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How the Mueller report represents the beginning of ‘a new phase’

There are early indications that the Mueller report does not recommend any further indictments beyond those brought during the nearly two-year investigation. If true, does that mean President Trump is cleared of wrongdoing? Judy Woodruff talks to former federal prosecutor Amy Jeffress and former Justice Department official John Carlin about the “fact-gathering” nature of the investigation.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    We are keeping our focus on what the conclusion of the special counsel's investigation could mean with Amy Jeffress. She's a former federal prosecutor who also served as counselor to the attorney general for national security. And John Carlin, he served for several years as the assistant attorney general for national security in the Obama administration. And he joins us via Skype.

    Welcome to both of you.

    John Carlin, I'm going to start with you.

    As this is unfolding — and, again, we don't know very much at this point — what do we expect to have — to know next? We know the attorney general has the Mueller final report. What do we believe happens now?

  • John Carlin:

    Well, this is really — it's not the end. It's the beginning of a new phase.

    And I think it's extraordinarily important to focus, as you have already, on what we currently know. So we already — this investigation, in an incredibly short period of time for an investigation that covers complex criminal activity, counterintelligence operations, laundering of monetary funds, has really operated at an unprecedented pace.

    The report is different than a report might be if it was purely on criminal charges. Over the years, the FBI has changed its reporting requirements when it comes to intelligence threats to our country, to make sure that they are briefed out to the rest of the intelligence community, and also to the critical oversight committees, the House/Senate Intelligence Committees.

    Much of this report seems like it will fall within the scope of that oversight for those Intelligence Committees. So I would expect, one way or the other, that the report ends up in their hands.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In the Intelligence Committees' hands?

    Amy Jeffress, to you — to next.

    This early indication, again, through news reports, not through any confirmation from the Justice Department, that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, is not recommending any further indictments, if that's the case, what does that say to you?

  • Amy Jeffress:

    Well, that says that the core of the special counsel's work has been completed, so that team has decided that they have brought all of the charges that they felt were within their core mandate.

    But we already know that there are other investigations they have referred out to the U.S. attorney's offices that are related, if not within that central ambit of the investigation.

    So, I agree with John. I don't think that this investigation and all of its tentacles have been fully completed. I think that there will be more to come, but it won't be related to the core of the Russian interference in the election, per se.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And meaning what? I mean, let's go back and talk about what has been referred, Amy Jeffress, to the Southern District of New York, for example.

  • Amy Jeffress:

    That's exactly right.

    We know that the Cohen piece to have the investigation was referred. There are other investigations under way. And I expect that there are some that we don't know about that may be under way that have not yet been made public.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And I want to turn, John Carlin, to you again on what have been referred and what hasn't.

    Could it be seen, though, at this early stage that it's good news for President Trump, that, based on the core, looking at the connections between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, or vice versa, the fact that there are no further indictments, if that turns out to be accurate, is that good news for the president?

  • John Carlin:

    So, if there are no further indictments of individuals for criminal — crimes, conspiring with Russians, it would be good news, I think, for the country.

    It's already been — we have been through an unprecedented period where a campaign manager of a major campaign has been convicted twice of getting, among other crimes, millions of dollars from Russian-affiliated interests. We have had a national security adviser plead guilty to lying about Russian contacts.

    We have had numerous Russian agents indicted for their actions in trying to undermine our election. And that's just from the Mueller special counsel. We have already had cases referred back to the National Security Division, including a case that resulted in the indictment of Russian actors for trying to interfere in the 2018 campaign, our most recent election.

    But is it good news for the president? I think that, for that, we need to step back and think about the separation of powers. This was a fact-gathering. It looked like from the beginning that there is an Office of Legal Counsel opinion that would prevent the special counsel from issuing an indictment against the president.

    This will be the factual record that is then given to Congress, and it will be their role to consider that factual record and whether or not it warrants them taking action through their power of impeachment.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Amy Jeffress, how do you read what we know about whether or not a recommendation can be made to indict the president? And does it sound to you — and, again, what we have at this point is so — is piecemeal. Does it sound to you at this point as if that will not take place, there will not be a recommendation to indict the president?

  • Amy Jeffress:

    I don't think there will be, and I never expected that there would be, given the policy pursuant to the OLC memos.

    I think, though, that that means that, largely, what will be the content of this report will be the evidence that they gathered that didn't lead to charges, although I think the report will also describe the evidence that was collected that did lead to charges that are already in the public domain.

    But I think there will be evidence described in the report that we don't yet know.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, just very quickly, John Carlin, what do you look for next? We're obviously waiting for the entire report to be released. We don't know if it will be. What are you looking for initially?

  • John Carlin:

    I think it will take a period of time, as they go through the report — and I think we need to, number one, not wait to take action to protect our elections or to consider the information that's already been made public.

    And then, number two, where we do need to wait is and ensure that the information in that report reaches the public, because voters have a right to know, and also reaches the critical oversight Committees, so they can take what necessary steps they need to take to protect our country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    John Carlin, former Justice Department official, Amy Jeffress, former federal prosecutor, thank you both.

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