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THE SITUATION ROOM

Mueller Breaks Silence, Refuses to Clear President, Breaks Away With Attorney General; Pelosi: House Dems Must Ensure "Compelling" Case For Impeachment; Interview With Rep. Andre Carson (D-IN) On Need For Mueller's Testimony; Israel Faces New Election As Netanyahu Fails To Form New Government; Tornadoes, Storms, And Historic Floods Threaten Millions Of Americans. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired May 29, 2019 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[17:00:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: On Twitter @JakeTapper. You can tweet the show @TheLeadCNN. We actually read them. Our coverage on CNN on this big news day continues right now. Thanks for watching.

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WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, breaking news: not clearing Trump. Robert Mueller breaks his silence, declaring publicly that his investigation did not clear President Trump and stressing that if the special counsel's investigators had been confident the president did not commit a crime, the final report would have stated that.

Unable to charge: the special counsel explains why charging the president with a crime was never an option under Justice Department rules and contradicts statements by the attorney general.

Ready to impeach: the special counsel again seems to be passing the baton to Congress and more Democrats are now calling for impeachment.

Why are House leaders still cautious about launching an inquiry?

And wind and water: millions of Americans are under a severe weather threat tonight as powerful tornadoes and historic flooding bring death and destruction to the heartland.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

BLITZER: Breaking news: in a dramatic public appearance, Special Counsel Robert Mueller sets the record straight, stressing his report did not clear President Trump and declaring that if his team had been confident the president did not commit a crime, they would have said so.

Mueller says charging the president with a crime wasn't an option, because the Justice Department policy is such Mueller is resisting congressional testimony, saying his work speaks for itself.

The House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Jerry Nadler, says it's now up to Congress to respond to what he calls the crimes, lies and other wrongdoing of President Trump. And as more Democrats now call for impeachment, Speaker Nancy Pelosi says nothing is off the table.

President Trump is dismissing Mueller's statement, tweeting -- and I'm quoting him now -- "The case is closed," while the White House says it's always prepared for an impeachment inquiry.

I'll speak with Congressman Andre Carson of the Intelligence Committee. And our correspondents and analysts, they will have full coverage of the day's top stories.

Let's begin with the breaking news. Our Justice Department reporter, Laura Jarrett, is with us.

Laura, truly a bombshell appearance by Robert Mueller. Take us through it.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Wolf, he defended his team, he defended the investigation, he defended their findings. And after months of others characterizing his work for him, Mueller appeared to want to have the last word today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JARRETT (voice-over): The special counsel broke his silence today.

ROBERT MUELLER, RUSSIA PROBE SPECIAL COUNSEL: Good morning, everyone.

JARRETT (voice-over): Going before cameras after two years to highlight the central findings of his report, specifically saying he did not exonerate President Trump on the crime of obstructing justice.

MUELLER: If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.

JARRETT (voice-over): But Mueller did not say the president was innocent in the more than 400-page report or in front of the cameras today.

MUELLER: We concluded that we would not reach a determination one way or the other about whether the president committed a crime.

JARRETT (voice-over): Instead, saying it was out of his hands from the very beginning.

MUELLER: Under longstanding department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office.

Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.

JARRETT (voice-over): A sharp contrast to attorney general Bill Barr, who sought to downplay the significance of the policy on Mueller's work last month.

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: He was not saying that but for the OLC opinion, he would have found a crime.

JARRETT (voice-over): Instead, Mueller reignited the impeachment debate tonight on Capitol Hill, suggesting it's now up to Congress.

Mueller The opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.

JARRETT (voice-over): While Mueller himself dashed hopes of serving as their star witness.

MUELLER: Now I hope and expect this will be the only time that I will speak to you in this manner.

The report is my testimony.

JARRETT (voice-over): The 74-year-old Justice Department veteran pushed back on Trump's false refrain that the report found no collusion.

MUELLER: There was insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy.

There were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election. And that allegation deserves the attention of every American.

JARRETT (voice-over): And while Mueller never addressed the president directly, he defended the importance of the investigation and his team.

MUELLER: When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of their government's --

[17:05:00]

MUELLER: -- effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JARRETT: Wolf, while Mueller didn't reach an ultimate conclusion on the question of obstruction of justice, he explained today that the investigation was still worthwhile because of the need to preserve evidence while memories are fresh and documents are still readily available -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Laura, I want you to stand by. I want to bring in our senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez.

Evan, Mueller said it was important to conduct the obstruction investigation and preserve evidence.

Could the president potentially face charges after he leaves office? EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: He could. And that's one reason why Donald Trump launched his re-election campaign on the day that he was inaugurated. No president, you know, in recent memory has done something like that.

And I think you can see exactly why. He wants -- he needs to be reelected in order to be protected from any prosecutor who might think that, hey, you know, we still have a few years left on the statute of limitations on these alleged crimes. Let's reopen this and take another look at this.

That's the possibility here that could still happen. Obviously, the president -- the special counsel couldn't reach or would not reach a decision on the obstruction case, Wolf, because of the OLC memo and also because of fairness. Obviously, the president cannot answer these allegations since he cannot be charged.

But once he leaves office, if he is not re-elected, that's still an open question for someone to decide.

BLITZER: You know, Laura, how significant is it that Robert Mueller, the special counsel, broke with the attorney general Bill Barr on the Justice Department's policy that you can't indict, you can't charge a sitting president and how much that impacted the Mueller investigation?

JARRETT: There's been a great deal of debate and I think, really, frankly, confusion about this issue, Wolf, especially after attorney general Bill Barr went out and gave that press conference last month, as he was closing down the investigation, announcing that Mueller's report was out.

And the bottom line is this. They're approaching the question, Barr and Mueller, from two different starting points. For Barr, he's saying, I talked to Mueller and I asked him, but for this long- standing policy, would you have indicted the president?

And Mueller said, no.

But, of course, the question is no, because as Mueller pointed out today, I didn't make a traditional prosecutorial decision. I didn't even reach that question. Instead, he thought his hands were tied by that long-standing policy.

So that's where you see sort of this distinction coming into play here.

And I think the real question was, why did Barr feel the need to frame it that way, when clearly the long-standing policy did weigh heavily on Mueller's decision?

BLITZER: It is very interesting, Evan, because today Mueller was very clear about Russia's interference in the U.S. presidential election in 2016. But on the issue of whether the Trump campaign conspired, cooperated, worked with the Russians, he was very precise.

Mueller did not say there was no evidence of conspiracy, he said there was insufficient evidence. So that's a careful word.

What does it say to you?

PEREZ: That's a very important word, Wolf, because, look, I think the attorney general looked at the Mueller report and decided he was going to go out and do a press conference in which he was going to use the president's language, which is no collusion.

Mueller clearly is using the exact language that you should use in this case, which is that there's -- and you can see it, right?

If you read Volume I, you see there's plenty of evidence of improper activities. It didn't reach the level to where you can charge a larger conspiracy, as he said today. But it's clear that Mueller believes that Volume I is a very important part of the findings here.

And you know, this is not only passing the baton on Volume Ii, obstruction, but it is also on Volume I, for Congress to consider. If you look, he started off by describing this as a concerted attack on our political system by the Russian military.

He ends it by talking about systemic efforts to interfere with our election and it's something that -- an allegation that deserves the attention of every American. I think he's trying to remind us where this all began and where we should be back to, before this is all over.

BLITZER: It explains why there was an investigation to begin with.

PEREZ: Right.

BLITZER: Because of the allegations of Russian interference.

Stand by, Evan and Laura. The president and his team are dismissing Mueller's statement. Let's go to our Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta.

So give us a little bit more of the reaction from there, Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. The White House is back on its heels tonight after some pretty extraordinary comments from the Special Counsel Robert Mueller, on the Russia investigation.

One Trump legal team source expressed frustration that Mueller seemed to leave the door open, that perhaps the president did commit crimes. This source said that that was a, quote, "gratuitous remark" coming from Mueller. Aides to the president also say that they are prepared in case Democrats want to proceed with impeachment inquiries.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): With Special Counsel Robert Mueller's stunning comments on the Russia investigation sparking new calls for impeachment from Democrats --

[17:10:00]

ACOSTA (voice-over): -- the White House message of the day was bring it on.

SARAH SANDERS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'm not going to get into internal processes. I'm just saying, we're always prepared and we're going to move forward doing what we think is important and focus on things that actually help people.

ACOSTA (voice-over): President Trump put his own spin on the special counsel's remarks, tweeting, "Nothing changes from the Mueller report. There was insufficient evidence and, therefore, in our country, a person is innocent. The case is closed."

Mr. Trump's use of the words "insufficient evidence" prompted questions about whether the president was doing some legal hairsplitting.

SANDERS: He hasn't changed his position. We've been saying the same thing for two years, before the Mueller investigation even had to start.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Aides to the president are declaring that Mr. Trump has been exonerated but that's not what Mueller said. Mueller pointed to Justice Department policy, laid out in an Office of Legal Counsel memo, that bars the indictment of a sitting president.

ACOSTA: It does beg the question, if Donald Trump were not the president, could he be charged with a crime?

What do you say to that?

SANDERS: I think it's real simple. I say what we have said, is that they were looking at whether or not there was collusion. That would be the crime that would have been committed, collusion or obstruction.

And all of those things have been determined to not have taken place. collusion, conspiracy, obstruction. And, again, we consider this very much to be case closed.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Democrats are crying foul.

SEN. KAMALA HARRIS, (D-CA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But for that memo, I believe a fair inference from what we heard from Bob Mueller is there would have been indictments returned against this president.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president's legal team is also seizing on Mueller's comments, saying it's clear that he wants to move on as well.

JAY SEKULOW, TRUMP ATTORNEY: It appears that the special counsel doesn't want to testify and I could imagine why he doesn't. The irregularities in this investigation from the outset are numerous.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Press secretary Sarah Sanders is snapping back at any notion that Mr. Trump hasn't done enough to speak out against Russian interference in U.S. elections.

SANDERS: He isn't reluctant to say it, he's said it a number of times, that there was interference and now we're taking steps on how we stop it from happening again. You guys constantly want to attack this president.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But the Kremlin need only consider Mr. Trump's performance at a summit with Russia's Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.

TRUMP: Some others, they said, they think it's Russia. I have President Putin, he just said it's not Russia. I will say this, I don't see any reason why it would be.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now senior Republicans and party officials said most in the party right now are satisfied with what Mueller had to say earlier in the day but noted the increased pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from inside her own party to begin an impeachment process.

The White House seems to welcome all of that at this point. Now one House Democrat, I should say, told me that Pelosi is coming under increasing pressure tonight from her own caucus, as this House Democrat put it to me just a short time ago, Wolf, the party is growing more restless.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you. Let's go to our congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill.

Phil, how have Mueller's remarks today moved the mark when it comes to starting impeachment procedures?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN U.S. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The voices among House Democrats that are supporting at least opening an impeachment inquiry certainly growing louder and more fierce.

But at least for the moment, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is the one who decides whether or not that moves forward, she's saying, stay the course, not quite yet. And while things might be on the table, at least not for the moment will they go down that road. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I think it's like 35 of them out of 238. Or maybe it's 38 of them out of 238 have said that they want to be outspoken on impeachment and many of them are reflecting their views as well as those of their constituents.

Many constituents want to impeach the president. But we want to do what is right and what gets results.

REP. JERRY NADLER (D), NEW YORK: With respect to impeachment question at this point, all options are on the table. And nothing should be ruled out.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MATTINGLY: Wolf, there's two really key things to get from both of those statements, both from the Speaker and House Judiciary Committee Chairman, Jerry Nadler. One, that is not a shift from Jerry Nadler. He has been saying for weeks that nothing is being ruled out but he'll continue down the committee's regular investigative functions.

The second is what Speaker Pelosi was referring to and that, while it is a very vocal group of 35 to 40 Democrats who are urging to move forward on impeachment, that does not make a majority. In fact, that's far short of a majority.

And until they reach that threshold, Pelosi has made clear she's comfortable in her position. Among the things she considers right now is the fact that Republicans lead the Senate. They have a 53-47 majority over there and Republicans have made clear they believe in the words of Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, the case is closed.

The other is the number of members in Pelosi's caucus that come from districts from President Trump won in 2016, a number of whom flipped those districts in 2018. Those individuals are not crying out for impeachment right now and, because of that, Pelosi wants to stay the course, Wolf.

BLITZER: Phil Mattingly up on Capitol Hill, thank you. Joining us now Democratic Congressman Andre Carson of Indiana. He's a member of the Intelligence Committee.

Congressman, was Robert Mueller's public statement today sufficient or do you still believe he needs to give public testimony before Congress?

REP. ANDRE CARSON (D), INDIANA: Well, I certainly respect Director Mueller. I respect his work as a Marine and --

[17:15:00]

CARSON: -- as the head of the FBI and his work that has followed with the Justice Department. He's a very smart man. He tends to be an institutionalist or a company man and I respect that position from him.

I think it would do good to come before the Congress so that the American people can see him. Now with that comes the pageantry that exists when you deal with members of Congress who are posturing for the cameras and who are being provocative.

But I don't think that the line of questioning that will come from my colleagues will deter Director Mueller. I think he will remain firm on what is reported.

But I still think it's healthy, for the health of our democracy, Wolf, for him to come before Congress in a public setting to answer serious questions.

BLITZER: Based on what you heard today, Congressman, do you believe Mueller wants Congress to actually open an impeachment inquiry?

CARSON: You know, it's difficult to say. I think in a very real sense, he has left this at the feet of Congress to really deal. And I think that he's very wise in the way he's positioning himself and he's very measured in his tone, which is consistent with how he's been since the beginning of his career.

And so Congress does have a duty. I think Chairman Nadler, as well as Chairman Schiff, as well as Chairman Cummings and the other chairmen and women, Maxine Waters, as well, we've been deliberate in making sure the committees of jurisdiction play their role in unearthing criminal matters and really dealing with the kind of specificity necessary that the Intelligence Committee is tasked with, in looking at the extent of Russia's interference into our electoral process.

It's very clear, it has to be dealt with in a very meaningful way, before we hit 2020.

BLITZER: Should the president be impeached?

CARSON: I don't think we should rule out an impeachment. I do think that there is a delicate balance. I think that some constituents want it. Others want us to move forward.

I don't think we need to rule it out. I don't think we need to let Trump off the hook as it relates to impeachment. We still have a constitutional duty that we have to be a check to the administration's excess.

However, we cannot be distracted and create a dynamic where Donald Trump becomes an underdog and he secures a re-election effort. So I think we have to be measured and really make the case before the American people that an impeachment is necessary.

BLITZER: Well, do you think -- do you think, Congressman, at a minimum, you should at least begin the process, the procedure, start holding hearings in the House Judiciary Committee?

CARSON: I don't think we should rule anything out. Far be it for me to tell Chairman Nadler what to do on his committee. I sit on the Intelligence Committee as well as the Transportation Committee. You know, Chairman DeFazio has worked hard with trying to get an infrastructure proposal. President Trump has left that off the table. You would think with a background as a developer, he would want to deal with our broken infrastructure.

We have over 15,000 roads and bridges that have to be rebuilt, repaved and we're talking about job creation for the next 15 to 20 years. We're talking about $2 trillion, he doesn't want to deal with that. He's distracted, Wolf.

BLITZER: The special counsel also today spoke about the importance of what he called preserving evidence, even if the president is immune from a prosecution while he's in office.

Do you believe Mueller was suggesting that the president could face charges once he leaves office?

CARSON: It's difficult to say. You know, I'm listening to legal scholars speak about what he has said. But it's very clear that Director Mueller has really thrown the football, if you will, to Congress.

And so I think Congress should take the football, not leave impeachment off the table but work very deliberately to look at Russia's interference into our electoral process, look at members of the Trump apparatus and what they've done and their being in cahoots, lying to Congress, lying to investigators, lying to the special counsel, working with the Russian government to achieve an end goal that has been disastrous.

BLITZER: Congressman Andre Carson, thanks so much for joining us.

CARSON: Always an honor. Thank you.

BLITZER: Up next, there's breaking news. The Special Counsel Robert Mueller makes a dramatic public statement, stressing his report did not clear President Trump and declaring that if his team had been confident the president did not commit a crime, they would have said so.

And there's other breaking news we're following right now. Israel is in political turmoil tonight after President Trump's close ally, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, misses the deadline to form a coalition government.

Now what?

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[17:20:00]

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BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. As the White House and lawmakers react to Robert Mueller's statements, summing up his two- year investigation, Mueller made it clear Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election and pointedly refused to clear President Trump of committing a crime.

We have a lot to discuss with our reporters and analysts.

And Laura Coates, Mueller faced a lot of criticism coming in today for seemingly not being able to make up his mind on whether or not to charge the president on the issue of obstruction. But today, he sounded very much like he --

[17:25:00]

BLITZER: -- wanted to put that to rest. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MUELLER: Those were the principles under which we operated. And, from them, we concluded that we would not reach a determination one way or the other about whether the president committed a crime. That is the office's final position.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: I notice that he said that they would not reach a determination as opposed to could not reach a determination.

What does that say to you?

LAURA COATES, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Remember, all along we believed, because that four-page memorandum written Bill Barr early on once he received the report, that Mueller and his team were kind of confounded and wringing their hands.

Turns out their hands were completely tied and they always were by the OLC opinion that said this is an exercise in futility. You won't be able to indict this president because the existing opinions we have in our office.

And you are bound by that as special counsel. He goes out of his way to say, that I may be bound but the Congress actually has free hands here.

What are you going to do with it?

BLITZER: You worked, Phil Mudd, with Mueller, for about five years when you were assigned over at the FBI.

Why do you think he chose today to come out and make this first public statement after nearly two years of being quiet?

PHILIP MUDD, CNN COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST: For everybody who is discouraged about Washington, watch that 10 minutes: duty. The man 50 years ago, that is Robert Mueller, did his duty in Vietnam. He did his duty for 10 years as FBI director then extended -- unprecedented -- extended for two years under President Obama.

Somebody says after Director Mueller steps out, come back and be special counsel. He did one final duty to the American people today. One, pay attention to Russia and the elections. Two, pay attention to my team. They're pros. Don't let anybody say otherwise. And the biggest lesson, three, I didn't say the president was off the hook. Over to you, Congress, if you can't do it, not my inbox.

That was duty and I think he deserves a lot of credit from the American people.

BLITZER: Yes, Gloria, Mueller clearly wants to tamp down all the calls for him to come before Congress and actually testify publicly.

Do you think his statement today is going to prevent him from actually having to go up to the Hill? GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't think so. I think if it were up to Bob Mueller, he would do a mike drop, walk out of the room and that would be it. But I got an email from a top Democratic strategist today, who said to me, he should be subpoenaed the day he leaves the DOJ, which would be today, and made the case that there's a lot he needs to testify on, on unanswered questions, not areas that he might -- you know, he said, the report speaks for itself.

But there may be questions that members of Congress want to know about, why you didn't interview the president.

What did you really think about these campaign law violations?

What about the statute of limitations issues?

Et cetera, et cetera. And so they're going to want to delve a little bit more deeply into the motivation behind what he put in the report. And there could be a standoff.

But maybe one way to do it is to say, well, we'll take you in private to avoid a subpoena. But I think there are some Democrats who are going to say, we do need to subpoena you and, by the way, we also need to get Don McGahn up here and get Hope Hicks up here and get some other people to testify.

BLITZER: Nia, what do you think?

Do you think Democrats will risk a big subpoena fight with Mueller?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's interesting that you -- you know, the idea of risk, right?

We saw Jerry Nadler today, who's the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. He was asked this question and he very much sidestepped it. He basically said that they learned a lot from Mueller today. Basically, Mueller told us a lot.

The question is, if they learned from Mueller everything they needed to know. And Gloria lays out some additional questions they might have.

But Mueller sounded very firm today when he essentially said, I'm not going beyond the 448 pages of this report. You already have the report. They, of course, want an unredacted report. They want to know also about the underlying evidence of it.

But you saw from Nadler today, somebody who was speaking very carefully. He was speaking from notes, even with follow-up questions. He was referring to notes. I think you do see some discipline and some fear about, what would be the sort of public blowback if they subpoenaed Mueller?

You know, Mudd lays out, this is a guy who was a Marine, he's very upright, very honorable.

And if you see Democrats sort of challenge him in that way, what would the risk be politically?

BLITZER: You know, Bianna, did anything the special counsel said today during those 10 minutes change the political calculus for the Democrats?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I can tell you what he didn't say and that is that it was the media's fault that this was muddled or misinterpreted. If you'll recall what Bill Barr said and his belief that this was all confused by the media and how the media had interpreted his initial report and obviously those four pages.

You did not hear Bob Mueller mention the media at all. You heard him say, once again, that if we had evidence that the president didn't commit a crime, we would have presented it.

And in fact, they said, we cannot clear the president.

[17:30:00] I will say that I agree with Gloria in the sense that maybe Congress, instead of going after the redacted portions, focus on those star witnesses.

I mean, Mueller says it explicitly, that the report speaks for itself. Hearing that once again from him as opposed to just reading it was very powerful. So going after Don McGahn, going after Hope Hicks, could be a strategy for the Democrats to focus on.

Right now, there doesn't seem to be a coherent strategy coming from the Democrats. Obviously, there is one from the Republicans and, of course, that is nothing to see here, time to move on.

BLITZER: Let's continue this. There's a lot more on all this very important breaking news. We'll do that right after a quick break.

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[17:35:23] BLITZER: And we're back with our political and legal experts.

Laura Coates, Robert Mueller spoke today about the importance of investigating the President, even if prosecuting him was not an option under current Justice Department guidelines. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT MUELLER, SPECIAL COUNSEL, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE: First, the opinion explicitly permits the investigation of a sitting president because it is important to preserve evidence while memories are fresh and documents available.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He spoke about preserving evidence. Could the President potentially face prosecution after he leaves office?

COATES: Certainly. If there is -- it's within the limitations period. Remember, it's a sitting president that's important here, not a president for the rest of their actual lives. Also, what's important to think here is, why would you want to preserve evidence but for an eye towards litigation?

And remember, what he does very well here -- and very nuanced, in a way -- is essentially say, your thoughts that this is a witch-hunt targeting you, Mr. President, is actually undermined because we investigated the campaign and you happened to be the head of that campaign and anyone in your orbit.

So if we were to simply look at the OLC opinion and said, we can't associate with Trump whatsoever, we would have lost people who may have been potentially obstructing justice as well.

BLITZER: Phil Mudd, what's your read on that statement from Mueller?

MUDD: I think people are spending way too much time looking for the secret decoder ring from Mueller out of this cereal box.

(LAUGHTER)

MUDD: It's not that complicated. One, we have the right to investigate. We found information, as he said today, about wrongdoing. We can't let him off the hook. We can't prosecute because he's a sitting president; the Congress can.

We decided to preserve evidence. Why would you preserve evidence if you can't prosecute now? He's basically putting a ball on the tee for the Congress and saying, guys, do your job, drop the mic, I'm out.

BLITZER: Was the Special Counsel, Gloria, effectively asking Congress to start the impeachment process?

BORGER: Well, I think he was saying, it's up to you, folks. Here you are. I've done all that I can do. My hands were tied behind my back. I was not allowed to indict because of the Office of Legal Counsel opinion, which, by the way -- and, Wolf, you know this.

He told the President's attorneys very early on in this process that he had no intention of taking on the Department of Justice on this, so we knew that he wasn't going to indict.

He did the investigation, and he -- when he talks about process, what else is he going to talk about? Maybe legal action after the President leaves office. Maybe whatever is going on in the Southern District of New York, who knows?

But logically, what he is talking about, the process he is talking about is impeachment and the question of whether Congress wants to go down that road. I don't think Bob Mueller -- and Phil Mudd knows him better than anyone, but tell me if I'm wrong, Phil.

I do not think that Bob Mueller would say to Congress, I think you should impeach. He'll never do that. But he'll say, there is a process and it's available to you.

BLITZER: You think so? MUDD: She is dead-on. Gloria is dead-on. Look, let me make this

real simple. The executive branch, Department of Justice says, we can't move. The action is with the Congress. That's the legislative branch.

If you take my word for Robert Mueller, a very lanes-in-the-road guy, he can't tell the legislative branch what to do. That's inappropriate.

BORGER: Right.

MUDD: He's got to sit there and say, half a step over, here's the ball, I preserved the evidence. And if you guys can't figure out what to do, on you. It's not on me.

BORGER: Right.

BLITZER: You know, Nia, I want to play a clip, what the Attorney General Bill Barr said on the day he released the redacted Mueller report and what Mueller himself said today. Listen to this disconnect.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: We specifically asked him about the OLC opinion and whether or not he was taking the position that he would have found a crime but for the existence of the OLC opinion. And he made it very clear several times that that was not his position.

MUELLER: Under long-standing department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. Charging the President with a crime was, therefore, not an option we could consider.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That's a clear disconnect.

HENDERSON: Yes, it's a disconnect. And you heard Barr -- I don't know that he was completely inaccurate. He was certainly misleading. And you think about Mueller coming out today. We hadn't heard from him in two years, over the last two months since his report had been released.

It was Bill Barr's version of events, right? First, the four pages came out, his summation of it, and then that press conference where he talked about that.

And of course, the President himself saying, no obstruction and no collusion either. He had that sign in the White House last week, in the Rose Garden, where he made those two comments and basically characterized this as a witch-hunt.

[17:39:59] It seems to me that today Mueller wanted to be very simple and clear in all the things that we've laid out here in terms of what happened. That he was, in fact, bound by this OLC guiding principle, essentially.

And he talked about it pretty extensively in here. And he said that, you know, these were the principles under which we operated. So he couldn't have been more clear. And I think when you see Barr's statements in comparison to what Mueller said, it's clear that Barr was misleading.

BLITZER: OLC, the Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department. Bianna, how do you see it?

GOLODRYGA: Well, let's look at the bigger picture because it's really easy to overlook what has transpired from this investigation. Five associates of the Trump campaign, five of his advisers, were convicted. Two dozen -- over two dozen Russian individuals were indicted.

This is not Bob Mueller saying, that's it, done. That's maybe him saying, I'm done with my portion of this. Everyone should read the report.

However, Congress now, it's up to Congress to decide how to proceed forward. Once again, you hear him saying, crystal clear, if we had confidence that the President did not commit a crime, we would have said so.

There's no way Congress can just walk away from this now, and the onus is on them to figure out how they are going to proceed.

BLITZER: All right, everybody, stand by because there's a lot more going on. We have to take a quick break. We'll have a lot more on the Mueller investigation.

There's also breaking news right now, millions of Americans are facing another night of storms, tornados, and catastrophic flooding.

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[17:45:15] BLITZER: We're going to have much more on Robert Mueller's first public comments on his investigation in just a few moments, but there's another major story that's breaking right now that has huge implications for the United States and President Trump.

Israel is in political turmoil tonight and will now hold another election just a month and a half after President Trump's close ally, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was elected by a slim margin.

CNN's Oren Liebermann is joining us live from Jerusalem. Oren, explain why Prime Minister Netanyahu has to run again.

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, these results, what happened tonight here, absolutely stunning. Never before in Israel's history has a prime minister failed to put together a new government after an election. But that's exactly what happened to Benjamin Netanyahu as he came up against the deadline to put together a government. He had to cobble together a coalition from his party and smaller

parties, something he's done many times before as the longtime leader of Israel. This time, he was unable to do it, trapped between coalition partners.

At that point, he had a couple of options. One, he could go back to Israel's president and say, I can't do this, risking that the President would give the task to somebody else and perhaps seat a different prime minister; or, two, legislate elections, make sure he stays in charge of his own Likud party, and make sure he remains the prime minister and, in all likelihood, the front-runner for those new elections scheduled for September 17th.

And that's exactly what he did. A bill to dissolve the Knesset scheduled elections for September 17th passed just about 45 minutes ago here in Israel, and the country is, once again, headed to elections.

Again, never before in the history of the country has it gone to new elections so soon after the last elections. Just months will separate these two polls. This, as you pointed out, has enormous implications for the U.S. and for Israel.

First, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt are here, close advisers of President Donald Trump, working on the Trump administration's peace plan, which is -- they're rolling out parts of it now. They have the Bahrain conference in a month. And then they're supposed to roll out more of it sometime in the coming weeks or months.

This very much, perhaps, throws those plans into turmoil and pushes them closer and closer to what will be deep into the 2020 campaign when, perhaps, they really don't want to be dealing with the peace plan.

Second, in the middle of all of this, Netanyahu is still facing criminal investigations. It became clear throughout the course of these negotiations that he was doing over the last six weeks that he intended to pass an immunity law to protect himself from criminal investigations and from those -- and from the possible criminal charges.

Perhaps he doesn't have time to do that now with new elections coming up on September 17th. Wolf, we will, of course, be following this election closely as well.

BLITZER: Lots at stake, as you point out. Oren Liebermann, thank you very much. Oren's in Jerusalem.

We're going to have more breaking news just ahead. We're following the reaction to Robert Mueller's truly extraordinary statement today where he refused to clear President Trump of committing a crime.

Also breaking, millions are now facing the prospect of yet more severe weather and tornadoes tonight while others are coping with truly catastrophic flooding.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:51:27] BLITZER: We're following multiple breaking stories. Stay with us for much more on Robert Mueller's public statement today and his pointed refusal to clear President Trump of committing a crime.

We're also following breaking news in the Midwest where dangerous floodwaters are creating disasters, especially along the Arkansas River. If -- it not only flows through Arkansas, it also crosses into Oklahoma and Kansas after starting in Colorado.

At the same time, millions of Americans now face the risk of more severe storms and tornadoes. CNN's Scott McLean is joining us now live from Kansas.

Scott, what are you seeing?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf. Tornado touch down here in Linwood, Kansas, not far from Kansas City, last night. And it is incredible that no one was killed considering the level of destruction.

This is just one home along this road of many that were completely flattened. This one had the roof completely torn off. And look at the tree. There is a mattress that was blown in into it from who knows where. The tree, you can see there, is snapped in two as well.

Now, preliminary estimates have this tornado as an EF-4. That means the wind speeds were up to 170 miles per hour. It was about a mile wide, and it was on the ground for almost an hour.

It is one -- just one of hundreds of tornadoes that have touched down in the U.S. over the last month but also the strongest recorded yet.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MCLEAN (voice-over): Tonight, nearly 40 million people at risk of more severe weather from the plains to the East Coast after two straight weeks of daily tornadoes. This, after parts of Kansas and Pennsylvania were hit hard Tuesday night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We do have debris on the radar now confirmed.

MCLEAN (voice-over): In Linwood, Kansas, a huge rain-wrapped tornado touched down.

TIM UNREIN, LINWOOD, KANSAS RESIDENT: It was kind of like a freight train going over, and I just feel my house coming apart. And then, all of a sudden, the skies opened up. It was raining like crazy in my basement.

MCLEAN (voice-over): Tim Unrein says the tornado destroyed the brick wall, part of his roof, and relocated his 14-foot trailer behind his neighbor's house a few hundred yards away.

Across the street, Ron and Fran Jones took cover in their basement mere minutes before the storm turned their main floor into a pile of wooden debris.

MCLEAN (on camera): Where were you last night?

FRAN JONES, LINWOOD, KANSAS RESIDENT: Well, right down there is the washroom, and we were underneath the stairs right there that could come up to the kitchen. It was -- the kitchen, I think, was right there. Yes, there's the refrigerator.

And it just took like 30 seconds. It felt like some hail or something. And my husband looked up and he said, well, we don't have a roof anymore.

MCLEAN (voice-over): So far, no reports of any deaths but more than a dozen were treated for injuries from the storm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a tornado right out front of our House.

MCLEAN (voice-over): The National Weather Service confirms a tornado also touched down in Morgantown, Pennsylvania.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've lived here for 71 years, and I've never seen it this bad, ever.

MCLEAN (voice-over): Another major concern right now, record-breaking flooding for parts of the central U.S. with the Arkansas River cresting at about 40 feet. More than a dozen counties in Arkansas could see historic flooding.

Near Tulsa, Oklahoma, they're anxiously waiting and watching as the Keystone Dam continues to hold. But the Mayor is warning people the flood risk is still very high, and they need to be ready to move.

MAYOR G.T. BYNUM, TULSA, OKLAHOMA: There is absolutely no need to wait until the last minute when an evacuation might be necessary.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Scott McLean --

MCLEAN: And there are millions of people still bracing for more tornadoes across the country tonight, Wolf.

[17:55:02] BLITZER: Scott, thank you for that report.

Coming up, the breaking news. Robert Mueller declares publicly that his investigation did not clear -- did not clear -- President Trump.

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