RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Former special counsel Robert Mueller never wanted to appear before Congress. But lawmakers were adamant that he tell the story of his inquiry in public. When he appeared yesterday, though, the storytelling was limited. During seven hours before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, Mueller repeatedly declined to stray outside the confines of his 448-page report. One topic he was a little more verbose about was the threat Russia poses to the country's election system.
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ROBERT MUELLER: It wasn't a single attempt. They're doing that as we sit here. And they expect to do it during the next campaign.
MARTIN: He also affirmed that the report does not exonerate the president from allegations of obstruction. Here's what President Trump had to say about Mueller's performance.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This was a very big day for our country. This was a very big day for the Republican Party. And you could say it was a great day for me, but I don't even like to say that. It's great.
MARTIN: Republican Doug Collins is the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, and he is with us this morning. Thanks so much for being with us.
DOUG COLLINS: Thank you. Good morning.
MARTIN: What did you learn from Robert Mueller yesterday?
COLLINS: Well, I think the things we learned were pretty (unintelligible). Most of the things we learned were when the report came out three months ago. But there were several things that we found out yesterday. No. 1 was that we put to bed and put to rest, finally, this collusion conspiracy issue. He made it very clear that there was none involved with the Trump administration or the president himself or his family, that that was over, that was (unintelligible) not to separate this, quote, "collusion" or conspiracy. He just put that completely to rest.
No. 2, I thought was very interesting that he also - every time the Democrats tried to walk down a path of what they called obstruction, he got to the end, and he said, I disagree with your analysis. I disagree with what you're - you know, the path that you went there. And then the third thing I think that we learned yesterday was, it was very interesting that he would not talk about a lot of the surroundings of how the investigation got started - the - ranging from the dossier to other investigations on how it actually got started - and said he couldn't do that. But yet, in the report itself, it actually mentions a dossier and talks about how parts of the dossier were very - were false. So those are the three takeaways that I took away from it yesterday.
MARTIN: I want to follow up on the second takeaway you just mentioned on the issue of possible obstruction. There was this exchange between the former special counsel and your colleague Republican Congressman Ken Buck of Colorado. I want to play this, and we'll talk on the other side.
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KEN BUCK: OK. But the - could you charge the president with a crime after he left office?
BUCK: You believe that he committed - you could charge the president of the United States with obstruction of justice after he left office?
MARTIN: Now, Mueller is talking generally there. He wasn't talking to the particulars. But did that shift your view of the president's innocence when it comes to the obstruction charge and whether or not he's being shielded of that because of the OLC rules that prohibit the charging and prosecution of a sitting president?
COLLINS: No, because if you read the OLC opinion, from Day 1, there's always been that, you know, possibility of anything happening after the fact. That's - this - and it's worth (unintelligible), you also have to have something to actually charge after the fact. And Mr. Mueller never went down, you know, the analysis of saying obstruction. It was just the issues that were presented. And again, he struck down many of the Democrats who tried to walk him down that. That was nothing new, except just a restatement of what the OLC opinion had always said. But he also made it very clear that he was not talking about any charges or charges that he would - he would have brought.
MARTIN: At the same time, though, I mean, he said that the report clearly does not exonerate the president from the possibility of obstruction.
COLLINS: This is the biggest fallacy that I've - it is just amazing that this has continued on because it's never - and even he admitted yesterday that he had never exonerated anybody, that the Department of Justice has no process for exoneration. In fact, I don't know of a prosecutor in this country - and I practice law - who exonerates anybody. That's not what a prosecutor does. They either find them - they take the evidence, and they find guilt, or they find - you know, they find not guilty. This exoneration narrative that is being portrayed in the media and others is really something that needs to be addressed because it's not something a prosecutor is supposed to do. Let's flip it around and say he didn't exonerate him. But also - you also flip it around, and put it in the way that's normally done. We did not have anything to find - to bring charges to find him guilty.
MARTIN: They said that they would not make that determination. I want to shift the focus over to the second hearing. You weren't in that. But presumably, you watched.
MARTIN: Mueller was very clear that the threat from Russia persists when it comes to election security. Do you agree with that?
COLLINS: Yes. And I wish my Democrat Party (ph) colleagues agreed with it as well.
MARTIN: You didn't vote in favor of - you voted against an election security bill that just passed in the House, though. Why?
COLLINS: Yeah. That passed several months ago and that was nothing but an incumbent protection act. That simply was public financing of elections. It went - I mean, that bill was so badly drafted that if I have a child who was 8 years old who wanted to vote and I stopped them from voting, the way the bill was actually drafted, I would be charged with a felony. Let's be very clear..
MARTIN: But let me ask you...
COLLINS: But be very clear. This had nothing to do - this bill that we passed had nothing to do with foreign interference in our elections. The Terror Act and many other bills that have addressed foreign interference - the bill passed earlier in the House did not do anything to deal with foreign interference for the most part.
MARTIN: Are you concerned that election security, though, has become a partisan issue?
COLLINS: No, I'm not. Well, it becomes a partisan issue when the Democratic Party took it, an election bill which many of us could have supported in different ways, but then put issues in there that were partisan. So I think that's the takeaway from the first seven months of this new Congress - is the issues in which we could work together on have become have become hot - have become partisan, especially when you get into, you know, public financing of campaigns, you get into, you know, bills that are badly drafted. That's what makes those issues partisan. And then, like I said, don't be fooled for a second. Those - that bill did nothing to talk about what Robert Mueller is talking about.
MARTIN: Robert Mueller, though, did discuss the fact that he sees a threat in how federal agencies are even talking about these kinds of threats - that they're not talking. They're not sharing information, which harkens back to 9/11 and the problems you heard that preceded that tragedy. Do you agree that that is the scope of the threat we're talking about?
COLLINS: Well, I think it's very obvious because the threat that happened during this was under the Obama administration. And when - we're not talking about these things in the 2016 election - this was the Obama administration - and we go forward now looking at it. And what Mr. Mueller is saying is - he said, during this time, these agencies we're not talking about these alleged threats and not doing anything about it. So I mean, this is something that's been going on for several years now. And I think sometimes we forget that the last election occurred under a Democratic administration who...
MARTIN: But when we talk about...
COLLINS: ...Didn't say anything either.
MARTIN: ...Not wanting election security to be partisan, your instinct is to go to a partisan corner.
COLLINS: Well, my instinct is also from your question is - because it talks about now, from the current situation and where we're at, is how we deal with it from here. I'm looking at a solution on how we could deal with it now under any administration. I don't care who administration it is. But many times when the question...
COLLINS: ...Is raised, it makes it appear as if this administration, does not want to do anything about election security. And I'm just simply reminding of how the process has been working. And reflect (ph); Russia has been trying to interfere in our elections for many years. This is...
COLLINS: ...Not a new topic.
MARTIN: Republican Doug Collins of the House Judiciary Committee, we appreciate your time.
COLLINS: Rachel, thank you.
MARTIN: NPR's Tim Mak was listening in on that conversation. I mean, Tim, what about that idea of election security becoming a partisan issue - is that what you're seeing? Is that what we're seeing?
TIM MAK, BYLINE: Well, I mean, it's not a partisan issue in terms of describing the nature of the problem - right? - that the Trump administration, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have all said - hey, this is something that needs to be dealt with; this is a serious problem; Russia did interfere in 2016, and they will be back in 2020. So generally, lawmakers understand that this is an issue that needs to be dealt with and it's not partisan. What's - what has become partisan in some ways is how to deal with that.
MARTIN: Where are the calls for impeachment now after this hearing is over?
MAK: I don't think we're quite done yet. The House Judiciary Committee is going to take some action on litigation starting today. We'll hear more about that in coming days.
MARTIN: NPR political reporter Tim Mak. Thanks, Tim.
MAK: Thanks a lot.
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