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After Mueller statement, Trump and House Democrats dig in their heels

Special counsel Robert Mueller has finally addressed the findings of his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. What is the political reaction to his remarks at the White House and on Capitol Hill? Yamiche Alcindor and Lisa Desjardins join Judy Woodruff to discuss why both sides say Mueller’s remarks support them and potential implications for the 2020 election.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, we turn now to our White House correspondent, Yamiche Alcindor, and our congressional correspondent, Lisa Desjardins.

    Hello to both of you.

    Yamiche, to you first. How does this message that we have heard from Robert Mueller compare to what you are hearing from the White House and from the president today?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, the main message from the White House, as well as President Trump, is, move on, let this go, the president has been totally exonerated.

    In conversations I had today with White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, as well as in text messages that I exchanged with the president's personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, they both said the same thing. This case needs to be closed, people need to move away from the Mueller — Robert Mueller investigation.

    The issue, of course, is that Robert Mueller was crystal clear today. He said: I'm not clearing the president. Instead, I have been guided by this idea that DOJ policy tells me that you can't indict a sitting president. Therefore, we didn't even consider charging President Trump.

    So that's a lot different than what the president is saying. I put that question to Sarah Sanders and said, how can you say case closed when Robert Mueller himself is saying, actually, this could be given to Congress?

    Her response to me was, we're now leaning on the Attorney General Bill Barr's assessment of Robert Mueller's work. And in that regard, he wasn't guided by DOJ policy. Instead, he came to the idea that President Trump was cleared after looking at all the evidence.

    So what you have is a message that's really being backed up by all the people around the president, including White House aides.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Lisa, given all this, what's the political calculus, what's the calculus, period, for Democrats?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Right.

    Right now, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the leaders around her are not changing course. They are staying with their plan continue to investigate across six different committees many aspects of the Trump administration, including the Mueller report.

    They are not going to ramp up an opening of an impeachment inquiry. But this does add to pressure and fuel to the desire for that kind of inquiry. But Pelosi knows that, in the end, right now, the votes for impeachment do not exist in the U.S. Senate.

    So, for Democrats like Pelosi, it's a question of what is right. Many Democrats saying it is right to move toward impeachment. She's saying more what will work. It will not work right now to move to impeachment.

    She's saying, we need to build more of a case for the public toward impeachment with these many investigations. These will take weeks.

    One other note, they do want Mr. Mueller to come testify. It is not clear how that will happen. They may have to an issue a subpoena. Stay tuned. That could take weeks, because it's now more complicated because he has left the Justice Department.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Lisa, if they were to move toward an impeachment inquiry, how would that be any different from what they're doing already?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    Yes.

    Yamiche and I were saying, we both get this question a lot. Like, what does that mean, even? An impeachment inquiry is one of several ways that you can initiate articles of impeachment against the president.

    Another is a member can just file the articles of impeachment on the floor. Any member can do it. But an impeachment inquiry means that the House itself is beginning the first step toward impeachment. House Democrats basically are saying, no, we don't want to start that first formal step.

    But it's tricky, Judy, because, technically, they're asking the same questions that they probably would ask if they had opened this official inquiry, that maybe down the road many Democrats believe it is. And they're also already talking about, what does impeachment mean?

    We saw an interesting tweet in the last couple of days from Republican Justin Amash. Look at what he said. He said, look at the high crimes and misdemeanors, which is impeachable crimes. That's not defined in the Constitution.

    And he wrote "The Constitution implies that it is just conduct that violates the public trust."

    So it is not defined. And that adds to sort of the tricky issues here for Democrats. Adding to all of this pressure, more Democratic presidential candidates are coming out in favor of taking that formal step toward impeachment. Today, three more candidates said they should do that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Yamiche, they're not there yet. But they could be at some point. So how is the White House preparing?

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    Well, the White House and President Trump really have a simple reaction to the threat of impeachment: Bring it on.

    The president is saying that, essentially, if he were to be impeached, that it would help him in a 2020 campaign. White House aides have been telling reporters all day, if the president was to be impeached, he would use that in 2020, and possibly even be able to win back the House of Representatives from Democrats, if use it — if he was able to use that message.

    It's also important to note that the president for a long time has been saying there's a deep state conspiracy against him. That, of course, has not been proven. But the idea of an impeachment could actually play into that. You could see the president double down on the idea that people are very upset about the 2016 election, and impeachment is just one other things that's being added to that.

    So that's why we're seeing, as Lisa noted, that Democrats are really proceeding cautiously, because the president in some ways is saying, try me. Impeach me, if you want to — if you want to, but I'm probably going to come out ahead.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Fascinating, all this, so much in these 24 hours.

    Yamiche Alcindor, Lisa Desjardins, we thank you.

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