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Robert Mueller’s name is at the heart of a major investigation into Russia and President Trump that roiled the first two years of Trump’s presidency. Although he rarely makes public statements, Mueller is now speaking out about a new book by a key member of the special counsel’s team, Andrew Weissmann. Weissmann joins Judy Woodruff to discuss “Where Law Ends: Inside the Mueller Investigation.”
Robert Mueller, his name is tied to many key moments in recent U.S. history, and as the special counsel at the heart of a major investigation into Russia and President Trump.
Today, the typically silent Mueller is speaking out about a new book.
Its author, a senior member of what was his investigative team, attorney Andrew Weissmann.
I spoke with Weissmann earlier today about "Where Law Ends: Inside the Mueller Investigation."
Andrew Weissmann, thank you very much for talking with us.
Just as we were preparing to do this interview, there was a statement issued by the former special counsel Robert Mueller, in a rare public statement about your book.
And I want to ask you about that, because, in the book, you write that, as much as you respected him going into this investigation, you end up critical of him for — quote — "understepping his role."
You wrote "failing to fulfill his mandate to offer a recommendation on obstruction of justice."
You say you were flummoxed by his thinking. Why?
Inside the Mueller Investigation": So, this was a very difficult book to write, because I have enormous respect for Director Mueller.
I have worked with him in various jobs. And it would have been easy to write a book that just said, look how we were undercut by the president and by Attorney General Barr.
But, in writing the book, I decided it was really important to be as candid as I could be about the challenges that we faced and what we met head on, and, frankly, what I disagreed with, understanding that special counsel Mueller was the boss, and, ultimately, they are his calls.
But I thought that the public was owed a duty of candor and my frank and candid assessment of where I thought we met the challenges well and where I would have done things differently.
Well, he says in this statement today, he says: "It is disappointing to hear criticism of our team based on incomplete information." He stands by his decision, the decisions he made.
What do you think he means by incomplete? What did you not have access to?
So, I don't know what that is a reference to. And, obviously, I think the world would be waiting to hear him speak about the report and his conclusions.
What I tried to do in my book is really outline where I had disagreements. And those are principally three things. I thought that, ultimately, we needed to do a more complete financial investigation. I thought that, after making all sorts of accommodations to the White House, I thought that we needed to subpoena the president. I was concerned about the precedent we set by not doing so.
And the third is, I thought that we should have given a recommendation to the attorney general with respect to whether we believe the president had obstructed justice.
And I understand, on all three of those things, that the special counsel is the ultimate arbiter. But that is his job. And my job in writing this book was to be as candid as possible about the internal deliberations and the pros and cons that led to those decisions.
You said that, as you just said, you believe that there should have been a recommendation or a finding that the president committed obstruction of justice.
What should have happened, in your mind, to the president? Because the Justice Department had a ruling that a sitting president, this president, couldn't be prosecuted. So, what did you have in mind with that?
The special counsel rules that we operated under required us to give a private report and private recommendation to the attorney general.
And so it was incumbent on us to give our recommendation. That's what the rules require.
Instead, the special counsel, special counsel Mueller, for very noble reasons, knowing that the report would become public, didn't think that it was fair to the president to make a conclusion with respect to whether he had obstructed justice, if he couldn't then be indicted and have his day in court.
And my argument was that we weren't making a decision whether to make this public or not. That was a decision made by the attorney general. Under the rules, we were just making a recommendation to the attorney general as to what happened.
Going forward, I actually think that the special counsel rules should say that our report should be made public and that we should make a finding, very much like the 9/11 Commission report, because I think most people in the public and journalists thought that we were going to be making that kind of assessment.
So, just quickly, to clarify, you are saying you believe the president should be held accountable once he leaves office? I just want to understand that.
Well, I think that is — that's actually a very complicated issue. You don't want to set a precedent where we're so politicized that we start going after our political opponents.
On the other hand, you also don't want to set a precedent where people commit crimes that are serious, particularly if the crimes were even before someone became president, and they know that, if they're elected, they will never be held to account.
So that is going to be a complicated issue.
Another thing I want to ask you about is:, you describe the lengths the White House, the president's lawyers, the president himself went to avoid cooperating with the special counsel, to intimidate, to threaten, to fire the special counsel.
Was there anything more that you think the special counsel himself or your investigation could have done to get more cooperation from the president than you did?
Well, the key thing that we didn't ultimately do is, we didn't issue a subpoena to the president.
The special counsel, I think admirably, bent over backwards to try and accommodate the presidency, to see if there were ways that he would sit for an interview. But, ultimately, in spite of the public pronouncements of the president that he wanted to meet with us and give an interview, he ultimately said no.
And we ultimately had the power to issue a subpoena that would have required him to testify. And the reason I think it was important to do that is — as I explain in the book, is, I think we really had "Hamlet" without Hamlet.
The main character was not called to give his testimony about what happened. And I'm really concerned about the precedent it set for the next time we have a special counsel or independent counsel for the executive to be able to say, see, you don't need it, and here is an example of the special counsel who went forward without that critical piece of evidence.
Andrew Weissmann, thank you very much.
The book is "Where Law Ends: Inside the Mueller Investigation."
We appreciate it.
Thank you very much.
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