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Will Mueller’s testimony change anything for President Trump?

Judy Woodruff sits down with Garrett Graff, who has written extensively about Robert Mueller, and David Rivkin, who served at the Justice Department and in the White House counsel’s office under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush, to discuss the congressional testimony of Robert Mueller, whether it “moved the needle” for either party and the significance of the president’s words on WikiLeaks.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    For more on today's hearings, we turn now to Garrett Graff. He has written extensively about Robert Mueller for over a decade. Garrett Graff is the author of "The Threat Matrix: Inside Robert Mueller's FBI." And David Rivkin, he served at the Justice Department and the White House Counsel's Office in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations.

    Hello to both of you.

    And I should point out, David Rivkin, that it was — it emerged in today's hearing that it was President Reagan who initially nominated Robert Mueller for his first job as a prosecutor, and President George H.W. Bush, Bush 41, who nominated him for another position at the FBI.

    David Rivkin, what is your main takeaway, though, from today?

  • David Rivkin:

    My main takeaway, that it was a good day, I think, for all sides. I think…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You say all sides?

  • David Rivkin:

    All sides.

    I think the special counsel did a good job. He stuck to the report. I happen to think that the main takeaways were the same as you can get from the report. I think the effort to suggest that he has indicated something that is damaging to the president is partisan spin.

    I, frankly, don't think the Republicans have done much damage to Mr. Mueller's credibility. And I have a lot of regard for him. I, frankly, think it was a nonevent. It was kind of an intellectual equivalent of a nine — of the Y2K. Much anticipated. Not much took place.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Did you say nonevent? I just want to make sure I understood.

  • David Rivkin:

    Yes. I think, substantively, it was a nonevent.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Garrett Graff, you have been following Robert Mueller for a long time.

    How did you read his performance today and how he advanced or changed our understanding of what happened?

  • Garrett Graff:

    I think I actually agree, largely, with David, with the exception that I think, by sticking so closely to the report, Mueller made clear that, actually, the report had incredibly damning information about the president's behavior in volume one on obstruction, and then the candidate Trump and the Trump campaign's willingness to accept Russian help in the second part.

    But I do think, along with David, that I'm not really sure that this substantially moved the needle for either side today, in part because Mueller really went out of his way time and time again to avoid saying anything or giving any of the sort of incriminatory sound bites that I think the Democrats were waiting for.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And yet, as we have been discussing, David Rivkin, you did — we did hear Robert Mueller answer a series of questions about how truthful, how credible he found the president's answers.

    At this point, does that change our understanding of what happened in all of this?

  • David Rivkin:

    I don't.

    With all respect to special counsel Mueller, he expressed concern, in a sense that he didn't think that the answers he got from the president mirrored other information he's gotten.

    Let me just say, the job of the prosecutor, special counsel, is, if he thinks that somebody is lying to him, it's a process crime. It's called 18-USC-1001. Mr. Mueller actually indicted a number of people for that, properly so.

    If he felt that, he would have written in a confidential report to attorney general if he thinks that the president, despite the temporary immunity the president enjoys, under OLC teaching, would have written a report that he thinks the president could be charged with that offense.

    He didn't. So we have to put this in a proper context. By the way, the notion that he didn't exonerate the president is correct, but exonerating the president is never a task of any criminal investigation.

    We are all exonerated. We're all presumed innocent. The task of a prosecutor is to come up with a recommendation to indict. So I didn't find it troubling. And troubling is an effort to spin into something, which is — this is not.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It is the case, Garrett Graff, that Robert Mueller made it very clear when he was asked, no, I have not exonerated the president.

    The Republicans later challenged him, in effect, saying, it's not your role to exonerate the president. But he made it very clear the president is still subject to prosecution potentially after he leaves office.

  • Garrett Graff:

    Let me just cut in.

    It is absolutely correct that the president is not above the law. We have heard it many times. The president is also not beneath the law, OK?

    I don't know of any criminal investigation whose job it is to exonerate somebody. So the fact he's not exonerated, this is a very important due process. Let's get beyond partisanship here. It's a due process issue.

    Nobody in America is supposed to be exonerated by the government. A person is presumed to be innocent, including this president.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Something I want you both to hear.

    And this is an excerpt from the hearing in which a member of — one — a member of Congress was asking the former special — it had to do with WikiLeaks.

    I want you to listen to this. Then I will ask you about it.

  • Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill.:

    Director Pompeo assessed WikiLeaks in one point as a hostile intelligence service.

    Given your law enforcement experience and your knowledge of what WikiLeaks did here and what they do generally, would you assess that to be accurate or something similar? How would you assess what WikiLeaks does?

  • Robert Mueller:

    Absolutely. And they are currently under indictment. Julian Assange is.

  • Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill.:

    But would it be fair to describe them as — you would agree with Director Pompeo — that's what he was when he made that remark — that it's a hostile intelligence service, correct?

  • Robert Mueller:

    Yes.

  • Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill.:

    If we could put up slide six: "This just came out, WikiLeaks. I love WikiLeaks," Donald Trump, October 10, 2016.

    "This WikiLeaks stuff is unbelievable. It tells you the inner heart. You got to read it," Donald Trump, October 12, 2016.

    "This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove," Donald Trump, October 31, 2016.

    "Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks," Donald Trump, November 4, 2016.

    Would any of those quotes disturb you, Mr. Director?

  • Robert Mueller:

    I'm not certain I would say…

  • Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill.:

    How do you react to them?

  • Robert Mueller:

    Well, it is probably — problematic is an understatement in terms of what it displays, in terms of giving some, I don't know, hope or some boost to what is and should be illegal activity.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, clearly, Garrett Graff, an attempt here to get the former special counsel to look at the president's praising what WikiLeaks was doing, which was information that had been stolen from Hillary Clinton.

  • Garrett Graff:

    Yes, I think this was as close as we got today to a raw personal opinion from Robert Mueller.

    In almost all other instances, he was pretty monosyllabic. Over 100 times, he told people to go back to the report. This was a rare moment where you saw, I think, Robert Mueller's own personal feelings about how troubled he was about the president's behavior during the 2016 campaign.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David Rivkin, troubled, but not enough to go beyond that and say the president…

  • David Rivkin:

    Not only not enough. It doesn't incriminate at all.

    Let me say for the record that I'm disgusted by many things WikiLeaks has done. Let me also say for the record, if you look at some of the previous statements by Democrats about WikiLeaks' previous leaks, long before Trump got into office, there's a lot of praise there.

    But, to me, there's something fundamentally wrong as a matter of process to do something that really is a critique of a president's personality, a president's policy statements, and wrap it into the context of an indictment.

    As a lawyer, I don't know of any legal argument why praising somebody doing bad things or illegal things can amount even to an element of an offense.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Where do you…

  • Garrett Graff:

    So…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Go ahead, yes.

  • Garrett Graff:

    If I can respond to that, though, I do think that there's a fair question in this about whether we should — you know, there's a question of what's legal.

    And that's part of this, but then what is…

  • David Rivkin:

    … does the criminal investigation.

  • Garrett Graff:

    But that's not what Mueller's answer was here.

    And I do think that there's a fair question of whether the president and elected leaders should be held to a higher moral and ethical standard in their behavior in terms of the behavior that we want to condone in our democratic society.

  • David Rivkin:

    I don't mind the criticism of the president. I very much mind, as a lawyer and as American citizen, when this criticism comes in the context of a multiyear criminal and law enforcement investigation of a president.

    The context is wrong. The process is wrong.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Where do you see this going from here, Garrett Graff? I mean, we have now that had this long-awaited testimony. The special counsel — former special counsel has spoken. What do you see?

  • Garrett Graff:

    I think it's a very difficult question, Judy, in part because, you know, next week, we're heading into the August recess.

    You know, sort of whatever momentum Congress built up today is going to dissipate. Members are going back to their districts. They're going to hear from their constituents in town meetings.

    And then, of course, the current plan for House Democrats is to convene a new series of hearings in the fall involving some of the witnesses like Don McGahn.

    But I think we're really going to see the August recess help shape whether people really believe Congressman Johnson or Congresswoman Demings and sort of whether the American people have a stomach for this.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Have an appetite, have an appetite for this.

    And that is something that we will all be…

  • David Rivkin:

    I agree.

    But my only point is, if you want to criticize the president what he says about Chairman Kim or Chairman Xi, I don't begrudge Democrats doing that.

    But do it as a policy exercise. Trying to put it in the context of breaking the law, I think, in my view, is abhorrent and wrong and sets — poisons our politics even more.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David Rivkin, Garrett Graff, we thank you both.

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