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Aired May 29, 2019 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: not exonerated. That's Robert Mueller's message about his investigation of the president, as the special counsel speaks out for the first time in two years. Is that his last word, or will he testify before Congress?
All options. Top Democrats are keeping the door open to impeachment, as the drumbeat within the party grows louder after hearing from Mueller. Did the special counsel leave new clues for congressional investigators to follow?
"Let's do it." We're told that's the president's attitude toward impeachment. Tonight, Mr. Trump is apparently spoiling for a fight, even as he declares he's innocent, and that Mueller's case is closed.
And rising waters. CNN is on the scene of devastating flooding, after two straight weeks of violent weather across much of the United States. This hour, new storms are brewing. New tornadoes are feared and nearly 40 million Americans may be in danger.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news on Robert Mueller ending his silence and fueling new calls to begin impeachment proceedings against President Trump.
The special counsel stressing that he did not, did not and could not exonerate the president, as he delivered carefully prepared remarks over at the Justice Department. Mueller says charging Mr. Trump with a crime was not an option, not because of the evidence, but because of Department of Justice policy against prosecuting a sitting president.
As Mueller noted, Congress does have options. And, tonight, top Democrats, who say they they're convinced the president committed crimes, they are vowing to hold him accountable.
As impeachment talk grows louder, House Nancy Pelosi says nothing is off the table. The White House says it's ready for that possibility, while insisting Mr. Trump has been cleared and it's time to move on.
I will get reaction from House Oversight Committee member Ro Khanna. And our correspondents and analysts are also standing by.
First, let's go to CNN political correspondent Sara Murray.
Sara, with his surprise remarks today, Robert Mueller is closing the door -- is he closing the door -- obviously, he is -- on his role as special counsel?
SARA MURRAY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
It was Robert Mueller's last day as special counsel. And we heard from him for the first time and perhaps the last time on this investigation. He spoke for just 10 minutes, but he made at least one thing crystal clear. He was not exonerating President Trump.
MURRAY (voice-over): Today, special counsel Robert Mueller chose his words carefully.
ROBERT MUELLER, RUSSIA PROBE SPECIAL COUNSEL: I'm speaking out today because our investigation is complete.
MURRAY: Breaking his silence on the investigation after two years to clearly say he did not clear President Trump of obstructing justice.
MUELLER: If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.
MURRAY: But Mueller did not declare the president was innocent in the more-than-400-page report or in front of cameras today.
MUELLER: And from them, we concluded that we would, would not reach a determination one way or the other about whether the president committed a crime.
MURRAY: Instead, Mueller explained he never had the power to make that decision, due to Department of Justice regulations.
MUELLER: Under longstanding department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional. Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.
MURRAY: Mueller's own words a sharp contrast to Attorney General William Barr's earlier suggestion that the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, or OLC, guidelines did not weigh heavily on Mueller's decision.
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: 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.
MURRAY: Today, Mueller appeared to point the obstruction issue to Congress, ramping up the pressure on Capitol Hill for impeachment.
MUELLER: The opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.
MURRAY: Still, Mueller made clear he did not want to be part of that process by testifying before Congress.
MUELLER: I hope and expect this to be the only time that I will speak to you in this manner. We chose those words carefully and the work speaks for itself. And the report is my testimony.
MURRAY: After two years of attacks from President Trump...
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I knew how illegal this whole thing was. It was a scam.
MURRAY: ... Mueller defended his investigation and team, saying the obstruction probe was paramount.
MUELLER: When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government's effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.
MURRAY: And despite Trump's constant refrain...
TRUMP: I call it the Russian hoax. It's a total witch-hunt.
MURRAY: ... Mueller's team found evidence that Russia did influence the 2016 election to try to benefit Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton.
MUELLER: There were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election.
And that allegation deserves the attention of every American.
MURRAY: But while Mueller did not charge the Trump campaign for conspiring with Russians, he did not say there was no evidence, only:
MUELLER: There was insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy.
MURRAY: Now, one of the last things Robert Mueller did in those remarks was to thank the members of his team. He thanked them for their integrity, for their hard work, for their fairness.
Wolf, they, of course, have all been under plenty of attacks from the president over the last two years.
BLITZER: They certainly have been.
And, Evan, I want to talk a little bit about Mueller citing the Justice Department opinion that says this: "The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing."
That's the opinion of the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel.
Is that a clear signal that Mueller is now leaving the ball in Congress' court?
EVAN PEREZ, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: I think today he made clear that that's exactly what he was doing.
I think a lot of us were left searching when we read the memo, when we read the Mueller report, as to exactly what exactly was his intent. And that's one reason why members of Congress Have been asking for him to come and do a public testimony, Wolf.
I think, today, it made clear that, look, this is something that I can't do. I'm guided by the Office of Legal Counsel legal opinion, which I am bound by as a prosecutor. But I'm also -- out of fairness, I can't even contemplate this, right, because we can't accuse the president of anything, when we can't charge him with a crime. He can't defend himself.
So I think what he's saying, definitely, today, you could read what he said today as a sign that he's saying, Congress, you guys have the power to do this, if you choose to.
BLITZER: You know, Jim -- Jim Sciutto is with us as well.
Even though he couldn't bring charges against a sitting president of the United States, Mueller did talk about obtaining documents and, in his words, preserving evidence while it's fresh in people's minds.
Could the president, Jim, find himself potentially in legal trouble after he leaves office?
JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, there's no question, but I think, as Evan said, Mueller leading the conversation in the direction of Congress handling this before then, or at least making it clear that there is a process under the Constitution for addressing this in a way that the special counsel could not.
And I think it's -- we should emphasize, and you can't underestimate that here's a special counsel who's not spoken in public in two years, and uses his first public comments in two years since the start of this investigation to make one point very clear, one, that the attorney general is not correct when he says that obstruction of justice was not justified or there's no evidence of it, but that the special counsel made this decision based on the basis of Department of Justice policy not to indict a sitting president.
That's one thing. And I think, listen, it's not a constitutional crisis, but this is the third time now the special counsel, twice by letter, which we had already reported on, but now in public comments, has contradicted the sitting attorney general on the findings of the special counsel report, to make clear -- also contradicting the president on this, to make clear that it was not a no-obstruction conclusion, but, rather, a conclusion that he could not pursue an indictment on obstruction of justice because of the policy.
It's not the evidence that led him to that direction. But it's the policy that led him in that direction. And he uses those rare public comments to make it clear that Barr was not right when he portrayed the findings that way.
BLITZER: You know, Sara, on the issue of conspiracy, Mueller said this. I will play the clip. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MUELLER: The first volume of the report details numerous efforts emanating from Russia to influence the election. This volume includes a discussion of the Trump campaign's response to this activity, as well as our conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So he uses the phrase insufficient evidence, as opposed to no evidence.
MURRAY: That's right.
And I think, if you have read volume one of the report, there's a reason for that. It's because there are a number of these instances where members of Trump's orbit are approached with offers of information and offers of help, and they don't say no, and they don't turn around and call the FBI and say, there's something weird going on here.
They appear open to accepting those. There's a difference, though, between those -- that sort of willingness to accept that help and being able to build a case that would actually be prosecutable and that would hold up in court.
And I think that's where Bob Mueller drew the line. There wasn't enough evidence to make a case. I also think he's sort of laying out, look, there were reasons that this investigation started. There were legitimate contacts that we needed to look into.
Russia was legitimately trying to interfere in our election. And that's really important at a time when Bill Barr is deciding to look back at the origins of this investigation to make sure it was done by the book.
BLITZER: You know, Jim, in your new and very important book, ""The Shadow War," you take readers inside Russia's election interference here in the United States.
And you heard Mueller today make that point over and over and over again, that the Russians conspired to try to influence the 2016 presidential election. He said it should be of great concern to all Americans.
Do you think President Trump will now fully accept that conclusion?
SCIUTTO: No, because, clearly, the president feels that accepting that collusion -- that conclusion, rather, somehow undermines his victory in 2016.
And, again, here's a special counsel who's not spoken in public for two years. And he uses a big portion of his comments to also make this point: Russia interfered. He makes it very clear that Russia interfered, in his words, to damage the chances of one political candidate, that big Hillary Clinton, that this kind of interference continues, that Americans, all Americans should be aware of it.
And I think, in those comments, it's not just that you and I should be aware of it, as Americans and American voters, but that American leaders have to acknowledge that this is a genuine threat.
After all, here's a special counsel who delved into this for two years, and found enormous evidence of Russian interference. Whatever the remaining questions are about American participation in that or cooperation in that, there is no question what Russia did here.
Listen, I write a lot about this in the book. The evidence is deep and far and wide. And it is also deep and far and wide clear that Russia continued this in 2018 and will continue again in 2020.
Robert Mueller sounding the clarion call there really. Will the president listen to that? Based on the last two-and-a-half years, no.
BLITZER: And he makes that point, Mueller, very, very clear.
Everybody, stand by. There's a lot more news we're following.
The White House press secretary is insisting that the president has been exonerated, even after Robert Mueller made it very clear that he wasn't exonerated.
Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, why is the takeaway over at the White House from Mueller's comments sort of confusing the way it is?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, if I think they're sticking to those talking points.
And the White House is back on its heels tonight, after some extraordinary comments from the special counsel, Robert Mueller, on the Russia investigation.
One Trump legal team source I talked to you earlier today expressed frustration that Mueller seemed to leave the door open that perhaps the president did commit crimes. The source said that that was a -- quote -- "gratuitous remark" from Mueller.
But aides to the president, as you said, Wolf, including the White House press secretary, they all say they are prepared for House Democrats if they began impeachment proceedings.
ACOSTA (voice-over): With special counsel Robert Mueller's stunning comments on the Russia investigation sparking new calls for impeachment from Democrats, the White House message of the day was, bring it on.
SARAH HUCKABEE 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: 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.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: He hasn't changed his position. We have been saying the same thing for two years, before the Mueller investigation even had to start.
ACOSTA: 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.
(on camera): 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?
HUCKABEE 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 that there would have been indictments returned against this president.
ACOSTA: The president's legal team is also seizing on Mueller's comments, saying it's clear he wants to move on as well.
JAY SEKULOW, ATTORNEY FOR PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: 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: 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.
HUCKABEE SANDERS: He isn't reluctant to say it. He has 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: But the Kremlin need only consider Mr. Trump's performance at his summit with Russia's Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.
TRUMP: 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.
ACOSTA: Now, a senior Republican official said most in the party are satisfied with Mueller's comments, but noted the increased pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from inside her own party to begin an impeachment process.
One House Democrat confided to me earlier today that pressure is indeed building inside Pelosi's caucus to get moving on impeachment. As this House Democrat put it, the party is -- quote -- "growing more restless for impeachment" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It certainly is.
All right, Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.
Many Democrats still want to hear directly from Robert Mueller, as impeachment pressure clearly is building within the party.
Let's go to our congressional correspondent, Sunlen Serfaty. She is up on Capitol Hill.
Sunlen, despite what Mueller said today about not testifying, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, tonight says he should.
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. She did indeed, Wolf.
She said that she thinks it could still be useful, and that there are certainly many areas where Robert Mueller needs to clarify things. And following his public comments today, she certainly is again finding herself in this position that she's been in before, facing an increasing and growing amount of pressure from members of her own caucus to open up impeachment proceedings.
Now, today, she seemed to be speaking almost directly to this group of people, a group that is still very small, only about 38 Democrats, by CNN's current count, but a group that's certainly very vocal, and a group that certainly has a very large megaphone, including those calls for impeachment from 2020 candidates today.
Speaker Pelosi today making it very clear that she will not be swayed by this group of people, that she is going to continue on her strategy for impeachment, that impeachment, of course, being very deliberate, staying the course, and to focus on investigations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): Nothing is off the table. But we do want to make such a compelling case, such an ironclad case, that even the Republican Senate, which at the time seems to be not a -- an objective jury, will be convinced of the path that we have to take as a country.
REP. JERROLD NADLER (D-NY): With respect to impeachment question at this point, all options are on the table and nothing should be ruled out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SERFATY: And that, of course, there, Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, today make clear get again that he is in line with House leadership strategy for impeachment, in line with what Pelosi said earlier today.
Now, Nadler, he notably sidestepped the question if he would subpoena Robert Mueller to compel him to testify in front of his committee. He previously had said, if it came to that, he would do so. Today, though, Wolf, he said that Mueller has told us a lot of what we need to hear today -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Sunlen, thank you -- Sunlen Serfaty reporting.
And joining us now, Congressman Ro Khanna. He is a Democrat who serves on the House Oversight Committee.
Congressman, thanks so much for joining us.
After two years, we finally heard directly from the special counsel, Robert Mueller.
Do you believe Mueller would have charged President Trump with obstruction of justice if not for the current guidelines over at the Department of Justice against indicting a sitting president?
REP. RO KHANNA (D-CA): I believe Mueller believes there was significant misconduct, and he genuinely, I don't think, considered the legal issue, because the Constitution is clear that you can't indict a sitting president. So, he didn't want to have that judgment and he exercised great restraint. But I think what was clear from Mueller's remarks is the extraordinary
misconduct this president has engaged in and the need for Congress to do something to hold him accountable.
BLITZER: Do you believe the attorney general, William Barr, misrepresented all of this to the American people when he made his public statements about the Mueller report?
KHANNA: I do.
And you know how we know that? If he wanted to be honest, he would have given the exact statement that Bob Mueller made, simple, to the point, saying, this is for Congress to decide, and there was no conclusion reached.
The fact that Bob Barr -- Bill Barr had to write a long memo showed the misrepresentation. And his presentation was very, very different than what Mueller's presentation was.
BLITZER: You heard Mueller say today doesn't want to testify before Congress, and, if he does, he won't go beyond what's written in his 448-page report.
Should House Democrats issue a subpoena for his testimony?
KHANNA: Yes, they should.
Look, I have great respect for Bob Mueller, but he needs to testify in front of Congress, for two reasons. One, we have to understand more the counterintelligence operation, even if he needs to do that behind closed doors, so we can deal with the threat that he's alerting the American people of, that the Russians may interfere again in our 2020 election. We really need to understand that and explore that.
Second, I think the country needs to tune in to what he found. And if he testifies, and even if he reads parts of the report to a committee, that will get the attention of the American people and help us build the case.
So, I'm for subpoenaing him.
BLITZER: Mueller noted that investigations of sitting presidents are permitted, in his words, to preserve evidence while memories are fresh and documents available.
Do you believe he was preserving that evidence that those documents for Congress to open formally an impeachment inquiry?
KHANNA: I believe he was preserving it to open up any inquiry when the president leaves office.
I mean, the Constitution says you can't go after the president while he's in office, because the president has many duties. But there's nothing to say that the president may not face consequences when he leaves office, and that that's my sense of what Mueller meant.
I also think he wants Congress to do something. One thing we can do decisively is have a censure resolution that could get the votes in the House, that could get the votes in the Senate, and could pass. And there's only one president, Andrew Jackson, who's ever been censured.
That would be a big statement of this Congress that what the president did was wrong.
BLITZER: Well, what would that exactly achieve? Because I know you're on the same page, Congressman, as the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, in terms of continuing to investigate the president.
This censure motion that you would like to see, instead of opening formal impeachment proceedings, explain once again why you think that would be a better option, when an impeachment inquiry would give Congress more power actually to investigate and call witnesses?
KHANNA: Well, I think we have to continue to investigate.
But the challenge of launching an impeachment inquiry now is, if the House did go down the road and impeach, and the Senate acquitted, it may send exactly the wrong precedent and wrong message. The president would go around saying he's been acquitted.
Instead, if the House passes a censure resolution to say that the president committed acts that were unconstitutional, that violated the law, and that he has to be held accountable, that would set a precedent that future presidents wouldn't engage in that kind of conduct again.
And only one president has ever had a censure resolution. And when he won reelection, he worked to try to get it reversed. So it's a big stain on the president, if we can pass a censure resolution.
BLITZER: All right, Congressman, thanks so much for joining us, Congressman Ro Khanna of California.
Just ahead, former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara, he's standing by live. There, you see him. He's going to help us break down what Robert Mueller said today.
And we're also going to have a full team of legal and political experts. Here they are. They're all standing by as well. Get ready.
BLITZER: We're getting new reaction this hour to the breaking news on Robert Mueller's extraordinary public statement today, underscoring that his two-year investigation did not exonerate President Trump.
We're joined by the former U.S. attorney Preet Bharara. He's now a CNN senior legal analyst. Preet, on the question of whether the president committed crimes, Mueller clearly felt his hands were tied. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MUELLER: Under longstanding department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional.
Even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public view, that, too, is prohibited.
The special counsel's office is part of the Department of Justice, and by regulation, it was bound by that department policy. Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.
After that investigation, 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So, Mueller, Preet, clearly ruled out criminal charges or even a sealed indictment right off the bat.
What does that tell you?
PREET BHARARA, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: So, actually, I don't know if that's so. I have been thinking about this for a while now.
I don't know that the office of special counsel made the determination on day one, that, given the OLC legal opinion and interpretation of the Constitution, that you can't charge a sitting president. It seems like it would be likely.
It seems like, based on the report, based on the statement he made today, and based on a bunch of other things, and knowing Bob Mueller to be sort of minimalist about these things, as I have been saying on your program and everywhere else for the last long time, that, given the OLC opinion, he wouldn't make a decision to charge the president.
But I don't know that they did that right off the bat. What's interesting to me is, if they did decide right off the bat that part of their mandate was to investigate obstruction, and you wouldn't at the end of the day be able to bring a charge against the president, is there some argument that maybe, while all this speculation was swirling over the last couple of years, and a lot of people, a lot of experts came on your show and other places -- I didn't agree with them.
But they said, look, the policy is just a policy. It's just a guideline. And if there's sufficient evidence, Bob Mueller may very well indict the president.
It would have been maybe arguably somewhat better if they had made that determination early on for people to understand that their expectations and confusion about what was going to happen, ultimately, at the end of the day, it might have been better maybe to know the answer to that.
BLITZER: Yes, that's a good point.
BLITZER: Go ahead.
BHARARA: The corollary to that is, obviously, if he did make that decision early on, what's the point of doing an investigation of the president?
And I think part of the reason you do that is to provide evidence for other people who are not bound by that OLC opinion.
BLITZER: Other people meaning the Congress, right?
BHARARA: Yes, a lot of other people, 435 people in the Congress.
BHARARA: And also potentially other people who might be able to bring a prosecution after the president leaves office.
BLITZER: The attorney general, Bill Barr, testified that Mueller -- quote -- "emphatically" -- I'm quoting him -- "emphatically was not saying that but for the OLC, Office of Legal Counsel, opinion, he would have found obstruction."
Did the attorney general misrepresent the special counsel?
BHARARA: So, yes, I don't know if that's the right verb.
Clearly, the attorney general, in various statements, including that one, sought to leave some impression that wasn't quite what Bob Mueller thought. I mean, we know that from the back and forth in letters between Bob Mueller and the attorney general.
Why it's technically maybe not a full-on misrepresentation is that Bob Mueller has been so careful and Solomonic on this idea that he can't say if the president committed a crime or not, whether there was an OLC opinion that said he could be charged or not, Bob Mueller just does not want to say -- whatever he thinks and whatever evidence is laid out in the report, he does not want to say that the president could be charged.
He just won't say that. And so, on that basis, there's some technical way in which I guess Bill Barr is not in a full-on lie. But the impression he was giving was one different than I think Bob Mueller intended.
BLITZER: Mueller said he hopes this will be the only time he speaks publicly on his report, that, if he has to testify before Congress, he won't go beyond what's actually written in his 448-page report. But are there more questions he should address?
BHARARA: Yes, I don't blame him for hoping -- for hoping that. God forbid anyone should hope to testify in front of Congress, especially given some of the circus-like atmosphere we have seen when people come and testify.
But I think there are questions that he can answer. Look, people should remember, Bob Mueller has been mute for the last two years, other than today.
And he's a pretty reticent guy, but he was the FBI Director, he was U.S. attorney in multiple places and he spoke. He would have work that he put forward that speaks for itself, like he said, the report speaks for itself, like an indictment or criminal complaint. I have stood with him at press conferences and notwithstanding that the work speaks for itself, as it always does. He understood that in cases of high consequence and where people cared about him, there was some value in explaining things to the public and answering questions from the press, because not everything can be fully explanatory based on the words alone.
And he's testified in front Congress. He's actually pretty at it. He may not like it. He may not like, you know, being sort of in a position to look like he's politicizing the whole thing because other people will be politicizing it, but there're lots of things he should be able answer, including how we might protect our self from attack in the future, including how he thought the Special Counsel process worked.
You know, Congress has a role in trying to figure out if this process was good, if the Special Counsel regulations need changing. It's in the heartland, I think, of their responsibility and duty and obligation to figure out how it is you go forward in the future, how you investigate the President, what the Special Counsel's power should be.
And on top of all that, I would like to hear the Special Counsel, not just in a, you know, formal remark at the end of his statement, defending his team and defending the integrity of the people who worked in the Special Counsel's Office, but I'd like to see him, in reaction to people making accusations that have flown from the President mouth and from other people.
Bob Mueller, with his integrity and with his track record and with this gravitas, explain why he thinks his team did the right thing and guard against accusations that are made, because a lot of people in the public, they don't know. They hear an accusation made. And just because there's a broad statement defending the office, I think there's value in having him say those things in Congress to an audience of millions.
BLITZER: Yes. He did say today that his team acted with the highest integrity. Preet Bharara, thank you very, very much. We have a lot that we need to assess right now. Our experts are here, our correspondents and our analysts. We're going to have full coverage of all the breaking news right after this.
BLITZER: We have Breaking news tonight, Robert Mueller breaking his silence on his two-year investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Let's get some more with our correspondents and analysts.
And, Jeffrey Toobin, I want to play a clip for you, Mueller today, as opposed to what we heard from the Attorney General Bill Barr a few weeks ago. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: 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. He made it very clear several times that was not his position.
ROBERT MUELLER, SPECIAL COUNSEL: 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: What do you think of that, Jeffrey?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, there are two possibilities. One is that Mueller lied to Barr when they were talking about the investigation, that Mueller just sort of made up a story about why he didn't charge him. And then, now, he's telling truth about his reasons for not going forward with an indictment.
The other possibility is that Barr is misleading the country and there's a lot to support that hypothesis because Barr has misled the country repeatedly about Mueller's report. At each stage in the process, when has had Barr the opportunity to speak publicly about a subject that the country doesn't know about, he has been refuted by facts that came out later. And I think this is another example.
BLITZER: It's very interesting. Susan Hennessey, Mueller made it clear he couldn't consider criminal charges. He couldn't consider even a sealed indictment. How much did the Office of Legal Counsel Opinion over at the Justice Department guide him in making these conclusions?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY AND LEGAL ANALYST: Mueller is pretty explicit that his decisions were essentially entirely based on this OLC memo, that from the outset, they couldn't indict the President, and by his interpretation, they couldn't accuse the President of a crime, very difficult to square that with Bill Barr's statement on the subject.
You know, that said, the report itself, I think, is relatively clear about whether Robert Mueller would have ended up had he decided to render that traditional prosecutorial judgment. He said if he could have exonerated the President, he would have and he didn't do so. And he lays out multiple instances in which every single element is met. And he says that there are differences, whatsoever.
One thing he kept saying over and over on the press conference today was read the report. The report is my testimony. It's all there.
There's another part of that OLC memo that Robert Mueller made a point of pointing to and saying it governed his thinking. And that's the line in that OLC Opinion that says there's an alternative constitutional remedy. And that, of course, Mueller didn't actually use the term, but that is the remedy of impeachment. And I think that that is Robert Mueller being explicit. This is an impeachment referral.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: But the reality despite the fact that we now have the internet, which didn't exist the last time in an aggressively, certainly, during Nixon, it was around a little bit. People could at least read some things during the Clinton years. It's completely accessible.
All 448 pages, is that right, Wolf?
But people aren't going to read it. I mean, I read it. You read it. We all read it. When I say people, I mean, public opinion, which is what Nancy Pelosi clearly feels that she needs more of to move forward and what she can get if you can't get people to actually read the entire report is a headline through testimony, which is why Jerry Nadler, the Judiciary Chairman, had tried to get Mueller to testify. He made very clear today he didn't want to do that. And I thought it was fascinating that the Judiciary Chairman, he didn't bite at all on the notion of a subpoena. In fact, to me, it sounded more like he is siding, at least at this, with Mueller on the notion he doesn't want to push him.
BLITZER: You know, David Swerdlick, Robert De Niro, who played Robert Mueller on Saturday Night Live on many occasions, has written an opinion piece in The New York Times, in which he says this among other things. In your news conference, you said that your investigation's work speaks for itself. It doesn't. It may speak for itself to lawyers and lawmakers who have the patience and obligation to read through the more than 400 pages of carefully chosen words and nuance conclusions. With all due respect, as good a read as it is, you're no Stephen King. Does De Niro have a point here?
DAVID SWERDLICK, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes, De Niro definitely has a point. I think he's looking at what Special Counsel Mueller said this morning and saying, look, yes, what you presented to the American public is a very full and detailed report, minus redactions, but that, to Dana's point, the average American who is busy taking kids to soccer practice, going to work, doing other things, doesn't have time to sit down and savor the report, like some of us do, who, for us, it's our job. In that context, I think he's saying, look, what's less important is whether you provide new information but that you underscore and underline different things in the report for the American people.
Can I just make one more quick thing, Wolf, which is that I think democrats in the House are going to drill down on obstruction now for the reason that, in successive weeks with Congressman Amash, and now, with Mueller today, Amash basically said that Attorney General Barr deliberately misled the American people, and today, Mueller all but said that his findings were mischaracterized.
BLITZER: All right. Listen to this. You know, I want to play a clip for you. Mark Mazzetti is with us with The New York Times. And it's very significant. The President kept calling this a witch hunt, a hoax, 13 angry -- 18 angry democrats, he used the word treason. But listen to what Mueller said today, because I think he was talking to the President.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MUELLER: I want to thank the attorneys, the FBI agents, the analysts, the professional staff who helped us conduct this investigation in a fair and independent manner, these individuals who spent nearly two years with the Special Counsel's Office with rather the highest integrity.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That's a strong statement.
MARK MAZZETTI, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: The power of today and the ten-minute statement wasn't about any revelations. There was nothing new that he said that wasn't in his report. The power was hearing Mueller say it in his own voice and sort of taking -- retaking the narrative away from the Attorney General, away from the President, saying, read the report. Read the report. Read the report. And, you know, we have been waiting for this for two years to hear from Mueller. And it didn't satisfy a lot of people but it did have an impact because you hear him say it, and that in itself has a certain weight.
TOOBIN: And can we just -- can I just add one point? I mean, this notion that, well, Mueller doesn't want to testify, you know what, too bad. Most witnesses don't want to testify in front of Congress. It's a generally unpleasant experience. But the point is Congress needs the information. And, of course, it's different when you hear a person of enormous rectitude to say something then to invite the public to read 448 single space pages. I mean, I don't think Congress has anything to apologize for for wanting to hear from him and why Jerry Nadler appears to be throwing in the towel preemptively seems just bizarre to me.
HENNESSEY: Yes. So, certainly, I do think that Congress does need to hear from Robert Mueller. The report doesn't fully speak for itself. That said, it would be a mistake to treat Robert Mueller as though he is the only person here to tell the story. It's like calling an FBI agent in a trial. Sure, you're going to put that person on there to talk about how they did the investigation. But the witnesses, you want the people who were actually involved.
BASH: But they've all said no. They're trying.
HENNESSEY: That's the way you're going to tell the story. And, yes, they're going to have to fight the subpoena fights. That is why having an impeachment inquiry, which is going to dramatically strengthen the House's legal case in compelling people to testify, that is going to be the critical element.
BLITZER: We're going to have a lot more. Everybody stand by, there's more breaking news.
We're also following, including tornadoes and flooding, threatening millions of Americans right now.
[18:48:34] BLITZER: There's more breaking news this hour. Millions of Americans facing more tornadoes and historic flooding as an extraordinary bout of severe weather across the United States begins a third week.
CNN's Ed Lavandera is near Tulsa, Oklahoma, for us. He's along the flooding Arkansas River.
And I understand the mayor there is warning residents to prepare for a worst case scenario.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is the warning that has gone out. And it all really focuses on the Keystone Dam that you see behind me.
Wolf, take a closer look at the flood gates there, and coming out of that dam is three Olympic size pools of water every second. And that's what is causing much of the flooding in eastern Oklahoma and Arkansas.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my god.
LAVANDERA (voice-over): Tonight, nearly 40 million people are at risk for more severe weather after two straight weeks of tornadoes and damaging storms have hammered the United States Midwest, and as far east as Pennsylvania and New Jersey. In the last 30 days, more than 500 tornadoes have been reported across
the country. In Kansas, residents are cleaning up after tornadoes struck the town of Linwood late Tuesday, destroying dozens of homes on the outskirts of town. The city's mayor tells us the homes are all gone.
Linwood resident Brian Hun described to CNN affiliate KNBC, the terrifying scene as he rode out the twister with his family huddled under a mattress.
[18:50:06] BRIAN HAHN, LINWOOD RESIDENT: I could hear it was over us. And I saw my bedroom just leave. It was gone. We were underneath the one part of the house that didn't get taken.
We knew it was coming. I just didn't think -- I just hoped it wouldn't come right me. It did. I feel lucky I'm alive.
LAVANDERA: A tornado in Lawrence, Kansas, injured at least 15, according to the Douglas County Health Department. Even in the northeast areas not accustomed to the treat of tornadoes were hit by severe storms Tuesday.
The National Weather Service confirmed a tornado in Berks County, in Eastern Pennsylvania. Nobody was injured.
CHIEF JOHN SCALIA, CAERNARVON TOWNSHIP POLICE: We've been so blessed. It's -- when you drive around and see the destruction, you really realize how lucky we are that nobody was hurt.
LAVANDERA: A band of severe weather damaged a New Jersey high school while an event was going on in the gymnasium. Again, nobody was injured. One local resident said it was over in a flash.
STEPHEN YOSH, HOPATCONG RESIDENT: It seriously looked like something out of a movie. I looked out the back of the house, and there were trees coming down. I must have seen three of them fall within five seconds. And it all happened within 30 seconds to a minute.
LAVANDERA: Here in Oklahoma, historic flooding. More rain lass fallen on parts of the state already overwhelmed with rising flood waters and the Arkansas River is cresting.
LAVANDERA: And, Wolf, it has been raining much of the day in Oklahoma. But the good news is the National Weather Service is reporting that in most areas, they got about 1 to 3 inches of rain. That should be low enough to give the Army Corps of Engineers a chance to start closing these flood gates a little bit over the next 24 hours and that means that will also give flood waters a chance to recede downstream -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's hope.
Ed Lavandera on the scene for us, thank you very much.
We're going to have much more on all the breaking news right after this.
[18:56:35] BLITZER: New details of a stunning security breach at President Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
CNN's Brian Todd is joining us. He has more.
What are you learning, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is raising serious questions because this breach was committed by an 18-year-old who did it simply on a lark. Security professionals tonight very concerned about what could happen if someone actually plans an attack at Mar-a- Lago.
TODD (voice-over): It was an intrusion so brazen and simple that it's raising serious questions tonight about how safe President Trump is at his so-called winter White House.
Mark Lindblom, 18 years old, a college freshman pleaded guilty Tuesday to illegally sneaking into Trump's Mar-a-Lago Estate in Florida, the day after Thanksgiving last year.
LAURENCE LEAMER, AUTHOR, "MAR-A-LAGO": This 18-year-old has done us a big service. He's shown how easy it is to get into the Mar-a-Lago and he shows what a lousy job the Secret Service is doing. They had plenty of warnings about this and they did nothing.
TODD: The details from court filings are stunning. While the president and first lady were at the estate, Lindblom entered the grounds through a tunnel which allowed club guests to go from the beach to the restricted club grounds by walking under the main road called A1A.
Prosecutors say the teenager was screened for weapons by Secret Service agent at some point, but he wasn't stopped from entering the property, even though he wasn't allowed to be there.
Author Laurence Leamer has written a new book on Mar-a-Lago. He's lived in Palm Beach for more than 20 years and says he's been on the estate several times while Trump's been there. He says he's not surprised Lindblom got inside.
LEAMER: You come into the front gate, you turn left. The tunnel entrance is around here. It takes you under A1A and get out here. There you are inside Mar-a-Lago.
TODD: Lindblom who was staying with family nearby, reportedly walked around the estate for about 20 minutes before Secret Service agents noticed him acting strangely. It's not the only time someone has gotten into the club without authorization.
Just a few months after Lindblom's breach, a Chinese citizen named Yujing Zhang entered a restricted zone at Mar-a-Lago while the president was not there. Prosecutors say she lied her way through security and was caught with a thumb drive, a laptop, an external hard drive and cell phones.
Experts say these cases illustrate the vulnerabilities in the properties Trump visits often. His golf clubs, Trump Tower, his hotels and Mar-a-Lago, all of which also cater to residents and guests.
JONATHAN WACKROW, FORMER SECRET SERVICE AGENT: A lot of people refer to Mar-a-Lago as the winter White House. It's not the White House. It's not a government facility. It's a private commercial entity just like any other place the president goes, you know, on a temporary basis.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.
TODD: That's different from other presidential retreats like Camp David or the summer cottages the Obamas, Bushes and Clintons would visit when only the president and his family were there.
Mark Lindblom reportedly told the judge he wanted to see if he could get into Mar-a-Lago and that he meant no harm. Leamer believes the president should stay away from Mar-a-Lago while he's in office.
LEAMER: Look, it's a disaster waiting to happen. The family quarters are just off a corridor, that's all. People are walking around there. It's crazy.
TODD: The Secret Service stresses the teenager did not come into contact with the president because of the layered security system. But has or will security be tightened around that gate to the beach or that tunnel to the estate? The Secret Service did not get back to us on that.
A U.S. attorney in Palm Beach was quoted as saying of the breach, it wouldn't happen today -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Brian, thanks very much today. Brian Todd reporting.
To our viewers, thanks very much for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.