Special Coverage: Mueller Report Released
JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:
This is Special Coverage of the Mueller report from HERE & NOW and NPR News. I'm Jeremy Hobson.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
I'm Robin Young.
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YOUNG: Attorney General William Barr has released the Mueller report to Congress and the public. Before the release today, Barr reiterated to reporters that the special counsel's investigation found no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election.
HOBSON: We'll get the latest from NPR's political team digging through the Mueller report, some of which is redacted. We'll have reaction from Congress, historians and experts. What does the report say about WikiLeaks, the president's family? What does it mean for President Trump, who tweeted today, no collusion, no obstruction?
YOUNG: It's all coming up on this Special Coverage of the release of the Mueller report from HERE & NOW and NPR.
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YOUNG: This is Special Coverage of the Mueller report from HERE & NOW and NPR News. I'm Robin Young.
HOBSON: I'm Jeremy Hobson. After nearly two years of waiting, the public is getting its first look at special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether President Trump or his associates tried to obstruct justice in the course of Mueller's investigation. Attorney General William Barr released a redacted version of the report to Congress about an hour ago; it was posted on the Department of Justice's website shortly after. And over the course of their investigation, Mueller's team issued thousands of subpoenas, interviewed hundreds of witnesses and produced indictments against 34 people and three companies.
So what's in the report? One of the many people digging through it - it's 448 pages long - is NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas, who joins us from Washington. Ryan, you've had about an hour to look at this report so far. What are you seeing? What have you learned?
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Well, the first section of this deals with questions of possible conspiracy with the Russians, as well as what Russia did during the 2016 election in order to interfere - their disinformation campaign, the hacking efforts. On questions of possible links, contacts between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, there is around 100 pages of material in here. It gets into sorts of details that we have not seen before. But, you know, a lot of this demands a very kind of nitty-gritty look, detailed look at what's in here.
I have not had a time to dig in nearly enough in order to get into that level of detail. But what it does say is provide the special counsel's kind of reasoning in terms of why all of these dots, all of these facts about contacts that we know publicly, between Trump associates and the Russians - why there were not more indictments, more charges brought. What the special counsel says in this report is, while the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign, the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges. That is kind of a bottom-line explanation of decisions in terms of more indictments, why there were not more on the question of conspiracy or collusion, as it's often called.
HOBSON: Now, the attorney general, William Barr, said in a press conference this morning that he and the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, concluded the evidence was not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction of justice offense. What does Mueller's report say specifically about that? And of course, we remember when the Barr letter came out summarizing the Mueller report, he said it didn't determine it either way.
LUCAS: Right. And the report does not determine either way, and Mueller goes into a bit of his reasoning for that. The second half of this report is dedicated to the question of obstruction of justice and Mueller's look at whether the president or his associates did indeed try to do that.
And what it says in here is that - and this is a quote from Mueller's report itself - "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 are unable to reach that judgment." What they basically say is that the report does not conclude that the president committed a crime; it also does not exonerate him.
HOBSON: OK. Ryan, I'm going to let you get back to looking through the Mueller report. We've got a number of guests that are going to be joining us as we continue to cover this. But Ron Elving, NPR Washington editor and correspondent, is with us as well. Just real quick, before we go to our next guest, Ron - what's your biggest takeaway at this moment?
RON ELVING, BYLINE: That there is a tremendous difference between Volume 1 and Volume 2. Volume 1, while it details a great number of contacts and a great deal of commerce back and forth between the Trump campaign and the Russians, who were clearly - and no one questions this anymore - clearly trying to interfere in the election on behalf of the Trump campaign, that is all to one side because it was concluded that no one actually reached the point of an indictable offense, having largely to do with what sounds a little bit like technicalities of intention.
Then we get to Volume 2, and here we have an extensive record, including 10 particular incidents of the president trying to do something about the investigation which was bothering him very much. And as a result, it looks to many people as though he was trying to obstruct justice. However, because people in his own circle, in his own White House, pushed back and frustrated him in his attempts to interfere with the investigation, he never actually managed to shut it down.
And so it leaves the question open - did he want to obstruct justice enough to have committed a crime just by trying, or did he have to succeed for it to be a crime? Robert Mueller reaches the conclusion, you cannot exonerate him or charge him.
YOUNG: Ron Elving, you're going be with us for the rest of the afternoon. You can go back and do some reading now and keep us posted, as we bring in Asha Rangappa, a former FBI agent specializing in counterterrorism investigations; she's also a senior lecturer at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale and a legal and national security analyst at CNN. Hi, Asha.
ASHA RANGAPPA: Hi. How are you?
YOUNG: I'm fine. And let's pick up on what Ryan Lucas was saying - you know, 100 pages of contacts between Trump campaign members and Russians, details we haven't seen before but many we know about. As the report says, the contacts consisted of business connections, offers of assistance to the campaign, offers for Trump and Putin to meet in person, the 2016 Trump Tower meeting, as we know, negotiations with a Russian company to build a Trump-branded tower in Moscow that went on way past when President Trump originally said that it did.
What questions do you - as a former FBI agent and someone, you know, specializing in counterterrorism, what questions do you have?
RANGAPPA: Well, I specialized in counterintelligence, not counterterrorism.
YOUNG: Oh, OK.
RANGAPPA: And that is the area that I am most interested in. Because what's clear from the report is that Mueller, for purposes of this report to the attorney general, was using criminal definitions and a criminal standard. He rejects the term collusion, and he says, I am using the frame of conspiracy - which is a legal term in a narrowly defined crime - or coordination to mean an explicit or implicit agreement between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
And what we know is, first, that's not how intelligence agencies operate; you know, you're rarely going to have an explicit agreement and, you know, to engage in criminal activity. But also that many of the kinds of contacts that we see in this report that you just mentioned could still constitute a threat to national security, even if they did not meet the criminal definition of conspiracy.
YOUNG: Such as?
RANGAPPA: Well, the coordination with an intelligence arm of the Russian government, WikiLeaks, to strategically release information that would be harmful to one candidate at the benefit of another.
YOUNG: Now, I have to say - you say the intelligence arm; you mean that the hacked material that the Russians hacked, WikiLeaks disseminated it?
RANGAPPA: That's right. So you know, the CIA has determined that WikiLeaks is acting as an unofficial intelligence arm of the Russian government, so that's what I'm referring to there. And we see many contacts where there are either direct contacts, for example, between Don Jr. or Jerome Corsi with WikiLeaks, to release information. Now, you know, Barr mentioned in his press conference today that, you know, this isn't - this is not a crime, and therefore, it cannot be a conspiracy. But I think that from an intelligence perspective, we obviously want to be - we ought to be concerned about any presidential campaign actively coordinating with a hostile foreign adversary to influence an internal presidential election.
HOBSON: Well, and Asha, why is it, given that - and President Trump tweeted out this morning, you know, once again, no collusion. How is that not collusion If Don Jr., the president's son, is communicating directly with WikiLeaks, which you say is described here as an agent of the Russian government?
YOUNG: They were asking him to send out - please retweet this for us. And thank your Dad for retweeting something for us.
HOBSON: Right. Right. How is that not collusion?
RANGAPPA: Yeah. So I think what we've had is a linguistic sleight of hand that has happened over the last two years. Somehow, the word collusion came out of nowhere. The original refrain from the Trump campaign was, well, collusion is not a crime. And then the response was, well, conspiracy is a crime. So conspiracy becomes the defining standard. And now collusion and conspiracy are kind of - apparently have the same definition, you know, in the parlance that we're using. And they don't. Collusion ought to be looked at from a counterintelligence perspective, conspiracy from a criminal perspective. And these are two very different things. And I think the question now is, what did Mueller find in his counterintelligence investigation, which clearly is not contained in this report of criminal, you know, investigation?
YOUNG: Well, and we should reiterate, as Jeremy said, President Trump is tweeting out and saying in his public appearance, you know, no collusion, no obstruction. William Barr, the attorney general, this morning said the same thing six or seven times. But I'm wondering, Asha, if you also have a question - we only have about a minute here before a break - as a former FBI agent as we see all of these contacts many we knew about, some we didn't - why nobody ever contacted your former agency.
RANGAPPA: That is a great question. And I think not only did they not contact the FBI, but they lied about it to a person. Every single person has lied about their contacts with Russia, the nature of the contacts, what was discussed. Some have even gone to jail for that. And we haven't gotten to the bottom of why that was the case. And again, I believe that the answers to this are contained in the counterintelligence findings. They wouldn't be in the criminal findings because criminal - crimes are narrowly defined, and you put in the evidence that meets the elements of that crime. And I think that there is a much bigger story that Congress will need to get a hold of.
HOBSON: That is Asha Rangappa, former FBI agent and a senior lecturer at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale. Asha, thank you very much. And we will continue our Special Coverage of the release of the Mueller report from NPR News.
YOUNG: This is Special Coverage of the Mueller report from NPR News. The report was released at about 11 o'clock East Coast time. And that means that reporters - Jeremy Hobson, I have been poring through it for a couple of hours...
YOUNG: ...Deeply trying to read it. And let's...
HOBSON: Four hundred and forty-eight pages long.
YOUNG: Yes. So they're about halfway through. So let's bring in Julian Zelizer, professor of history and public affairs at Princeton, who's going to be reviewing it with us. And, Julian, your very first thoughts? It's a moment in American history. Your thoughts?
JULIAN ZELIZER: Well, I've been going through this already like everyone else. And it's quite shocking. That's my bottom line on the report.
YOUNG: How so?
ZELIZER: The first part, from what I'm seeing, has a lot of contact between Trump campaign officials and people connected to Russia. And it was known they were trying to - they were interfering with the election. And there's just a lot of very specific stories and points of contact that don't mesh with what the attorney general was saying. And the obstruction part - there - it's hard to see how this isn't an attempt to obstruct an investigation - ten different instances.
YOUNG: Well, you mentioned the Attorney General Barr earlier today in a mini press conference repeated six or seven times no collusion, no collusion, no collusion. And then the report we see says, although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome and the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation didn't establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated.
ZELIZER: Right. And as you read through this it could be that Mueller didn't find smoking-gun evidence of a direct coordination in the actual act of taking the information. But there are certainly many instances documented in this report where they are seeking that information and doing so actively.
HOBSON: Let's listen to a little bit of what William Barr, the attorney general, said in that press conference this morning. Here he is.
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WILLIAM BARR: After nearly two years of investigation, thousands of subpoenas, hundreds of warrants and witness interviews, the special counsel confirmed that the Russian government sponsored efforts to illegally interfere with the 2016 presidential election but did not find that the Trump campaign or other Americans colluded in those efforts.
HOBSON: Julian, why do you think that the special counsel did not find what he just said - that they colluded, given what you're seeing and what so many people are seeing right now about all the contacts? Would special counsel - do they just want to leave it to Congress to make the next move? Or what do you think happened?
ZELIZER: Well, with obstruction, that is what they wanted to do. And they did not exonerate him. They provide a lot of evidence. And it seems that Mueller wanted Congress to make that decision. I don't know what the legal rationale is in the first part. And it could be that if there is a legal standard that Mueller and his team didn't see being met, they left it at what it was - not a pristine campaign, a very ugly campaign with cheating and lying and seeking bad information but not enough to take any further steps with regard to the president. But just on Page 6, right off the bat, there's a little section on Paul Manafort in New York, meeting with a business associate who had his Russian - intelligence to Russian ties - sharing information about polling in battleground states like Wisconsin. So I think a lot of people are going to read that and say, what exactly is collusion if that doesn't...
HOBSON: This is a little bit of that from Page 6. The written communications setting up the meeting showed that the campaign anticipated receiving information from Russia that could assist candidate Trump's electoral prospects. But the Russian lawyers' presentation did not provide such information.
YOUNG: And we're reading, too, that that contact went beyond that one meeting that we knew about - you know, sharing polling data - went way beyond that. Look. We read something interesting, Julian, on Benjamin Wittes' Lawfare blog prior to the report being released. Obviously, the report and William Barr's conclusion is that there was not enough evidence for obstruction or collusion or criminal activity. And he writes, decisions not to prosecute do not necessarily resolve questions of morality, ethics or impeachability. In other words, the judgments of history, journalism and Congress are not determined by whether Mueller finds the president's conduct indictably criminal.
ZELIZER: I think that's totally accurate. Mueller was looking for legally defined violations of the law. But that doesn't answer a lot of other questions from what Congress might consider impeachable to what the public or lots of the public will think is ethical use of political power and ethical campaigning. And those questions are not resolved by this report. I can't imagine that there is a consensus that this absolves the president on those grounds.
HOBSON: We've got NPR senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving with us, as well. And, Ron, I want to bring you in here. You know, as you look at this report - and we were all waiting for this report to come out after we got the four-page summary from the Attorney General William Barr not too many weeks ago. But people were wondering, how much is going to be redacted? And when you look at it, you know - and people are just reading it right now. But it does look like it's - it is probably lightly redacted. That would be the way that you'd describe it. There are some pages that are fully blacked out, some pages that have a few lines blacked out that say, harm to ongoing matter. But for the most part the report's been released here.
ELVING: That could be said. But the advertising, if you will, of the lightly redacted phrase was part of an overall campaign to essentially encase the release of this report so that people would have a pretty good excuse not to read it or a pretty good excuse to assume that they were being told by the attorney general what they needed to know. So back in March, we saw the attorney general's four-page summary or memo or letter or whatever you want to call it in which he said that's it. It's wrapped up. There's no problem. There's no obstruction. And there's no collusion. And now today, we have the attorney general come out before the report is released, before any of the reporters there could've seen the report to actually ask about any of these instances that Robert Mueller has actually detailed of what appears to be obstruction. So they come out again and say, there's really nothing here. And it's only lightly redacted. And so you really don't need to worry about this. Let's move on.
And, of course, the president in his few public remarks about this so far today - it's that he's having a good day. And it's all behind him. And it's all in the past. All of this suggests that they expect people not to actually read the report. If you had put the report out without encasement of this protective covering that the attorney general gave it back in March and again this morning, you would have an extraordinarily different impression reading all the details and all the things that are being described.
YOUNG: Well, Ron Elving, some have said that William Barr went beyond saying what you just said, that he almost provided - you know, people are calling it campaign ads for the president. Let's listen to a full minute of his characterization of the investigation and its impact on the president. Let's listen.
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BARR: President Trump faced an unprecedented situation. As he entered into office and sought to perform his responsibilities as president, federal agents and prosecutors were scrutinizing his conduct before and after taking office and the conduct of some of his associates. At the same time, there was relentless speculation in the news media about the president's personal culpability. Yet, as he said from the beginning, there was, in fact, no collusion. And as the special counsel's report acknowledges, there is substantial evidence to show that the president was frustrated and angered by his sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents and fueled by illegal leaks.
YOUNG: Ron Elving, your thoughts?
ELVING: Well, the president might very well have had a sincere belief that this was undermining his presidency. And in some very real sense, this report going forward or this investigation going forward was trying to get at the facts, which would tend to undermine his authority as president. And if it was unprecedented to have all of these agents and all of these probers crawling over the campaign, one might suggest it was unprecedented to have a campaign such as the Trump campaign cooperating in a number of ways, contacting in a number of ways with people who were trying to provide information that had been illegally obtained by a foreign power for the specific purpose of helping that Trump campaign.
YOUNG: Well, and I just want to say that Barr went on in that very sentence that we - that was the next sentence - to say, nonetheless, his - the White House fully cooperated with the investigation. But they didn't. And we see in the report that, you know, the president never did an interview with Mueller. And so Mueller felt he couldn't go to his mindset.
ELVING: That's correct. And it's clear that the Mueller folks had been trying to set up some kind of an interview with the president. They did have some written interrogatories. They did try to consider, at least, having a subpoena and having him speak before the grand jury, all of which things did happen in the case of President Clinton and his eventual impeachment largely based on what he said to the grand jury. So this was something the White House resisted. And in the end, after Barr had taken over for Jeff Sessions at the attorney general's position, after he had taken in hand the investigation that previously had been going forward rather more independently for Robert Mueller - after all of that, the Robert Mueller investigators eventually shrug their shoulders and say, given all the delays, we're going to let it go because, among other things, we think it's pretty obvious what the president's attitude towards this investigation was. Look at all the things he said and did in public. Maybe we don't need to have that particular one-on-one, in-person interview.
HOBSON: That is Ron Elving, NPR senior Washington editor and correspondent. We've also been speaking here with Julian Zelizer, a historian at Princeton. And we are just digesting the Mueller report, which has been out in - for public release for about an hour and a half now. It's 448 pages long. We will continue to digest it and bring it to you as that happens from NPR's team of reporters after this break. This is Special Coverage from NPR News.
YOUNG: This is Special Coverage of the Mueller report from NPR News. We're still digesting the 400-plus-page report, which was released at 11 o'clock East Coast time. We want to bring in Kelsey Snell now, NPR congressional reporter. And Kelsey, just start with reaction from congressional leaders, with the Democrats in particular, who sent out a letter.
KELSEY SNELL, BYLINE: Yeah. Democrats are actually following up on letters that were sent originally by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff requesting the special counsel Robert Mueller come and testify about his investigation. That was followed by a request from Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler for Mueller to come by May 23. Now, that date is important because it doesn't give them a lot of time to comply. And it's something that kind of is the greater theme of what Democrats want here. They want Mueller to show up himself and tell them how he came to the conclusions that he reached and - you know, and what else is out there that he was not able to find. They also want access to all of the materials and information that led to his conclusions.
YOUNG: Yeah. And Nadler also tweeted at the end of Attorney General William Barr's press conference earlier today in which Barr reiterated no collusion, no obstruction. What did Nadler say there?
SNELL: Well, you know, I think the thing - that's about when he started asking for this - for Mueller to appear. And think that this kind of goes to the theme that Nancy Pelosi followed up with Nadler, saying that she tweeted that AG Barr has confirmed the staggering partisan effort by the Trump administration to spin the public's view of the Mueller report. Now, that is what we're hearing from a lot of Democrats. They feel that Barr has interfered too much here. They think that he is not giving people the full information. And they want an unredacted report as quickly as possible.
YOUNG: And they also said - in the tweet, Nadler said, we cannot take Attorney General Barr's word for it.
YOUNG: We must see the full report. What are Republicans saying?
SNELL: Well, Republicans are taking a completely different tact (ph).
YOUNG: I'm shocked.
SNELL: (Laughter) We heard from Kevin McCarthy, who is the House Republican leader. And he said that nothing we saw today changes the underlying result of the 22-month-long Mueller investigation that ultimately found no collusion. And one of his top deputies, Steve Scalise, who's the Republican whip, said that Democrats owe the American people an apology for going down the route of calling for further investigations. I - if people were hoping that this report was going to clear up any kind of partisanship and kind of reach some sort of national conclusion about what happened in this Russia investigation, that's not happening now.
YOUNG: Well, you know, are there any Republicans maybe pulling back a bit on that? Because the report said that they found members of the Trump campaign knew they would benefit from Russia's illegal actions to influence the election but didn't take criminal steps to help. In other words, there might have been interactions. But they weren't found to be criminal. This is a campaign and a president who long said, they're - Russia's not even interfering in the election. And here, the report concludes they knew that they were.
SNELL: By and large, Republicans are either standing by the president at this point or saying they need more time to read the report. It's a pretty standard response when people are trying to figure out how they are going to respond to questions like that - is to say they need more time. And to their credit, it is more than 400 pages. And there are a lot of people who don't want to get out too far ahead of, you know, pieces of this that maybe they don't understand yet.
YOUNG: You don't know what's on Page 380 if you're still reading. Kelsey Snell, NPR congressional reporter, helping us digest as we will be all day the Mueller report - 400-plus pages. Kelsey, thanks so much.
SNELL: Thank you.
YOUNG: It's NPR News.
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HOBSON: This is Special Coverage of the release of the Mueller report from NPR News. I'm Jeremy Hobson, along with Robin Young. And Scott Detrow, NPR congressional correspondent, has been reading through the 448-page redacted Mueller report - slightly redacted, I guess. Scott - and tell us, over the last hour and 40 minutes or so since it's been released to the public, what are you seeing?
SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: So here's - pardon me, a lot of reading live on the radio today so far.
DETROW: Here's a few big-picture takeaways that I'm having. First of all, for all of the ways that President Trump has attacked the media over the last few years, a lot of the reporting on the investigation, especially when it comes to obstruction of justice, has been incredibly accurate. A lot of the conversations about whether or not to fire James Comey, whether or not to interfere in the investigation to try and remove Robert Mueller - a lot of the stuff that we read about in newspaper reports and other reports is almost word for word in this Mueller report. And I think that goes to the, you know, to the credit of the reporters who dug into this.
Politically, I mean, we've talked a lot about the fact that the president may not be in legal jeopardy anymore based on these conclusions. I will note that at the end of the report, Mueller lays out 14 different cases which he referred to other investigators. Twelve of those cases are redacted. We have no idea who is being investigated, what is being investigated, how far or close to the main thrust of the Mueller investigation those fall.
But there's certainly a lot of political material in here. And I think one thing, as happy as President Trump is today, saying this completely clears him, the amount of White House aides, the amount of close Trump advisers who simply ignored directives from President Trump over and over again is certainly something that's not a positive headline for the White House.
HOBSON: OK. And while we have you, Scott, looking through the report, I just want to bring in Jonathan Turley, George Washington University law professor. He's also with us. Jonathan, as you hear that and you hear about all the contacts that are outlined in this report as people read through it - it just came out not too long ago - but why do you think that Mueller didn't find any evidence of collusion that was worth prosecuting?
JONATHAN TURLEY: Well, it's an extraordinary document. We've never had this degree of insight into the operations of a White House. And I think you now have to give President Trump his due in this sense. I think this is unprecedented in the degree to which President Trump has waived executive privilege.
But there are parts of this report that are quite damning. It's an extraordinary scene to have the White House counsel repeatedly told - given an order by the president to fire Mueller and for him to defy those orders and actually go to his office to pack his things up. It doesn't get more dramatic than that.
YOUNG: Well, Jonathan Turley, I just wanna ask you - given that, the president, of course, has been saying all morning no collusion, no obstruction, parroting what - the attorney general, William Barr. And we should say, you testified in favor of William Barr becoming attorney general. You've said he has integrity.
But the president is picking up on his words from this morning and sent out - there's a full statement. But the first line is, the results of the investigation are a total victory for the president. And the last line is - this vindication of the president is an important step forward for the country and a strong reminder that this type of abuse must never be permitted to occur again.
Do you think, given all of the incidents that are listed in this report, this was abuse of a president or was this a legitimate investigation?
TURLEY: No, I think this was clearly a legitimate investigation. The president really came close to achieving something that is quite difficult to achieve. He almost made out an obstruction case against himself, even though there was a finding there wasn't an underlying crime. It's possible, but I've never seen someone get so close to doing what is quite difficult. But in the end, there is lots in this document that will fuel people on both sides.
Mueller comes back repeatedly to say that Trump's motivation in firing, for example, FBI Director James Comey was his anger over Comey not saying publicly what he was saying privately to Congress and others, that Trump was not a target. Mueller actually finds that Trump agreed that the Russia investigation should continue. So that's certainly to his advantage.
On the other hand, the special counsel says that it found substantial evidence that some of Trump's actions were meant to limit the investigation. And that goes towards obstruction.
YOUNG: Well, why doesn't he go all the way?
TURLEY: Well, I have to tell you, as a criminal defense attorney, I don't see obstruction here that could actually be prosecuted. I agree with Barr and Rosenstein.
YOUNG: Because he was stopped?
TURLEY: Yeah. I mean, that is a legitimate question for Congress to look at is, if the president was going to take an act that could be obstruction and was blocked essentially by a human shield of his aides, does that mean that he didn't commit an impeachable offense? And the answer is, well, no. The Congress can look at these facts and say that the president was taking steps that would have been a crime of obstruction. But it's very hard to do that. When you impeach a president, you need a real sucking chest wound of a case. And, you know, here, there was not the underlying crime of collusion found by the special counsel. And the president's motives, according to the special counsel, were sort of diverse and rather unclear. And that would make it a difficult case. As a criminal defense attorney, I wouldn't hesitate to take this case.
HOBSON: We've got Julian Zelizer with us as well. He's a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton. And Julian, I'm just looking at one part of this report, which gets sort of - it gives us a little insight into the mind of the president when this Mueller investigation was launched.
It says here in the report, Sessions told the president that a special counsel had been appointed. The president slumped back in his chair and said, oh, my God, this is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I'm bleeped. The word is not bleeped, but it's in there. What do you make of that, what we're hearing about how worried the president was about this investigation? And does that matter at all?
ZELIZER: Well, that's not surprising only in that we've seen elements of this play out in public, whether it's on his Twitter feed or his statement. This clearly concerned him from the start. He was clearly worried about the political implications. And if we're discussing what is the mindset of the president as he took the many steps that are documented in the report to try to stop the investigation, I think those kinds of statements are pretty significant in terms of why he was doing all this.
YOUNG: And Jonathan Turley, I want to bring you back in. You, as we said, know William Barr. And this morning, I heard you on morning television saying that you just thought that his speaking this morning was going to give him just kind of a setup for the American people to understand how, you know, things were redacted.
But he - many would say he went further than that. He seemed to greatly defend the president. In one moment, he talked about how this was unprecedented, that he came into office with agents already investigating him. He was asked at that press conference, you know, why were you giving this kind of generous positioning here. Your thoughts on that?
TURLEY: Well, I actually think that Bill Barr comes out looking particularly well at the end of all this.
YOUNG: He did.
TURLEY: You know, people expected these huge redactions and that he would hide the ball and gut the report. And in fact, he didn't. There are surprisingly few redactions here. And the vast majority of them deal with ongoing investigations. And so that whole narrative did not prove to be true.
Now, in his press conference, when Bill Barr said that the president was - that his mindset and his motivation was non-criminal, he was actually paraphrasing the report itself. That is what they said about the intent. And the report is quite mixed. I mean, it does say at various points that Trump seemed to be more upset with the failure to disclose things like the fact that he wasn't a target than he was in terms of the overall investigation.
But this doesn't leave Trump in a good light. I mean, what comes out of this report for me is less obstruction and more obsession. I mean, he really does come across as an obsessive individual who almost counter-punched his way into a criminal case.
HOBSON: OK, just before we lose Scott Detrow here from NPR who's digging through this report, Scott, just in the last 30 seconds we have in this segment, tell us what else you're seeing.
DETROW: You know, I think I would agree with that last point. A lot of the details being filled in about how this Trump White House operates, this is a president who is obsessed, very tuned into how his presidency is playing on television, often making seat-of-the-pants decisions and orders based on what he's seeing on television. And we're seeing repeated instances of aides simply ignoring those orders. I think that's a big political takeaway here of just how President Trump operates, often not without much long-term planning.
YOUNG: NPR's congressional correspondent Scott Detrow, also Jonathan Turley, George Washington University law professor. Julian Zelizer is in the mix as well. We have many more people on tap reading the report to bring it to you. And we'll continue on NPR News.
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HOBSON: This is Special Coverage of the release of the Mueller report from NPR News. I'm Jeremy Hobson, along with Robin Young. And we're getting reaction. Let's get some reaction live here on the radio from Liz Harrington, Republican National Committee national spokesperson. She's with us. Liz, what's your takeaway as you look through this Mueller report?
LIZ HARRINGTON: Our takeaway is this is finally a complete and total exoneration of the president. There was no collusion on every single aspect of the Robert Mueller investigation. He looked at the hacking. He looked at the internet research agency. He looked at all of that. There was nothing there.
There was no Trump associate who conspired with them. And there was also no obstruction because there can't be obstruction when the president has it within his ability to fire an FBI director who was completely hated on both sides of the aisle for complete misconduct during the 2016 election and its handling of both the Hillary Clinton investigation and the Trump investigation.
So there's no collusion. There's no obstruction. I think we're finally getting the truth out there. And now we can turn to why this all started in the first place and investigate the investigators who really perpetuated this hoax on the American people that there was collusion and a conspiracy to begin with.
HOBSON: Well, Liz, when you say there's no collusion, and you look through this report, and you see all these contacts between so many different Trump officials and people in the president's own family communicating with WikiLeaks in the campaign to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, maybe the word collusion wasn't used. But it seems like there was a lot of back and forth between agents of Russia and people in the Trump campaign.
HARRINGTON: You know what the report also states? A quote - "Trump would not pay for opposition research." Do you know who would pay for opposition research? Hillary Clinton, the DNC and the FBI. They're the ones who paid for disinformation from Russian sources to start this dossier which they - the Obama administration - used to spy on the Trump campaign and his associates. So we're talking about collusion. There's your collusion - with Russian sources, with Hillary Clinton, with the FBI. Nothing to do with the president and his associates.
YOUNG: Liz Harrington, again, the Republican National Committee national spokesperson, some might disagree with how you just characterized how this started. There were associates of the Trump campaign who were having contacts with the Russians that concerned the FBI. And that dossier was actually started by Republicans. They were going to use it to take down Trump before he became the frontrunner.
HARRINGTON: That's not true. That's not true.
YOUNG: Well, let's bring in Jonathan...
HARRINGTON: I'm very familiar because...
YOUNG: Let's bring in...
HARRINGTON: ...I worked for the Washington Free Beacon. And that is not true.
YOUNG: Let's bring in Jonathan Turley. Again, we just - we're visiting with you, Jonathan. Do you agree with Liz's characterization of what the report says?
TURLEY: Well, I think that there is material here for both sides. Where I would disagree with what Liz said is that I do not believe, and apparently neither did the special counsel believe, that the president could not be charged with obstruction for the use of his inherent powers. Now, there are people - and this is in fairness to Liz - there are many reputable people who do not believe as a constitutional matter that he could be charged. But the special counsel actually addresses this at length and says that, yeah, the president can be charged. Ultimately, they make no decision on that point.
Now, where I think that Liz is making a valid point is that the special counsel goes into great detail about, for example, people trying to get WikiLeaks information. But it falls significantly short of suggesting that there was any conspiracy. We do have to keep in mind that half the world's media was also trying to get the Wikileaks information, and so was this campaign. But the special counsel makes very clear that he found no evidence of a conspiracy, collusion or coordination with the Russians.
YOUNG: Yeah. But Liz, I guess, also, just the things that we're hearing about, they drip with ethical questions - you know, meeting with a Russian, giving them polling data. I mean, we've heard about a lot of this. But having it all reinforced and gathered in one place, that isn't a good thing, is it?
HARRINGTON: Well, it's - Paul Manafort is actually facing time in prison for stuff that has nothing to do with Russia. And I think that exposes how this - the predicate for this investigation was on the question of collusion. And they never found anything on collusion. So what they did do was expand it and expand it to everyone and everything who ever even had a contact within the Trump campaign. And they never found it. There was never any collusion.
And on this question of obstruction, the president, it was his decision ultimately. If he wanted to fire Robert Mueller, he would have done it. So not firing someone is not obstruction. And he - and the president completely cooperated with this investigation. He turned - they turned over 1.5 million pages of documents to Mueller's team. That's not obstruction. But you know what is obstruction? Obstruction is using BleachBit on 30,000 emails in a server you had in your bathroom.
HOBSON: OK, OK. We've got to leave it right there for this hour. Liz Harrington, Republican National Committee national spokesperson, thank you for joining us with your reaction.
HARRINGTON: Thank you.
HOBSON: And you are listening to Special Coverage from NPR News of the Mueller report. We are diving into it just hours after its release. I'm Jeremy Hobson.
YOUNG: I'm Robin Young.
HOBSON: This is Special Coverage from NPR News.
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YOUNG: This is Special Coverage of the Mueller report. From HERE & NOW at NPR News, I'm Robin Young.
HOBSON: I'm Jeremy Hobson. Attorney General William Barr released the report to Congress this morning. Before the release, Barr told reporters the special counsel's investigation found no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 election.
YOUNG: Barr also said Mueller investigated whether the president obstructed the investigation but did not make a prosecutorial judgment on that question.
HOBSON: Trump's response in a tweet - no collusion, no obstruction.
YOUNG: And there's a lot to digest in a report that's hundreds of pages long, heavily redacted. But we're reading it, as are NPR's reporters.
HOBSON: We'll get reaction from the White House and Congress. And we'll also talk about what this means going forward. It is all coming up on this Special Coverage of the release of the Mueller report from NPR News.
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HOBSON: This is Special Coverage of the Mueller report. From HERE & NOW at NPR News, I'm Jeremy Hobson.
YOUNG: I'm Robin Young. And we've been reading through special counsel Robert Mueller's report released today, nearly two years after Mueller was appointed to look into Russian interference in the 2016 election and then took up possible connections to the Trump campaign. One of the many people digging through the report now, NPR congressional reporter Tim Mak. And Tim, start with the question of obstruction of the investigation. We had heard in the William Barr letter that Mueller couldn't conclude there was obstruction but also didn't exonerate the president from possible obstruction. What new are we learning with more of the full report?
TIM MAK, BYLINE: Well, let me quote from the report itself. It says, (reading) while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him. The report goes into a number of circumstances. And it examines 10 different cases - 10 different incidents - in which we can learn and make an assessment about whether the president obstructed the investigation.
They say in the report, 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." So there's a lot of information being put out there, but no ultimate conclusion on whether the president committed a crime on obstruction of justice.
YOUNG: Well, that's interesting. It's a little stronger than we might have heard from William Barr. They're saying, if we had confidence - they didn't have confidence that he could be exonerated.
MAK: Well, that's right. I mean, and there have been a lot - there's been a lot of criticism from Capitol Hill, especially among Democrats, that it was not the attorney general's decision to make that the president did not commit a crime, that the traditional and constitutional prerogatives of Congress is to determine whether or not the president committed some sort of crime and whether or not he should be impeached.
YOUNG: Well, and the president - we should say - the president's office, the White House, have already put out a response to all of this saying the results of the investigation are a total victory for the president. But we've been hearing from law professor Jonathan Turley and others, well, actually this was a legitimate investigation because of those incidents that you mentioned, that it looked to him as if the president was kept from crossing the line into obstruction by people around him.
MAK: Well, that's possible. And a lot of this goes into the idea of what the president's motives may have been, what he - what reasoning he might have had in, you know, allegedly having some sort of obstruction of justice crime take place. I mean, it really does depend on your interpretation of the facts whether or not the president was actively trying to obstruct it or whether he felt, as Attorney General Barr stated, that this was a political investigation meant only to disrupt him from being able to do his job.
YOUNG: And what about the conspiracy, collusion with the Russians? A lot of detail on interaction between Trump campaign people, family members and Russians. The report seems to conclude that they knew that Russians were - you know, were undergoing illegal activity.
MAK: Well, one thing that's clear in those sections of the report is that there was no shortage of Trump campaign officials interested in taking meetings in Russia, interested in setting up meetings between the Trump campaign, senior officials on the Trump campaign and Trump himself with Russian government officials or Putin. But those things never were executed - that there were these plans and these suggestions and these wishes, but they weren't actually followed through with.
You know, there's an interesting section in the Mueller report about this idea of a Trump Tower in Moscow, which has been an idea that the Trump Organization has dealt with and supported for years and years but never brought to fruition. So I think the conclusion on the - on coordination is there were attempts, there was interest, but it never rose to the level of something that could be charged by the special counsel.
YOUNG: And we now know that, you know, the president was not telling the truth when he said that that proposal for a Trump Tower in Moscow, that those talks ended way before the election or that he didn't believe that there was Russia interference. There's a lot in there that we've already heard about - the famous Trump Tower meeting with people like his son-in-law and son meeting with people offering up dirt on Hillary Clinton. Is there something - I know it's early days, and everybody's just trying to read this, but is there anything in there, you know, in the area of conspiracy or possible collusion that was new?
MAK: Yeah, a lot of this we have known. And it fleshes out in great detail quoting from emails, quoting from interviews that the special counsel had with various players. But I think you hit the nail on the head there, that the president insisted throughout the campaign that he had no relationship with Russia. He was not involved in any sort of business dealings with Russia.
But the very clear facts of the Mueller report indicate that in fact, the entire time - and he was aware of this while it was occurring - that the entire time during the campaign, that his subordinates and employees were interested in forging relationships with the Russian government and a business plan to possibly do a Trump Tower in Moscow.
YOUNG: And, Tim, very quickly, House Judiciary Committee chair Jerry Nadler, the Democrat, is saying he wants Mueller to testify before his committee by May 23. How is this going to - you know, how is this report shifting the tone in Congress?
MAK: Well, they're going to want to hear whether Mueller believes that the attorney general appropriately described his report.
YOUNG: Yeah. NPR congressional reporter Tim Mak, go back to reading.
MAK: Thanks a lot.
HOBSON: Dahlia Lithwick of Slate, who hosts the podcast "Amicus," is with us as well. Dahlia, I want to get your thoughts on this report. But I'm just thinking before we do that that this is a 448-page report that people are going through right now. President Trump's response this morning was 14 words on Twitter, including what he's been saying for a long time - no collusion, no obstruction. How many people are actually going to read this report? Are Americans just going to get their take on this from a much shorter version, which may be the one that he's giving?
DAHLIA LITHWICK: You know, it's so interesting because the no collusion thing is something that is actually debunked right at the beginning of the report, Jeremy, where Mueller just lays it out; he says there's no such thing as collusion. Collusion is not a thing. There are conspiracy laws. There are other laws; we're going to talk about those. But this idea that the framing is, was there, quote, "collusion" is not material here.
And so it's interesting, and I think you're exactly right that when the president says, as he's been saying for two years, by the way, that the totality of the scope of this is this binary question - collusion, no collusion. So of course, today, again, what we hear is, well, no collusion. And Mueller, actually, right out front says, that's not the thing I'm looking for.
HOBSON: And yet, Mueller doesn't go so far in this entire report to say that he recommends any more people being prosecuted, including the president or any of his family members.
LITHWICK: Yeah, it's very clear, and I think Tim laid it out. I think that it is clear that what Mueller saw as the totality of his brief here was, does whatever conspiracy that is alleged rise to the level of, you know, a criminal conspiracy? And it's fairly clear that he says, look; Russia wanted to help. There were a lot of people in the campaign who wanted that help. There's a quid, there's a quo, not necessarily a pro; it doesn't rise to the level of criminal conduct. And he's pretty clear when he lays it out that there is a lot of things one should be worried about that don't rise to the level of criminal conduct. But that was what he was asked to do.
HOBSON: But if you're saying that Russia wanted to help, and there were people in the campaign that wanted the help and were willing to accept it, how does that not rise to a conspiracy?
LITHWICK: Well, that's, I think, the question. And I think a big part of that is, what was their state of mind, what were they trying to do? In one episode after another, you see that people just kind of didn't know what was going on. The Trump Tower meeting - it seems that Don Jr., one of the reasons he's exculpated is because he didn't know that it was a bad thing (laughter). There's the whole side question about whether it violated campaign finance laws for him to get...
HOBSON: Is that a typical defense, by the way, that I didn't know that that was against the law?
YOUNG: Ignorance of the law.
LITHWICK: Well, it is, I think - in several of these episodes, you have this pattern of either people kind of don't quite know that something is bad, or they're stopped from doing something. So time and time again in this report (laughter), you have Donald Trump saying, go do this thing - right? - fire Mueller. And somebody coming in and saying, you know, K.T. McFarland or Don McGahn...
YOUNG: Don McGahn.
LITHWICK: ...Not doing it. So it's very - we're in a very strange world where, at the end of the day, your sort of subjective intent really matters. But what also matters (laughter) is, if you're surrounded by people who say, don't do that, that would be bad, or I'm not going to write that, or I'm not going to say that because that would clearly be wrong. It's a very, very strange report in some sense because we've been asking ourselves for two years, who are the grown-ups in the room? It turns out there a lot of grown-ups (laughter) in the room that were saying...
YOUNG: You can't do it.
LITHWICK: ...Yes, Mr. President, I'll do that, and then not doing it (laughter).
YOUNG: Well, and Dahlia, does that explain - William Barr seemed to flag some of these legal questions this morning, when he said, for instance, it's not about - I'm paraphrasing here - but it's not about hacking, it's about disseminating. And so you have Donald Trump Jr. getting messages from WikiLeaks - hey, could you put this out there for us? And Donald Trump Jr. saying, I'm happy to do that. It was hacked material from the Russians. But he's - he didn't hack it; he disseminated it.
LITHWICK: Yeah, it's interesting. I've heard a lot of law professors this morning balking at what Barr's construction of that crime was, saying that the way Barr set that up in the press conference this morning, pretty much unless, you know, Don Jr. was leaning over the shoulder of the hackers and saying, like, press control here, he's absolved. And I think you're quite right; I think that the law contemplates a lot more than that. So I think as we work through the document, we're going to have to figure out if that was too narrow a read.
HOBSON: And that is exactly what we're going to do. Dahlia, stay with us. You're listening to Special Coverage from NPR News.
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YOUNG: This is Special Coverage of the release of the Mueller report from NPR News. I'm Robin Young, along with Jeremy Hobson. And we want to get right to Ayesha Rascoe, NPR White House reporter, who is at the White House. And Ayesha, the president has been tweeting out and saying full vindication, a victory for him - no collusion, no obstruction. But what is the tone there? Because we were hearing reports that leading up to today, it was very uneasy.
AYESHA RASCOE, BYLINE: Well, today they seemed - you know, talking to staff, they seemed pretty calm. I think, obviously, we learned this morning from Attorney General Barr that the White House counsel and Trump's personal lawyers had been briefed on this report, so they had an idea of what was coming. And basically, they looked at it as they are going to talk about the primary conclusion, which is there's not going to be a legal case against the president or any more cases against anyone associated with the campaign for conspiring with Russia. And so they're looking at that as the bottom line, and they're saying everything else is kind of just nit-picking or just looking at kind of little, other incidents. So that is their take on it at this point.
HOBSON: Ayesha, are we going to hear from the president this afternoon? Is he likely to hold a press conference and take questions from reporters about this?
RASCOE: So at this point it doesn't seem like there's going to be a formal press conference. But President Trump is heading out to go to Florida, and normally, when he leaves, before he gets on Marine One, he sometimes will talk to the press. This is a good day or a - he's already said it's a good day for him. So this is likely that he is going to talk to the press before he heads out.
HOBSON: Do you know what time that's likely to happen?
RASCOE: That's at 4 p.m.
HOBSON: 4 p.m. Eastern time.
HOBSON: OK. We'll be watching.
YOUNG: And Ayesha, I'm wondering, maybe, you know, there's calmness and maybe there's a headline of no collusion, no obstruction, but there's page after page of interaction between campaign officials and Russians. There are 10 episodes involving the president, in which - if we've got this characterized correctly - he attempted to obstruct, but people around him kept him from doing that. That isn't - that, you know - that can't be feeling good.
RASCOE: Well, and that's the thing. So you're going to get - from this White House, at this point, you will get, look; look at the bottom line - there's no collusion, no obstruction. But what you have for the Democrats and for people who are skeptical of the president, you have all of this information. So even if something doesn't rise to a legal basis or doesn't rise to being illegal, there are political implications. And so there is lots of meat in this report for Democrats to dig into. They are going to be trying to talk to Robert Mueller. And so there's a lot that is going to continue to come out from this report. And so there are political implications, even if there aren't legal implications.
YOUNG: Yeah. That's Ayesha Rascoe, NPR White House reporter, there on the grounds at the White House. Ayesha will continue helping us out today. Ayesha, thanks.
RASCOE: Thank you.
YOUNG: And I want to bring back in Dahlia Lithwick, our legal expert here. And Dahlia, Ayesha's just saying, maybe not legal issues. As you read, do you see legal issues?
LITHWICK: Oh, yeah.
LITHWICK: I think that, you know, one of the things that Tim said, going back to this question of obstruction that's so important, is that you can feel all the ways that Mueller's hands are tied, institutionally. And so he's really clear when he says, the reason I did not come to a conclusion on the obstruction question has to do with a lot of kind of constitutional powers that the president has under Article II. But then he goes on to say those powers are not limitless, and they don't obviate criminal liability. So that's in tension with what Barr has said.
But then he goes on to say, look; I couldn't interview the president. There were people around him who were lying. He says this was confounded by a policy out of the Office of Legal Counsel that precludes us from, you know, indicting a sitting president. All of those structural impediments to Mueller going forward and making a finding of criminal obstruction doesn't mean that obstruction didn't happen. And he goes so far as to say Congress can totally look at this, and Congress can investigate and find obstruction.
So I think it's really important to look not just at what Mueller found but the places that Mueller said, I was hamstrung here, but by all means, go out - and he says the FBI could have found things if they had done a deep dive. Congress can still look. And so I think it's important to see the places where the president is off the hook only because of the constraints on Robert Mueller.
HOBSON: NPR's senior Washington editor and correspondent, Ron Elving, is also with us right now. And Ron, as we digest what's in this report, and we get a variety of different reactions to it, how important is the perception of the report that people, that Americans are going to have right now, just in the first few hours? Obviously, the White House is very concerned with the initial reaction that people have; that's why, you know, the president was at - even before the report came out with his no obstruction, no collusion tweet. How important is what people are thinking about this report and what's in it right now?
ELVING: It's clearly important to the White House; it's clearly important to Attorney General Barr. They have been working this as hard as they could since the later days of March, when Robert Mueller's report first went into William Barr's hands, and I would suspect even before that, as Robert Mueller had conversations with various people in the Department of Justice as they were preparing the report. They have known they had a major problem here, with all of the things that Robert Mueller had found, all the things he wanted to say and possibly all the things he wanted to do. And all of that has since been battened and buffered by William Barr and others in the Justice Department and then, of course, presented to the world as an exoneration, presented to the world as, everything is fine here.
Imagine the scene back in 1998, when Ken Starr brought his report up to the Hill and told Congress everything he had found out about Bill Clinton. There wasn't an attorney general sitting in and saying, no, no, no, you know what? This is actually an exoneration. There was no role for the attorney general. The rules have changed since then.
YOUNG: And then a lot of...
HOBSON: Well, and many people thought that...
ELVING: And William Barr was able...
HOBSON: ...It was inappropriate that the White House was in contact with Attorney General Barr before today's release of the Mueller report, that they were able to see some of - according to many sources, they were able to see what was in it.
ELVING: Not only the White House but also the president's personal attorneys - the attorneys not for the White House, not for the nation, but attorneys for Donald Trump, the man. So if you contrast this to what happened with Ken Starr, reading every single detail hour after hour before a committee on the Hill, if you read this Mueller report that same way before a congressional committee that was hostile to the president, this would be a very different scene at this hour, and that's what the administration was working so hard to prevent.
YOUNG: Well, Ron Elving, you've also had a little more time since last we spoke to get a few more pages forward. We remember that members of Mueller's team actually came forward - anonymously - but came forward after William Barr's letter saying that they did not agree with his characterization, that they had done their own summations and wanted those to be put forth, not his. Do you think - and you're not finished, I don't imagine - but do you think the attorney general has spun the report?
ELVING: That the attorney general has...
YOUNG: Spun the report.
ELVING: ...Spun the report. I do believe he has put his own construct on it. I do believe he has read it with a certain standard for what constitutes conspiracy - a criminal standard, a beyond-the-reasonable-doubt-in-a-courtroom standard - and that he has read the obstruction question even more - well, even more with a sense of putting a construct on it because Robert Mueller couldn't come to that conclusion and seems to be saying, I want to see Congress judge this question; I want to see Congress decide whether or not all these attempts to obstruct justice that were frustrated by aides constitute obstruction of justice in and of themselves. The intent and the obvious intent, the public intent to undercut the investigation, if not kill it outright, constituted obstruction of justice. William Barr says no. Robert Mueller says, let's let somebody else decide.
HOBSON: Before we lose Dahlia Lithwick at Slate, Dahlia, I want to get your thoughts on the questions that you still have as we continue to dig through this very long Mueller report.
LITHWICK: I think I'm going to continue to look at this question of obstruction. And I think that that is the place where, clearly, Mueller felt absolutely urgently that he could not make a final determination. We now know why. And I think I'm going to continue to read this really carefully to try to get an understanding of next steps, of whether that means that Congress picks it up, whether it means that there are people in the - you know, surrounding Trump who need to be questioned. But I think this issue that Ron just mentioned, that he really, really tried to kill the Mueller probe and what that means, if not a legal question, I think it's a big, big question that's in here.
HOBSON: And just your thoughts on what you think we've learned about how Mueller conducted himself as special counsel - he was so quiet the whole time. There were never any leaks coming out of his investigation. He does - he hasn't been doing interviews with the media. You know, people haven't heard his voice in a long time. But what are we learning about how he did here?
LITHWICK: Mueller is a lawyer's lawyer. We knew that all along. This is a guy who believes in institutions and the rule of law. He did everything he was told to and not one jot more. And I think Sally Yates said yesterday, he's kind of the opposite of Trump in that he absolutely wants no attention. And he did this, in that sense, masterfully.
YOUNG: In the last few seconds we have, Dahlia, do you think - did he make a mistake in not interviewing President Trump?
LITHWICK: I think he made the calculated decision that it wasn't worth it to him; it would take too long and that he had enough. But you're quite right. We would know an awful lot more about obstruction right now if he had.
YOUNG: Right - because he's saying he doesn't know what was on the president's mind, so he can't know if it was obstruction - well, maybe, had there been interviews. Dahlia Lithwick, thank you so much.
LITHWICK: My pleasure.
HOBSON: And stay tuned because we are just digging into the Mueller report. We're going to be looking at this all afternoon and all evening on NPR News. I'm Jeremy Hobson along with Robin Young. Stay with us. This is Special Coverage of the Mueller report from NPR News.
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HOBSON: This is Special Coverage of the release of the Mueller report from NPR News. I'm Jeremy Hobson along with Robin Young. And we're getting reaction to the report. It's been out for about 2 1/2 hours now.
And let's bring in John Brabender, Republican strategist. John, your first thoughts about what you're seeing in the Mueller report.
JOHN BRABENDER: Well, we're clearly moving from a legal phase to a political phase because where we're at right now is, everybody agrees that the president did not conclude with Russia, but they're trying to make the argument that he possibly tried to obstruct the very investigation that proved he did not collude with Russia. And what they're saying is, by Mueller not saying he couldn't prosecute but just did not have the evidence to is the same as saying that anybody here listening right now - we could say maybe they were a reckless driver on the way home last night, but we can't prove it. But certainly, they shouldn't be under that cloud, as the president shouldn't.
So what we're going to move very quickly to is, the legal part of this is over. The president has been cleared. We're now going to have this battle about the politics, even though the most interesting thing is, talking to my Democrat friends running presidential candidates right now, they said, nobody on the campaign trail's asking one thing about the Mueller investigation.
HOBSON: Well, you talk about the idea of no collusion. We've been talking about this all day and that maybe the word collusion is not the word we should be using. It should be conspiracy because there were clearly, as is outlined in this Mueller report, many, many, many contacts between agents of Russia and people in the Trump campaign, even members of the president's family, like Donald Jr.
BRABENDER: But nothing, as Mueller said, that rose to the level of something that was illegal. And...
HOBSON: So from a political perspective then, how damaging do you think this report is for the president?
BRABENDER: I think that, actually, people will move on. And I think what they fairly - the American people - had the right to know - were there are laws broken by the Trump campaign in conspiring with the Russians to try to get elected? And did it have an impact on the election? The two things that came out of this report very clearly is that the Russians did try to interfere in our election. However, the Trump campaign had absolutely no involvement in helping them do that.
I don't know how else - where else you take this and how you don't move on. And I would argue with where the Democrats are likely to take this will actually be an advantage for the Republicans because I think they're going to start overplaying their hands.
I think - you know, look. What happened ultimately is both sides made a failure in judgment of Mueller. I think that both sides thought that he was going to be unfair. And it turns out that he was remarkably fair, remarkably objective, a lawyer's lawyer, as they like to call him - somebody who just did his job. And I think there's no way to look at this thing other than a win for the president. And I'm anxious to see my Democrat friends try to spin that otherwise.
HOBSON: OK. So let me just ask you in the last 30 seconds we have here. We spoke with a spokesperson for the Republican National Committee, who said that the next step for Republicans should be investigating the people that started this investigation into Russia in the first place. Do you think that would be overplaying their hands? Do you think they should just let this be at this point, the Republicans?
BRABENDER: Yeah, I - actually, I do think we should move on. I understand that there was probably a lot of political reasons people tried to get this president. But the truth of the matter is we have North Korea, China, Russia, you know, Israel - all these major world problems - our economy that we want to keep going. Why the heck, as a country, are we going to focus on this, especially because the ultimate goal of Russia was to create chaos in this country? And ironically, if we continue this on both sides, Russia's actually succeeding.
HOBSON: That is Republican strategist John Brabender as we continue with our Special Coverage from NPR News. John, thank you.
BRABENDER: Thank you.
HOBSON: And stay with us.
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YOUNG: This is Special Coverage of the release of the Mueller report from NPR News. I'm Robin Young along with Jeremy Hobson. The report was released this morning. Before that, Attorney General William Barr characterized it as concluding that there was no collusion and no obstruction on the part of the Trump campaign or President Trump. And President Trump has certainly been celebrating that characterization today. Here he is speaking at a Wounded Warrior event at the White House this morning.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And they're having a good day. I'm having a good day, too. It was called...
TRUMP: ...No collusion, no obstruction.
TRUMP: There never was, by the way, and there never will be. And we do have to get to the bottom of these things, I will say. And this should never happen. I say this in front of my friends, Wounded Warriors. And I just call them warriors 'cause we just shook hands, and they look great. They look so and good, so beautiful. But I say it front of my friends, this should never happen to another president again, this hoax. It should never happen to another president again. Thank you.
YOUNG: President Trump speaking this morning. Let's bring in Scott Detrow, one of many helping us sift through the Mueller report. He's NPR's congressional correspondent. Scott - the president, the attorney general - the headline and the headline from the White House has been no obstruction. But you've been reading the report. Is that what the report says? Or does it seem to conclude, as we've been hearing as others who are plowing through, an inability to decide if there was obstruction and Robert Mueller saying maybe Congress should decide?
DETROW: Well, a lot of facts presented. And there was a key line in the report. And I'm paraphrasing here, but it basically says, if we could completely clear the president, we would have done so. This is not an exoneration.
That being said, what they do is they walk through many different instances - for example, Trump pressuring James Comey to let this thing with Michael Flynn go; Trump's decision to fire James Comey; Trump repeatedly pressuring Attorney General Jeff Sessions to un-recuse himself and end the investigation. It lays out example after example after example of President Trump being upset about this investigation, being very critical about this investigation and - here's a key thing to me - repeatedly ordering aides, like former White House counsel Don McGahn, to do things like fire - or start the process of firing Robert Mueller and ending the investigation - and those aides repeatedly just ignoring President Trump's orders thinking that they were wrong or possibly illegal.
HOBSON: Well, the House Judiciary Committee chairman, Jerrold Nadler, is speaking today and saying that the Mueller investigation report outlines, quote, "disturbing evidence that President Trump engaged in obstruction of justice and other misconduct." Scott, what do you think is likely to happen next as we wait to hear from senior members of Congress on this?
DETROW: Yeah. And we should say before we talk about that, there's repeated sections in this report where Mueller and his team say, you know, we do think President Trump did have a right to do this. We did not find evidence that showed that there was a corrupt intent and repeatedly referencing the fact that there was no underlying collusion crime in terms of coordinating with Russian actors as part of this complicated picture.
But yeah, here's what you could expect going forward from Jerrold Nadler and other House Democrats. There's been - I believe they just issued a subpoena for the full report and underlying evidence, not the redacted...
HOBSON: Unredacted version, right.
DETROW: Yeah. So that process is in the works. And Nadler had promised that that would happen before the report was released. You're also seeing an increased push from the judiciary committee, from the House Intelligence Committee, as well, to have Robert Mueller testify - to have Robert Mueller speak for himself rather than through Attorney General Barr. We're not sure how that's going to play out. But Barr said to our own Carrie Johnson today at that press conference, he would have no problem with Robert Mueller testifying. So I think those are the next two steps going forward. But that big step hanging out there, House Democrats initiating the process of drafting articles of impeachment related to obstruction of justice, I still think that's incredibly unlikely. Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, had been very hesitant to do that. And I don't think there's anything right now in this report that really would change her mind.
YOUNG: Scott Detrow, thank you.
DETROW: Sure thing.
YOUNG: Let's turn now to Marisa Maleck, a senior associate at the law firm King & Spalding in Washington, D.C., former clerk to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and a member of a group of conservative lawyers speaking out against what they've seen as President Trump's betrayal of legal norms.
And Marisa, we've been speaking with Republicans today, including Liz Harrington, who's the RNC spokesperson. And she says move on. This is complete victory for the president; this was a witch hunt. We should now investigate how this all got started. You say what?
MARISA MALECK: I say I don't think they read the report (laughter). What was surprising about President Trump's comments toward the Wounded Warriors - the no collusion, no obstruction - that's actually not what the report says on either side. It does say, with respect to the collusion, there is no such thing as collusion, the concept, as a legal concept. And what, in fact, was investigated was conspiracy.
And what I found very interesting about the report was an allegation - or there were evidence that there were campaign officials - there were administrative officials that had actually deleted emails. And so there was just a lack of evidence, but there was not an exoneration on the Russian interference aspect. And then with respect to obstruction, there certainly was no exoneration with respect to obstruction. And we just heard various examples being spelled about about how the president did, in fact, try to obstruct justice. And what I found most compelling was the reason he didn't succeed is that the people in his administration just ignored his orders.
HOBSON: So then why do you think, Marisa, that Mueller did not recommend any charges here, did not say that anything rose to the level of a crime given all of the evidence that he lays out of contacts between Russian actors and members of the Trump campaign trying to get dirt on a political opponent - and also in terms of obstruction of justice and when the president - and it was very clear in this report the president didn't want this investigation to go on and, as you say, he wanted people fired and he was just turned down?
MALECK: Right. With respect to the - I refuse to call it collusion because that's not a legal concept (laughter)
HOBSON: Because it's the wrong word to use, you're saying.
MALECK: Exactly. It's coordination.
YOUNG: Well, that's what the report says. That's what the report report says, yeah.
MALECK: The report says over and over again - we're not looking at collusion; we're looking at coordination. It doesn't exist. With respect to that, there was no evidence that they found that would've been sufficient to indict him. With respect to obstruction, there's a - it's a constitutional issue. The Office of Legal Counsel has a memo, I think from the 2000s, that says...
HOBSON: You can't indict a sitting president.
MALECK: ...You can't indict a sitting president. Right. And that's exactly why, you know, you have Mueller, who's a member of the Justice Department. He's following Justice Department regulations on that matter. And that is why, I think, he ultimately leaves that decision to Congress.
HOBSON: But it doesn't say that about a member of the president's family. And what about Donald Trump Jr.? In this, he's clearly in contact, based on the Mueller report, with people from WikiLeaks.
MALECK: Sure. I think that in terms of conspiracy, which was, you know, the way the report kind of phrased it is - were they really working with Russia to interfere with the election? The evidence, you know, didn't rise quite at that level to support a recommendation. You know, I do think, with respect to this - the Russia interference aspect, what's more interesting about that is - and something that not a lot of people are talking about is it was coordinated by the Russian government itself.
YOUNG: Yeah. With that in mind, Marisa, again, somebody who clerked with the very conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, we just heard our friend John Brabender, the Republican strategist, say move on. You know, there's been clarity here that there was no - the thing that doesn't exist - collusion - but you know, no obstruction. And if we now further investigate, in effect - and I'm paraphrasing John - but - the Russians have won. You know, that this is they want - this is what they wanted - chaos - and they've succeeded. You say what?
MALECK: I say if we don't continue to press forward, the Russians win. The Russians...
YOUNG: You mean with an investigation?
MALECK: Exactly. The Russians wanted the president to be president. The - co-ordinate (ph) - or the Russian scope of the investigation, part of this investigation made that very clear. There were - in fact, what I found - another part - very interesting about the report was that the president had changed the platform of the Republican Party with respect to arming Ukraine. So...
YOUNG: This is Paul Manafort at the convention insinuating into the platform language about, you know, supporting the Russian-backed president.
MALECK: Exactly. And I think, you know, with respect to the obstruction, far less obstruction by President Clinton led to him getting in trouble. You know, it was the same sort of evidence. It was putting pressure on his people in his White House to lie about the affair. It's the same thing here.
HOBSON: That is Marisa Maleck, a senior associate at the law firm King & Spalding in Washington. Marisa, thank you.
MALECK: Thank you.
HOBSON: And stay with us because there is much more ahead as we continue to dig in to the Mueller report - more than 400 pages, some of it redacted. But we're looking into it and bringing that news to you and analysis right here on Special Coverage from NPR News.
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HOBSON: This is Special Coverage of the release of the Mueller report from NPR News. I'm Jeremy Hobson along with Robin Young. And we are joined now by NPR's senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving as we dig through the Mueller report and try to make sense of it, see what's new in there that we didn't know from the four-page description of the report that was released not too long ago by Attorney General William Barr. Ron, first of all, let's just bring people up to date on what the key takeaways are so far from the Mueller report.
ELVING: The first volume of the Mueller report is summed up by the attorney general as saying that while there were many, many contacts and a good deal of back-and-forth between the Trump campaign and Russians, who were incidentally - without question - attempting to influence the 2016 American presidential election against Hillary Clinton and in favor of Donald Trump. That is no longer in dispute. Everyone involved in this is positing that as a starting point.
Then with all of these contacts, the question becomes - and the definition becomes - is there a criminal conspiracy that could be proven to be intentional beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law? And Attorney General Barr has said no. And really, that is based on a conclusion that seems to be Robert Mueller's conclusion. That's the first part.
HOBSON: You mean, a conspiracy between people in the Trump campaign - or Americans - and these people in Russia that we - that you just said were trying to influence the campaign in favor of President Trump?
ELVING: And they are, in fact, governmental agents from Russia - people from the military, people from the GRU, people associated with Vladimir Putin. So all right. That's established. But we don't feel like we can go into a courtroom and prove beyond a reasonable doubt that this was intentional conspiracy to actually do anything that was known to be against the law by the people who were doing it, people such as Donald Trump Jr.
That's the first volume, and that is probably not going to be entirely satisfactory to a lot of people. But it does seem to be settled.
The other volume is about obstruction of justice. And that seems to be anything but settled because Robert Mueller clearly said we were, quote, "unable to conclude that no criminal conduct occurred," unquote. And then he lays out many occasions in which the president appears to be at least attempting to put an end to the Mueller investigation, thereby, of course, obstructing justice. And that included ordering his White House counsel to fire Robert Mueller, which the White House counsel, a fellow by the name of Don McGahn, refused to do. Then the president told Don McGahn to deny to news sources that any of that had occurred. Don McGahn also refused to do that.
So Robert Mueller lays all that out. So we see what the president's behavior was all about and the way he was relating to this probe. But then in the end, he says we are unable to conclude that this is for certain obstruction of justice because in the end, the probe went forward. And justice was not obstructed thanks to the agency of some of the people around Donald Trump who restrained him.
YOUNG: As we've been hearing today from legal experts, the president was helped by the people around him who kept him from stepping over that line and obstructing. And trying to obstruct is not what the investigation was looking for. But Ron, so many questions going into this - I'm wondering if you have the answer to one. Again, we know now that there's no such thing as collusion. The - Mueller says straight out, I'm not looking for that; it doesn't exist.
But there are so many contacts with Russians that have such a whiff of inappropriateness. Do we know why the president and his team would lie so much about so many of them? The tower deal in Moscow, which went on way beyond when the president and his lawyer said; the meeting in Trump Tower, which was not about adoption. It was about getting dirt on Hillary Clinton. Why would they lie about it?
ELVING: They would lie about it, one supposes, because it was, at that point, becoming clear to them that it might be portrayed as a criminal conspiracy. If, in fact, thefts had occurred and emails had been purloined by various actors, including perhaps WikiLeaks and others, and they were in some sense involved in encouraging that, that might look like illegal activity. And they might at the very least take a certain bruise for it in the news.
Now, the Mueller report explicitly says that members of the Trump campaign expected to benefit from Russia's illegal acts.
YOUNG: Those are the words.
YOUNG: Those are the words.
ELVING: Those are the words. Those are the words. And yet, it says, we don't see that as necessarily being proof beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. So the public will have to, one hopes, read the report or summaries of the report or see some of these snippets from the report and reach its own conclusions about what the Trump campaign was up to and what they were willing to do in pursuit of a win in 2016.
HOBSON: Ron, just to give our listeners a sense of what you're doing as you're reading through this report, do you have it actually printed out there, 448 pages' worth, or are you reading it on the screen?
ELVING: (Laughter) No, we're giving the trees a break and reading it on screen.
HOBSON: Good. Good, or at least double-sided pages...
ELVING: It's more searchable.
HOBSON: ...If we're going to do that. That's NPR's senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving joining us as we look through the Mueller report, which has just been out for a few hours now. Robin, key line - and to your point - this is the actual line from the Mueller report: in evaluating whether evidence about collective action of multiple individuals constituted a crime, we applied the framework of conspiracy law, not the concept of collusion. The president, of course, has been saying no collusion, but that's not what they were...
HOBSON: ...Looking at in this report.
YOUNG: We are going to continue, of course, on NPR to digest all of this. Our coverage of the release of the Mueller report continues throughout the day on NPR News. For now, I'm Robin Young.
HOBSON: I'm Jeremy Hobson. This is Special Coverage of the Mueller report from NPR News.
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This is Special Coverage of the Mueller report from HERE & NOW and NPR News. I'm Jeremy Hobson.
I'm Robin Young. The Mueller report is out. It says the special counsel's investigation found no criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russians interfering with the 2016 election. The report also says the Mueller team could not rule out obstruction of justice by President Trump or firmly establish it.
HOBSON: The report describes Trump as fearful for his presidency because of the investigation. But today, the president is celebrating its findings. He tweeted, no collusion, no obstruction. Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats are demanding that special counsel Robert Mueller testify before Congress. NPR's political team continues to dig into the report. We're going to hear from that team and get historical perspective as well.
YOUNG: It's all coming up on Special Coverage of the Mueller report from NPR News.
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HOBSON: This is Special Coverage of the Mueller report from HERE & NOW and NPR News. I'm Jeremy Hobson.
YOUNG: I'm Robin Young. Special counsel Robert Mueller's report is out nearly two years after he was appointed to look into Russian interference in the 2016 election and then began looking into possible Trump campaign connections to that. Many of you may be about - oh, what? - three hours into your reading of this 440-or-so-page report. President Trump is celebrating what he said was the conclusion - no collusion, no obstruction. But the report has 100 pages of contacts between his associates and Russians. And Mueller did not conclude no obstruction or that there was obstruction.
NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson joins us now. And Carrie, I know you've been poring through this. Just elaborate there for people maybe who are just tuning in. What does the report say about the president obstructing the investigation into his campaign's connections with Russia?
LUCAS: The special counsel investigation examined numerous episodes in which President Trump may have attempted to obstruct justice - not just the firing of FBI director Jim Comey, but his constant berating of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, his attempts to fire the special counsel Robert Mueller himself, and the president's mistreatment of his former White House counsel, Don McGahn, for refusing to follow orders like trying to get Sessions and Mueller bounced from this investigation.
Ultimately, the special counsel concluded, if we had confidence after our thorough investigation that the president clearly did not obstruct justice, we'd say that. But we cannot say that at this time. They obtained a lot of evidence from witnesses and documents. And the report doesn't conclude President Trump committed a crime. But it also does not exonerate him. They seem to be throwing the ball to Congress, where Congress and the House Judiciary Committee may be able to investigate further and follow up on these facts.
YOUNG: And yet, before Congress could catch that ball, you have Attorney General William Barr drawing up his summation. And we remember, Carrie, when members of Mueller's team came forward and disagreed. They were anonymous. But they disagreed with his characterization. They said, we had our own summaries.
Is there a sense that - and you are the justice correspondent - is there a sense that William Barr is part of shading this report and what Mueller really meant?
LUCAS: Well, in his own words today, the attorney general told reporters in a news conference that the Justice Department doesn't just investigate a whole bunch of stuff and then throw out the facts for public consumption for everyone to see and decide for themselves. The Justice Department makes decisions - charge or no charge. And as the head of the Justice Department, he made a decision - no charge for obstructing justice for President Trump.
That said, Congress has a different set of standards and evaluations. Under impeachment, it's high crimes and misdemeanors. And Congress may yet decide to pick up that ball and run with it. The attorney general's actions, however, have been very, very harshly criticized by senior Democrats in Congress, some of whom accuse him of basically enabling a crisis in confidence in the Justice Department by downplaying the facts to favor President Trump.
YOUNG: Well, Carrie, you were at the press conference this morning with William Barr. And you did ask him if, you know, should the Democrats then maybe get the unfiltered view of Robert Mueller and not your view? Let's listen.
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LUCAS: Senior Democrats in Congress have asked for Robert Mueller himself to testify. Robert Mueller remains a Justice Department employee as of this moment. Will you permit him to testify publicly to Congress?
ELVING: I have no objection to Bob Mueller personally testifying.
YOUNG: So he answered he'd have no objections. What do you think?
LUCAS: Well, already, the House Intelligence Committee and the House Judiciary Committee have asked for Robert Mueller to appear and testify in the month of May. We're waiting to hear back on whether that will actually happen. Of course, the attorney general, Bill Barr, is already scheduled to testify in the House and Senate right at the beginning of the month, May 1 and May 2.
It seems, at this point, that Democrats are going to be unsatisfied until they hear the words of Robert Mueller, the special counsel himself, on many of these questions. And of course, Democrats are going to continue to press for the entire unredacted report and the underlying documents in this matter.
HOBSON: Carrie, do you get the sense from looking at this and looking at the conclusions that the special counsel made that Robert Mueller didn't want to put himself and that office in a position of coming to the conclusion that the president had committed a crime, that he would prefer to pass it to Congress and say, here's all the evidence. I'm not going to do it, but you can do it if you want to.
LUCAS: Listen, I'm waiting to hear from the man himself. What he did say in this report is that the Justice Department guidance, which is currently operative, is that a sitting president may not be charged with a federal crime. That's because the Supreme Court and others have determined it would be too much for the president to manage the country and manage a criminal defense at the same time.
But that goes out the window when a president leaves office. A president is eligible to be indicted if and when he or she leaves office if they have committed a crime. And while the president is in office, he or she is eligible for impeachment, which is the political solution to this problem. It's not clear to me which of these, if any, Robert Mueller, the special counsel, wants to see happen. That's an open question I and many people on Capitol Hill must have for him at this moment.
YOUNG: Talk for a minute about the connections between the campaign and the Russians. The report is pretty damning. Russian contacts consisted of business connections, offers of assistance to the campaign, invitations for campaign officials and representatives of the Russian government to meet, policy positions seeking improved U.S.-Russia relations. We also know that there was a lot of obfuscating about whether or not those things happened. At the beginning of the report, Mueller is very clear. This isn't about collusion. There is no such legal thing.
Explain to people, Carrie, what you're finding out so far for people asking, well, why is that legal not to have Russians approach you and not tell the FBI? Why is that legal to, you know, lie about contacts that you had while there's an investigation going on? Why isn't that chargeable?
LUCAS: Here's the bottom line. The investigation concluded the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election in sweeping and systematic fashion. Russian diplomats, Russian business executives, the director of Russia's sovereign wealth fund, they were all reaching out in ways and means to different associates and affiliates of the Trump campaign, other Americans, Trump family members and others.
And even though the Russian government wanted to benefit from a Trump presidency and actually worked to make that happen, and even though the campaign wanted to benefit from some of this information that got stolen from Democratic email accounts and released, the investigation did not establish members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government. And that's what you have to prove in order to bring a case in a federal criminal court in the United States of America.
That's a high bar. And they - the investigators concluded they just could not get there. That said, there are tantalizing hints here. Some witnesses apparently told special counsel investigators that President Trump took an interest in WikiLeaks and what it was releasing in the course of the campaign and may have been kept abreast of that. President Trump, of course, denies that. There are more facts to come out when more of this report comes out.
HOBSON: That is NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thank you.
And we're going to bring back in Julian Zelizer, who is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He's also been looking through this report and responding to what he's seeing in it. Julian, I just want to read you a line here about obstruction. This is what the report says on the question of whether President Trump obstructed the investigation.
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 are unable to reach that judgment.
That's what they say on obstruction. What are you seeing as you've been digging more into the report and thinking about what's in it?
RANGAPPA: Well, that's a very relevant part of the finding. We have to remember obstruction was at the heart of the Nixon impeachment, of the Clinton impeachment. So it's a serious charge. Mueller did find many instances where the president was trying to stop this investigation or to stifle the investigation. And there's a lot of evidence in there not just that he did it, but how he did it.
And you add that to what he did in public, and I think there's a lot of questions that Congress has to answer. Mueller did not reach a conclusion. And he said he couldn't. That doesn't mean he's exonerated. It means it's an open question.
YOUNG: And pull out another - you've been reading along with everybody - can you pull out another instance that's jumped out at you?
RANGAPPA: Well, in the obstruction case, the event with Don McGahn where he essentially wouldn't go along...
YOUNG: The White House counsel, yeah.
RANGAPPA: The White House counsel wouldn't go along with the president wanting to go through with the firing. I believe it's in June 2017. That was reported on. Again, just because he was unable to do it or the counsel wouldn't go through with it doesn't mean he's not trying to stop the investigation. And I think that's a pretty powerful moment to get into the mindset of where the president was with this.
HOBSON: You know, there's one aspect to this that we haven't talked about yet, Julian, as we've been digging through this report, and that is the issue of pardons, which come up in here and conversations that Paul Manafort, the former campaign chairman for the Trump campaign who's now in jail, had with people on the Trump team about getting a pardon and that he seemed to indicate that he thought he had the president's commitment that he would be pardoned, or he'd be taken care of, I think was the words that were used.
RANGAPPA: That's something else we'll want to hear more of. That's obviously a vital form of presidential power. It's one of the biggest that a president has. And the ways in which that connects to the investigation, a carrot, you know, and not just a stick in how the president goes about trying to stop this I think is another area that Congress really needs to get more information about.
HOBSON: Actually, here's the line just so people can hear it. In January 2018, Manafort told Gates that he had talked to the president's personal counsel and they were, quote, "going to take care of us." Manafort told Gates it was so - it was stupid to plead, saying he'd been in touch with the president, personal counsel and repeating that they should sit tight and will be taken care of.
YOUNG: Well, Manafort is in jail.
HOBSON: Manafort is in jail, that's right. And we'll continue to look through this report - it's 448 pages long - with Julian Zelizer and others. And this is Special Coverage from NPR News.
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HOBSON: This is Special Coverage of the release of the Mueller report from NPR News. I'm Jeremy Hobson along with Robin Young. And we're getting reaction to the Mueller report, which just came out a few hours ago. And let's bring in Congressman Ro Khanna, who's a Democrat of California. He's also on the Oversight and Reform Committee. Congressman, welcome. And what's your first reaction to what you're seeing in the Mueller report?
ZELIZER: My first reaction is how appalling the Russian interference has been. There are detailed reports and conclusions of the GRU hacking not just into Hillary Clinton's campaign, but Mueller finds that they tried to hack into county elections. They tried to hack into other secretary of states. And it's deeply concerning that our nation was so vulnerable to that interference.
And second, there is huge evidence of their misinformation campaign. And Mueller even concludes that individuals, including Trump himself, were retweeting Russian agents' information. Now, he does - he says that the president didn't do it intentionally, but unwittingly was retweeting Russian propaganda. So my major concern is the interference and what we're going to do to make sure it never happens again.
HOBSON: Do you think there's anything in here that would lead you or other Democrats to move forward with impeachment proceedings?
ZELIZER: I think we need to first hear from Bob Mueller himself. It's clear that Bill Barr misrepresented the report. Bob Mueller, on Page 220 of the report, which I encourage your listeners to read for themselves, concludes that it is Congress that should make a determination about whether there was obstruction of justice.
Mueller goes through all the reasons that the president may have immunity from prosecution. And he says he rejects those arguments. He says, no, this is a decision that Congress should make. He refuses to make that decision because he believes it's not his role, that it's Congress's role. So we need to hear from Mueller. And then we need to have a debate in the Judiciary Committee and in Congress going through the evidence about what took place and whether further action is warranted.
YOUNG: And Congressman, the language of the report was, if we had confidence that the Trump campaign did not commit obstruction, we would so state. And they don't state that because they don't have that confidence. And yet, the sort of PR war, if you will - and, you know, forgive me, because as you said, your main concern is how much Russian interference there was. But there's also, you know, a 2020 election coming up and a PR war, and a - who gets the narrative first? And, you know, Attorney General Barr and the president are labeling this as no collusion, no obstruction.
How do you, as Democrats, get out from under that because that right now, you know, thanks to Barr's 4-page letter and his press conference this morning, that is the tweet on this report?
ZELIZER: I agree with you. It was a very cynical strategy. And Bill Barr, who as you know, covered up for Iran Contra and recommended the famous pardons to George Bush Sr. back in the 1990s is now covering up for another president. And he has intentionally misled the American public. He's probably the most culpable of anyone in this story.
But what we need to do is get people to focus on the report themselves. And I think what will change the narrative is when the American people hear from Bob Mueller. There is not anyone in this country in my view - any reasonable person - who doesn't trust the integrity of Bob Mueller. And when Bob Mueller goes through in detail how systematic the attempt was of the Russians to interfere in our election, to hack the accounts of not just, as I said, Hillary Clinton, but senior administration officials, former secretaries of state, when he details how Americans were unwittingly retweeting Russian agents, I think this country is going to be horrified. And they're going to say that something needs to be done. And they're probably not going to approve of a lot of the Trump campaign tactics, which technically may not have violated the law, but certainly, as Mueller says, they had an expectation that they were going to benefit from these stolen emails. And Russia clearly, according to Mueller, wanted Trump to win.
YOUNG: Congressman Ro Khanna, the Democrat from California, thanks for your response today, too. Did you finish the whole thing - the whole Mueller report?
HOBSON: (Laughter) That'd be fast reading.
ZELIZER: Did I...
YOUNG: Did you read the whole thing?
ZELIZER: I didn't read the whole - I haven't read the whole thing. But I have read some of the critical excerpts of the report. And those excerpts are far more illuminating than the 4-page letter. I...
YOUNG: Real brief.
ZELIZER: That Barr summarized.
YOUNG: Yeah. Well, back to reading. And thank you so much.
ZELIZER: Thank you. Thanks very much.
HOBSON: OK, let's bring in Alice Stewart, Republican strategist, and Bill Press, radio host and former chairman of the California Democratic Party.
BARR: Hey, guys.
HOBSON: Welcome to both of you. And you've been looking into this as well as we all have over the last few hours. Bill, tell me what are your thoughts on what you're hearing, what you're seeing in the Mueller report?
BARR: First, I admit, too, that I've not read all 448 pages. I'm looking forward to Easter weekend.
SNELL: Me, as well.
BARR: So - but I have to say, I think - my takeaway is anybody who says this is a complete exoneration of the president is just kidding themselves. I mean, what we learned from this report is yes, there was collusion. There were a lot of contacts with the Russians, just not enough to make up a criminal conspiracy. And then yes, there were 10 different cases on which the president of the United States tried to obstruct justice. And the fact that he failed because others did not carry out his orders hardly gives him a clean slate.
I think it's a very shocking report. And I think it's going to have a lot of repercussions. If you say that because it didn't find any criminal conduct, then Donald Trump is off the hook, then I repeat, you know, I'm not a crook. Is that our new standard?
YOUNG: Well, Alice...
SNELL: Well, actually, it does say that. Actually, it does say that. The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities. I'm not sure how much more...
BARR: Didn't say they didn't collude, though.
SNELL: ...Clear they can be than that.
BARR: There were a lot of meetings, Alice, which they detail - a lot of meetings with the Russians.
SNELL: There's a lot of information to chew on here. But at the end of the day, there - they did not find any evidence to bring forth any kind of charges.
YOUNG: Can I say, Alice - did - would you say they didn't find enough evidence? I mean, are you comfortable with the, you know, Paul Manafort meeting and giving polling data to a Russian far more than we knew or Donald Trump Jr., you know, getting missives from WikiLeaks saying, would you please tweet out our...
HOBSON: Retweet this.
YOUNG: ...Retweet our stuff and we know it was Russian-hack material? Is that - you can't be comfortable with that.
SNELL: Look. A lot of what happened there at Trump Tower was very ill-advised. It was certainly not something that an experienced person would do. It was unethical in many regards, but it was not illegal. And yes, has this been investigated, two years, $35 million later? Yes.
I think all of the American people can take comfort in knowing that a full probe of the main concern that Bill Barr pointed out today was Russian interference in our election and any possible connection with the Trump campaign has been fully vetted, fully investigated, and now it's time to put it to bed and move ahead.
HOBSON: You know...
BARR: Again, I have to just say, if I can. I think we hurt ourselves and we do not do ourselves justice if we sink to the level of criminal conduct only. There's a standard about what's right and what's wrong that we Americans believe in.
Donald Trump, when he learned about the June 9 meeting at Trump Tower, he said, let's lie about it. Let's say it was about - primarily about adoption. Now, that wasn't criminal, but that was wrong. That was wrong. And let's just say that it was wrong. This is a level of presidential conduct detailed which I think is abhorrent and unacceptable to the American people.
SNELL: Well, the - and that's the question. This does not meet the standard of legal - moving forward in terms of legal charges. But politically, will this have an impact on the president? That's for the people to decide.
HOBSON: Well, I wonder, actually, do you think that this is going to be one of those moments when the president's approval rating either goes up or goes down with the voters because of what they're seeing and what they're hearing about this Mueller report, Alice - or Bill, yeah?
BARR: I'd have to say, just - I have to - just jumping in. I don't think it will make any difference. We haven't seen anything in the last two years make any difference in Donald Trump's standing with his base. I say that maybe as a Democrat, reluctantly, but kind of...
HOBSON: You don't think it will have that much of an impact.
BARR: ...Looking at reality.
HOBSON: Alice, what do you think?
SNELL: His base has never believed these allegations against him because he has been clear and - crystal clear from day one, no collusion, no coordination, he's done nothing wrong. And they have believed that. No matter what they have seen out there in the media, they stand by the president and they believe him. This just further goes on to exonerate the president.
And what he did was very smart in regards to how you handle a communications strategy. You get out first and you shape the story and you get out there often. Whether it's true or not, that's what you do. He got out there first. He defined the story, and now he owns it.
YOUNG: Alice, just - you worked the 2016 campaign for Ted Cruz. And one of the things we're seeing - Jeremy found a detail about the GRU - the Russian intelligence?
HOBSON: Yeah, they actually searched for terms including Hillary, DNC, Cruz and Trump.
YOUNG: So they were - and - this so the Russians were undermining your candidate and the Trump campaign - unwittingly, in many cases - but was gleefully, according to the Mueller report, knowing that they were interacting with Russians that were illegally doing things on the campaign.
SNELL: As I said, it was very ill-advised. It was certainly not something that any experienced campaign person would do.
YOUNG: Make you mad?
SNELL: It makes me - it made me furious at the time, and it certainly still is frustrating. But you have to consider - and I'm not condoning it at all, and certainly they have learned a lesson. But you have to realize, this president's campaign was a grassroots campaign. It was an inside-the-Beltway, swampy-led organization, and that's the kind of people that were working on that campaign.
But they have learned an important lesson as to what to do moving forward. And as frustrating as it was, all Americans can take comfort in knowing that there wasn't anything illegal.
HOBSON: Always great to hear the views of both of you. Alice Stewart, Republican strategist. Bill Press, a Democrat. Thanks to both of you.
BARR: Thank you. Thank you both.
SNELL: Thank you.
HOBSON: And stay with us. Much more ahead on Special Coverage of the Mueller report from NPR News.
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YOUNG: This is Special Coverage of the Mueller report from NPR News, as we digest the 400-plus page report that was released several hours ago on this day. And we already have a national debate along the lines that we've been hearing leading up to the report.
The president and his supporters and many Republicans crowing the report showed no collusion, no obstruction. Critics of the president saying that, in fact, the report shows that, as Mueller wrote, if we had confidence that the Trump campaign did not attempt to obstruct, we would so state. They did not state that. And there's also a hundred pages of interaction between Trump campaign associates and Russians.
Let's bring in Kelsey Snell, NPR congressional reporter. Kelsey, what are you hearing, the latest from leaders of both parties?
DETROW: You know, one of the things that I think is really notable of the reaction so far from Democrats, at least, is that they say they have evidence and reason to keep investigating President Trump and his associates. One notable turn, I think, that's emerging is the focus on whether Attorney General Barr may have misled Congress in some way with his original summary. I think the statement that really gets to this the most is one that came from - a joint statement from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate. They said the differences are stark between what Attorney General Barr said on obstruction and what special counsel Mueller said on obstruction. Now, I think that really gives us an indication of a new lane Democrats might follow as they go forward looking into the entirety of this Russia investigation of the president.
YOUNG: Is there also a question - I'm not sure we know this yet - about whether Barr also misled Congress? He was asked, was his office communicating with the White House? Had they seen part of this? And we're now having reporting that they did have a heads up on the report - a sense there?
DETROW: Well, I think what we're going to see is that the questions about that are going to persist and will dominate the questions that Democrats ask Barr when he comes up onto Capitol Hill on - at the beginning of May - starting May 1. We expect him to be testifying. And Democrats are already saying that that is something they want explicit answers about.
YOUNG: And what are you hearing from Republicans?
DETROW: Now, Republicans are largely in two camps. One side is saying that they haven't read the report yet and they need more time, and the other group really involves some of the - their biggest leaders who are essentially saying that this vindicates the president.
We have a statement here from Republican leader Kevin McCarthy and a statement from Steve Scalise, the Republican whip who - you know, who are defending the president. Scalise himself says that Democrats owe the American people an apology. He says there was no collusion with Russia and there was no obstruction of justice, and he refers to Democrats going after the president as a smear campaign.
YOUNG: Now, what do we know about how many and which lawmakers will get an unredacted report?
DETROW: We don't know very much other than what Attorney General Barr said in his press conference today, which more or less indicated that it would be select people on committees. He didn't specify which committees, though largely, this has involved the Intelligence Committee and the Judiciary Committee and perhaps the Oversight Committee, which is another group of people who tend to have access to information like this.
YOUNG: Kelsey, do you get the feeling - and you are just digesting this and doing a terrific job paging through everything - but is there a sense that we're exactly where we started yesterday?
DETROW: I had somebody describe this to me as a Rorschach test for how people - where people's political leanings are. And we are really seeing a lot of Republicans saying the same things they were saying before the report came out and Democrats taking the exact same position they had.
YOUNG: Yeah. Kelsey Snell, NPR congressional reporter. Thanks.
DETROW: Thank you.
YOUNG: And we will continue Special Coverage of the Mueller report from NPR News.
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HOBSON: This is Special Coverage of the release of the Mueller report from NPR News. I'm Jeremy Hobson along with Robin Young.
The report's been out for about three hours and 40 minutes. It is slightly redacted, but we have gotten some reaction from a number of people, including Vice President Mike Pence, who said, today's release of the special counsel's report confirms what the president and I have said since day one - there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and there was no obstruction of justice.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer released a statement saying the differences are stark between what Attorney General Barr said on obstruction and what special counsel Mueller said on obstruction. As we continue to review the report, one thing is clear. Barr presented a conclusion that the president did not obstruct justice while Mueller's report appears to undercut that finding.
Susan Davis is NPR congressional correspondent and is with us now and is sort of our what-we-know-right-now correspondent, as well. Sue, you've been looking into this report. Bring us up to date on what we know right now.
TURLEY: Well, I think, obviously, the top-line important thing to remember here is that there are no further criminal indictments coming for anyone in the Trump White House or in that orbit. I think what we - of what we know right now is - what has been most interesting from my vantage point is how the conclusions from Capitol Hill are appearing to be slightly different than the conclusions of the Mueller Report.
Now, while the special counsel did not find cause to go down a path of criminal charges of obstruction, already you are hearing top Democrats, as you alluded to Nancy Pelosi - also new statement out from House Oversight chairman Elijah Cummings, indicating that they believe that the president did at least take acts that could be seen as obstructive. In the words of Elijah Cummings - he accused the president of being guilty of a proliferation of lies and also encouraging other people to lie.
The provocative nature of their statements I do think is going to reignite the question of, do Democrats believe that there is enough here to merit at least the consideration of further - or the possibility of impeachment proceedings? Now, remember, Democrats have all but taken this off the table. But the reaction to what they're seeing in the statements that - the early initial takes are rather provocative. And I think they are calling for - they want to see the fully unredacted report. Although we should say that the report - the public report is pretty - fairly...
HOBSON: There's not that many redactions.
TURLEY: ...Fully in there. It's not that many redactions.
HOBSON: Right. Right.
TURLEY: You - there's not a sense that we're not really getting what's in this report. Notably, they also want to see the underlying evidence - the testimony and other evidence that Mueller and his team used to draw those conclusions, and that is where we could see Congress try to make hay about the conclusions here.
Now, again, remember, the criminal - legal part of this is over. This chapter is closed. But the orbit of the political is still very much an open question, not just in how Congress reacts, but how does this maybe, potentially, shift the way the public views the president?
YOUNG: Well, in fact, I'm looking at the report - Page 53, to be exact, I have up on the screen. And you see harm to ongoing matter - harm to ongoing matter - big black blocks across information that's been redacted. It's a reminder that there are ongoing matters here.
TURLEY: Absolutely. And I do think there is a broader point here where I think, you know, the White House and senior adviser Kellyanne Conway was out today saying that this is the best day since the president's been in office. They see this as an absolute political victory. At the same time, as I'm reading...
HOBSON: It's kind of surprising, Sue, that somebody would call it the best day since he's been in office when you've got new details in here about connections between his own son Don Jr. and WikiLeaks, trying to get information from Russia...
YOUNG: Hacked information, yeah.
HOBSON: ...Yeah, during the campaign.
TURLEY: But from the bottom line of what this does - they see no collusion, no conspiracy. And I think the White House sees that this does not shake the support for the president within his own party, and to them that is good.
At the same time, as you read this report, if you read it not just through the lens of the legality questions - but it does paint, in many ways, a fairly damning portrait of the president and how he has conducted himself in office and the direction and requests to ask people in his inner circle - to ask people in the intelligence community - to pressure them to weigh in at certain points on - for instance, there's one example where - in the report in which he called the NSA director at the time, Michael Rogers, and asked him to publicly go - come out and defend the president and say there was no connection to Russia.
And the conversation was so unusual to the NSA director and his deputy that was on the call that the two of them wrote a contemporaneous memo about the call and put it in a safe. I mean, those kind of details in this report do speak to the reservation and the suspicion that even members of this administration had about the president.
Now, again, this is not going to be the matter of a criminal inquiry - or it no longer is. But that is the kind of thing that you could see congressional oversight hearings highlighting and drawing to the conduct of the president - the questions of ethical behavior that are in a different realm than the legal.
YOUNG: Yeah. Susan Davis, NPR congressional correspondent.
I want to bring in Julian Zelizer now, the Princeton historian. And Julian, just dovetailing off something Susan just said, this idea that, as we've been seeing, Kellyanne Conway appearing on Fox News just beaming, and the president saying in a public appearance today again and again, no collusion, no obstruction, even though that is not what the report said. Those aren't the words of the report.
But it seems like quite an arc - an astonishing arc, considering that we're also seeing in the report that when the president first was told that Paul - that Mueller was going to be, you know, starting this investigation, the quote in the Mueller report is he slumped in his chair and said, this is the end of my presidency. I'm bleeped. Your thoughts as an historian? It's Shakespearean that somebody would feel that way at the beginning of an investigation and feel this way now.
RANGAPPA: Absolutely. And it is an arc of a story. There clearly is a sense, in the White House, that at least politically, this is a victory. There's a disconnect with a lot of the substance in the report. So it's not clear that the president, if he read through the entire report and digested what's in there, should feel that way. And it's clear, politically, this is not over. It's clear there are many investigations ongoing that spun out of this.
But politically - which is where the president always saw this battle - he feels that he's finally in a good position and they've handled the rollout, frankly, in an effective way to shape a narrative about him being vindicated.
HOBSON: Julian, as an historian, as you look at what we're seeing today, is this day going to be seen as a turning point in President Trump's presidency, as an important day, as just another day, and maybe next week something big will happen and we'll have forgotten all about the Mueller report?
RANGAPPA: Well, the latter will definitely happen because that's how the news works these days. There's so much coming at people. But I don't think this is the turning point. The turning point is what Congress decides to do - what the House Democrats, in particular, decide to do.
Do they take this information and go forward with deeper investigations or possibly impeachment proceedings, or do they decide, we're going to wait for 2-20 (ph) and handle it through the election in terms of what the public thinks of all of this? And that will be the turning point. This was only a step. It was providing information to, really, Congress, not the attorney general. And now we see.
YOUNG: Except the attorney general has framed the narrative. And you have said this - you know, that that's what counts. Who - and so have they successfully written history before you got a chance to?
RANGAPPA: So far, I think they have. They haven't changed the minds of the public. Public opinion is where it was beforehand. But politically, you still see a lot of Democrats are not jumping up and down in terms of saying, we need to move forward with, possibly, impeachment. You're just not hearing that right now. And so that's the way in which the narrative has worked.
And I think the administration - in that respect, they were effective in how they handled this, even if it was not the right thing to do. And it set back the attorney general as a person - I think as an institution, back to where we were in the early 1970s.
YOUNG: Remind us.
RANGAPPA: Well, that was when Nixon was president, and many people thought that the attorney general was just a political tool. The Saturday Night Massacre when the president moved to eliminate a prosecutor - it became a story. Will our justice system be separate from the politics of the White House? And today, you know, I think Barr - Attorney General Barr was just acting as a political arm of the president. So all those efforts to rebuild the reputation went out the window.
HOBSON: To be clear, Julian, the attorney general of the United States is not supposed to be the political arm of the president.
RANGAPPA: No. They're supposed to be focused on the Constitution and the law above everything else. That's vital.
HOBSON: That is Julian Zelizer, professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. We are following all of the analysis and reaction to the Mueller report, which has been out for a few hours now - much more to come right here on Special Coverage from NPR News.
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YOUNG: And we want to welcome you back to Special Coverage of the release of the Mueller report from NPR News. I'm Robin Young along with Jeremy Hobson. And right now we want to bring in someone who was a Trump campaign adviser questioned by Mueller's investigators. Michael Caputo was questioned about a May 2016 meeting he helped broker between Trump ally Roger Stone and a Russian in Florida, Henry Greenberg, who said he had information about Hillary Clinton he wanted to sell them. In another meeting - in that meeting, another person with ties to Ukraine, Alexei Rasin, offered to sell Roger Stone derogatory information on Clinton that he said he'd received while working for her. Michael Caputo, you join us now, and there you are on Page 61 in the Mueller report - the Henry Greenberg paragraphs. What is your sense of the report?
HARRINGTON: It's not great for me though. That's nice, huh? I got that going for me, which is great.
YOUNG: That you're in the report, yes.
HARRINGTON: Yeah. Yeah. But I can tell you, I didn't know what to expect from this report. I see that the script is flipping today. The Democrats are giving up on the collusion narrative and moving full force into obstruction charge that I think that they're going to pursue through the House Judiciary Committee.
This is the bread crumbs that was - that were left by the Mueller investigation for the Democrats to follow. They weren't able to actually charge him with criminal obstruction through their two-year process of investigation. But they have enough, whether it's fact or not, to allow the Democrats to go forward with some kind of delusional series of hearings where they're going to be able to prove the president, in fact, committed obstruction.
YOUNG: Well, Michael, but did - you know, you say this - and of course, the report begins, we keep repeating, with Mueller saying, I am not investigating collusion. There is no such thing - but was looking for more of a conspiracy between campaign aides and Russians. We know Russians were trying very hard to influence the campaign, and many members of the campaign were happily working with them. That's all laid out in the report. In your case, you would set up this meeting. You were trying to broker this information from a Russian - dirt on Hillary Clinton to Roger Stone. How do you think you look?
HARRINGTON: Well, I think what's interesting here is that passage in the report shows you that this is a rather mischievous report. I mean, it's absolutely known as a fact, and it's been written up in contemporaneous media reports, especially in the Washington Post and other places, that this gentleman who approached me was a paid informant for the FBI and that he was an FBI informant for 17 years...
YOUNG: I don't see that in the report.
HARRINGTON: ...A violent Russian criminal who spent 13 years in jail who is in the United States only because of an FBI informant visa waiver. In fact...
YOUNG: I don't see that in the report.
HARRINGTON: I know, isn't that mischievous?
YOUNG: Well, I don't know.
YOUNG: Maybe it wasn't true.
HARRINGTON: ...It's absolutely true. I proved it. I've got all of that online at democratdossier.com. The gentleman who they sent to me, in a federal filing with the federal court in California, documented 17 years of his work as an FBI informant. The FBI didn't think we were going to find that after they sent him to me. But that's curiously missing from this report.
What's also missing are the copies of 14 different FBI informant visa waivers that I have at democratdossier.com that were signed by the FBI for this gentleman, including the name and telephone number of his FBI handler. So if that's public information that's been out there for almost a year, and the Mueller team didn't include it in this report, don't you think that's a bit mischievous?
YOUNG: Well, I think the report was just trying to look at your meeting with him, and it did conclude that they couldn't find evidence of a connection between the outreach that you were doing and Russian interference efforts. I thought you were going to say...
HARRINGTON: Of course they did.
YOUNG: ...I was vindicated.
HARRINGTON: It was the FBI - this gentleman was working for the FBI. They couldn't prove it because the gentleman worked for Comey and McCabe, and that's a fact. There's no arguing against it. It's an absolute and complete truthful statement, and the people at the Mueller team know it. All you got to do is look at democratdossier.com.
It's inconvenient to the narrative. But if that's what the Mueller team did to me in this report - not even saying that the person that they accuse me of brokering a meeting with was an FBI informant - then imagine the other convenient things they forgot throughout the report in order to paint it the way that they did.
HOBSON: That is Michael Caputo, Trump campaign adviser who's in the Mueller report. Thank you so much for joining us.
HARRINGTON: Thank you.
HOBSON: And I wanted just to bring our listeners up to date because, as we've been talking, Jerrold Nadler, who's the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, has been giving a little press conference himself. Now, a couple of headlines out of that - he says that he believes that they will be calling Robert Mueller to testify in the next couple of weeks after Barr comes back on May the 2. And when asked whether it's time to go into impeachment proceedings, he said, it's too early to talk about that. Ron Elving, just in the 30 seconds we have left to wrap up this hour, your thoughts on how the Democrats are responding right now as we speak?
MAK: The Democrats are trying to decide how to respond. It's very hard to imagine that this is the best day in Donald Trump's presidency, as Kellyanne Conway said, when you consider all the details that are in the report. The Democrats want to get a sense of how much the report's guts actually get out to the American people before they decide what to do next.
YOUNG: And we were just hearing from Michael Caputo, in the few seconds we have, you know, claiming that he had been set up by the FBI. The point is, he did try to broker dirt from a Russian on Hillary Clinton to a Trump campaign operative, and that is laid out in that report as well. We are going to keep going on, looking at all these details. Ron Elving, thanks.
MAK: Thank you.
YOUNG: And you're listening to Special Coverage of the Mueller report from NPR News.
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YOUNG: This is Special Coverage of the Mueller report from HERE & NOW at NPR News. I'm Robin Young.
HOBSON: I'm Jeremy Hobson. The report found no criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 election. It also says the Mueller team couldn't rule out obstruction of justice by President Trump or firmly establish it happened.
YOUNG: But the president tweeted, no collusion, no obstruction. And the Republican National Committee calls the report a complete exoneration of the president. Democrats are calling for the release of the full report without redactions. They also want special counsel Robert Mueller to testify before Congress.
HOBSON: NPR reporters continue to dig into the 448-page report. We'll find out more about what's in it and what's not. We'll also get reaction from Congress and the White House as Special Coverage of the release of the Mueller report continues from NPR News.
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HOBSON: This is Special Coverage of the Mueller report from HERE & NOW at NPR News. I'm Jeremy Hobson.
YOUNG: I'm Robin Young. And we've been digesting special counsel Robert Mueller's report on possible connections between Russian interference in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign and whether there was obstruction on the part of the Trump campaign of his investigation. There are plenty of examples of interaction between the campaign and Russians, but no conspiracy. And Mueller and his team could not either conclude there was obstruction or rule it out. One of the many people helping us dig through the 448-page report is NPR national security editor Phil Ewing. Hi, Phil.
LITHWICK: Hi, Robin.
YOUNG: And I want to take a second because we've been covering this as the report came out hours ago and continuously covering it. And we just heard from Democratic Congressman Jerry Nadler, chair of the House Judiciary Committee. Now, William Barr, the attorney general, concluded initially in his four-page report and again this morning at a press conference, there was no conclusion or obstruction...
HOBSON: No collusion or obstruction (laughter).
YOUNG: ...Collusion - I'm sorry (laughter) - or obstruction. And the president is understandably crowing that, as is the White House. But here is Nadler on Attorney General William Barr's characterization.
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RASCOE: Barr's words and actions suggest he has been disingenuous and misleading in saying the president is clear of wrongdoing. Attorney General Barr's letter summarizing the report from March 24 quoted the special counsel report, quote, "while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him." He ignored what is in the Mueller report just two sentences before, where the special counsel concluded that, 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."
YOUNG: Phil Ewing, take that up.
LITHWICK: The Democrats' position on this has been quite clear all along. They accuse the attorney general, Mr. Barr, of being an attorney for the president as opposed to an attorney for the United States. They say his job is to be an independent arbiter, to be the chief law enforcement officer for the land and not take these statements that you heard the chairman, Jerry Nadler, talk about there and spin them in a way, according to Democrats, that make this report seem better for the president than it actually is.
Elsewhere in that press conference, the chairman, Congressman Nadler, says he wants to hear from the attorney general, Bill Barr, next month. And he also wants to hear from the special counsel, Robert Mueller. Barr said in his press conference at the Justice Department this morning that he doesn't objected to Mueller testifying before Congress. And although no hearing is scheduled right now, that's going to be quite an event in Washington to have the special counsel maybe about a month from now before the TV cameras in an open hearing before Jerry Nadler's House Judiciary Committee.
HOBSON: Phil, the accusation at the very beginning of this, if we just zoom out, was basically that the Russians wanted President Trump to win - they tried to help President Trump win - that people on the Trump campaign allowed the Russians to help them or even assisted the Russians in helping them and that, therefore, the election was illegitimate because President Trump was winning with the help of a foreign power. Now, what do we know at this point about all of those things and what Mueller has determined is true or not true?
LITHWICK: Well, let's just take them in turn. The first couple of points you made have been verified not only by this report, but by other documents and criminal charges offered by the special counsel's office before today. There was interference by the Russians. It did involve social media agitation on Facebook and Twitter in the attempt to pit Americans against each other and amplify controversy within the United States. It did involve cyberattacks that stole data from targets inside the United States. That material was later released publicly to try to embarrass people and disrupt the election.
There were other efforts, some of which we learned a little bit more about. And there really were contacts between the Trump campaign and these Russians. And I'm just going to read a passage to you from the report today. Those links included Russians' offers of assistance to the campaign. In some instances, the campaign was receptive to the offer, while in other instances the campaign officials shied away.
Ultimately, this investigation did not establish the campaign coordinated or conspired with the Russian government. So there were contacts. There were the meetings and other communications we've talked about so many times. But for the Justice Department, those didn't constitute a breach of the law.
HOBSON: But why would you have contacts with these Russians if there was no reason for them?
YOUNG: And why would you say you didn't?
HOBSON: And why would you then later say that you didn't have contacts with the Russians?
LITHWICK: That speaks to the point that Democrats have been making about this all along, which is that, for as much as this story might have been about a conspiracy between the president, his campaign and this foreign government, it also, for them, is about allegedly false statements given by the president and his deputies about those events that took place in 2016 and efforts since the president was inaugurated to try to frustrate the investigation of the first couple of points, Jeremy, that you made a moment ago. The case, according to Bill Barr and according to the president is pretty clear, as we've heard all day. There was no obstruction, as well as no collusion. Mueller's report is not as clear cut. It goes at great length, many hundreds of pages about events that took place, about the questions of law this raises. And that's why this has been a little bit of a murkier conclusion than maybe the White House would have liked. Although ultimately, as we heard from the attorney general, there aren't going to be any criminal charges against the president, which for them politically, obviously, is a win.
YOUNG: And just to follow up for those who might be just tuning in, the report lays out 10 instances where the president might have tried to obstruct justice, but the people around him kind of protected him from himself.
LITHWICK: That's right. Volume 2 of this report is a fascinating document. It adds all kinds of texture and detail and takes you behind the scenes of events that we saw play out in real time through events or in the headlines and explains what was taking place behind the scenes. For example, after the special counsel was appointed, according to this report, the president asked the White House counsel Don McGahn to get in touch with the Justice Department and say Mueller is conflicted. We had this dispute over - among other things - the golf course that Trump owns. And so he can't run this. And McGahn, the White House counsel at the time, didn't agree to do that.
There are other examples of aides to the president getting instructions, getting directives from Trump and just not doing them because they didn't feel it was appropriate. They didn't feel comfortable. In some cases, they tried to get their own deputies and lieutenants to do them. And ultimately, the actions weren't finally taken. And it may be the case when we spend more time with this document and hear in more detail from the attorney general and the special counsel that the failure to take those actions might have been what made this such a difficult call for the Justice Department in terms of actually, if you will, throwing the yellow flag on the football field and declaring that a law was broken.
HOBSON: That's NPR national security editor Phil Ewing, who has been digging through this very long report. And that's what we're trying to do - is bring you the facts of what we know that's in the report. So thank you for doing that, Phil. And I want to bring in Marisa Maleck, who's a senior associate at the law firm King & Spalding in Washington.
But first, I just want to ask Ron Elving, our NPR senior Washington editor and correspondent, a question, which is, if this is a win for the president, if this is a good day for the president as the White House is saying, could it be in the long run the same situation that we saw with the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation? Maybe he got through that. He got his Supreme Court justice. But then a few months later in the elections, the Republicans lost big. Could he be, in the long run, in trouble because this report does have a lot of damning information in it?
MAK: We are a long way from the next reckoning in terms of elections in 2020. But what we do know here is that the most extraordinary compendium of nondisputed information about what goes on in the White House has now been delivered to the public. This is different from Bob Woodward saying these things. This is different from some other journalist or gossip writer. This is a report that the White House itself is touting as a wonderful exoneration. People should read this and ask themselves, if I were being exonerated in this fashion, would I feel good? Would I want everyone to know that this is how I run my life, this is how I ran my campaign, this is how I have conducted the White House as somebody else was investigating my campaign? That's the question, ultimately.
YOUNG: Stay there, Ron. We want to bring in Marisa Maleck, a senior associate at the law firm King & Spalding in Washington, a former clerk to Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. And so, Marisa, you are a Republican. You're a conservative lawyer. Yes, maybe the Mueller report concludes that there - well, not an exoneration of the president - that's the language. They could not find enough information to charge him with obstruction of justice. But as you read these details of how this White House and this campaign worked, your thoughts?
BRABENDER: So I do want to correct one thing, which is the report doesn't say that they don't have enough evidence to convict him of obstruction of justice. In fact, it says the exact opposite of that.
YOUNG: They say that - they say that if they could clear him, they would. But they can't.
BRABENDER: Exactly. And the reason why Mueller ultimately makes a determination, the determination that he can't say either way is because he can't. Under precedent, there is really no precedent for indicting a sitting president. As a member of DOJ, it would have been really infeasible for him to make that recommendation. So I think, you know - and that's why he says sort of Congress needs to make this decision. So I read the report to lay out the case. And it could be, you know, a very good start for articles of impeachment.
YOUNG: You think that. And just what - I guess I'm asking, as a conservative Republican, some have, you know, used the words appalling. I just, you know, what - maybe not rising now - maybe as you say, it might rise to something later - but just paging through.
BRABENDER: I thought - I think the most interesting part of the report basically was the reason why they couldn't conclude that obstruction happened is because the president's aides refused to support him and refused to actually listen when he tried to obstruct justice. And I believe as a Republican, we really ought to have a government that is full of checks and balances. When the president acts in an unlawful manner - and this report seems to strongly suggest and set out a case for proving that - we have an obligation to hold the president accountable.
YOUNG: Marisa Maleck, again, at the law firm King & Spalding, former clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas. Marisa, thank you.
BRABENDER: Thank you so much.
YOUNG: And she will be part of our continuing coverage. We are still getting into the report, and we'll bring more to you on NPR News.
HOBSON: This is Special Coverage of the release of the Mueller report from NPR News. I'm Jeremy Hobson, along with Robin Young. We've been getting reaction to the report. And now let's bring in Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democrat of Florida, member of the House Oversight Committee and also former head of the Democratic National Committee, who resigned back in July of 2016. Congresswoman, welcome, and your reaction first to the Mueller report and what you've seen in it so far.
TRUMP: Well, Jeremy, my reaction is that this is 400-plus pages of dark, deceptive, Nixonian-like behavior by the president and his team. It's clear to me that the report proves that Trump tried to influence the outcome of this investigation. There is ample evidence of obstruction of justice despite what the attorney general said both in his four-page summary designed to manipulate the public's perception of what the report said, as well as in the actual report, even with the heavy redactions. He - Trump clearly accepted Moscow's help. And then he lied or tried to cover up what was a foreign attack that he encouraged. And really, another extremely disturbing thing is that the attorney general, Mr. Barr, is really, at this point, acting as Trump's personal lawyer. He misled the public about Mueller's reasons not to pursue obstruction of justice. And I think he's compromised, essentially functioning as Trump's legal counsel rather than an independent arbiter.
HOBSON: Do you think that Democrats should move forward for impeachment of the president?
TRUMP: I think it's too soon to conclude impeachment proceedings are necessary. I know I'm still reviewing the details of this report. There are an unsettling number of redactions. But Congress has to hear from Mueller. And Chairman Nadler, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has written to Mr. Mueller and asked that he appear before the committee by May 23. And what's very clear to me is that we need to make sure that we get answers to the questions that President Trump refused to answer. When Mueller was - sent written questions, he refused to sit for an interview. He refused follow-up questions. So, you know, for the attorney general today to say that he provided unfettered access and was cooperative is absolutely contradicted by what we see in this report.
HOBSON: Why do you think that if there's so much evidence in the report of contacts between people in the Trump campaign, people in the Trump family...
YOUNG: Hundred pages.
HOBSON: ...And Russians and so much evidence in there of the president trying to end the investigation, even if he was told no by some of his aides, why do you think that Mueller didn't recommend any charges?
TRUMP: Well, I mean, I think it is very clear that the president tried to impede the investigation. For example, the report indicates the president's efforts to influence - this is a quote - "influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful. But that is largely because the persons who surrounded the president declined to carry out his orders or accede to his requests." Essentially, it appears as though the special counsel, Mr. Mueller, said that because of the Justice Department's prohibition of indicting a sitting president that he was leaving it to Congress to more fully investigate the obstruction of justice evidence that is clear in this report and to follow up on that directly because that is what is in Congress's jurisdiction.
HOBSON: But you're saying it's too soon to talk about impeachment right now.
TRUMP: Well, I think the next step is that we need to make sure we have a fully unredacted Mueller report that Congress has an opportunity to review with full transparency and no redactions. And we also need to make sure that we hear from Mr. Mueller and continue the investigations into the evidence that was very specifically laid out by the Mueller report. The president attempted repeatedly to obstruct justice, and that he wasn't - and that he encouraged - certainly, there is evidence in this report that he encouraged Russia's interference with our election.
YOUNG: Congresswoman Schultz, just one last question. You personally were a part of this in many ways. I mean, head of the DNC. The emails were hacked, we know now. This affected you personally. I'm just wondering as you read through it with that in mind, how you are reading that personally but also what you would say to those who would say there is a fatigue here and that the Republicans have already won the narrative making here, maybe because of, you know, William Barr deciding what the conclusion of the report was before the report came out. But the headline is no obstruction, no collusion - so two thoughts there. What's it like to be back in that time and now know how much the Republicans - the Russians - were interfering in the election and that maybe the Democrats have lost the headline from here on out?
TRUMP: Oh, I don't agree with that conclusion at all. And really, whenever I've been asked this question, I - my answer is that this has never been about me. This was unequivocally an attack on our democracy. And it's one where people who encouraged it, who were involved in it or who obstructed justice to prevent people from knowing about it need to be held accountable, including the president of the United States. But most importantly, it needs to - it must never be allowed to happen again. And it is now up to Congress to ensure that.
So we should never be fatigued when it comes to getting to the bottom of an attempt to influence by a foreign adversary the outcome of our presidential election or any election. And we need to make sure that because this clearly - that this report clearly leads to the highest reaches of our government, directly to the president of the United States - which is what that Mueller report shows - Congress must follow up on this to its logical conclusion.
HOBSON: Well, and by the way, I did a search of the report. And the word Wasserman is not in it. So you actually didn't get named in this report at all (laughter). Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, thank you very much for joining us.
TRUMP: Thank you. My pleasure.
YOUNG: And let's bring in Mara Liasson - NPR's Mara Liasson. Mara, just get to it. I would love your first impressions of this report.
MALECK: Well, my first impressions was I guess the headline is good for the president. He feels vindicated. No collusion, no obstruction. But the other reaction I have is how many - how much potentially damaging information there is in this report, including the overarching conclusion that the Russians actually interfered - that's something that Donald Trump still has not consistently accepted - and also how this report vindicated the press. Several times, the Mueller report corroborated news stories that the president had called fake - for instance, when he asked his White House counsel Don McGahn to order the deputy attorney general to fire Bob Mueller, which he didn't do.
And then there are the little tidbits. There's so much in this report. But just one tiny story - Sarah Sanders told the Mueller investigators that when she told reporters that, quote, "countless members of the FBI had called the White House to express dissatisfaction with FBI Director James Comey," it was, quote, "just a slip of the tongue." Oops. So it shows you it's not a crime to lie to the press.
YOUNG: Well, and apparently, not a crime to lie to the American people because as you said...
YOUNG: ...President Trump said he didn't know about Russia interference. He didn't know - there was no Moscow tower deal. That would've been a crime if he said that under oath.
MALECK: Right. But there's a very high bar for criminality. We learned in this report you can call on the Russians to hack your opponent's emails. You can praise WikiLeaks for disseminating those stolen emails. You can meet with Russian officials. You can lie about those meetings. And you will not have committed a crime.
HOBSON: Hey, Mara, do you think that Paul Manafort, who is maybe reading the Mueller report in prison right now, is expecting after this report comes out that he will get a pardon from the president? Or is the president any more free after this report to start issuing pardons for people that are in it?
MALECK: Well, that's a really good question. And I think one of the questions is, how emboldened does President Trump feel that he is now? I think as long as the Mueller report was extant, he couldn't pardon anybody. But yes, he could pardon people. The other question is, how emboldened does he feel to really press for vengeance, in other words, for an investigation of the investigators? And generally, what happens at all - any moment of triumph for the president, he tends to overreach, kind of change the subject again instead of really getting the benefit of it. But pardons, I think, have always been on the table. He's never taken them off. So yes, I think it's a possibility.
HOBSON: What do you think of the fact that we haven't heard from him this afternoon? There was some talk yesterday maybe he would hold a press conference today. But he hasn't. And it's been a few several hours.
MALECK: Well, at 4 o'clock - well, no. I think we're going to hear from him in about half an hour. He's going to Mar-a-Lago. And he's going to leave the White House and talk - probably talk to reporters on the south lawn. I expect that we will hear from him soon.
YOUNG: And Mara, for those who might be just joining and haven't had this slogfest (ph) - you know, hours and hours of people trying to read this report, just - you mentioned the Sarah Sanders detail, that did she told an untruth. There are a lot - there's a lot in here that we've already heard about. There was the Trump Tower meeting. It was not ever about adoption. The president did help craft that excuse for it. There was - Manafort did meet with a Russian and pass of polling data, actually more meetings, extensive than we thought. Just characterize some of these details that you're talking about.
MALECK: Well, there are a lot of things where - one of the mysteries I don't think that the Mueller report totally answers is why did the Trump - did Trump and his officials lie so many times about their contacts with the Russians? If they didn't commit any crimes, why were they so careful? Why were they reluctant to tell the truth about it? So that's one thing that I think that Democrats in the House want to investigate. And there were other things, other meetings they - the Mueller report says that they knew that they - that they knew to expect a benefit from Russia's illegal actions. And...
YOUNG: That's the language of the report.
MALECK: That's the language of the report. But the report is pretty clear. It says, look. If we were able to say definitively that the president had obstructed justice - I'm sorry - if we were able to say definitively that the president had not obstructed justice, we would say so. But we can't. But it is up to Congress - Congress's constitutional responsibility - to decide that for themselves. And then that's the big question for Democrats. Do they want to go down that road or not?
HOBSON: That is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thank you.
MALECK: Thank you.
HOBSON: And we will continue with Special Coverage from NPR News.
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HOBSON: This is Special Coverage of the release of the Mueller report from NPR News. I'm Jeremy Hobson, along with Robin Young. We've been hearing from analysts and historians and Democrats and Republicans. And let's bring in Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak, who joins us now. Matt, your first thoughts about the Mueller report?
MATT MACKOWIAK: Yeah. Look. I think it's mostly positive for Trump and the White House and his reelection campaign and his legal team. You know, I think there obviously are going to be questions about what Barr said and how that relates to the report itself. You know, it's hard to summarize a 400-page report in a 20-minute press conference or an opening statement. I think there are two worrying things in the report that I've seen.
One is there are, you know, references to criminal referrals that Mueller made. I think - I want to say it was 12 criminal referrals, 10 of which the details are redacted on. We don't know what those criminal referrals are. They could be related to Assange. They could be related to Trump, even. It's not clear. But presumably, those would be for things that are outside the scope of the Mueller inquiry. So those are, you know, investigations that are ongoing and may - you know, may offer some liability either to Trump or to some of his associates going forward. And so that's one story to watch.
I think, obviously, the other big question is just obstruction. The Democrats are going to continue to really focus on that. You know, can it ever get a critical mass? Can they ever find a detail that really brings Republicans onboard? I tend to doubt it. So I think the president and his team have basically avoided the worst. They're not - he's not facing criminal liability from the Mueller inquiry. That's - that is really behind him now. This really moves from the legal realm into the political realm.
HOBSON: And do you think in the political realm that this is going to be the kind of thing that actually changes the dynamic, changes President Trump's popularity among his base in any way or among independents? Is this going to be something that really shifts the polling as we head into the 2020 campaign?
MACKOWIAK: Boy, I - we just haven't seen any evidence that public opinion is likely to shift. Trump's base has been with him all along. Trump's opponents have been against him all along. Mueller had credibility to potentially change public opinion one direction or the other, but we really haven't seen that. And so if there was a partisan investigation to go forward up on Capitol Hill, it's not clear that independents or Republicans would be receptive to charges made by Democrats. So that's why I say this goes into the political realm away from the legal realm. We obviously have to see what the Southern District of New York and the Eastern District of New York ultimately - what they decide to do going forward. But I really think the worst of this is behind Trump at this point, and his team is breathing a sigh of relief.
HOBSON: Finally, I just want to ask you - we just spoke with Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat of Florida, who said something Democrats have been saying, which is that she believes that Attorney General William Barr is acting as Trump's personal lawyer. Does that concern you at all? Do you agree with that? Does that concern you at all?
MACKOWIAK: Yeah. That's been a line a lot of Democrats and analysts have used since this morning. You know, if I believed it were the case, yes, it would concern me. That's not what the Office of the Attorney General is meant to be. But look; he needs to answer questions. He's going to be doing that, I think, May 1 and 2 in the House and Senate. If - you know, if what he says doesn't really measure up to the report, he can answer questions and explain why that is.
So there will be accountability there. I feel confident about that. I think his integrity is solid. I don't believe he would've taken the job of attorney general to come in there and sort of sully his own reputation, which has been built over a career. But he's going to have to answer questions under oath before Congress, and I think that's a good thing.
HOBSON: That is Republican strategist Matt Mackowiak. Matt, thank you.
MACKOWIAK: Take care.
HOBSON: This is Special Coverage from NPR News.
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YOUNG: This is Special Coverage of the release of the Mueller report from NPR News. I'm Robin Young along with Jeremy Hobson. And as we've been seeing over the course of the day, the White House and President Trump have been crowing that the report has found no collusion, no obstruction. But the president's critics very strongly disagree. Here's House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler outlining why he's formally requesting that special counsel Mueller testify before his committee as soon as possible.
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RASCOE: Even in its incomplete form, however, the Mueller report outlines disturbing evidence that President Trump engaged in obstruction of justice and other misconduct. Contrary to the attorney general's statement this morning that the White House, quote, "fully cooperated," unquote, with the investigation, the report makes clear that the president refused to be interviewed by the special counsel and refused to provide written answers to follow-up questions - Page 13 of Volume 2 - makes clear that his associates destroyed evidence relevant to the Russian investigation - Page 10, Volume 1. The report concluded there was "substantial evidence," in quotes, that President Trump attempted to prevent an investigation into his campaign and his own conduct - Page 76, Page 78, Page 90, Page 157, Volume 2. That is why I have formally requested that special counsel Mueller testify before the House Judiciary Committee as soon as possible so we can get some answers to these critical questions.
YOUNG: We have got NPR's Ron Elving and Phil Ewing standing by. But let's start with Susan Davis, NPR congressional correspondent. Susan, what is the sense that that's going to happen?
TURLEY: The thing that is so interesting to listen to Democrats like Nadler we just heard, as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and others is that they are drawing a different conclusion from the one that Attorney General William Barr drew at his press conference and from the legal conclusion of Robert Mueller and his team that there was no obstruction of justice charges to be brought. Their reading of this - and they're working through it like the rest of us are - is that they see behaviors by the president that they do believe raises questions of obstruction of justice.
In that same press conference, Mr. Nadler was asked, does this put impeachment on the table? He did not take it off the table. He notably did say it's possible, that Democrats have many questions now related to the conclusions and how they were drawn by Mueller and his team. And this is not something, from their perspective, that they are going to move on from very quickly, which is what the Republicans on Capitol Hill are saying - is that this case is closed; it's time to move on. That is not going to happen as long as Democrats have the majority in the House.
HOBSON: Well - but it's clear from talking to them - we just spoke with Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat who said, you know, impeachment, not yet; we'll get there at some point if we do. I want to just bring in Phil Ewing, NPR national security editor, who's also with us. Phil, Mueller's office in this report also referred 12 other unidentified matters to others in which it found evidence of potential criminal activity outside its jurisdiction. Is that going to go anywhere? Or what are you expecting with the things - 'cause a lot of that's redacted in this report.
LITHWICK: I think for the people who have been set aside by prosecutors, it could go quite far indeed. There are at least two cases we know of that are ongoing - the one against Roger Stone, the GOP political consultant who's been involved with allegations that he was a cut-out or an intermediary between the Trump campaign in 2016 and WikiLeaks, which today's report describes as having been this fence for material released from the Russian government that was stolen from political targets in the United States.
And also, the founder of WikiLeaks himself, Julian Assange, is also facing criminal charges. The indictment that was unsealed against Assange was not brought by the special counsel's office. It was brought in the Eastern District of Virginia. And it had to do with activities in 2010, the most famous of the early releases by WikiLeaks from information from then-Army Private Chelsea Manning, now civilian Chelsea Manning. And we'll have to see if Assange eventually is extradited from the United Kingdom to the United States and faces trial, whether some of these things, these allegations in the special counsel report become part of the list of charges that he might have to face in court. We don't know what these other potential prosecutions are. But we could be living in the shadow of the special counsel for quite some time.
YOUNG: That's Phil Ewing there. Ron Elving, your thoughts on - you know, take WikiLeaks for instance. There is one example in the report of WikiLeaks contacting Donald Trump Jr. and saying, would you please retweet this for us? And we know it's hacked information that Russians have supplied, as Phil just said. And oh, by the way, thank your dad for retweeting this other thing that we did. Explain to people who think that that - that sounds like, you know, colluding with somebody. Explain why the report found that it's not.
MAK: The attorney general said this morning that unless the party who is going to disseminate it - in this case, Donald Trump Jr. - was involved in the actual hacking that then produced this information, he is not criminally involved. He might very well be involved in the sense that all of us think of that as being involvement. But if he was not in on the hacking, well, then he's in the clear. And that actually is the kind of parsing we see through much of this relationship, where we hear again and again that people in the Trump campaign expected a benefit from the Russians' illegal activities. But because they were not, strictly speaking, technically in on the actual moment of illegal activity from the standpoint of the attorney general, no problem.
YOUNG: Well, and Phil Ewing, take us through - there were 10 instances that the report cites of the president attempting to obstruct and the people around him keeping him from his worst self in that case. Take us through some of those because people have questions about well, why isn't that cause for a charge?
LITHWICK: Well, in each instance, the special counsel's report delineates how difficult it considers the questions of law and fact to be in terms of arriving at the conclusion that you just alluded to that, in fact, the football went into the end zone and that this is a touchdown, and the law was broken. And in each instance, that isn't as clear cut as a prosecutor needs it to be in order for there to be charges preferred against the president. For example, the law requires that prosecutors prove to a jury that they knew about the person's state of mind at the time they took actions that might have allegedly obstructed justice.
The attorney general has also explained that the law requires prosecutors to know specifically what a person did. And there's a lot of detail about that in this report. But also in his letter to Congress, Bill Barr talked about how there had to be a sufficient nexus between the corruptly intended actions and a contemplated or actual proceeding - in other words, in most cases, a criminal trial. And in this case, through each one of the examples given in the special counsel report, all those three hurdles were not cleared, according to the Justice Department. And we heard the attorney general this morning say at the Justice Department that he's decided, along with the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, that there's not going to be charges because the law in each case was not actually broken.
HOBSON: Ron Elving, thought exercise here. If an historian is looking back at this week in April in 2019, and we've had this Mueller report, which we've been talking about for years, and we also had the terrible fire at Notre Dame in Paris, which is going to be seen as the more important story?
MAK: It probably depends on how quickly and how well the repair job goes forward in both cases. Obviously, we've got a longer time frame in terms of restoring the cathedral. And that is something that I think everybody applauds and wants to see happen. The repair job on the reputation of the Trump campaign is a very different question because here, we're going to hear people say it's a total exoneration. Don't read the report. Don't read all these things that are critical of what was happening in 2016 or all of this description of how the Trump White House actually operates, that the president has to be, in some sense, restrained all the time from breaking the law by people refusing to carry out the orders he gives them. That, I think, is the roadmap that Robert Mueller has intentionally or unintentionally laid out for people in the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, other committees to explore and say, what's going on here? What kind of administration is this? And what kinds of things can we bring to light?
YOUNG: Well, as we've been saying over the course of the day, you know, many believe that the Republicans and William Barr and the Trump White House have captured the narrative, have, you know - Julian Zelizer, the historian from Princeton, always tells us it's he who gets the - or she - who gets the narrative first wins. And there's a sense that maybe that has happened. But, Ron, you say it depends how people read this. In the few seconds we have, do you think this will be, like, a bestseller? Do you think this will...
HOBSON: Be a book on tape, the Mueller report - Christmas gift.
YOUNG: With bleeps.
MAK: William Barr has done a very successful job of bubble-wrapping this whole thing and then
MAK: putting a tight tape around it and saying, that's all you need, folks. That's done. And there are going to only be people - a minority of people are going to try to break through all that bubble wrap and look at what this really says.
HOBSON: That's Ron Elving. I'm Jeremy Hobson, along with Robin Young. And we are continuing with Special Coverage of the Mueller report from NPR News.
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HOBSON: This is Special Coverage of the release of the Mueller report from NPR News. I'm Jeremy Hobson, along with Robin Young. And as we close out this hour, we've got with us Mara Liasson, NPR national political correspondent, NPR national security editor Phil Ewing, and NPR senior Washington editor and correspondent Ron Elving for some thoughts. Now almost five hours after the public release of the Mueller report, which we've been waiting so long for, Mara, as you look at what you've been able to see so far - and, of course, it's 448 pages - you know, we'll continue to read it - but what's your big headline here from today?
MALECK: Well, my biggest headline is if we think about Donald Trump as a stress test on democratic institutions, they're actually holding up. He doesn't seem to have enough juice to undermine the institutions the way he wants to. The special counsel said that Trump's efforts to influence the investigation - in other words, to obstruct - were unsuccessful largely because the people under him declined to carry out his orders. That's just extraordinary to me. Mueller wasn't fired. Don McGahn refused to carry out his orders. They might have saved the president from committing the legal crime of obstruction.
YOUNG: Ron, your takeaway.
MAK: We've had a lot of descriptions from various people of what life is like in the White House and how this administration is run and how it is derived, in many ways, from the way Donald Trump has run his private business and then the way he ran his 2016 campaign. This report - you don't have to read absolutely every page. And I think that there's a threat that goes out so as to say to people, oh, this is really long. And it's really technical. And you can't understand it. The truth is you can get through enough of it to get the impression that that is the way that the White House is being run today and to decide for oneself whether this is entirely exculpatory or whether it is an extraordinary picture of something we all need to know more about and think hard about it.
HOBSON: Phil Ewing, what about you?
LITHWICK: I'm going to read you one line from the report which I think kind of sums up the political situation right now. If you believed or if Americans believed that the release of this document would be the closure of this Russia chapter in Washington, that does not appear the case - appear to be the case. And here's one piece of evidence for why. We know from the attorney general this morning that the special counsel's office did not establish that there was a conspiracy between Trump's campaign and these Russians that interfered in the election, which is why there were - that and other reasons - the Justice Department concluded there'll be no charges.
But the report also says this. "But the evidence does indicate that a thorough FBI investigation would uncover facts about the campaign and the president personally that the president could have understood to be crimes or that would give rise to personal and political concerns," close quote. This is in the section about the president's choice to fire then-FBI Director James Comey. And what that will be to Democrats going forward is a red flag to a bull to continue their unrelenting committee-level investigations about Trump. So if there wasn't a Russia conspiracy, as we learned there wasn't, what other things could there have been? And what did Trump have knowledge of at the time he fired Comey, according to this passage, that made him want to get rid of the FBI director? We may not learn the answer to that question anytime soon. But it suggests that there is much more here to be learned.
YOUNG: Well - go ahead.
MALECK: Why didn't Mueller conduct the equivalent of a thorough FBI investigation? I thought that's what this was.
LITHWICK: That's a great question, Mara. You know, one moment early in this story was a New York Times interview the president did in which he said there are red lines here for what the special counsel can do. I don't want him looking into my business. I don't want him looking into my family. I don't want him looking into things that aren't part of his purview as it was construed by the Justice Department. And according to our initial understanding - you know, we've only had this nearly 500-page doorstop for a few hours - the special counsel appears to have respected those borders. And so if there are alleged money laundering implications or criminal activity or financial fraud or many of the other things that have been alleged about this president since the beginning of the Russia investigation, they're not detailed here. But we may learn more about them.
MALECK: But they are farmed out. Is that what the 14 other investigations are about?
LITHWICK: Very likely.
MAK: It is possible. Plus, there are going to be members of the committee in the House - many committees in the House - that are going to want to answer the question, what exactly happened when William Barr took over the Department of Justice from Jeff Sessions? He really has only been in place since January. But when he came in, he clearly took this whole matter in hand and has been very much in charge ever since.
HOBSON: The U.S. House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, said today that impeachment of President Trump was not worthwhile with an election coming up in 18 months. So that's going to be one thing to watch if other Democrats agree with him. But, Mara, in the last minute that we have here, what happens next? What are you going to be watching for going forward, whether it's other investigations or what House Democrats are doing or pardons that may come down the road?
MALECK: Well, there could be pardons. Look. There are 14 other investigations. Southern District of New York, other entities - they're looking into it. Congress is going to continue investigating. It doesn't sound like they're going to open impeachment hearings. But they certainly want to follow the road map that Mueller has given them. And they want all the underlying investigative materials for the Mueller report.
YOUNG: Mara Liasson, Phil Ewing, Ron Elving, just part of the NPR team that's been helping us dig deep into the Mueller report. Well, we will just continue to do that over the course of the next few hours. But we want to thank you all for doing it for us now.
LITHWICK: Thank you.
MALECK: Thank you.
MAK: Thank you.
YOUNG: Our coverage of the release of the Mueller report continues throughout the day on NPR News. I'm Robin Young.
HOBSON: I'm Jeremy Hobson. This is Special Coverage from NPR News.
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