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How Congress could respond to the Mueller report

A nearly two-year investigation into Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election “does not exonerate” President Trump, Attorney General William Barr said in a summary of the Mueller report on Sunday, as Democrats consider whether there is enough evidence to impeach the president. NewsHour politics correspondent Lisa Desjardins joins Hari Sreenivasan for a look at what Congress may do next.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Good evening. Thanks for joining us. The Attorney General, William Barr, released a four page summary of his principal conclusions after reviewing Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. In the summary, the attorney general said quote the Special Counsel's investigation did not find the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

    The attorney general's summary also said the Mueller investigation drew no conclusions about the president. The special counsel therefore, did not draw a conclusion one way or the other as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction. The special counsel states that while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime it also does not exonerate him. The attorney general's conclusion, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the special counsel's investigation is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction of justice offense.

    NewsHour Politics Correspondent Lisa Desjardins joins us now from Washington D.C.

    Lisa, there's two sections that this summary really breaks down into the Russian interference and then the obstruction of justice and in both of those cases, this is again a summary that's written by the attorney general based on his reading of the report, right? There's a big gap here. We're not talking about the substance of the report, we're talking about how these two individuals are interpreting it to draft it to members of Congress?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's precisely correct, Hari. This is a four page summary of a report whose length we don't know. We've been told the report is comprehensive. We know the Russia section alone has two sub sections and of course includes a lot of information, not just on the president and his campaign but also what the investigation found that the Russians did and how they were doing it. So the principal focus today is the conclusions in the attorney general's letter about the president and his campaign saying they will not proceed on any prosecution, they do not see the evidence to prosecute the president or anyone related to the president as a result of this investigation.

    But Hari, I think you pointed out what their next question will be in your introduction there. This report, in it, it says according to the summary that Special Counsel Mauler did not exonerate the president and specifically on the question of obstruction of justice, the attorney general writes that Special Counsel Mueller saw that there was evidence on both sides of that question, and that in the full report he lays out the evidence for a potential obstruction case and also against it.

    So what's probably going to come next Hari, Congress will have to decide if there's not evidence to prosecute, Democrats will be weighing, is there evidence to impeach the president? That is going to be an open question.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Now, Nancy Pelosi has said before that that's not the route that she wants to pursue. But Representative Nadler for example, now is kind of opening up a possible new line of inquiry which is that hey, there's a gap here between what the findings might be in the report and that interpretation by the A.G. and the deputy A.G.?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right. Nadler who runs of course the Judiciary Committee, which is where an impeachment investigation would start, and also is the committee that oversees the attorney general and the Justice Department just tweeted out that he sees citing discrepancies and also the way he reads this report, he says we will be calling Attorney General Barr to testify in the very near future. That is going to be a critical committee and I think another sign tonight Hari, of where things stand is that we aren't hearing from Democrats yet.

    I think they are weighing carefully what their statements are, a few of them are saying, some of the progressives are saying that they think there is concern for about an obstruction case. Leader that we've seen the most from so far is the second highest ranking Democrat in the House, Steny Hoyer of Maryland. His statement was really rather plain and straightforward and said we want to see the full report. As do we all.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And looking from a tweet from the president says, no collusion no obstruction, complete and total and — in caps — exoneration. Keep America great. That word, exoneration, also came out from this tweet from Sarah Sanders. But as you point out there is now a gap in just literally what is exoneration when the special counsel himself said this does not exonerate. And I think he looks like at least from the summary that we're reading, is that by design I'm not out here to prosecute. I'll leave the crime charges to you guys, that meaning the attorney general's office.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That's right. There were a couple questions here Hari, the special counsel had to weigh first of all was there enough evidence to recommend prosecution of the president. And it looks like special counsel Mueller according to this summary wasn't sure. He saw evidence on both sides for that question of obstruction of justice. The second question is, can a sitting president be indicted? We did not get an answer to that question because the ultimate decision, as you say, was left in the hands of the attorney general.

    Do you think there is evidence to prosecute or not, the attorney general in this summary says he along with his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, determined there is not enough evidence. And it's interesting in this letter Hari, they pointed out specifics as to why they felt that. First they said that the president, they noted, was not, did not seem to be guilty of the underlying crime here that Mueller did not find evidence that he actually had conspired. So they say that goes against the idea of obstruction of justice because there was not the underlying criminal evidence.

    Second, they also indicated that, oh gosh I am going to come back to report where he said, they just felt that they could not proceed with that kind of prosecution at this time. And it was not based on the question of whether or not the president could be indicted, it's based on how they saw the evidence as laid out by special counsel Muller.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    I remember this one. Forgive me. The second thing, they said, this is all such breaking news! The second thing that the attorney general wrote is that many of the president's statements that could be construed as possible obstruction were made in public and that that goes against the idea of it being a secretive obstruction.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    OK. You know if the Democrats want to go through the process of opening new lines of inquiry based on the actual substance of the report, which again, nobody else has in hand, does that mean that they essentially go through with a fine tooth comb everything that Robert Mueller has been going through for the last two years?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    That is exactly what they'll do. And in addition to the question of how much of the report itself we will see, there is an important question of how much of the underlying documentation, how much of the actual interviews that Special Counsel Mueller conducted will be made available to members of Congress. Some of them. Under law, cannot be that includes some grand jury testimony and also potential information regarding ongoing cases, which I know a lot of people are speaking about.

    There are some that Michael Cohen case for example, the president's personal attorney, there are questions of whether the president could be implicated there as Cohen has implicated him and the president has denied wrongdoing. Ongoing investigations any of that information the Mueller report right now will not be forwarded to Congress. So Congress is going to try and get as much as information as it can. But there's a question as to how much will be allowed right now.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right. Globally, for Democrats, is this a setback for them? Because a lot of them have tied a lot of their political capital to the outcome of this report?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    If you're looking at it politically, I think the first thing you say is this is a very large win for the president. Short of an actual exoneration, which this report is not, as you say. This is sort of the best summary that I think the president could have possibly seen. For Democrats, because they oppose this president then yes that is a defeat. However, this is how the law works. This is what the Justice Department has come up with. So it shouldn't be looked at just politically. However, in the coming weeks I think this will be a very political document.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    All right. The NewsHour's Lisa Desjardins joining us from Washington tonight. Thanks so much Lisa.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    My pleasure.

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