but, if you remember the press conference, lambasted her for what he described as reckless behavior with emails, which you could agree with or not agree with. But it's interesting to look at Barr being the mirror image of that moment and saying nothing rose to the level of criminal wrongdoing. And by the way, he's 1,000 percent exonerated on everything and repeating that many times. It's an interesting comparison.

TAPPER: Let's go back to Pamela Brown now, as our team is starting to go over the Mueller report.

Pam, first reactions?

BROWN: We're first getting insight analysis on why Robert Mueller's team could not exonerate the president on obstruction of justice. Here's what we're learning. This is what it says, "That Mueller, unable to conclude that no criminal conduct occurred by the president on obstruction of justice." Mueller's investigation was unable to clear the president. And here's what the report said that is just released moments ago. Mueller's team said, quote, "If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would state so. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we're unable to reach that judgment. The evidence we obtained about the president's actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."

That last sentence was in Bill Barr's four-page letter to Congress, and now we're getting the fuller context around that sentence of why Robert Mueller's team could not exonerate him. Saying that, "If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would state so." They were unable to state so. We know there are 10 different incidents they looked at, according to Bill Barr, and we're waiting to find out what those are.

TAPPER: Pamela, thank you so much.

And, Jeffrey Toobin, what do you make of Robert Mueller even putting that out there? If you can't reach a conclusion, why leave it up in the air like that?

TOOBIN: I have to tell you, it is inconsistent with all of the reporting I have done about Robert Mueller's tradition and history and personality and temperament. I think overarching this decision has to be the Department of Justice policy that they couldn't prosecute the president anyway. So there was no real pressure to make the decision of up or down indictment or no indictment. So why not punt? But I still think it's strange.

TAPPER: It's unusual, no question.

BLITZER: I think Laura Jarrett is getting more details from the report.

Laura, what are you learning?

LAURA JARRETT, CNN JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, Wolf, I want to walk you through what is a quite dense report. And I want to focus on the obstruction of justice situation here. Obviously, the report is broken into two different sections. One on conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. But really, on the obstruction of justice issue, the report is quite dense, quite thorough. I want to walk you through some of how Robert Mueller was looking at this analysis. And he started with the framework of the fact that a sitting president cannot be indicted. You heard me ask the attorney general about that earlier today. And Robert Mueller looked at that fact, and he said I'm going to stand by that long- standing DOJ protocol, and so he accepted that for the purposes of this analysis. So if he accepted that fact, you might wonder, then what was all of this about? He goes on to explain that the reason they did this, this thorough factual investigation, if you will, Wolf, is "in order to preserve the evidence when memories were fresh and documentary materials were available."

So they clearly felt the need to go through all of this, even notwithstanding the fact that a sitting president could not be indicted.

[11:10:02] But he goes on to say, Wolf, "Fairness concerns counseled against potentially reaching that judgment that the president committed crimes when no charges could be brought. So because a sitting president cannot be indicted, we determined not to apply an approach apply an approach that could potentially result in a judgment that the president committed crimes."

So it gives you a little bit of a sense there of what they were struggling with, since all of our questions for the last several weeks have been, why did he not reach a conclusion on obstruction of justice?

And so clearly, they thought this was an unusual case. But they wanted to preserve memories and evidence.

And they go on to explain that Congress does have a role here. That was one of our other big questions, is did he think that Congress should pick up the mantle here on obstruction of justice? On that point, here's what he says. I want to read it to you in full: "With respect to whether the president can be found to have obstructed justice by exercising his powers under Article II of the Constitution, we concluded that Congress has authority to prohibit a president's corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice."

So clearly, what they're saying here is, not withstanding the fact that we haven't reached a traditional prosecutorial judgment on obstruction of justice, nothing here prevents Congress from not picking up the baton if they so choose to pursue this matter -- Wolf?

BLITZER: It's very interesting.

Carrie, let me get your analysis on what we just heard.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it does sound, first of all, as if the special counsel's team did actually take into account the Justice Department's prevailing legal theory that a president could not be indicted.

BLITZER: A sitting president.

CORDERO: Sitting president, excuse me, could not be indicted. It does seem in some way that was a factor. It also sounds like they were encountering a set of facts that they really were wrestling with. And on that point, it is odd for a special prosecutor not to make -- any prosecutor not to be able to decide one way or another. There's a standard. The standard is, could they have a reasonable likelihood of succeeding on the merits in a case. And so what I think I'm hearing, from what Laura is describing so far, is that they did factor in the fact that there never was going to be a prosecutable case, and this was the facts that they developed through the course of their investigation, ultimately is a political question.


TAPPER: I want to go to Laura Jarrett for one second because Laura has read the report. She got it before two minutes ago or wherever it was released. Laura, there was a really interesting section about Donald Trump Jr's

interaction with WikiLeaks. It's on page 59. It talks about, when we're talking about earlier why Attorney General Barr talked about how the dissemination of stolen material via WikiLeaks is not a crime. You have to actually have had a hand in the hacking in order for it to be a crime. You have Donald Trump -- and there's reporting on this before, this is not entirely new. Donald Trump Jr coordinating and communicating with WikiLeaks and, at one point, WikiLeaks sends a message, a direct message on Twitter to Donald Trump Jr asking, quote, "You guys," to help disseminate a link alleging the Candidate Clinton had advocated using a drone to target Julian Assange, which is a false charge. She never said that. Trump Jr responded he had, quote -- he had done so, and he asked, "What's behind this Wednesday leak I keep reading about?" WikiLeaks did not respond. On October 12th, 2016, WikiLeaks wrote again, "It was great to see you and your dad talking about our publications. Strongly suggest your dad tweets this link if he mentions us." Then they provide the link. WikiLeaks wrote the link would "help Trump in digging through leaked emails" and stated, "We just released Podesta emails part four. Two days later, Trump Jr tweeted that link.

Again, the ultimate conclusion is there's not a crime because you had to have been part of the hacking, not the dissemination.

JARRETT: Yes, that's right, Jake. So that's really more of a legal conclusion. But the facts there, as you lay out, are quite telling. It's revealing things we have never heard before. As I said, we're still working our way through it. It's a beast of a report here. Quite dense. Many sections I read through were not redacted at all, so we're still working our way through some of it. But it's an interesting point that you raise. We're going to see, I think, more and more of some of these conversations that we had really never heard anything about before.


SCIUTTO: -- a direct quote on that, because this gets to the key issue about the campaign interest in help from Russia. And we have raised this a lot. So Mueller says in his report, "Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from Trump" -- and listen to this, this is a quote - "and that the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts." The campaign expected it would benefit, it would help them. It does go on to say, it did not establish members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated. It went on, though, to say Trump's presidential campaign, quote, "showed interest" in WikiLeaks' release of emails and so on.

[11:15:20] Again, not rising to the criminal standard, but they expected they would benefit from a foreign adversary's influence on a U.S. presidential campaign in progress. They expected they would benefit, and expecting that benefit, they showed interest in the releases. Now, that interest they showed may be interest we already know about. Communications like, you know, Twitter messages with Roger Stone or the president standing at a podium and saying, "I love WikiLeaks," or there could be more. But again, this gets to not criminal but is this behavior acceptable by a U.S. presidential candidate?

TAPPER: I want to go to Evan Perez --


TAPPER: -- who has also read the report.

Evan, tell us what you think some of the big takeaways are from the report.

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Jake, I think the section on collusion, you know, is one of the things that began, obviously, the issue of collusion began this investigation. And on that, the report goes through all of the efforts that the Russian government, first beginning in 2014, began this effort to try to interfere with the United States, trying to undermine the electoral process. And then eventually, transitioned to a campaign to support Donald Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton. And on that part, on page five of the report, it says, quote, "The presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump showed interest in WikiLeaks releases and welcomed their potential damage to Candidate Clinton."

This is as far as they go to try to describe what the Trump campaign was trying to do to essentially tacitly encourage what the Russians were doing through WikiLeaks, through other methods. It's clear that they examined this stuff and they saw that some of the activities that the Trump campaign took into account and acted upon really went up to the line but did not cross into the line. As they say here, "The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activity."

Part of the report describes some of the various activities in 2016 between different people associated with the Trump campaign working with Russians, beginning with George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, and Paul Manafort, who met with Konstantin Kilimnik, someone he was doing business with, and apparently according to the report, shared internal polling data.

What's new in the report, a new sentence here that says, "Manafort caused internal polling data to be shared with Kilimnik, and the sharing continued for some period of time after their August meeting. This was a meeting in New York. And again, this is new information.

We have known that there was some sharing of polling data. We did not know the extent of it, and we certainly didn't know that the sharing continued for some time, according to this report.

BLITZER: In terms of the big picture, Evan, you have gone through the collusion, the conspiracy chunk of this 400-page report, based on what you're reading, is it consistent with the very pro-Trump spin that we got from the attorney general of the United States?

PEREZ: Yes. You know, look, I think if you read this, again, you'll read it with a lens that you come with. I do think that people will see these activities that were going on between members of the campaign, people associated with the campaign, and they'll look at the activities of the Russians and see how they intersected, and you have to wonder why a campaign for presidency of the United States, why people did not say, alert the FBI about what exactly was happening. Instead, they seemed to be trying to encourage it. They seemed to be accepting of the fact that the Trump campaign was going to be benefitting from what the Russians were up to. They knew, again, in different ways, that the Russians had dirt, so to speak, on Hillary Clinton in the form of emails. The report describes some of those conversations. And yet none of those people decided to reach out to law enforcement and say, hey, this is what's going on.

Again, you can make your own judgment as to whether or not that crossed a line into criminal behavior. According to the Justice Department, according to this report, it did not cross the line into criminal behavior. But the question I think we all will be left with after this is was this OK? Was this the way we expect a major campaign for the presidency of the United States to behave in the face of what was known to be an attack from a hostile foreign government.

[11:20:02] BLITZER: Evan, on that point, did Mueller in his report specifically criticize these Trump associated for not going to the FBI, reporting these contacts with the Russians?

PEREZ: Well, the report doesn't really do that, Wolf. I think the essence of it is to lay out the facts. They're trying to essentially describe the charging decisions, and the decisions they did make, the charges they made were against people for lying, obviously, like George Papadopoulos, and against some of the Russians who actually did the hacking and actually were behind some of the social media interference campaigns. So they describe their decision making on making those charges. But as far as the rest is concerned, it's clear that their interpretation of the law, and I think everybody's interpretation of the law, is this went up to the line. But it did not cross over into criminal behavior. There's a lot of things that campaigns can do in order to win elections, and that is protected, obviously.

TAPPER: All right, Evan Perez.

We should note, the Mueller report is divided into two volumes. The first volume is on the investigation into any conspiracy or what the president refers to as collusion. And the second volume is about the obstruction of justice examination and exploration.

Let me go back to Laura Jarrett at the Justice Department on that case.

Laura, what are you learning?

JARRETT: Well, it's interesting, Jake. There's been some discussion ahead of time going into today about, why didn't Robert Mueller sit down with the president for an in-person interview. We know they did that take-home test, but that was on the issue of conspiracy or collusion, not obstruction. In the report, Mueller addresses the issue of the subpoena. So I wanted to provide color on his explanation for why they didn't go forward in it. In the report, they say here, "Ultimately, while we believe we have the authority and legal justification to issue a grand jury subpoena to obtain the president's testimony, we chose not to do so. We made that decision in view of the substantial delay that such an investigative step would likely produce at a late stage in our investigation." He goes on to say, "We also assessed that based on the significant body of evidence that we already had obtained of the president's actions and his public and private statements describing or explaining those actions, we had sufficient evidence to understand relevant events and to make certain assessments without the president's testimony."

So it's an interesting point there because I think some people had raised, how could you possibly make an assessment of corrupt intent and defer any issue if you didn't get an in-person interview. And essentially what the special counsel's team is saying while we thought we had the authority to do it, we didn't go through with it because of all the delays and we had essentially a whole body of evidence at our fingertips that we didn't decide to sit down with him -- Jake?

BLITZER: A quick question to Laura. Does the report contain the written Q&A questions and answers that the president and his legal team did provide the special counsel, Robert Mueller? Do we see what the president said in his written answers to the written questions?

JARRETT: We understand that there's an appendix to this report, Wolf, that does provide some portion of the president's answers. We're still working our way through it. We haven't made it all the way through that yet, but we do have some of, at least some if not all of the president's answers on those issues.

BLITZER: But what I'm not hearing is that Mueller in his report concludes that because they did get written answers, written questions, that was good enough.

JARRETT: No, I don't think that's what he's saying here exactly. I think it's more that we have the authority to, we could have sat down with him, we got the take-home test, at least on conspiracy, not on the issue of obstruction of justice. So on the issue of obstruction of justice, all they have to go on is essentially what they're seeing in public view and what they're getting from other witnesses. They had the testimony of people like his former White House counsel, Don McGahn, his former attorney general, Jeff Sessions, which they detail in here, and form the basis of some of the facts they're using in their analysis, separate and apart from the take-home test.

TAPPER: And, Laura, let me ask you, because Attorney General Barr, when he gave his press conference earlier today, talked about how the special counsel's report delineated 10 specific episodes within the context of their legal case of obstruction of justice, though they did not reach ultimately a conclusion on it, and the attorney general said that he disagreed with their theory and also he doesn't think there was obstruction of justice. What are these 10 episodes that constituted at the very least a legal theory, according to Barr, characterizing Mueller, of obstruction of justice? What are the 10 moments? [11:25:00] JARRETT: Some of them are going to be very familiar to

you. Of course, the firing of the FBI director, James Comey. All of the pressure that he put on Jeff Sessions -- it's interesting in here -- to un-recuse. They had conversations between Sessions, even after Flynn was indicted, where he was putting pressure on him, asking him to un-recuse, telling him, look, you'll be a hero if you do it. And Sessions says, "I don't think you did anything wrong. I don't think there was any basis to believe the campaign conspired with Russia." But he ultimately did recuse, as we know. They also have of the instances in which the president tried to shape the narrative with McGahn on public reports and McGahn felt like he was being used as a tool in that way, often pushing back. There's many of these, as we said, where I should say, the attorney general said, were in public view. But it's interesting. Mueller said that's not dispositive. Just because it's in public view doesn't mean that it couldn't still be harmful in an obstruction context. So that fact wasn't dispositive for Mueller. It wasn't weighted the same was as it appears to have been for the attorney general.

TAPPER: Interestingly, Laura, the attorney general at the time, Jeff Sessions, recused himself on the advice of the Department of Ethics lawyers in the Justice Department, but the special counsel basically says that his meetings, Jeff Sessions' meetings with Russian officials, were nondescript and benign and nothing really substantive happened in those meetings.

JARRETT: That's right. But it's interesting the special counsel still took note of all the pressure he was putting on Sessions to un- recuse. And of course, the big question there's why. Why was it so important to have an attorney general that he thought had his back, and clearly, he wasn't successful in those efforts. But they do outline all of the different pressures he put on a whole host of other people, even his deputy national security adviser, K.T. McFarland, wanting her to write a certain statement about conversations about Russian sanctions with Flynn. She didn't do it because she wasn't sure it was truthful. There's a whole host of efforts, I will call, of pressure on former administration officials.

BLITZER: Laura, let me ask you a question. I just asked Evan as well. In the portions of this 400-page redacted Mueller report that you have read so far, and I know you have been going through it as quickly as you can, is it consistent with what you're hearing from Mueller, with what we heard from the attorney general earlier in the day?

JARRETT: I think that's hard to say at this point, Wolf, honestly. I think this presents a far, far more nuanced picture of what Mueller was facing. And perhaps we had a preview of that when the attorney general originally said there were difficult issues of facts and law on both sides. And you see them really laying that out and struggling with it here. But in terms of why they didn't make that determination, that ultimate conclusion on obstruction here, it is far more nuanced. It's far more legally dense than what the attorney general had laid out. And as he said, he wasn't trying to provide a cohesive explanation of the entire report. But it does appear, at least based on our initial review, that the special counsel's office thought the fact you couldn't indict a sitting president and the president couldn't therefore go to trial and defend himself, meant something here.

TAPPER: All right, Laura Jarrett, thank you.

Let's talk with our legal team here about the 10 instances of potential obstruction of justice. First and foremost, obviously, the firing of the FBI director, which is one of those 10. But also, as Laura points out, the constant pressure on the then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, to un-recuse himself. The president telling him you'll become a hero if you un-recuse yourself and seize control of the special counsel investigation.

TOOBIN: It's a lot of evidence, to be honest, I'm just trying to figure out where things are going. You know, what's significant about the 10 incidents is that there are 10 of them. And they all point in the same direction. In each individual incident, there's a perhaps innocent explanation. But when you see the president over and over again trying to interfere, trying to stop, trying to stop people from cooperating -- there's a very interesting section I'm reading now about Michael Cohen, about the efforts to get him not to cooperate and then to punish him once he does cooperate with law enforcement. But again, there are explanations for each individual act by the president and his allies. It becomes harder to justify them when there are so many of them, all pointing in the same direction.

TAPPER: Generally speaking, I'm no legal expert, but when prosecutors have an example of 10, 10 examples of something happened, they generally don't give the benefit of the doubt to the potential subject or defendant.

[11:30:04] CORDERO: Well, and I think also what's interesting is that it confirms -- it seems to confirm in the report that just because things happen in public doesn't necessarily mean that it doesn't still provide evidence for potentially criminal behavior or activity that would be in violation of the statute.