RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Trump says the case is closed. Democrats say just the opposite. And Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who has warned Democrats against pursuing impeachment, said at an appearance in San Francisco yesterday that, quote, "nothing is off the table."
All this comes after special counsel Robert Mueller made his first public comments about the Russia investigation. Mueller repeated his central conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election in order to hurt Hillary Clinton. He also said out loud that the decision not to charge the president was not an exoneration, as the White House claims.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
ROBERT MUELLER: If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so. We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime.
MARTIN: Adam Kennedy is deputy director of communications to President Trump, and he joins us now on the line. Thank you so much for being with us this morning.
ADAM KENNEDY: Thank you so much for having me on.
MARTIN: Robert Mueller refused to clear the president's name in his remarks. Why does the president say, case closed?
KENNEDY: Because when Robert Mueller refused to make a determination based on his evidence, that forced the attorney general, the deputy attorney general, to step in and make a decision. And they did so without using the LSC (ph) or any constitutional considerations to do it. And what they found was, based on the evidence Mueller gathered, there was no grounds for obstruction. So it's clear that this case is closed...
KENNEDY: ...That the president's been exonerated. And if Mueller truly felt that the president had obstructed, he could've used his many opportunities to say, while I'm prevented from doing so, I would recommend that this go forward. But he hasn't.
MARTIN: Although, as you just alluded to, Robert Mueller made it clear that a big reason that he was not able to articulate whether or not the President obstructed justice is because the Department of Justice rules prevent that from happening, thereby nodding his head to the fact that this is a political decision at this point - that whether or not to hold the president to account is something that should happen in Congress.
KENNEDY: I would actually disagree. I don't think it is political. I think when the special counsel does make a determination under the rules, which Mueller knows very well, it then goes to the attorney general and deputy attorney general, and they did make a decision. They made a decision based on the evidence Mueller gathered and without considering the constitutional questions or Department of Justice regulations. So I think it's very clear where this situation rests.
MARTIN: We also...
KENNEDY: It rests with no obstruction and no collusion.
MARTIN: We also do need to clarify the record, though. Neither the attorney general nor Robert Mueller ever used the words, the president has been exonerated.
KENNEDY: Typically, when you don't charge somebody, that's considered an exoneration. Robert Mueller could've made a recommendation. Robert Mueller could've said, Congress should take this up.
MARTIN: It's not...
KENNEDY: He could've said multiple things, but he has chosen not to. He left it to the attorney general, and the attorney general made this conclusion.
MARTIN: It is actually a separate issue. It's not the same thing - to not bring a charge is not the same thing as being exonerated. But we're going to have to leave that to the side. I want to ask, has the president read the Mueller report?
KENNEDY: You know, I'm not going to get into how much the president - how much of the president's time he's spent on this. He certainly followed the case and the investigation. And I think he knew all along what the conclusion would be.
MARTIN: I want to play a bit of Robert Mueller in his remarks yesterday. Let's listen to this.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
MUELLER: Russian intelligence officers who were part of the Russian military launched a concerted attack on our political system. The indictment alleges that they used sophisticated cyber techniques to hack into computers and networks used by the Clinton campaign. They stole private information and then released that information through fake online identities and through the organization WikiLeaks. The releases were designed and timed to interfere with our election and to damage a presidential candidate.
MARTIN: Does the president now accept that conclusion?
KENNEDY: The president said all along that people have attempted to interfere with our election.
MARTIN: But that it happened on his behalf?
KENNEDY: It's unfortunate that the previous - well, it hasn't happened on his behalf.
MARTIN: Well, Robert Mueller said that...
KENNEDY: He didn't ask for anything. He did not conspire with anyone, and he didn't collude with anyone.
MARTIN: Robert Mueller said that the Russians interfered to hurt Hillary Clinton to his benefit.
KENNEDY: But let's be clear. To say on his behalf is to suggest that he, in some way, wanted this to happen. It was the previous administration that allowed this interference to happen, and the president's taken serious and considerable steps to make sure it doesn't happen in the future. So, no, I wouldn't say it happened on his behalf.
MARTIN: We should also say there is no evidence at this point as to whether or not the previous administration opened any doors to this at all. Can you say explicitly whether or not the Trump campaign will accept or even solicit help from Russians in the 2020 campaign?
KENNEDY: I work for the president of the United States. I don't work for the campaign. What I can say is that the president's taken serious steps, including closing facilities, including ejecting Russian personnel from this country, including sanctions to make sure that this doesn't happen again in the future. We're strengthening our election system. We're working with states and local authorities to make sure that this sort of travesty that the previous administration allowed to happen does...
MARTIN: And again, there is no evidence to that effect. Adam Kennedy, White House deputy...
KENNEDY: Well, they certainly didn't stop it from happening.
MARTIN: That's for another conversation. But at this point, there is no evidence of the previous administration having any responsibility for that. Adam Kennedy, White House deputy communications director, thank you for your time.
KENNEDY: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: Tamara Keith covers the White House and was listening in on that. Tamara, the White House clearly repeating the claim that the president has been exonerated when no such thing has been uttered by the attorney general or Robert Mueller.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: You know, what this White House has been doing since, well, actually before the report came out is trying to set the narrative, realizing that a 448-page report is not going to be read by most Americans, even probably most members of Congress. And so what they've gone out and done is said that this is what's in the report, even if that isn't what is in the report or what the attorney general determined. And a big part of Robert Mueller's message yesterday was, read the report.
MARTIN: A message that could go to the president himself, since Adam Kennedy did not answer the question as to whether or not the president himself has read it.
KEITH: Right. Well, and also, probably, it seems clear that many members of Congress also have not fully read the report. And what Mueller is saying is, if I were to come testify, I would just say what's in the report, so please read the report. But what Democrats in Congress want is for him to come and testify and say what's in the report because then you would have this TV moment where the national attention was focused on the...
KEITH: ...Contents of what was there.
MARTIN: Even though he has said he doesn't want to do that.
MARTIN: But I want to talk about the impeachment push because Nancy Pelosi is getting a whole lot of pressure, increasingly so, even after the Mueller remarks. What's she going to do?
KEITH: Well, she is continuing to push back. It's not clear how long that will last. She's looking for something that is overwhelming. She wants the American public to be moved to a point where Republicans would have to sign on as well, and not just one Republican from Michigan, who - Justin Amash...
KEITH: ...Who is now saying that they should proceed with impeachment.
MARTIN: So even if there's an impeachment vote in the House, she wants the Senate to convict on that issue as well.
KEITH: She does. Otherwise, the president would be able to campaign as sort of a wounded warrior.
MARTIN: Tamara Keith, NPR White House correspondent. We appreciate it, Tam.
KEITH: You're welcome.
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