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President Trump’s reaction to the release of a redacted version of the Mueller report was to again claim exoneration. But according to the House Judiciary Committee's Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y, that claim is not at all supported by the facts. Rep. Jeffries tells Judy Woodruff that the president is “lying to the American people” and says Congress needs to hear from Robert Mueller directly.
We turn to congressional reaction to the report now with the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. He is Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York. He's also a member of the Judiciary Committee.
Congressman Jeffries, thank you very much for talking with us.
President Trump says this proves, again, that he is exonerated.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y.:
Well, the president is completely clueless. And, once again, he's lying to the American people.
If anything, the Mueller report is exactly the opposite. It is incredibly, deeply troubling, the information that is contained in that report.
The president, pursuant to the United States Constitution, is charged with faithfully executing the laws of the United States of America. The information in the Mueller report reveals that, in at least 10 instances, the president likely engaged in obstruction of justice.
That is a serious crime. What we need to do now is hear from Bob Mueller, so that the American people can make a determination for themselves as to how we proceed to bring about some accountability.
Well, I want to ask you about what the Congress' role is next.
But, at this point, do you accept the special counsel's finding that there are no more indictments to come of either the president himself or anybody close to him?
Yes, Bob Mueller, as we have maintained from the very beginning, is a highly respected law enforcement professional.
I believe he conducted himself in an appropriate fashion as it relates to how he handled this investigation. I take him at his word with respect to his conclusion that the acts that occurred as between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives didn't rise to the level of being able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was a criminal conspiracy that existed, but also take seriously the allegations that he laid out and the information that was presented with respect to the acts of obstruction of justice.
And now we have to take that information, get the underlying documentation, and eventually hear from him before the House Judiciary Committee.
So you're saying you don't accept his conclusion that he couldn't — or, rather, you don't accept what he said, that he couldn't reach a conclusion about whether or not there was obstruction of justice committed?
Well, what appears to be the conclusion that he reached is that, based on a variety of different factors, including longstanding Department of Justice practice that you cannot indict a sitting president, along with the observation that, notwithstanding that fact, they were going to preserve the evidence of obstruction of justice for both Congress and presumably a future Department of Justice to consider once Donald Trump is no longer president of the United States of the United States of America.
To me, that's not the end. That's just the beginning of what needs to come next.
So, when you say you're going to call the special counsel, Bob Mueller, before Congress, what do you think you can get from him that he hasn't already laid out? He spent two years working on this report.
What more do you think you can hear from him, learn from him?
It's a great question.
One, we don't have the underlying documentation in this exhaustive report. We also have only been presented with a redacted version that was undertaken by the attorney general, who clearly is not acting like the people's attorney. He's acting like Trump's publicist.
So, at this particular point in time, we can't simply accept the redacted version of what was presented to Congress and the American people today. We need an unredacted version. We need the underlying documentation.
And, ultimately, we need Bob Mueller to explain the report to the American people and the principal findings and conclusions.
So, when you say the whole report, I mean, as you know, the redacted portions include grand jury testimony. It includes material that we are told is confidential, it's part of intelligence or intelligence gathering.
You're saying you want to just basically ignore those concerns, those restrictions?
Well, there are two things.
With respect to Congress, we have high levels of security clearance, and so any member of Congress ought to be able to review the report in its entirety.
With respect to the American people, the House Democrats have been very clear that we accept the notion that redactions are appropriate in order to protect sources and methods connected to the intelligence community, so that we can continue to promote the safety and security of the American people.
However, as you know, with respect to grand jury material, that's a very different story. There is a presumption of privacy. However, the law permits that presumption to be overcome when there is a compelling public interest. Seventeen different intelligence agencies concluded that Russia attacked our democracy and interfered with our election to try and artificially place Donald Trump at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
To me, this whole scenario involves a compelling public interest. That's why we need more information, not less.
And is that something that would potentially lead, in your opinion, to impeachment proceedings?
Well, impeachment is still off the table as it relates to how we're going to proceed. We just want to methodically collect the information.
Nancy Pelosi has been clear with respect to impeachment. She's laid out a standard that I accept and support, which is that the case must be compelling, the evidence should be overwhelming, and the sentiment around impeachment must be bipartisan.
We have gotten a lot closer to the case perhaps being compelling. The evidence is being developed, but we still haven't hit the third prong, where public sentiment suggests that to have a president that is engaged in this type of criminality is no longer acceptable.
We will see how the American people process the information over the next few weeks, but that's why it's important for us to hear from Bob Mueller directly.
But you're saying that what happens after the Congress hears from the special counsel is something that could lead to prosecuting the president or finding him — or trying to remove him from office?
Well, the Department of Justice has been very clear at this particular point in time, which is to say that a sitting president cannot be prosecuted, pursuant to Justice Department practice. I accept that as the situation that we find ourselves in.
In terms of presidential accountability, I don't think that we, as potential decision-makers on the House Judiciary Committee, should come to any conclusions, until we have gathered all of the information. And that's going to include a report free of some of the redactions that are probably overly broad. That will include the underlying documentation. That will include hearing from Bob Mueller.
Until we get to that point, it's premature to discuss the potential of pursuing impeachment proceedings against the president.
Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, we thank you.
Thank you very much.
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