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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Adam Schiff Comments on Mueller Report; Mueller Report Findings?. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired April 18, 2019 - 16:00   ET

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


[16:00:02]

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining me, all of you.

There's so much to unravel here, so many implications.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our special coverage. I'm Jake Tapper. This is THE LEAD.

And we finally have the Mueller report in our hands, more than 400 pages, including a lot of new information about President Trump, the President Trump campaign, his presidency.

Any moment, we expect to hear from both President Trump and the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Democrat Adam Schiff.

Right now, the two main headlines, one, special counsel Robert Mueller could not establish conspiracy between any members of the Trump team and Russia. That's significant and that is headline number one.

Headline two, Mueller was also unable to clear President Trump on the matter of obstruction of justice. He says he cannot conclude -- quote -- "that no criminal conduct occurred." Mueller argues that President Trump's public acts can be considered obstruction.

And Mueller seemed to clearly kick the debate to Congress, saying that they can still investigate and potentially find the president obstructed justice.

Another fascinating part of the obstruction investigation, Mueller wrote -- quote -- "The president's efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the president declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests."

The report does detail a White House that is chaotic, and one where lying is almost a job requirement. We're also learning for the very first time about a number of events and conversations, including President Trump when he was told about the appointment of a special counsel saying -- quote -- "Oh, my God, this is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I'm F'd" -- except you can fill in a few more letters.

But why would the president be concerned if there was indeed no conspiracy with Russia? Well, Mueller says the evidence indicates that the president was likely concerned that a thorough FBI investigation would uncover other matters, crimes and ugly facts committed by him and his campaign.

We also have details now about the president's efforts to fire Robert Mueller, how members of the Trump campaign expected to benefit from Russia's illegal actions to influence the election, even though they didn't conspire with Russia, and the people Robert Mueller declined to prosecute, including the president's son Donald Trump Jr. and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Let's chat about this while we wait for both President Trump and Chairman Schiff to speak.

Pamela, the special counsel said specifically, on the question of obstruction of justice -- 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're unable to reach that judgment."

That sounds a little stronger than the way it had been framed earlier by the attorney general, Bill Barr.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. Exactly.

I mean, that was the context missing out of Bill Barr's initial four- page letter to Congress. It just used the last line of that graph, where it said we cannot exonerate him, but he didn't commit a crime. It left out this key phrase that you said that, basically, we would state so if we did not believe he obstructed justice.

And, also, Robert Mueller in this report laid out that, look, we're not going to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment, but this may be something better left for Congress. That is something that Bill Barr did not convey in his press conference today, nor during his hearing on the Hill, when he was pressed on this.

He didn't say that Robert Mueller expressly said this in the report. And now we're reading through it and it seems to me, as Jeffrey said earlier, that this is an invitation potentially for Congress to take a look at some of this.

But, clearly, this is complicated. This is nuanced. They wove together 10 different scenarios, incidents involving the president in this obstruction probe to try to show a pattern of behavior and the president's intent and motive.

And they said in the report that, publicly and privately, the president tried to get witnesses to not cooperate with investigators, and they looked at his public statements, what he tweeted as part of this obstruction probe, which is also really interesting. They said, the president is not immune from what he's said publicly

because of the power he has in his office. So, this is something -- this is leaving now the legal realm on the obstruction aspect and now entering this other realm of morality, ethics, impeachability. And you're already hearing Democrats on the Hill talking about this.

TAPPER: And, Elie Honig, let me go to you, because it sounded like three weeks ago, from Bill Barr's memo, from his letter, that special counsel Robert Mueller was ambivalent. He didn't know what to think about obstruction of justice.

But that's now how I actually read it. It seems like he actually has an idea, but it's just he thinks his options are limited.

ELIE HONIG, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think this is one of the huge revelations that we got today.

I think, just going off what Bill Barr told us a few weeks ago, it sounded like Mueller just said, can't make up my mind. Sorry. A.G., why don't you just fill in for me?

[16:05:01]

That's not at all what happened, we now see, when we look at the report. First of all, Robert Mueller never calls on the attorney general to step in and make a decision, nor should he have, given the way the special counsel is set up.

The whole point of a special counsel is take the key discussions outside the normal president-to-attorney-general chain of command.

And the other thing, when you look at the body of evidence that this document lays forth, those 10 things that Pam talked about, it's a devastating case for obstruction. And we're all familiar with what those events are.

The only real defenses that are laid out here are, number one, he was sort of saved by his staff, who refused. I would want to ask the question, how about attempt? Attempting to commit a crime is still a crime under federal law. I don't see a clear answer.

And then that he did it out in the open is sort of the other defense that gets put forward here, which I think can help on the intent, but people commit crimes out in the open all the time.

So, I think we have seen -- now that we have seen Robert Mueller's take, the obstruction inquiry looks much, much different to me.

TAPPER: Carrie, let me ask you, because some of it did take place in the open. But some of it took place behind closed doors, for instance, when the president, according to the Mueller report, calls the White House counsel, Don McGahn, at home and tells him to fire the special counsel, Robert Mueller.

And then he gets mad at McGahn for not defending -- for not denying the facts that happened. Is that part of an obstruction charge, not just the action of firing

Robert Mueller, which didn't happen, we should note, but also the request?

Oh, we're going to go to Adam Schiff right now, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who is speaking. Let's listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): ... around the country reviewing the Mueller report or those sections of it that were not redacted.

And I would like to share with you some early observations from what I have been able to read so far.

First, as we reported some time ago, and as the intelligence community disclosed as well, there was an extensive campaign by the Russians to interfere in our elections in 2016. That interference took many forms, but, most significantly, it took the form of an effort through social media to divide the country, to push out favorite narratives, to assist the Trump campaign on social media through a massive effort led by the Internet Research Agency out of St. Petersburg.

It also embarked on an effort to hack and dump e-mails from the Democratic campaign of Hillary Clinton, from her campaign manager, John Podesta, and other efforts through their hacking and dumping operation to influence the outcome in the election.

These efforts, similar to the social media campaign, were designed to help one party, Donald Trump, and hurt another, Hillary Clinton. There were also efforts through any number of meetings between Russians and Trump campaign people to exert influence, a covert influence operation mounted by the Russians that continued during the campaign, as well as after the campaign.

And I want to make several points about these findings, from what we can tell so far from the Mueller report.

First, the attorney general did a grave disservice to the country by misrepresenting significant parts of the Mueller report, by attempting to put a positive spin for the president on the special counsel's findings.

The attorney general is not the president's personal lawyer, although he may feel he is. He is supposed to be the highest law enforcement officer in the land, and he is supposed to represent the interests of the American people.

But when the attorney general gives the perception that the president fully cooperated in the investigation, when he didn't, that they provided all the information materials, when they didn't, when the president, in fact, deprived the special counsel of perhaps the single most important piece of evidence, that is, his own verbal testimony, that misleads the American people.

When the attorney general represents on the obstruction case or suggests that the special counsel desired him to make that decision, that the special counsel wasn't mindful of the Office of Legal Counsel opinion that a special counsel cannot indict a sitting president, when the attorney general characterizes -- mischaracterizes the report in that way, he does a disservice to the country.

A few things leap out about the substantive allegations on obstruction of justice and the issue of conspiracy. On the issue of obstruction of justice, the report outlines multiple attempts by the president to mislead the country, to interfere with the investigation, to make false statements to the American people and to urge others to lie to the American people, to urge those of his staff to take actions to further obstruct the investigation, which may have been refused.

But they were not refused owing to any good will or good motive on the president's part -- far to the contrary -- that these actions had a material impact on the investigation, that, in fact, the special counsel was deprived of information, or at least the timely access to that information, as a result of things that the president did and said.

[16:10:15]

It made our job, certainly in our committee, doing our investigation that much more difficult, as it did the special counsel's investigation.

Those acts of obstruction of justice, whether they are criminal or not, are deeply alarming in the president of the United States. And it's clear that special counsel Mueller wanted the Congress to consider the repercussions and the consequences.

It is clear the special counsel believed that no one was above the law, and that includes the president of the United States. The attorney general's actions would make the president above the law, would make the president such that he cannot commit the crime of obstruction of justice. That was not the special counsel's view.

If the special counsel, as he made clear, had found evidence exonerating the president, he would have said so. He did not. He left that issue to the Congress of the United States, and we will need to consider it.

On the issue of conspiracy -- and, again, in contrast to what the attorney general represented -- as I have said all along, each of the acts that I enumerated, each of the meetings, each of the contacts is not only spelled out in this report, corroborated in this report, but additional contacts and acts are also itemized.

It gives us more information than the public knew about these elicit contacts between the Trump campaign and the Russians, whether they rise to the level of a criminal conspiracy or not.

And contrary to what the attorney general represented, the special counsel makes it clear he did not consider collusion as that colloquial term as understood, but, rather, whether the facts amounted to the crime of conspiracy. And on that issue, in fact, in the case of the Trump Tower meeting, he

found that, while there was evidence, he could not establish two parts of the crime, that, in fact, Don Jr. did accept the offer of Russian help, but that he could not establish with admissible evidence either the willful intent by Kushner or Don Jr. or Manafort to violate the law, or that the material they received was sufficiently damaging to meet the statutory definition.

That is a far cry from saying there is no evidence. That is the special counsel's determination that, notwithstanding the evidence, on this issue involving Trump Tower and other interactions , like the provision of polling data by Manafort, which we have learned today was far more ongoing than we knew, that the special counsel could not establish a criminal conspiracy beyond a reasonable doubt and to the satisfaction of a jury.

So, these are the overall conclusions. But let me just say, to sum up -- and then I will be happy to go to your questions -- as I said some time ago, whether these acts are criminal or not, whether the obstruction of justice was criminal or not, or whether these contacts were sufficiently elicit or not to rise to the level of a criminal conspiracy, they are unquestionably dishonest, unethical, immoral and unpatriotic, and should be condemned by every American.

That is not the subject of vindication. That's the subject of condemnation. And that is how I think we should view the Mueller report.

And I'm happy to go to your questions.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

SCHIFF: There are sections certainly that are redacted in the report, some that are -- that clearly go to facts that are not being presented to the public that would shed light on additional either illicit contacts or the nature of those contacts between the Russians and Trump campaign.

But other sections that are almost entirely redacted go to the prosecutorial judgment. And that is, when the special counsel looked at the evidence of conspiracy on these particular incidents and in particular vis-a-vis WikiLeaks and the disclosure of that information, the contacts between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks, the sections on the exercise of that prosecutorial judgment, why the special counsel concluded what the counsel did, have been largely redacted.

And we need to know that information. So we will be seeking the complete and unredacted report, again, so that we can do our proper oversight.

One other matter that it's very important to point out, and that is that, as the special counsel makes clear in the report, the counterintelligence findings are not completely included in this report, that, in fact, there were FBI agents embedded in the special counsel's team who were looking at the issue of compromise or counterintelligence, and that some of that information is not included.

Others, of course, it may be included, but redacted. Our committee, the Intelligence Committee, has requested that Mueller come and testify. We want to understand exactly what was found in terms of any counterintelligence efforts, any efforts by the Russians to make use

of U.S. persons, particularly those affiliated with the Trump campaign as witting or unwitting agents of the Russian government.

[16:15:03]

REPORTER: Mr. Chairman, the president tweeted out, game over. Is it game over, and has your opinion about articles changed at all as a result of what you read today?

SCHIFF: Well, it's certainly not game over in the sense that there's a lot more we need to know that's redacted in this report. And again, this report only goes to what is criminal or not criminal. Other actions that may have compromised the president or others around him may or may not be even included in the report.

In the interest of making sure that our policy is driven by the best interest of the country and not by the personal or financial interests of the president or anyone around him, we need to find out the answers to that.

But we will certainly be guided by the good investigative work that the special counsel has done. It is not our intention to redo all the painstaking work the special counsel has conducted. Indeed, it wouldn't be possible for us to do so. The special counsel had at his access a bevy of FBI agents, subpoenas, grand juries, et cetera that we do not have advantage of.

This is one of the reasons why it's so important for the Congress to be able to obtain this information so we do not have to re-create the wheel. But it is important to note that the facts that are now established by this report are damning.

TAPPER: All right. We're going to break away from the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Congressman Adam Schiff, Democrat of California, giving a press conference in Burbank, California. He had a lot to say about the Mueller report and about Attorney General Bill Barr.

I think a fair summary would be he said something along the lines of whether or not the acts detailed in the report, acts of meeting with Russians or acts of potential obstruction of justice, whether they are criminal or not, they are dishonest, unethical, immoral, and unpatriotic and should be condemned.

Kirsten Powers, let me start with you and your reaction to what Chairman Schiff had to say and to the Mueller report?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. Well, I mean, I agree with him that it's absolutely damning, and I think if you look at this, let's just take the obstruction of justice information that was laid out -- if that's not obstruction of justice in a legal term, I don't know what is.

And one of the articles of impeachment for Nixon was obstruction of justice. So, it's a very serious crime, and it's something that I think in a normal place, if we were to go back maybe to the Nixon era when you had more bipartisanship, I think you'd have more Republicans probably a lot more upset than you're hearing them because this is very similar as to what happened with the special prosecutor in the Nixon case. He laid it out just the way Mueller has laid this out and sent it to Congress and let Congress decide what to do with it.

And that's very clearly what was supposed to happen here. And I think that there's just no way to look at that and say the president wasn't trying to obstruct justice. What was he doing if he wasn't trying to obstruct justice? The only reason it wasn't happening is because people around him were stopping him from doing it.

And the other thing I'd point out is all of those people are now gone. And he has pretty much replaced everybody with lackeys, people who won't stand --

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: All the guardrail people --

POWERS: All the guardrail people are gone.

And so, now, you have him operating with nobody, as far as we can tell. We're going to take a look at the attorney general's behavior, thus far, who is going to push back against him.

TAPPER: And, Mary Katharine, I guess a counterargument to that, to what Kirsten Powers just said, would be with Watergate, you had a fundamental underlying crime, which was the break-in, as well as slush funds and such. We don't have to go --

(CROSSTALK)

POWERS: There is no underlying crime with Bill Clinton.

TAPPER: Right. OK. But there was no underlying crime with Bill Clinton. But in any case, my point, what Bill Barr would say, were he here right now is, they found no evidence or insufficient evidence of conspiracy.

MARY KATHARINE HAM, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Right. Look, I hope nobody missed leg day because carrying these goal posts are going to be very heavy if you want to do it for the next 18 months, because the idea coalescing that, the idea of collusion, which everyone, we all know, used for two years as a short hand for a conspiracy and a large criminal sense, the idea that we did not use that for that and that that conclusion does not matter and that, therefore, it's like somehow improper to point out there was no collusion as we meant it for the last two years, I think is an operation in gaslighting.

There was no collusion. It is good news. It's great news he wasn't a foreign asset and he's the duly elected president. That being said when you move on to the obstruction stuff, Trump once

again, and, by the way, I'm on record for saying that all of the things that are revealed in here are bad judgment and often lies, like I've said this many times.

But the bar was set at this level. And it wasn't set by the president.

[16:20:01] There were plenty of other people, the entire media included, that set it there on the obstruction of justice stuff. Again, I am very thankful to those who stopped him from doing things that would have completely torpedoed his presidency. I also think this now becomes, as you said, a political calculation when it comes to the Congress to decide how much do you want to put out there on the line for an obstruction charge that ultimately did not obstruct the investigation and everything that he got access to what he wanted.

And we have an answer in this report, and I think it's important to take that answer, especially --

SYMONE SANDERS, CNN POLITICLA COMMENTATOR: I would just like to say that we don't have an answer. On the subject of obstruction, the special counsel said Congress, you decide.

HAM: Yes, that's what I just said.

SANDERS: But we don't have an actual answer. The special counsel did not make a determination on obstruction.

From my point view of, and I also think from a political point view of, it's important to step back and say, yes, there was no -- the special counsel came to a conclusion that there was no criminal conspiracy. Got it. But to the question of obstruction, did the president and his allies and the people around him engage in nefarious activity and activity that if they were not sitting in the White House, if they were not president of the United States of America would he and the folks around him currently be in jail?

Well, lest we forget that Michael Cohen named the president as an unindicted co-conspirator. It seems like it happened so long ago. But I just think from a political perspective, Democrats are going to have to make a decision about what they think is -- Democrats on the Hill, about what they think is important and how much political capital they are willing to expel on this issue.

There are a number of folks in the base that say, obviously, we have to investigate this in Congress and start impeachment proceedings. There are a number of actual elected officials that say, whoa, that's too far. I don't think that's where we should go. This will be a fight that will ensue.

TAPPER: Including the House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, a Democrat, who said the American people are going to get to judge this in a year and a half during the presidential election. What's your reaction to the whole report? DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So my reaction is similar to

Mary Katharine's, right? For a long time, for two years on this program and others across network television, cable television, you heard Democrat after Democrat. There's absolutely proof of this. This is -- I mean, I could read the pool of quotes of conspiracy and collusion, as colloquially said, and, you know what? Just we wait -- we're going to wait for this report. I've urged, let's just wait and all read it.

And, lo and behold, as Mary Katharine points out, now that there is no conspiracy or collusion, we're going to slide the goal post down to something else. Look, this -- they could have indicted Don Jr. They could have indicted lots of people.

They couldn't. They couldn't have done it. I mean, there's no reason.

The president is something different but there are lots of other people that are chronicled in this report on the conspiracy part, simply passed over because there was not enough. And as to the obstruction piece, right, as Jeffrey points out, the legal term, old fashion legal term is scienter, let's not -- let's not overlook. That's the nub of the obstruction charge is your intent, the person's intent at the time.

I mean, we have smart lawyers sitting here. And if that isn't the nub of it, then tell me what is.

TAPPER: Jeff?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: You know, I don't know about moving goal posts and impeachment and all the political ramifications. Just look at the behavior that's described in this report. What was the president of the United States doing constantly trying to interfere with this investigation?

Whether he's trying to get Mueller himself fired, whether he's firing James Comey, whether he's trying to get Michael Cohen to stay on the team and not testify against him -- I mean, just the morality of his behavior is worth focusing on, the actual things he did. I don't know what the political implications are.

URBAN: But, Jeff, at that point, he urged everybody in the White House to participate, fully. You had unprecedented cooperation --

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: With one exception, himself.

URBAN: Because, Jeff, you know what, as you pointed out earlier, or somebody else on one of these shows, genius move by the lawyers, right? Provided enough background information from everybody so that Mueller says --

TOOBIN: Not enough.

: Mueller said his response was, quote, insufficient and inadequate. That is not cooperation.

URBAN: Whose response, the president's response? Like 500 people -- 2,800 subpoenas.

SANDERS: This is not the justice system. The justice system, honestly, the things laid out, Donald Trump would be in handcuffs right now. This is an enforcement system. It's not --

URBAN: I think we call that truthful hyperbole.

TAPPER: We're going to take a quick break. More than 400 pages of material are here. We have a lot more to discuss in our breaking news. Don't go anywhere. We're going to squeeze in a very quick brace. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[16:28:53] WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: There was no evidence of the Trump campaign collusion.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There was no collusion.

BARR: No collusion.

TRUMP: There was no collusion.

BARR: Yet, as he said from the beginning, there was, in fact, no collusion.

TRUMP: There's been no collusion. After two years, no collusion.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: The day of the Mueller report being released to the public and to Congress.

I want to bring in John Dean. He was President Nixon's White House counsel during Watergate. He played a pivotal role in bringing down the former president.

Mr. Dean, thanks for joining us.

Big picture, what is your reaction to the Mueller report?

JOHN DEAN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Jake, what I did is I looked on my shelf for the Watergate -- Senate Watergate Committee report. I looked at the Iran/Contra report. I also looked at the Ken Starr report which is too big to bring to the set here. It's four volumes, over 2,000 words.

And I've got to tell you, I read all of those. And in 400 words, Mr. -- this report from the special counsel is more damning than all those reports about a president. This is really a devastating report.

TAPPER: And yet, it concludes there's insufficient evidence to say that the president and his team conspired with Russia.

[16:30:00]