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CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR: Hello, everyone, and welcome to “Amanpour and Company.” Here’s what’s coming up.
The Mueller report makes its public debut. We get the unredacted remains and breakdown what you need to know, what all the president’s (INAUDIBLE)
and what’s the historical context of this special investigation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SAL KHAN, FOUNDER & CEO, KHAN ACADEMY: How do we level the playing field, especially in something that we all — we all desire to have a meritocracy,
at least we all say that. How do we actually create it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: One man’s soaring ambition to give the entire planet of quality education. Khan Academy founder, Sal Khan, talks to our Walter Isaacson.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I’m Christiane Amanpour in London.
It has been a long time coming but the Robert Mueller’s report into the Trump campaign has finally been released to the public, sending journalists
and political pundits pouring all over it, trying to properly digest its 400 pages of legal intricacies and decipher its redactions.
Speaking at a press conference several hours before the release, Attorney General William Barr came out swinging for the president, using his podium
to insist the report showed no conspiracy with Russia during the 2016 election.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: So, that’s the bottom line. After nearly two years of investigation, thousands of subpoenas, hundreds of
warrants and witness interviews, the special counsel confirmed that the Russian government sponsored efforts to illegally interfere with the 2016
presidential election, but did not find that the Trump campaign or other Americans colluded in those efforts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: Barr also asserts the report showed no obstruction of justice. But Mueller’s report itself says it was unable to conclude “no criminal
conduct occurred on that front.” So, let’s bring in the first of our guests tonight, John Avalon, with some answers. A journalist and former
political speechwriter for former New York Mayor, Rudy Giuliani, who is now President Trump’s own attorney. John has been following this story closely
since it all began and he’s us from New York.
John Avalon, like many, many others, you’re poring all over it and it’s bound to be a topic of analysis for the next several days at the very
least. What has stuck out most prominently for you now as you have been digesting its public release?
JOHN AVALON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. Christiane, first, that Bill Barr, the attorney general, today and in his initial letter to
Congress really was putting the single most positive spin possible on behalf of President Trump. He is functioning in effect, it appears, as
almost part of the president’s defense rather than the attorney general who is decidedly not the president’s legal counsel.
Over and over, the top-line assessments he gave may have been legally correct in a narrow sense but a number of them would seem to be
intentionally misleading. For example, he repeated multiple times in today’s press conference framing the release of the report before it was
actually released, that the top-line conclusion is that no individuals had colluded or coordinated with Russia. That is good news for Americans as he
said. I think we can all agree on that.
But the next half of the sentence, which was left out from the letter and from statement today, is that not only did Russia perceive it would benefit
from a Trump presidency who tried to act on behalf of, but that the Trump campaign expected it would benefit electorally from the information stolen
and released through Russian efforts.
And there are voluminous contacts, many of which had not been previously announced, between the people in the Trump orbit and Russians trying to
influence the election. But I think the most significant thing is the question of obstruction, and that is the —
AMANPOUR: Before you get to there, John, I want to play —
AMANPOUR: — so that everybody can see how Attorney General William Barr did lay out the first topic that you just said about the collusion.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARR: Put another way, the special counsel found no collusion by any Americans in IRA’s illegal activities. In other words, there was no
evidence of the Trump campaign collusion with the Russian government’s hacking. So, that’s the bottom line.
After nearly two years of investigation, thousands of subpoenas, hundreds of warrants and witness interviews, the special counsel confirmed that the
Russian government sponsored efforts to illegally interfere with the 2016 president’s election, but did not find that the Trump campaign or other
Americans colluded in those efforts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
AMANPOUR: So, as we’ve all said, he then said that should be good news. But I think a lot of people, yourself included, you’ve just intimated, that
we’re really, really wanting to know how Robert Mueller addressed the potential obstruction of justice allegations and that he, in his
report, basically had said that he could not exonerate the president. What more have we learned about that particular issue given the pages that are
AVALON: An enormous amount. And I think that’s going to be the topic of the first day’s analysis into this very detailed and revelatory report. At
least 12 occasions in which Mueller’s team delineates attempts at obstruction, and they’re quite specific. The president lying to the
American people, showing very little respect for the rule of law, encouraging staffers to lie. You know, and that is certainly below ethical
standards we’ve come to expect.
But from saying publicly during the campaign, he denied Russia had anything to do with the hacked information to privately himself and other campaign
officials privately seeking information about the timing of subsequent WikiLeaks releases to the chaos surrounding Michael Flynn and meetings he
had with the Russians, to trying to get Don McGahn, his White House counsel, to both stop attorney general sessions from recusing himself from
the Russia investigation. And then, getting — trying to get sessions to unrecuse himself. Those are just the first three.
And it’s really extraordinary detail and it raises the question, why is the president trying so hard to derail this investigation? As our own Jeff
Toobin said on CNN a little while ago, if this isn’t obstruction, what is? It’s kind of stunning.
AMANPOUR: So, let us drill down on to some very, very key points that come out of that report. I frankly was stunned to see in quotation marks the
Mueller report saying, “The reason we could not formally bring obstruction of justice and that there wasn’t perhaps legally or technically,” or
whatever word they want to use, “obstruction of justice is because others refused to follow presidential orders to obstruct justice.” That should —
AMANPOUR: — stick out as very alarming.
AVALON: And there are multiple instances where the president orders people to do his bidding, to push — to try to shut down the Mueller
investigation, to lie to the American people, to send orders or messages to the attorney general.
And yes, part of the rational for why it’s not obstruction is the president was not successful in getting these people to obstruct on his behalf. That
is a different definition of obstruction than perhaps might be applied to the average person on the street, because if obstruction is successful
often you wouldn’t know about it. But we do know and we see a president who has a real pattern of lying to the American people, asking aides to lie
on his behalf and showing very little respect for the rule of law, and it does get tied up into question.
Contrary to what Bill Barr, the attorney general, told us about whether or not the president can be indicted, how that question impacted Mueller’s
decisions to pursued obstruction, and he makes it very clear that he viewed that was very much an open avenue for Congress to pursue. And Barr says
that that never came up in their conversations today.
AMANPOUR: John, another thing that stuck out for me was that perhaps it leads into this idea of others refusing to carry out orders to obstruct,
that, according again to the report, the president basically said after Mueller was appointed, that, “That’s it for my presidency.” I mean, I’m
paraphrasing to an extent and with an expletive basically said, “My president is you know what.”
AVALON: There was an f-bomb in there somewhere.
AMANPOUR: But that must mean that he must have been pretty nervous about what this investigation was going to reveal.
AVALON: Yes. And that’s one of the things people are pointing to suggest intent, which is one of the things Mueller says, “We can’t know,” and then
they never subpoenaed the president so they never got testimony from him directly.
I think one bid is that clearly, the president thought the investigation was a disaster, it might uncover something which would be deeply damaging
and he went about trying to obstruct it. The other more generous explanation to the president, which is — needs to be articulated, is that
the president and he said in this letter that he had spoken to other people who said once an independent counsel or a special counsel is announced, it
is functionally the end of the presidency because it sucks up so much oxygen and energy.
What was striking about Barr’s comments today is that he gave a lot of credibility, unusual for an attorney general or prosecutor, to the
president’s feelings, that the president was feeling frustrated by this investigation and he thought it was meritless. And so, therefore, that
created a lot of room and leniency for him to say and do things that would typically be outside the ethical standards we set for a president and might
otherwise constitute obstruction.
AMANPOUR: And obviously, in the initial release, which wasn’t the report but was the attorney general’s, you know, several-page analysis of the
report, many were saying why did Robert Mueller punt on the obstruction of question. And it appears that his actual words in this now
public report say why it was.
And I mean, it’s basically because he says he will follow Justice Department guidelines as to the fact that a sitting president cannot be
indicted. This is before he outlines all of these, you know, potential obstruction of justice issues that we’ve just been talking about. But he’s
now making it clear that it’s pretty much because of William Barr’s pre- appointed memo on this issue.
AVALON: Well, this — that Justice Department protocol predates Bill Barr’s memo. Certainly, I think we know that that memo now give a very
accurate assessment into how he would approach being attorney general in the Trump presidency. But that dates back to legal opinions, which have
never totally tested. It’s simply department guidelines that a president – – a sitting president can’t be indicted.
Incidentally, Barr did say in his initial letter that that wasn’t a factor in their decision to effectively punt on the questions of obstruction.
Barr also made it clear today that he and Rod Rosenstein made that decision not to pursue obstruction charges effectively unilaterally.
What Mueller’s memo makes very clear is that, yes, there are higher standards for a presidency. Are you derailing a presidency? Are you
crippling it in effect from pursuing the nation’s business? And that Congress is an appropriate venue, if not a courtroom because they have
What’s different about that, and that certainly as the framers set it up, is that our current political climate is so partisan and so polarized far
more so even than during the time of Watergate, that it’s functionally unfortunately unrealistic to imagine in many — most cases that Congress
could find bipartisan support for something as drastic of that.
But you do see contradictions from what Barr said and a sort of tortured explanation for how they couldn’t come to a decision despite the voluminous
evidence. And I will also say this, Barr indicated there was evidence on both sides that was equally balanced. In reading this report, that really
does not seem to be the case. The evidence of obstruction far outweighs any countervailing evidence other than the questions about president’s
emotions and motives and intent.
AMANPOUR: So, the president has not cited executive privilege. It looks like if Congress —
AMANPOUR: — calls him, Robert Mueller will be able to testify before Congress. I don’t know. Do you think that will happen? And do you expect
to learn anything more in — you know, when you go through with an even, you know, more sharp microscope on all of these words, or is this it now?
AVALON: Oh, there’s a lot more to come, both in this report. I mean, this report contains the questions — things that are not redacted, at least,
answers to questions we have been asking for two years. It gets into very granular detail and already new information is emerging on fairly narrow
issues. We know also now, finally, that there are 14 other investigations that Mueller referred to different jurisdictions. Only two of which are
not redacted in this report. So, the president’s legal troubles are not over.
It is to Barr’s credit and the president’s credit that they did not claim executive privilege, that they’ve gotten this document out with the
redactions. Barr also said today he had no problem with Mueller testifying and Democrats have every intention and indeed Mueller has already been
called to testify before, I believe mid-May on this issue.
So, there’s more information that will come out from this report and impacting the Trump presidency and the ongoing questions. For example, the
whole money trail seems to be largely unaddressed in this report.
AMANPOUR: We will keep poring over it with you as well. Thank you, John Avalon.
But now, with some perspective from team Trump, I’m joined by Washington lobbyist, David Urban. He’s a stalwart ally of the president. He was a
strategist on the president’s 2016 campaign and he is also on his 2020 advisory committee.
David Urban, welcome back to the program.
DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Thanks, Christiane.
AMANPOUR: Well, what do you think? I mean, obviously, the attorney general came out swinging and framed it even before the report was dropped,
so to speak, made public. Is this a win? Is this over as far as you’re concerned?
URBAN: Now, listen, I do believe it is a big win for the president, as you correctly noted and john noted in the first segment. The Mueller report
finds specifically that there was, again, no collusion at all with the Russians on the campaign. The Russians did attempt to affect the election
and that was, by the way, just to point out, all of that took place during the Obama administration.
President Obama was the president of the United States during that time. They knew of the Russian attempts to interfere in the election. The
director of the CIA, Brennan, and others knew about it and chose not to take a much more aggressive role. Democratic Representative Adam Schiff
has even criticized the Obama administration for not stepping up and doing much more.
But yes, this is a victory for the president. He’s exonerated. He’s been saying all along there was no collusion. And so, I do believe he
feels exonerated and the campaign feels exonerated as well.
AMANPOUR: OK. So, you believe he feels exonerated, the campaign does, and it’s quite clear that there is pretty much no more wiggle room on the
collusion issue. Although, I’m sure there will be a lot more to talk about and analyze.
But what about on the obstruction issue? That is what most people —
AMANPOUR: — were very, very intent on seeing, whether William Barr’s synopsis of it matched Mueller’s actual detailed words of him and his team.
And it doesn’t look like it did. I mean, Mueller said that he could not exonerate the president and he then listed about a dozen points which were
very close to obstruction of justice. And then he uses the following words, that there wasn’t this level of obstruction because people refused
to follow the president’s orders. I mean, that’s dramatic.
URBAN: So, to kind of — obviously, look, as you’ve seen, the report is —
AMANPOUR: I have.
URBAN: — very voluminous.
AMANPOUR: I have. I’m picking out specific words that exist in that report.
URBAN: All right. It’s very voluminous. Right. So — no, absolutely. I have been able to skim over it before coming on.
Look, there are — this is clearly a president who was, at the time, very disturbed and upset with the narrative that somehow the Russians helped him
get elected. He won. The American people elected him and he felt it was a discredit to all of the folks who voted for him in his presidency.
As you noted and John noted earlier, the president when he said that this is going to, you know, “Expletive my presidency,” he was expressing
frustration because he knows the amount of time and media attention it would have been given.
Look, this was a president who was blowing off steam, who was quite upset at some of these things. Would a president who obstructs — wants to
obstruct this investigation, would he have directed his aides to cooperate fully, exerted — you know, exerted no — or asked for no executive
privilege here, set everybody up, set everybody to the hill to cooperate to the investigators, to Mueller, to hill. As many people went — as you
know, 500 folks were interviewed, 2,800 subpoenas. Does that seem like a president that did not and currently is not, you know, claiming executive
privilege over any of this, over the attorney general participating, over any of the stuff being released? Does that seem like someone who wants to
obstruct? It doesn’t to me.
It seems like someone who cooperated with this because the president knows this was a very serious undertaking in a grand jury and in a criminal
proceeding which he needed to cooperate with. He knew if Mueller got fired there would be another person behind him.
URBAN: There would be another person behind that person. And let me just point out, Christiane, this administration, I will submit, you know, that
they’re in a pitch battle with the Congress now and don’t seem to be cooperating all that great with the Congress.
So, I would submit that this administration, when they don’t want to cooperate, they sure know how not to cooperate and it seems like the
Mueller investigation they cooperated thoroughly.
AMANPOUR: All right. But the allegations of the president directing White House Counsel, Don McGahn, to fire Mueller, the president directed McGhan
to lie about whether he had been ordered to have the special counsel removed. I mean, those are really serious allegations.
URBAN: They’re serious allegations.
AMANPOUR: And it goes, what you’re trying to talk to me about, I believe, is intent and what he intended to do, and you’re suggesting that he did not
intend to formally obstruct justice. Therefore, why did the president not sit down and why was he advised not to sit down with Mueller and have the
interviews so that the special counsel could figure out what the intent was from the horse’s mouth, so to speak?
URBAN: Well, because I think that any good lawyer would never let their client walk into that situation. Just wouldn’t do it. It’s not — would
not be advisable. If you were going, Christiane, I’m sure your lawyer would say the same kind of thing, you wouldn’t participate in that.
And you’re correct, you’re absolutely correct. It goes to the scienter, the legal term, the old-fashioned legal term, scientered state of mind, and
the — you know, whether you could prove a corrupt intent or a corrupt purpose or motive behind these things. And those are ultimately, you know,
very difficult to prove in any case. I don’t I think the special prosecutor knew he couldn’t do that in this case.
Look, ultimately, this is a political issue when to boils down to it. This 400-plus page report will be, as you noticed, sliced and diced and boiled
down and dissected by everybody in the media and those on the Hill. You’ll have the attorney general going to the hill to testify. You’ll have
special counsel going to the Hill to testify.
And ultimately, if the American people want to remove this president, they feel that there is something so egregious, high crimes and misdemeanors is
the term in the constitution, high crimes and misdemeanors committed, they will let the representatives know and that the Democrats House will move to
I don’t think you will see that. I think saw Speaker Pelosi said that she’s not going do that. I don’t think that will change with this report.
I think you will see that this will end up, there will being a lot of hearings on Capitol Hill. But at the end of the day, this is
going to end up being — it’s going to fade away.
AMANPOUR: I realize how you are framing this politically and trying to make the best of this report. You said that no lawyer would advise his
client, maybe so but I think President Clinton, under oath, had to be deposed, he had to speak to the lawyers. I mean, there is precedent for
this. President Trump didn’t do it. So, many people are going to try to, you know, figure out what was the intent, absent his own words.
But can I also ask you —
AMANPOUR: Can I ask you because while this has all been going on, you know, Attorney General William Barr has been acting in a way slightly
differently to Jeff Sessions. I mean, he’s done his utmost to some would say curry favor with the president. He has, you know, talked despite
reservations about, you know, allowing the Affordable Care Act to go through and, you know, the courts and potentially be struck down.
He’s done the — agreed to allow the asylum situation to enter unprecedented territory, where asylum seekers will be taken into detention
despite the fact they have their papers and they’ve established, you know, reason, of threat of life, et cetera, for coming to the United States.
You’ve got the president vetoing the, you know, Congress on trying to cease support for the war in Yemen.
AMANPOUR: I mean, all of these things are happening as all of this is going on. I mean —
URBAN: Absolutely. North Korea, obviously and very importantly, you know, tested a cruise missile-type weapon. They’ve asked for the removal of the
secretary of state in the negotiations saying he is not helpful, in their opinion, in getting to resolution. So, you’re exactly correct.
There’s a full slate of issues that are currently facing this administration, this president, all while this is churning in the
forefront. There are a lot of big global issues that weigh heavily on this administration, absolutely.
AMANPOUR: I guess —
URBAN: And I think that’s why —
AMANPOUR: I guess my question they’re sort of unprecedented actions that are happening perhaps undercover of this, you know, very public focus on
the Mueller report. I mean, it’s not — there’s — it’s unprecedented to put asylum seekers in detention.
And the president who staked a lot of personal diplomacy and ridiculed everybody before him is now coming face-to-face with the realities of North
Korean diplomacy. And that whole thing could collapse like the summit did in Hanoi.
URBAN: Yes. No, absolutely. Yes. So, absolutely. So, I would say on the immigration issue, listen, it is unprecedented what’s happening on our
southern border. So, you’re absolutely correct with the attorney general’s order is unprecedent because we have a crisis, a proportion that’s never
been seen, no matter who you listen to, whether it’s Jeh Johnson or President Obama’s secretary of homeland security or President Obama’s head
of ICE, everybody along the border does not dispute there’s a crisis. And this attorney general has determined that he would like to deal with it in
Obviously, I think the president talking with the North Korean leader is a good thing. You haven’t had — look, this was not a test of a missile,
this was a test of what amounts to a cruise missile. So, not an intercontinental or short-range missile even because the North Korean
leader, they are very shrewd politically as to where they — how far they can get up to that line without crossing it is in these negotiations.
AMANPOUR: I just want to go back to the report. Because it’s been reported and confirmed that, in fact, the report was given to the
president’s personal lawyer several days — well, a couple of days ago, on Tuesday, and to others in his legal team.
And we’re told that that is de rigueur, that those were named in these reports get to see the report before it’s made public. Only there’s also
reporting that others who were named in the report and were a focus of, you know, investigation have not been able to see it beforehand.
What’s your comment on that? Is that right, that the president should get it a couple of days earlier?
URBAN: Listen, well, I mean — so, I do believe, as you point out, it’s de rigueur, and it’s a matter, of course, that you are, as a target of this
investigation, you get to see it before its released. I don’t believe there were many others who were targets of the investigation. I believe
the people who are mentioned and I don’t know — you know, I can’t offer an opinion on that, Christiane, because I’m not sure if they submitted a
request or what the actual status was. But if they were not — if they did request and were not granted a similar opportunity, I would say that would
AMANPOUR: OK. One last question before I let you go, because you’re so close to the president, you’re on his 2020 advisory committee and you have
a great stake in his success. Do you believe that this is over now? You heard John Avalon say there’s going to be —
URBAN: No, it is not. Listen, Christiane, it will not be over. You will see that the Democrats, they’re going to have hearings. And listen, it is their right to have oversights and the American people need to fleshed out.
Look, I encourage everyone to go read the report. Look at it on the website and pull it down and read it. Americans should feel confident that
their president did nothing wrong and the special counsel, after two years of investigation, very thorough, determined the same thing. The Congress
will have — they’ll have oversight. It’s their right, it’s the American people’s right to continue to hear about this. But at the end of the day,
you know, this is over. It is over.
AMANPOUR: All right. David Urban, thank you so much indeed for joining us with that perspective. And I guess you and everybody is very, very eager
to see what Robert Mueller himself does say when — and if he’s called to testify publicly. But thank you for that, David Urban.
URBAN: Thanks, Christiane. Thanks for having me.
AMANPOUR: Yes. Thank you. You’re welcome.
So, is there any historical precedent for what we’ve been seeing? Joining me now to discuss that is historian and Princeton professor, Sean Wilentz.
Professor Wilentz, you’ve heard everything that we’ve been saying before coming to you, you’ve read as much as you can of this massive and
voluminous report. Give us —
SEAN WILENTZ, PROFESSOR OF HISTORY, PRINCETON UNIVERSITY: Yes.
AMANPOUR: — your initial impressions and context for this kind of investigation and this kind of public report.
WILENTZ: Right, right, right. Right. Well, my initial impression is that this was devastating report for the president. Absolutely devastating.
Not simply on the question of obstruction but on so-called collusion as well. It’s not really collusion, it’s about conspiracy.
And there’s stuff — with all of the redactions, there is enough information in there to see that there’s something going on there that’s
very, very serious.
But to understand it at all, Christiane, I think you do have to think of this historically and to understand it. In fact, what Attorney General
Barr was doing this morning and indeed has been doing all long, which is a kind of replay of a very, very old strategy, which goes all the way back to
the ’70s. It’s Nixonian. It’s Nixonian strategy of redact, delay, redact, delay, double talk when you have to, and when you absolutely have to,
WILENTZ: It’s almost a weird replay of what’s going on in 1973.
AMANPOUR: So, give us a specific then of that. Because, obviously, that stands out as one of the most —
AMANPOUR: — traumatic, if not, the most traumatic of the modern American presidency. What do you mean it’s deja vu?
WILENTZ: Right. Well, in 1973, if you will remember, there — Nixon’s tapes — President Nixon’s tapes were discovered. It was discovered — it
was revealed that he had taped his conversations. And so, there was a big to-and-fro about whether those tapes would be released.
Originally, President Nixon offered to — it was called the Stennis Compromise, a deal whereby he would release some of the tapes. When his —
when the Special Prosecutor, Archibald Cox, refused that even when ordered — even when the president was ordered by the courts to do so, refused to
do that, Nixon had him fired. He was not going to take the redaction. He was fired. And that was the beginning of the — that was the famous
Saturday Night Massacre, right.
Then go to 1974 and the same thing happened. Nixon released a bunch of very heavily redacted version of the tapes that was supposed to be the
final end of it. This is it. This is it. Well, it wasn’t it. And finally, the special prosecutor, the second one who had replaced Cox, Leon
Jaworski, had to go to court and began the very famous case of U.S. v Nixon in which finally the Supreme Court ordered Nixon to produce the whole
tapes. 16 days later he resigned because the tapes told the whole truth.
What we are seeing is once again the strategy of redaction, delay, redaction, delay. And a lot of double talk too which is about collusion
and we can get into that a little bit later on.
AMANPOUR: Well, I just want to know whether you think this is —
WILENTZ: And this, by the way, I mean — and this has nothing —
AMANPOUR: Go — let me just finish this for a second. Do you think this is going to go to court —
WILENTZ: Well, I mean — yes, sure. Sure.
AMANPOUR: — because we do have a Federal Court —
AMANPOUR: — judge appointed by President George W. Bush who has taken a pretty forward-leaning stance on this and on the Mueller report, basically
also saying he may try to, you know, approve whatever legalities he has to, to allow a fully unredacted version to be put into the public. Is — how
effective or game-changing would that be?
WILENTZ: Well, a full report, I think, would show us even more how devastating this report is. But I think it is going to go to court. I
think it’s going to end up in the Supreme Court, Christiane. I mean, just as the U.S v Nixon case did. I don’t it’s going to be fought. It’s going
to have to end up there.
You have a very different court now than you did in 1974 and then we will see what happens. But I think, again, this is part of the deja vu part of
all of this. It’s going to — I think it’s going to end up there. But only if Congress intervenes.
Now, Congress has got to, you know, subpoena the report. They have to make a case out of it. And every indication is that will happen but Congress
has to intervene as well as the courts.
AMANPOUR: Now, you know, I brought up with John and I brought up with David Urban, the president’s ally there, this quite shocking line — and
I’d like your take on it — where Robert Mueller’s team and report basically says on obstruction of justice, inter alia, after all these
examples of — of — of seriously concerning issues that they laid out at the beginning of that part of the report, that there wasn’t perhaps, you
know, obstruction of justice reaching the sort of, you know, major bar because people refused to follow orders from the president or the White
WILENTZ: Right. Right. Right. Well, you don’t only have to go there. I mean, look at volume two page three, where the report refers to the corrupt
exercise of power by the president. It’s toward the end — bottom of that page. I mean, I take that as the — the — the independent counsel
basically saying — inviting Congress to look into this. to exercise its constitutional powers to do so. He’s not telling them to do so, he’s not
instructing them, but that’s the kind of summary statement right there that — that — that contains all of the things that are in there about
And I mean, I think that’s almost dispositive about what’s the — the conclusion set (ph) the — that the independent counsel drew.
AMANPOUR: So let me ask you again to just go back quickly, one last thing on collusion.
AMANPOUR: I think many people thought the collusion may be put to rest and there wasn’t perhaps enough, you know, in all of the words that — that
Mueller used. But you, I think, believe that the — that there’s — there’s an important issue there of what Trump knew and when did he know it
about the Russian hacking.
WILENTZ: Yes. Well I mean, exactly. It’s about double talk. OK? Because the word collusion has no legal meaning. It’s the word that the
attorney general used today, it’s the word the president uses. It means nothing. It means what they say it means. What’s at stake is the question
of criminal conspiracy. And on the issue of criminal conspiracy I think there’s plenty in this report to suggest that if it’s not, it comes pretty
damn close. If you look, for example, with the Wikileaks business, it’s in volume one, pages 53 to 57 or so, particularly page 54.
It’s very clear that the president knew all about the Wikileaks hacking and that they had geared their campaign to coordinate, in effect, with when
those dumps would be — would occur. Now, this morning Attorney General Barr, in a kind of carry (ph) careful parsing about what in fact is illegal
information, who disseminates what, you have to be part of the original hacking for it to be illegal, that to me is more double talk. It was an
evasion, historically. It sounds so much like the Nixon period, where you’re — you’re — you’re using other words to defy what’s right in front
of your face.
And if you go back and read those sections — I — I invite the audience to do so — you’ll see exactly what’s going on there. So that — what
happened was that — that the Trump campaign had direct contact, apparently, according to the report, Donald Trump Jr. was in direct contact
with Wikileaks, had direct contact with what was going on. If they thought that Wikileaks was The New York Times and just reporting journalistic
facts, well, they’d have a hard time proving that. We all know that Wikileaks was in league with the Russians.
AMANPOUR: And —
WILENTZ: It may not have been the Russian government, another —
AMANPOUR: Yes, sorry to interrupt you. Yes. Indeed.
WILENTZ: It was a very careful wording of it that — that — that the attorney general — yes. The attorney general’s talked about the Russian
government all the time. It’s not just the Russian government, it’s Wikileaks as well.
AMANPOUR: Well, I think what’s interesting is that now that Julian Assange has been detained and kicked out of his Ecuadorian embassy asylum, who
knows what one might learn in future if there is a — a — a possibility of — of him being investigated and questioned. But I also wanted to ask you
about William Barr himself, the attorney general. Because up until now — and I spoke obviously before this — this document was released, to Jim
Comey, you know, who many people thought was exhibit A in a potential obstruction of justice charge.
William Barr — you know, even Jim Comey was praising William Barr’s professionalism. But I want to go back to he’s had experience with special
prosecutions before. Iran-Contra, during the Reagan and H.W. Bush administration. Walk us through some of his experience in this particular
WILENTZ: Yes, I mean William Barr is pretty good at figuring out how to shut down a special prosecutor because he was there, as you say, at the end
of 1992 when the special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh was still working on the Iran-Contra deal. And Caspar Weinberger, the former defense secretary, was
coming up to trial and it was coming up to the end of Bush’s term and they were figuring out what to do because, the special prosecutor later said,
there was evidence that would have come up in that trial that would have implicated George H.W. Bush in Iran-Contra. William Barr was the attorney
general at that point.
They’re figuring out what to do and in fact they end up pardoning Weinberger along with a couple of other — bunch of other people involved
in Iran-Contra on Christmas Eve. Now, this looks like a great humanitarian act but as the special prosecutor said, that ends my investigation, that’s
it, I’m done for what they did. Now, I don’t know the entire inside history of that, I don’t know whether that (ph) anybody does. What I do
know is that Attorney General Barr was in on that then it ended up doing exactly what it aimed to do. Unlike the Nixon example where it failed,
that one succeeded.
AMANPOUR: I just want to ask you also about the notion that William Barr mentioned several times and has been repeated several times, that in a
sense — in essence the president is frustrated that a lot of these allegations of obstruction and this and that were — were — were the words
of a frustrated man who’s been tormented and tortured from the moment he stepped into the White House. Just give us a little political context.
Because we all remember that President Clinton was being investigated and – – and — and all the rest of it virtually from the moment he entered the White House.
WILENTZ: Yes. Yes. Well, go back to President Nixon, though. I mean, President Nixon was pretty anguished too and pretty angry too and you saw
that on the tapes. You know, he was feeling as if he was frustrated, he wanted to get along with his program as well. I mean, you can look at that
any way you want but the psychology of the president is not what’s at stake here — or the president. What’s at stake here are the crimes or the
alleged crimes and whether he did them or not.
And I think that — it’s just an evasion, I think, to talk about poor President Trump feeling so badly because people are on his case. He’s
president of the United States. You know? People are going to be on his case. And he either has to deal with it truthfully or not. President
Nixon was president of the United States. He chose not to deal with it truthfully and I think the evidence in the report shows more often than not
that — that this president didn’t either. Now, I’m saying that as an historian. I’m not saying that as a — as a citizen, I’m just saying that
the parallels here are so striking that we can’t ignore them.
AMANPOUR: Well Sean Wilentz, thank you so much for your historian and historical perspective. Thanks for joining us. And we’re just going to
wrap up again with John Avlon, who’s been reading more of the report. John, quickly, are you learning anything more? And I want to ask you
whether you think that all sides are going to claim victory or defeat based on their already preconceived notions? And that in a way, you know,
Congress is in recess right now, it’s kind of empty, it’s Easter weekend. How do you think this is going to play out over the next several days and
AVLON: The timing is no accident. I do think Barr and Trump folks thought this would be an opportune time to do drop it, heading into a holiday
weekend. Congress is out of session, the president’s daughter and the president himself leaving Washington. That said, the information in here
is too serious, too significant and too voluminous to bury in a Friday or Thursday news dump before a holiday weekend. That’s a degree of wishing
and hoping. But certainly the president’s team have done everything they can to give the impression that there’s nothing to see here, indeed that
the report itself, the actual redacted report is a kind of addendum to Barr’s characterization.
What we know that is that Barr’s characterization was fundamentally and one might assume intentionally misleading to the American people on behalf of
President Trump and the information in the report contradicts him in — in what he said and opens up a great deal more detail, an indication of
additional jeopardy for the president. Now whether that translates to impeachment is a question of politics. There are a lot of differences. I
love Sean Wilentz and I love political history and it’s parallels. There are a lot of differences between now and the Nixon era. But this stuff is
pregnant with history and import.
We had a hostile foreign power tried to influence our election on behalf of a candidate and we know while no individuals colluded and coordinated with
Russia, the campaign was quite aware and thought they would benefit from their efforts from the release of that stolen information. That alone is
significant. And then we have the pattern of a president who lies arguably even more than Richard Nixon, maybe more publicly. So the — the barriers
break down upon scrutiny, but this is the stuff of history and it will not look good in the eyes of history.
AMANPOUR: And this is our first version of it, our first attempt to get to the bottom of it. John Avlon, thank you so much. And for now let us break
away from what will be days of further analysis and let’s learn more about, well, learning.
Sal Khan only wanted to help his cousin with her math when he started posting educational videos online. Not too long after that he began the
Khan Academy. That was 2008. 11 years later it has some 5 million subscribers on YouTube and it reaches across the globe. The nonprofit’s
goal is to give a free world-class education for anyone, anywhere. It’s a lofty aim to be sure and the academy’s founder, Sal Khan, sat down with our
Walter Isaacson to talk about how he’s going to achieve that goal.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
WALTER ISAACSON: Sal, thank you for being on the show.
SAL KHAN, FOUNDER & CEO, KHAN ACADEMY: Great to be here.
ISAACSON: This college admissions scandal. I mean, there’s so many unnerving things about it, but it again taught us how unlevel the playing
field is for getting into college.
KHAN: Well look, the scandal itself, there is a silver lining because this wasn’t kind of legal unleveling the playing field, this is just outright
illegal behavior. And I think the silver lining is it’s going to create a nice chill on some of this gray area behavior that wasn’t clear whether
it’s legal or illegal, where you have these, you know, high-priced consultants that are editing essays or — or crafting student profiles. So
I think in some ways the fact that this came out will level things a little bit. But to your point, it does highlight how much — how many resources
are being thrown at this desire by a lot of families to — you know, we all care about our children, we all want the best for our children.
But when you have resources — obviously these folks were trying illegal avenues but there are actually fairly legal avenues that will create a
disparity. And a lot of what we focus at Khan Academy is to — as much as possible, how do we level the playing field, especially in something that
we all — we all desire to have a meritocracy, or at least we all say that. How do we actually create it?
ISAACSON: When you started Khan Academy it was part of an explosion of what became known as MOOCs in the college level, which is massive online
open courses and people can do online learning and there was all sorts of form, from Harvard acts (ph) to Coursera to whatever. And that — the
excitement around that in so many layers has dissipated. What do you see the more general future of online learning being?
KHAN: Yes, I think — I think most waves — what happens is it starts and people get really excited about them and they — they assume that, you
know, in two years the whole world will be different. And then that doesn’t happen and they say, oh, well, maybe nothing happened. But
actually, things are happening quite quickly. You know, Khan Academy, last number I checked from — from — from folks who did some survey data, 70
percent of all American kids used it at least once last year. You know, as a nonprofit, our budget’s the budget of a — of a large high school but we
— we reach over 100 million kids every year.
And I know a lot of other — some of these other nonprofits like edX, you have many millions of people who are starting to upskill themselves. I
think in about four or five years — and I tell them to the team every day — Khan Academy has kind of three phases. Phase one was me in a walk-in
closet trying to convince the world that this was a legitimate activity. Phase two was Khan Academy being a real organization and really scaling to
millions and running the efficacy studies and showing that this — this is a real way that we can move the dial. And then phase three is the phase
that we’re entering now where we — we actually do want to move the dial for states and for countries.
And I think you’re going to start seeing that over the next — the next few years. And I think you’ll also see some of the — the — the tangential
parts to the learning piece start to come into focus over the next four or five years around credentialing, around alternative paths through college,
alternative ways to get into the workforce, alternative ways to get an internship or whatever else.
ISAACSON: So what other than college could be the signaling mechanism for saying you can get a good job in the future?
KHAN: Well one thing that I’m fascinated by is this — this notion that even if you have a college degree and you go searching for a job, you’ll
send your resume out to 30 or 40 places and then if the folks that want to interview you, then they’ll put you through a whole battery of interviews
and then maybe out of those 30 or 40, if you’re lucky enough, you’ll get one job. I can imagine a world where you’re able to on one level prove
your competencies, your academics, your skills — and that could be things you do on Khan Academy, it could be things that you do on the job, you
document your portfolio of things you’ve made, and that that interview could happen once, where it’s done in a very professional way by experts
that know what the best practices are and it’s documented.
And so employers don’t have to do a lot of that themselves, where that one interview they can go see how you did and you get as many times as you need
to re-do it as you get more skills — it’s like wait, I have a better answer to that question about my — my weakness or whatever it is. And
that process happens every three to five years as people transition to a new job. And probably with all of the change we’re seeing over the next
10, 20, 30 years, with potentially dislocation due to technology, I think there are ways where we can create really robust signals of skill level
competency, of social emotional capabilities, of leadership capabilities that actually would be a more robust signal than today’s credentials.
ISAACSON: You created something that’s a physical school after you had done khan academy so you could see how schools work with real people in the
physical space. What did you learn about the role of the teacher and what’s irreplaceable about the actual physical flesh and blood teacher in a
KHAN: Yes, a lot of people find it ironic that about five years ago, you know, I wrote the book “One World Schoolhouse” and in that I kind of talk
about, OK, now that we have these tools, what could education be? Well now that students can get lectures at their own time and pace, does class time
have to focus on lectures? And if class time doesn’t have to focus on lectures, why do we have to move everyone at a fixed pace? If you don’t
have to move everyone at a fixed pace, well why do you have to separate kids by perceived ability level?
If you don’t have to do it by that, why even separate kids by age? And then while you’re at it, why should you have this very clear distinction
between when school is in session and school is out of session? Even the whole system comes out of en agrarian system where kids needed to work on
the farms and it assumed that a mother was at home who didn’t have to work at 3:00 o’clock to help out with your kids, whatever. All of that stuff
isn’t true anymore. And so I wrote at length about what could credentials of the future look like, what could a school of the future look like. But
it’s one thing to theorize about it, it’s a whole other thing to create it and to live it.
And so about five years ago we created Khan Labs — it’s literally in the same building as Khan Academy — to test these ideas. Multi-age
classrooms, which does hearken back — that’s why I always call it back “One World Schoolhouse,” harkens back to the one room schoolhouse. Have
master-based learning, competency-based learning where students advanced based on their — their — their skill set versus sitting in a seat. I
mean, I always point out we just take it for granted in colleges today it’s the number of credit hours. They’re not saying what you know, they’re
saying how many hours you have to sit in a chair that week and they accumulate it at some point to a degree.
What could the portfolio of the future — or the transcript of the future look like, where it’s your portfolios, it’s your competencies, it’s some
peer evaluation of who you are. And so we’ve been doing that the last five years and we’re really seeing when you’re allowing students to learn at
their own time and pace and you have really caring people around, especially really caring adults around, that all students benefit. You
know, one of the fears of personalized learning is that, oh, maybe just the motivated kids are just going to race ahead and leave everyone else behind.
But we’re seeing the — the opposite, that a lot of the kids at our school that started off in the bottom quartile — we have no I.Q. test or anything
to get into the school — they start in the bottom quartile, after four years or so, they’re all operating in the top quartile.
It shows that you can really pull these kids ahead.
ISAACSON: And do you think it’s important to have smaller class size or do think technology allows us to have larger classes?
KHAN: I think all else equal, the smaller the class size the better. You know, the gold standard will always be a one-on-one amazing tutor. I think
it’ll be a very long time before technology can compete with that. That’s just not practical. So in any of these debates, smaller class size is for
sure better. But wherever the class size happens to land in a specific geography we want to help those educators be able to mimic a smaller class
size by allowing them to cater to the needs of individual students.
ISAACSON: How are you curricular vetted? I mean, in some ways you just were winging it. You admitted you were winging it early on and yet
teachers have a pretty clear and strict method of teaching. How did yours get vetted and why is yours valid?
KHAN: So in the early days of Khan Academy, when it was with my cousins — or you know, this was back in now 2007, 2008, it was –yes, it was me just
kind of intuiting what I thought would be valuable for my cousins and other people’s cousins. And then, you know, people would send me requests and —
and one of the values that I think I was able to give at that time, and hopefully still give, is as someone who got through the system and I did
not have a lot of those debilitating gaps that kept me from advancing in math or science, I felt that what really helped me is that I — I got how
all of these things fit together.
When I learned a new concept in math, I was like, oh, that’s kind of just like the concept we learned last year with a slight variation and that
connects to what I just did in physics class. And so I tried to do that for my cousins, where they saw that math and science was really just a
really connected way of describing this incredibly beautiful universe. And I think other people really resonated with that. Now once we became a — a
— I guess you could say a real organization and we started getting philanthropic funding, then we said let’s look at the major standards,
let’s make sure we cover them.
We have a flair large team in-house and these are content experts, former teachers, researchers, who are looking at the standards, thinking about
what we have, how can we cover it best? We look at the data where we can see for any one of our either practice items or for our lessons, is it
effective for students or is it not? Is it being used or is it not? Is it engaged or not?
And we’re constantly iterating on that, and we also have third party evaluators. So, for example, when we work on the SAT material, the people
who make the assessment are evaluating it. When we work on, say, material for the common core, we have some of the folks who are involved in
developing the common core who are able to vet this material. And that’s one of the values we’re able to give is that every teacher can’t have that
luxury of someone who wrote the common core being able to look at your lesson plan and say hey oh yes, this is what we meant by that standard, not
this, while we are able to do that and then that helps teachers not have to worry about that aspect as much.
ISAACSON: Is there a worry that the district will use this as a cheap and easier way than actually hiring more teachers and training more teachers so
that people who are underprivileged loose that personal touch of a great teacher and school districts can just use automation to do the teaching?
KHAN: My view on education in particular — in fact the whole automation to me, it’s a whole other element why the education is so important, but in
my mind, the single biggest factor in a student’s life is that teacher. And everything, and I’m always telling the team at Khan academy this, we’re
not out there to use technology for technology sake, there’s a lot of technologists who will create a solution and then be in search of a problem
for that solution, we don’t view ourselves that way, we view ourselves as really a — what — how do we create a world where students are able to
learn at a pace, at a level that is more appropriate for them, how do we create a world where the human teachers are able to cater to what the
And it could be academic support, it might be emotional support for what the student needs, and if the right tool is chalk, the right tool is chalk.
If the right tool is paper, it’s paper. If the right tool is adaptive software that can adapt to the students pace and give the teacher data and
analytics and dashboard so that they can really focus their instruction, then that’s the right tool.
ISAACSON: Some people say we’re over testing our kids and over assessing the kids, do you feel there’s a better way than the standardized tests?
KHAN: You know, sometimes when people are anti standardized testing I always say, well what’s the alternative, would you prefer non-standardized
testing? Or no testing at all? And so normally they go (ph) oh yes of course, but the real problem people have with testing and standardized
testing is when it’s not used in a positive way. So, in traditional schools right now, at the end of the year you usually have your state
tests, kids take the state tests and you don’t usually get the data until the very end of the school year or even the summer, and then by that time
the kids are out of school or then they show up at school the next fall and they have a different teacher.
And then that teacher gets the data and she sees that wow half of my kids on last years state test weren’t even at a sixth grade level, but I got to
cover the seventh grade material so she’s going to try her best to do it, but the test wasn’t that useful. I mean, I still have too — I’m still
going to do the same action that I would of even if I had no testing data. So, taking the time to do the testing, and all of that time and cost and
humans and resources, if you’re not going to be able to do anything useful with it for the students or for the teachers, well then it is a legitimate
ISAACSON: Teachers are going on strike everywhere from California to West Virginia, what do you think is behind that, and what should we be doing?
KHAN: Well, I’m not an expert but I think they have legitimate concerns. My understanding of the L.A. teacher strike is teachers were concerned
about large class sizes where they’re not able to meet the needs of every student, they are frankly more concerned about issues like that than even
their own pay — pay was definitely a factor, especially in costly places where teachers, which are doing — you know this isn’t just a cliche,
literally the most important work in our society, are having trouble living in the same communities where they’re teaching.
These are very legitimate things. And then you — and they’re doing heroic things with whatever time and resources they’re being given. So I 100
percent empathize with where they are, at the same time I also get where there the districts have tons of constraints, where are they going to get
the resources, so I think as a society, how seriously do we take being able to upscale all students, especially as we get into this wave where
technology and automation are going to make it more imperative that kids don’t even just have the basics of the three R’s so to speak, but they’re
able to operate at a much higher level so that they’ll never be able to be replaced by an artificial intelligence, and so on one level the economy and
society’s going to be asking even more and more from our education system, and in theory all of this technology’s going to create wealth that could be
used, and so I think as a society we have to ask ourselves, are we willing to make that investment.
ISAACSON: Sal, thanks for being with us.
KHAN: Appreciate it Walter.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
AMANPOUR: Sal Khan and his visionary look at education for the future for everyone.
That’s it for our program tonight.
Thanks for watching Amanpour and Company on PBS and join us again tomorrow.