Context And Analysis Of The Release Of The Mueller Report NPR takes a deep dive into what the Mueller report reveals and doesn't about collusion, obstruction of justice and Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
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NPR's Special Report: The Release Of The Mueller Report With Redactions

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NPR's Special Report: The Release Of The Mueller Report With Redactions

NPR's Special Report: The Release Of The Mueller Report With Redactions

NPR's Special Report: The Release Of The Mueller Report With Redactions

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NPR takes a deep dive into what the Mueller report reveals and doesn't about collusion, obstruction of justice and Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

This is Special Coverage of the Mueller report from ALL THINGS CONSIDERED and NPR News. I'm Ailsa Chang.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. The report on Russian interference in the 2016 election is out, and we're diving in. Over the next hour, we're asking four central questions about the report from special counsel Robert Mueller. Did President Trump obstruct justice? Did his presidential campaign collude with the Russians? And what was the scope of Russian interference? And what's next?

CHANG: Let's start with obstruction.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JERRY NADLER: The report concluded there was "substantial evidence," in quotes, that President Trump attempted to prevent an investigation into his campaign and his own conduct.

CHANG: That is chair of House Judiciary Committee Democrat Jerry Nadler. Meanwhile, Trump's attorney general, Bill Barr, had this to say this morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WILLIAM BARR: After carefully reviewing the facts and legal theories outlined in the report, and in consultation with the Office of Legal Counsel and other department lawyers, the deputy attorney general and I concluded that the evidence developed by the special counsel is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction of justice offense.

CHANG: So what did we learn on this question of obstruction from the report? NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson is here with me in the studio, along with NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas. Hello to both of you.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hey there.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hello.

CHANG: Ryan, let's start with you. Can you just spend a second on the simple fact that we have this report now in our hands after two years? What has it been like to dig in and get answers to so many open questions?

LUCAS: Well, it's been nice to finally get our hands on this thing. This investigation moved pretty quickly. Still, most days covering this, it kind of felt like a slow train coming.

There's a lot in this report - 400 pages, plus exhibits, appendices. I had concerns about what would be redacted. It turns out the redactions aren't that extensive. We can actually see a lot here. And a lot of what we see is stuff that's been already reported publicly. At the same point in time, there are new details, and there are these moments that put us almost like a fly on the wall in the White House.

CHANG: Carrie, in addition to the legal cases the report discusses, which we'll get to in a moment, there are also just a lot of details in this report about what the White House was like behind the scenes. What jumped out to you?

JOHNSON: Yeah. Ailsa, it seems like it was kind of a toxic work environment to read this report, to be honest with you. There's this incredible moment after Attorney General Jeff Sessions tells President Trump a special counsel has been appointed, that this investigation is under way. The president slumps down in his chair and says, oh, my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. Then he says an expletive we won't repeat now.

We also know that the president basically mistreated Jeff Sessions for not - for recusing himself and not overseeing this investigation. At some points, the attorney general was so downtrodden that every time he walked into the White House for the next year, he kept a resignation letter in his pocket in case he needed it.

CHANG: Man.

JOHNSON: We also hear about a lot of yelling at White House counsel Don McGahn. The president was not happy with Don McGahn, wanted Don McGahn to shape stories. And McGahn refused, and the president really took it out on him.

CHANG: So, Ryan, the special counsel intentionally left the question open about whether President Trump obstructed justice. What did we learn about Mueller's reasoning on that question?

LUCAS: Well, this is a question that Mueller's team appears to have really wrestled with. In the end, as you said, they didn't make a decision one way or the other. But the report does make clear that if the special counsel were confident that the president clearly did not obstruct justice, it would say so. And it then goes on to add that, we can't say that in this case. The report says that evidence about the president's actions, his intent, present difficult issues that prevent investigators from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred.

Mueller's team spells out a couple of reasons why this is not a typical obstruction of justice case. For one, it concerns the president. Justice Department guidelines say a sitting president can't be charged with a crime while in office. Some of the president's actions, like firing FBI Director James Comey, fall under his constitutional authority.

Also, the investigation didn't establish that Trump was involved in the underlying crime related to Russia's interference. That's not necessary for an obstruction case, but the report said that that would affect analysis of the president's actions and his intent.

CHANG: Carrie, does that settle the legal case for the president then?

JOHNSON: You know, not necessarily - the special counsel did this lengthy analysis about whether a president could ever, in theory, violate the law when it comes to obstruction of justice. And the special counsel determined, yes, he or she could. Even though current DOJ guidelines say you cannot charge a sitting president with a crime, that does not apply after that president leaves the White House.

And moreover, all of this conduct, everything in this report could be punted over to the House Judiciary Committee, which could launch its own proceedings and investigations into the president's behavior.

CHANG: Right. Now, in the report, Robert Mueller said that he looked at at least 10 episodes when it came to the obstruction question. Can you go into some detail about those episodes?

JOHNSON: Yeah. Many of these things were things we knew about already. Hey, we knew the president fired FBI director Jim Comey. We heard a lot about it from Comey himself. We also knew that the president was not very nice to Jeff Sessions, beating up on the Justice Department and the investigators on Twitter.

But we also learned some new things, including that the president appeared to try to get other members of the White House staff to try to cover for him in certain respects - either write letters or memos. They - he also, apparently, tried to get Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, to deny that the president wanted to get rid of the special counsel Robert Mueller. McGahn refused.

There are also some examples in this report also of the president and the president's personal lawyers reaching out to people who might be trying to figure out whether to cooperate with the investigation, people like Michael Flynn or Paul Manafort - names we've heard a lot - and basically saying, listen. You're a good man. We'll take care of you when this is all over. But if you're not nice to us, if you're not going to help us out and you're going to cooperate with the special counsel, we're going to call you a rat. And we're going to be hostile to you.

CHANG: All right. That's NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas and NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Thanks to both of you.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

LUCAS: Thank you.

CORNISH: For more reaction, we're going to hear from Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff. He's the chair of the House Intelligence Committee. He joins us on the line from California. Welcome, Congressman.

ADAM SCHIFF: Thank you. Great to be with you.

CORNISH: So you have said that the attorney general did a grave disservice to the country by misrepresenting significant parts of the Mueller report. Can you give us one example where you think the report you saw today differs from how Barr characterized it in his summary?

SCHIFF: Well, there are any number of ways that it really differs from his characterization. The most significant is on the obstruction issue, where Barr was suggesting, basically, that the special counsel left it to him or wanted him to be the decision-maker on the obstruction case.

I think it's pretty clear, when you read Mueller's own words, that that was something he believes should be presented to Congress. And the, you know, sort of self-serving or Trump-serving explanations that the president was very upset. Here was this investigation. It was affecting his presidency. All of that was a gloss that Bill Barr put on it that you don't find described that way by Mueller.

In fact, the portrait that Mueller paints is of a president trying to obstruct the investigation, a president who is instructing aides to lie about, for example, his efforts to get rid of the special counsel himself, the false statements about Trump Tower. All of these actions - the president's refusal to submit for an interview - paint a very different picture of the president's conduct than what we heard from Bill Barr.

CORNISH: The special counsel also gave a high bar for criminality, right? And it sounds like they are inconclusive. Where do you pick up from here with Congress?

SCHIFF: One thing that does come through in the Mueller report is it's a very high bar to prove a criminal conspiracy. It's not enough in terms of the U.S. criminal code that the Russians offered help or, as the special counsel certifies, that Don Jr. accepted that offer because when it comes to, for example, that graphic interaction in Trump Tower in New York, the special counsel found that it could not - although there was evidence of all of this, it could not prove the willful intent to violate the law that the statute required.

CORNISH: So what does that mean for you? I mean, Democrats don't sound like they're backing down from their investigations. Where do you go from here?

SCHIFF: Well, you know, what it means in terms of our committee - the intelligence committee - is, you know, our interest from the beginning was not whether something was criminal but whether something was compromising, whether it could affect the president's decision-making on Russia in a way that was not in the U.S. national security interests.

CORNISH: Do you see that in that report today?

SCHIFF: Well, what Mueller says - and he's very explicit about this. He says the counterintelligence findings are not all included in this report. We had an FBI team, he says, that was embedded with us. And they produced any number of reports about the counterintelligence findings along the way. We need to get those. Congress needs to see those.

There's certain conduct that is described that's not criminal, like the efforts to build Moscow Trump Tower but, nonetheless, was deeply compromising because as Mueller sets out, they were seeking Russian help, Kremlin help, to make money during the campaign. And that's, obviously, a deep conflict of interest, so we need to find out what is in the redacted sections of the report. We need to get access to the counterintelligence findings that are not even in the report.

CORNISH: And to add to that, you may have the option of having Robert Mueller testify. What is it that you'd want to hear from him directly?

SCHIFF: We have requested his testimony before our committee. And it really is on all of the above; that is, what were the counterintelligence findings along the way? Who did you have concerns about might be compromised by the Russians, even if it didn't raise to the level of crime?

CORNISH: Are those people you'd want to subpoena?

SCHIFF: Potentially; we would need to know who they are. Now, some of them may be beyond our reach. But there may very well be important issues that we need to follow up on with witnesses who are available - and not just on Russia. This report, obviously, goes to those two narrow questions of Russian interference in the 2016 election. There've been a number of allegations concerning foreign business opportunities.

CORNISH: Chairman, I just want to jump in the last few seconds here because I don't hear you talking about impeachment. Is it off the table?

SCHIFF: You know, that's a decision that will be above my pay grade. But I've always felt - and I think the speaker feels this way as well. The evidence would have to be graphic and spark a bipartisan consensus that it warrants the president's removal. Given the fact that the Republicans in Congress have been unwilling to stand up to this president in any respect, it's hard to see that changing here.

CORNISH: Congressman Adam Schiff - he's a Democratic chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

Thank you for speaking with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

SCHIFF: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHIL FRANCE'S "THE SWIMMER")

CHANG: Coming up, we'll move from obstruction to questions of collusion. You're listening to Special Coverage of the Mueller report from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEAN WEST SONG, "REFLECTIONS (REFLECTING ON ERIC WEST AKA MASTER E)")

CORNISH: This is Special Coverage of the Mueller report from ALL THINGS CONSIDERED and NPR News. I'm Audie Cornish.

CHANG: And I'm Ailsa Chang. We turn now to the issue of collusion. One of the biggest questions surrounding the Mueller investigation was whether it would find that the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians to undermine Hillary Clinton's campaign in 2016. Attorney General William Barr said the conclusion was clear at his press conference this morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

BARR: The special counsel found no evidence...

No collusion...

That any American...

By any American...

Did not find any evidence that members...

In other words, there was no evidence of the Trump campaign collusion...

As he said from the beginning...

...With the Russian government...

There was, in fact, no collusion.

So that's the bottom line.

CHANG: But the report documents a number of instances where Trump associates met with Russian operatives. To find out more about what we learned from those encounters, we turn now to NPR political reporter Tim Mak, who's been looking closely at this question throughout the day. Hey, Tim.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey, there.

CHANG: So let's look at Barr's claim, not enough evidence to charge anyone in the Trump campaign with conspiracy with Russia. Tell us what the report found.

MAK: So the Mueller report, more specifically, does not establish that there was any criminal coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. But in case after case, the report outlines efforts by figures in the Trump orbit seeking to arrange meetings in Russia or even meetings between then-candidate Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos, for example - he made efforts to arrange a meeting between the campaign and the Russian government and told the special counsel's office that Trump was interested in meeting with Putin. There were multiple efforts by multiple officials to establish links between the Trump campaign and Russia but nothing that rose to the level of conspiracy or coordination...

CHANG: Nothing...

MAK: ...According to the Mueller team.

CHANG: Right, nothing to the level of conspiracy. But Trump's team and Trump himself maintained, you know, throughout the campaign and into the administration, that they had absolutely no links to Russia. But that claim is contradicted by a lot of details in this report, right?

MAK: That's right. I mean, the Mueller report outlines in great detail that in September 2015, Trump gave approval to his fixer, Michael Cohen, to negotiate with a Russian real estate development corporation. Throughout the campaign, they were aware of this. Cohen briefed Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. about the Trump Tower project in Moscow.

According to Cohen, Trump even agreed to travel to Russia during the campaign if it would help them with their real estate deal. And while this might have had an impact on Trump's views towards Russia during the campaign, this project ultimately fizzled out.

CHANG: Right. All right, let's focus on an event that got a lot of attention when it came to questions of collusion, the Trump Tower meeting in June 2016. That was the conference in New York City at which Donald Trump Jr., the president's son, hosted a Russian delegation after he had been promised, quote, unquote, "dirt" on Hillary Clinton. What did we discover about that meeting?

MAK: So Trump Jr. was promised information that he could use against Clinton. Ultimately, he didn't get what he expected to get at that meeting. And the special counsel said that that meeting wasn't illegal because it was based on the legal meaning of the word conspiracy. Based on that legal meaning, a law wasn't broken. Mueller also said that no one involved in this meeting effectively acted as a foreign agent in violation of the law.

CHANG: All right, let's just take a step back. There have been multiple links between Trump and the Russian government, but no coordination. Is this a matter of the Trump campaign being willing to coordinate with unsavory characters but just not being able to?

MAK: Let me give you just one last example that the Mueller report outlines. The special counsel team looked into the president's comments urging Russia to find 30,000 emails, and they tried to find it. The Trump campaign tried to find it, but they ultimately failed. This is a recurring theme in the long narrative arc of the Trump campaign. They repeatedly tried to connect with the Russian government, at times were receptive to the idea of receiving assistance from the Russian government, but they never executed their efforts successfully.

CHANG: That's NPR's Tim Mak. Thanks, Tim.

MAK: Thank you.

CORNISH: We're going to turn now to Republican strategist Antonia Ferrier. She's a former senior communications adviser for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. She's here with us in the studio. Welcome to the program.

ANTONIA FERRIER: Thank you for having me.

CORNISH: So Trump's senior adviser, Kellyanne Conway, described today as, quote, "the best day" since President Trump's election. What's your take on whether or not that's true?

FERRIER: I think there's mostly good for the president and his team. But the report has some not-so-flattering parts in it. I think if you read into the report, like I said, there are some bits where they're a little embarrassing. But I think from their perspective - and actually, I think, mostly for most people in the country - they want to move on.

And I think that we're probably going to have another month where the attorney general and maybe Mr. Mueller are going before Congress. But I think there is a distinct view - frankly, in both parties - that they should probably move on. So...

CORNISH: I want to get into the details of that more. But as a communication strategist, how did you feel about this quote, unquote, "rollout"?

FERRIER: You know, I really thought the criticism of the attorney general giving a news conference was a little overwrought because I think he wanted to explain what it was that he was trying to do and the process by which he came to release this report. So I thought the criticism of him was overblown. The report came out. I didn't think it was as redacted as I had thought it might be. And so I thought there was too many process arguments by D's attacking him today.

CORNISH: Now, what Republicans have been saying today, essentially, is case closed. But to your mind, when you're listening to what Democrats are out there saying, is that the case? Is that possible?

FERRIER: I think it is case-closed. I think it will be more case-closed in about a month. I...

CORNISH: But let me jump in. You yourself said it creates an unflattering portrait, right? I mean, in one case, it's basically saying, look, the president tried to do a bunch of different things to interfere.

FERRIER: Sure.

CORNISH: And the only reason it didn't happen is because aides just ignored him.

FERRIER: Well, here's the thing, though. Didn't we already know a lot of this? I hate to say that. But there was a lot of contemporaneous reporting. There was more - a lot more color and a lot more context that was given in the Mueller report today. So, for example, The New York Times did report on former White House counsel Don McGahn threatening to quit over the president's request to fire Mueller. That never happened. And I think that's good for the republic.

But I think, again, what was this investigation - special counsel investigation - about? It was trying to find what kind of coordination, what happened in the 2016 campaign. We must remember what it was focused on. And it ultimately concluded there was no conspiracy to collude between these two entities to sway the election in favor of President Trump.

CORNISH: But there were plenty of contacts. And we heard former Ambassador...

FERRIER: Absolutely.

CORNISH: ...Michael McFaul say, why? And is that something Democrats can keep pursuing?

FERRIER: They certainly can. It is their prerogative if they choose to do so. I think it is in their - I mean, I'm not in the business of giving Democrats advice. But it would not be in their best interest to do that. And their voters, if you see these 2020 candidates, they're not being asked about Russia and collusion. They're being asked about things like health care.

So you're going to have an activist core that push them to continue talking about the report and talking about Russia. But there's going to be - it's sort of the law of diminishing returns here. And over time, after Barr, the attorney general, testifies, after Bob Mueller testifies, it's just going to seem like this is just a partisan activity trying to draw conclusions that no one else is drawing.

CORNISH: Republican strategist Antonia Ferrier. She's a partner at the Definers firm, served as senior communications adviser to Majority Leader Senator Mitch McConnell. Thank you for speaking with us.

FERRIER: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLANK & JONES' "ISLAND TRIP")

CHANG: You're listening to Special Coverage from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CHANG: This is Special Coverage of the Mueller report from ALL THINGS CONSIDERED and NPR News. I'm Ailsa Chang.

CORNISH: And I'm Audie Cornish. What was the scope of Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election? Well, the redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report released today gives us the clearest answer to that question to date. It was a multipronged effort that involved a huge amount of planning and resources. NPR's Miles Parks has been combing through it all. He's in the studio now. Hey there, Miles.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Hi, there.

CORNISH: The report starts with a section about Russia's efforts to use social media, specifically. What did we learn?

PARKS: So what was really striking here is that this whole Russian interference effort did not start overnight. Russian agents began making research visits to the United States back in 2014. They used the information they gathered there to start these social media accounts about really divisive political issues across the political spectrum. These accounts start gaining followers - hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands in some cases - even gaining legitimacy and traction from people in President Trump's orbit. People like Kellyanne Conway and the president's son, Donald Trump Jr., retweeted and engaged with this content.

So overall, content made by the Internet Research Agency reached as many as 126 million people on Facebook alone. And if you think back to 2016, when social media companies were trying to make it seem like they didn't have a huge role in the election interference space, this report makes it really, really clear that that's just not the case.

CORNISH: And then there was the very high-profile chapter, the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign. What does the report say happened there?

PARKS: So this section got really technical. But the report detailed exactly how Russian agents were able to get the emails that eventually ended up on WikiLeaks. They used these phishing emails to break into the account of just one employee at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and they basically leveraged that access into the next two months - gaining access to 59 different computers between the DCCC and the Democratic National Committee.

The other area where they caused havoc was breaking into Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman, John Podesta - his email account as well. And the report also gets into how these attackers then distributed the stolen goods onto WikiLeaks.

CORNISH: Can we talk a little more about that? What more does the report say about how the stolen documents actually got published?

PARKS: The report lays out in a lot of detail how the Russians really worked to make sure that these documents made a big splash. At first, the Russian agents, they start publishing these documents on a website they created called dcleaks.com and also through a Wordpress blog called Guccifer 2.0. They reach out to WikiLeaks in June to coordinate. WikiLeaks ends up releasing 50,000 emails just from John Podesta's email address alone.

And the organization throughout this time is in communication with multiple members of the Trump campaign. WikiLeaks is messaging Donald Trump Jr. about tweeting out links, and he ends up doing that to give these leaks more reach.

And then interestingly, the report also focuses on an effort made by the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, to cast doubt on Russia's role in this whole thing, trying to pin the blame on - falsely, I should say - on a DNC staffer instead of on Russia.

CORNISH: Finally, what do the report reveal about Russian targeting of the American voting system itself?

PARKS: So there was one really big news nugget here, which is that it seems like more government access happened than we thought originally right after 2016. We knew that Russia had sent phishing emails to dozens of Florida - local Florida election officials.

But this report says that they actually were able to gain access into the network of one Florida county government. We don't know any details about which county that was or how much information they were able to access. But we're going to be looking over the next couple of days and weeks to get more information on that breach.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Miles Parks.

Miles, thanks for digging into it.

PARKS: Thank you.

CHANG: So what could Robert Mueller's report mean politically for the president? And what could it mean for Democrats in Congress? We're going to talk about both of those things and more with Jason Johnson, politics editor at The Root, and Susan Shelley of the Orange County Register.

Welcome to both of you.

JASON JOHNSON: Glad to be here, Ailsa.

SUSAN SHELLEY: Thank you very much.

CHANG: I want to begin with two perspectives that were expressed adamantly today. First, here's President Trump.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I'm having a good day too. It was called no collusion, no obstruction.

(APPLAUSE)

TRUMP: There never was, by the way. And there never will be.

CHANG: And here's Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NADLER: Even in its incomplete form, however, the Mueller report outlines disturbing evidence that President Trump engaged in obstruction of justice and other misconduct.

CHANG: All right, Susan, the report's out. Can the president really continue to claim total exoneration with what we learned today?

SHELLEY: Yes, he can...

CHANG: Really? Why?

SHELLEY: ...Because there was no collusion with Russia. So all of the outrageous things that he said or did in the fury that he was feeling over this, knowing that it hadn't happened as there was investigations and leaks and more leaks - and it was interfering with the presidency. It was interfering with important things he was trying to do for the country. Of course, he was angry. I would've been putting my fist through a wall. I'm surprised he didn't. I hope he didn't.

And so he can claim that he didn't obstruct justice because he didn't obstruct the investigation. He never claimed executive privilege. He never blocked witnesses from testifying. A lot of previous presidents can't make that claim.

CHANG: Well, the special counsel did say he wasn't exonerated on the question of obstruction of justice.

SHELLEY: Well, the special counsel refused to make a decision. But the attorney general exonerated him because there was no corrupt intent.

CHANG: All right. Jason, we have heard Nadler also say that Congress will hold the president accountable. But Adam Schiff, chair of the intel committee who was on our show earlier, and other Democrats are saying that impeachment is just really unlikely. How do you hold the president accountable if the party doesn't seem all that enthusiastic about charging ahead with impeachment proceedings?

JOHNSON: You're not holding the president accountable. They're essentially punting, which is similar to what Robert Mueller did. Look. Here's the thing. Nancy Pelosi and the leadership - Steny Hoyer - they have been talking about this. Adam Schiff sort of alluded to it. They have been talking about this for months. They've basically said, we're not going to bother because we don't think it's politically expedient.

There is plenty of information within this report that would be considered impeachable. It is an absolute lie to say the president didn't obstruct justice. He literally threatened witnesses and potential witnesses on Twitter. The report talks about how they had meetings. And he took his private lawyers to talk to people who were potential witnesses and asked them whether or not they were working with the investigation, and offered them goodies and treats.

So, you know, yes, clearly, he was attempting to obstruct justice. The fact that he was, perhaps, incapable of doing so or somewhat incompetent in the process has nothing to do with whether or not he was attempting to obstruct justice. But if the Democratic Party doesn't think it's politically feasible, nothing's going to happen.

CHANG: Well, do you feel, Jason, that if the Democrats do walk away from impeachment, are they implicitly sending a message that all the questionable conduct that you're describing right now is OK?

JOHNSON: No, I don't think anyone thinks it's OK. I think...

CHANG: I mean, if they walk away from impeachment...

JOHNSON: Right.

CHANG: Are they sending that message?

JOHNSON: I think that the - I think that they're making a political calculation, one that I vehemently disagree with. But they're making a political calculation that the impeachment process would ultimately be damaging to their attempts to maintain the House and possibly take the Senate and win the presidency in 2020. The problem with that logic, as far as I'm concerned, is this report unequivocally also says that Russia was attempting to and actually was successful at infiltrating our election systems in key swing states.

And consequently, there is no reason to believe that that behavior won't continue in 2020. So to punt and say, well, we're not going to go for impeachment because, essentially, the American public will be able to make that decision in 18 months, we don't know if that decision will be perfectly validated.

CHANG: On the other hand - if I can just keep on you, Jason - if Democrats - I mean, do Democrats risk alienating voters if they put all their time and attention into investigating the president rather than delivering on policy priorities like health care before the election?

JOHNSON: No, because you can pat your head and rub your tummy. Look. I mean, you've had plenty of Democrats - they've been pushing through policies about minimum wage. They've been pushing through policies about health care. They've been pushing through policies about immigration. The Democratic Party is big enough and functional enough, unlike most of the Republicans in the last couple of years, to actually try to push through policy regardless of what the political consequences are.

Look. Nobody got elected last fall on, I'm going to impeach Donald Trump, right? But there is an expectation on the part of many people that if you get a report where the head of your campaign was sharing campaign information and talking about swing states and battleground states with a member of Russian intelligence, that kind of sounds like collusion. And maybe you should do something about it.

CHANG: Now, Susan, I want to turn to you. We learned a lot today - a lot about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians. No, there was no - there wasn't enough evidence for Mueller to charge anyone with criminal conspiracy, but it was evident in this report that the campaign welcomed offers of assistance from the Russians, followed up on those offers and then didn't report any of those interactions to law enforcement or anyone in the intel community. Does this conduct - you know, it may have not been indictable, but is this conduct right?

SHELLEY: Well, the Russian information warfare campaign started in 2014. So it's important to realize that this was not just the Trump campaign that this was happening to. They were reaching out, probably in many countries, to interfere with elections. So the Trump people come in, and they're trying to run the campaign. And many of them were inexperienced.

I don't know if you recall this, but there were a lot of other Republican candidates. And they were all trying to defeat Donald Trump. And there were a lot of leaks coming from the Republican side as well as from the Democratic side, trying to knock him down. And he kept up their heat. He kept leading the polls, and the ratings for the debates were great. And people became more and more anxious in both parties trying to destroy him.

So it was difficult to know who you could talk to and who you could trust and who you could tell anything to when there were all these leaks going on. I think it's important to remember the context.

CHANG: On the obstruction of justice question, Susan, we learned in the Mueller report that Trump's aides often disregarded improper requests from the president. Let me read you a quote from the report. 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. So putting aside whether there was criminal behavior there, does that bother you that this - that these kinds of requests were even made?

SHELLEY: Well, I don't think he did the kinds of things that, really, a president could do if a president wanted to obstruct justice. He did not claim executive privilege. He did not go around and get people to sign false affidavits. Nobody at the Department of Justice stopped the special counsel from any avenue of investigation for any reason. So it was a very thorough investigation.

Was the president furious? Was he frustrated? Yes. And now that we know that there is no way to establish that collusion happened because it didn't happen, we know why he was so frustrated.

JOHNSON: Yeah, that's absolutely preposterous. First and foremost, the idea that these guys were too dumb to know how to run a campaign and, therefore, they couldn't have broken the law doesn't make any sense. If I walked into a bank and I leave with $1,000, even if I didn't understand it's a bank, I'm still going to go to jail.

The other thing to remember - and this is absolutely key. Just a couple weeks ago, we had an unsealed indictment about bringing in Julian Assange. We want him extradited. And why does the current Trump Department of Justice want Julian Assange? Not because he published possibly illegal information but because he had conversations with people about how to acquire that information.

That is, essentially, exactly what Don Jr. did. That is, essentially, the same thing that Paul Manafort did. So if this Department of Justice can go chase after somebody who's in the U.K. for possibly conspiring, I don't see how you can't do it here.

CHANG: All right.

SHELLEY: Well...

CHANG: That's Jason Johnson, politics editor at The Root, and Susan Shelley of the Orange County Register.

Thanks so much.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

SHELLEY: Thank you.

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CORNISH: Coming up, our final question - what's next? You're listening to Special Coverage of the Mueller report.

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CHANG: This is special coverage of the Mueller report from ALL THINGS CONSIDERED and NPR News. I'm Ailsa Chang.

CORNISH: And I'm Audie Cornish. It's been about 10 hours since a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election was released to Congress and the public. Despite the report's redactions, we've learned a lot about the Russian effort to disrupt the election, how the president and his staff responded to the investigation and the rationale behind the Mueller team decision not to charge the president with conspiracy or obstruction of justice.

We're going to end this hour with the question of what comes next. To do so, I'm joined by NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Hey there, Carrie.

JOHNSON: Hi, there.

CORNISH: NPR national political correspondent, Mara Liasson, welcome back.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: And former federal prosecutor Paul Butler, welcome to the program.

PAUL BUTLER: Hey, it's great to be here.

CORNISH: Carrie, I'm going to start with you and the report. Do you expect to see any more indictments?

JOHNSON: You know, that's an open question, but it would not surprise me, Audie. One of the overlooked parts of this report was in the appendix. It was a list of all the cases the special counsel team has brought, the cases they've concluded and the cases they've referred to other U.S. attorneys' offices and other prosecutors.

There are 14 of those referred cases. Twelve are blacked out or redacted, meaning it could harm ongoing investigations to reveal more. That means activity continues hot and heavy inside the Justice Department with respect to many of the Mueller team's referrals.

CORNISH: Right, there were lots of blacked-out sections with that ongoing investigation demarcation. Paul Butler, you've spent some time with this report now. What are your outstanding questions going forward?

BUTLER: So we know that there was not evidence of a crime with regard to collusion. And some of that is good news. If you think about some of the extreme allegations at the start of the investigation, that maybe President Trump was a double agent or maybe he was so compromised by the Russians that he was doing Vladimir Putin's bidding in the Oval Office, it's good for our democracy that we know that that's not true.

At the same time, we know that the Russians were engaged in what Mueller described as a systemic plan to install Donald Trump in the White House. And it's impossible to know how much of a role they had in his victory over Hillary Clinton. So that's an open question with regard to collusion.

With regard to obstruction, there were 10 different episodes of obstruction - possible obstruction - that Mueller outlined. He also let us know that in 11 different instances, Trump asked 11 different people to lie about whether he tried to stop the investigation. And the only reason that those people did - that he didn't stop it is because those people said no.

CORNISH: Mara, this does not paint a necessarily flattering picture of behavior at the White House. And the president was uncharacteristically quiet today, meaning that there were no major remarks before he left from Mar-a-Lago this afternoon. So what do you think we're going to hear next from him?

LIASSON: We heard brief remarks from the president at an event this afternoon, where he said he was having a really good day and no collusion, no obstruction. But yes, very unusual that he would leave...

CORNISH: Although there was the "Game-Of-Thrones"-style tweet...

LIASSON: Yes, yes.

CORNISH: Earlier in the day (laughter).

LIASSON: Yes. He had a "Game-Of-Thrones"-style triumphant tweet about game over for the haters and the radical left Democrats. But what - as soon as he got out of the White House - very unusual that he didn't talk to the press. He really likes to do that on his way to the helicopter.

However, as soon as he was gone, lots of tweets and lots of quoting of Fox News hosts - you can tell he's watching television - but also one not attributed to anybody that said, anything the Russians did concerning the 2016 election was done while Obama was president. He was told about it and did nothing. Most importantly, the vote was not affected, which is - no way of knowing if that's true or not. But the point is, the president is still obsessed with this. He seems still rattled by it.

And the big question going forward is whether he wants to take some kind of revenge on the investigators. He's talked about investigating the investigators, saying that the origins of this investigation were tainted and that's who should be prosecuted. So the question is, how hard does he push for that?

CORNISH: OK. So there are a couple more voices we expect to see testify going forward. One might be Robert Mueller, right, Carrie? But what about another key figure in this, the attorney general? Can we hear more from him?

JOHNSON: Yeah. The attorney general, Bill Barr, has really put himself out on a limb for the president according to many Democrats in Congress. Barr has acted in a way, in their view, as kind of a heat shield for the president, the kind of lawyer President Trump always wanted to have at the Justice Department and did not have in Jeff Sessions.

Bill Barr is scheduled to testify before the Senate May 1 and the House May 2. But lawmakers have already come on record saying they want to hear from Robert Mueller himself. And they've asked him to appear later on in May.

CORNISH: Paul, what would you be listening for in terms of hearing from the attorney general or others?

BUTLER: Well, there'll certainly be questions for Barr about whether he was an objective and neutral arbiter or whether he viewed his role as acting like a partisan advocate for the president. Barr did take it upon himself to exonerate the president of obstruction.

He did that over the weekend that he first saw the Mueller report. Mueller wasn't able to do that in his two-year investigation. The other thing is that Mueller pretty much laid out an obstruction of justice impeachment case for the Congress. So it will be interesting to see if they pick up on that rather broad hint from the special counsel.

CORNISH: We're going to wrap up with a final question - I'll start with you, Mara - which is that, you know, before it even came out, the discourse around this report was so divisive. Is this the end of that conversation? Does this continue to define the Trump era?

LIASSON: I think this isn't the end, just because there's so many more investigations and because Congress will follow the roadmap that Mueller has laid out, even if they don't open impeachment hearings. But I do think that there is a desire, certainly on the part of Democrats, to make sure that they balance investigating with legislating and they start passing some stuff. Even if it can't pass the Senate or be signed by the president, they want to lay down a marker for 2020.

CORNISH: Paul Butler, for you, beginning of the end, end of the beginning?

BUTLER: So the Mueller report tells us that the president's campaign was willing to use evidence that Russian operatives had given them. And that's an ongoing concern for our democracy. And again, the president tried to get 11 people - 11 of his staffers - to lie about what they'd done to stop the investigation. So there's an open question about obstruction.

CORNISH: Carrie Johnson, so much of this conversation has been about how - the president's relationship with the FBI, with the Justice Department. Can you talk about how you see this in terms of whether this defines the Trump era?

JOHNSON: You know, it's not over yet, Audie, because the inspector general at the Justice Department, Michael Horowitz, is doing an investigation into how the origins of this whole matter started. He's looking into the FISA application, the wiretapping application on Carter Page, who was loosely affiliated with the Trump campaign. That's expected to come out in May or June, which could give the president and his supporters another major talking point to beat up on the Justice Department and the FBI.

CORNISH: I was going to say, just the very origin of how this all started has been controversial. I feel like we heard from the Australians today. Is that right?

JOHNSON: Indeed, and it's not over yet. We're going to get more evidence about the Australians and Christopher Steele, that former British intelligence officer too.

CORNISH: That's former - that's NPR's justice correspondent, Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thank you.

JOHNSON: My pleasure.

CORNISH: NPR national political correspondent, Mara Liasson, thank you.

LIASSON: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: And former federal prosecutor Paul Butler, thanks for your analysis.

BUTLER: Great to be here.

CORNISH: And we're going to be talking about this more as we review the Mueller report and get some analysis and better understanding of what was released today. You're listening to Special Coverage from NPR News and ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

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