STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
In the interest of full disclosure, this next part of our program does not reveal a single detail that is new about Robert Mueller's investigation. It's not until later this morning that the public sees a redacted version of the investigation of Russia's role in the 2016 election. Attorney General William Barr holds a news conference at 9:30 Eastern time. Sometime after that, Congress and the public have a look at the special counsel's work.
So far, the attorney general is the only source for what's in the report. William Barr says Mueller did not charge the president or his aides with criminal conspiracy during the time in 2016 when Russia was working for the presidential election. Barr also notes that Mueller did not charge the president with obstruction of justice or exonerate him either.
So what questions remain? Margie Omero is here. She's a Democratic pollster. And so is Jonah Goldberg - conservative columnist and senior editor at The National Review. Good morning, guys.
MARGIE OMERO: Good morning.
JONAH GOLDBERG: Great to be here.
INSKEEP: Thanks for coming by. Are you bothered, as some Democrats are, by the way the report is being released today?
OMERO: Well, I think - look. Certainly, I'm bothered by process, but from a public opinion perspective I think, you know, the message that the folks on the right have been trying to do - which is try to interfere with the public opinion shaping of what's in the report and say, oh, here's what the report says. There is no collusion. There's complete exoneration. That message from the summary has not broken through, that's what our polling has shown. People do not feel that that's what's happened. So the fact...
INSKEEP: Oh, wait a minute.
OMERO: ...That there's a press conference before the full releasing, as a way to shape the narrative, may actually not work when it comes to public opinion.
INSKEEP: You don't think, I guess you're saying, that the public is quite paying attention on a minute-by-minute basis, and so the desperate effort to pre-spin things isn't working?
OMERO: I mean, there is a detailed conversation that we're all having, which we should have. And then there's the conversation that the public has which is, you know, let's see the report. We want to, you know, we want to know what's in it, and let's make it public.
INSKEEP: Jonah Goldberg.
GOLDBERG: Yeah, I generally think this is a fairly minor deal. At the same time, it could actually backfire on Bill Barr because if he thinks it's necessary to pre-spin this, that means that there's something in there that needs to be pre-spun. And if he's too heavy handed about that, it can actually just throw gasoline on the daily media feeding frenzies that we have here.
INSKEEP: Oh, which to an extent he has already done...
INSKEEP: ...Inadvertently or otherwise. He put out this letter, some weeks ago now, and there's been criticism of the letter. He had to put out a second letter, and so forth. But I guess we don't know - we should state, we don't know that he's going to pre-spin it. Maybe he's just going to sit there and say, I'm here for your questions. We don't know what William Barr...
INSKEEP: ...Is going to do. So what do you still want to know at this moment when we have a couple of sentences from the Mueller report, which is all that Barr has quoted in public?
GOLDBERG: I - look. I don't think there are going to be any massive shocks. We're not going to find out that, you know, there's a group of Baal-worshipping cannibals in the White House or anything like that. But we...
INSKEEP: That part was redacted.
INSKEEP: That's a joke. That's a joke.
OMERO: That's how far you have to go to be shocked is that...
GOLDBERG: I've got to set the bar somewhere where everyone could agree that would be shocking.
GOLDBERG: But that said, I guess this is more of a personal thing, but I think - one of the things I'm looking for is whether or not - my theory is that William Barr has a theory of the Constitution which says the president cannot be prosecuted or indicted for acting on his constitutional authority. So firing Comey, all of these things that he's done cannot be seen as indictable offenses.
And my suspicion is that one of the reasons why Mueller did not say the president obstructed justice is because he knew going in that was Barr's theory. And so I want to see how much of the report was actually written to support a different theory about whether or not the president could be indicted. And if that's the case, we're going to have a big constitutional argument about what really a president can and can't do.
INSKEEP: Margie Omero, that's one thing that we do know from Bill Barr's original letter about this. He said the report lays out the evidence, the pros and the cons, for and against obstruction of justice against the president.
OMERO: Right. So what the American people say concerns them most is they're worried that the president has instructed people to lie, that the president has lies and he has instructed people to lie. That's what we've heard in focus groups I've done, we saw in polling released by Navigator yesterday - we have more coming out tomorrow. APNORC released a poll, I think last night, showing that majorities of Americans feel that the president's either done something unethical or illegal.
A majority of Americans feel that the president lies more than previous presidents. A majority feel the president's not honest. This is something that people say is a bright line for them - is a very clear sign of something that's not right. And so I think that's what the American people are looking for.
INSKEEP: I want to just name something that I'm curious about. Of course, the president has said again, and again, and again - no collusion, no collusion, no collusion. The president and his aides claim total exoneration because we've been told the Mueller report finds no criminal conspiracy.
We just have to note, as a matter of definition, those two things are not the same thing. You could collude with someone, which is a general term, without meeting the legal standard...
INSKEEP: ...For criminal conspiracy. So a question in my mind is, what can we learn about ways that the Trump campaign did or did not communicate with Russia over 2016?
GOLDBERG: Right. I think this is one of - I mean, again, we're in rank punditry mode here, right?
GOLDBERG: But I think this is one of the reasons why the White House is nervous about this. When it was just the Barr summary, it was a binary thing. Not guilty or guilty - right? - and/or not charged or charged. When we actually look into this, it is possible that - it turns out it was much more of a judgment call - and also that the narrative that the White House, and a lot of right-wing media, is eager to do which is that it was absolutely insane to even consider the possibility that the president should be investigated or spied on.
What we find in the Mueller report may actually muddy that narrative and make that pushback, which is going in full force right now, much more difficult to do.
INSKEEP: Granting what Jonah just said though, Margie, is it fair to say this much from the president's perspective, or just looking at this in as fair a way as we can - the president can say that there was this independent investigation of a widely respected former FBI director, and he wasn't charged with a crime, which is certainly better than being charged with a crime?
OMERO: Here's what else is important. First, you have a majority of Americans who think that the president has done something illegal or unethical - feel that he lies. On top of that, you have a variety of other investigations that are happening...
INSKEEP: Oh, yeah.
OMERO: ...Next, and a majority of Americans say that they support those. They want those investigations to continue, whether it's congressional oversight, Southern District of New York, New York attorney general - whatever the entity is, people say no president should be above the law, not just this president, any president, regardless of what you think of him and his policies.
INSKEEP: Does the president still face danger from these many investigations, Jonah Goldberg?
GOLDBERG: My colleague Andrew McCarthy, who's a former federal prosecutor at National Review, he's been arguing from day one that the Mueller probe was not going be that big a danger, and it really was the Southern District of New York stuff that was going to be big danger. That may still be true.
INSKEEP: OK. So we're having a dramatic news day, but certainly not the end of the argument. Guys, thanks for coming by.
OMERO: Thank you.
INSKEEP: Really appreciate it. Jonah Goldberg of National Review and Democratic pollster Margie Omero.
(SOUNDBITE OF JHFLY'S "FOR YOU")
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.