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Mueller: President Trump Was Not Exonerated, This Was "Not a Witch Hunt"; Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) is Interviewed About the Robert Mueller Testimony. Aired on 8-9p ET

Aired July 24, 2019 - 20:00   ET


[20:00:18] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: And good evening from Washington.

Robert Mueller spoke today and millions listened. The question is, what did they hear?

To some degree, the former Russia special counsel's testimony, first, before the House Judiciary Committee and then House Intelligence was in many ways a Rorschach test. Different assumptions on each side going in, different lines of questioning and completely different takeaways from the two sides afterward.

Republicans largely calling it a failed offense of what in their view was an illegitimate investigation. Democrats hanging on every instance Mueller confirmed what was in his report and in so doing confirming the Democrats' belief that there's evidence that a felon sits in the White House.

What neither side got was a Robert Mueller entertaining hypotheticals or offering his opinions on any subject whatsoever. Mueller testified many times over his long career, but it is certainly a while and today he was often halting, hesitant, obviously, reluctant to be there.

We'll talk about all that and the rest tonight because all of it is significant. We begin, though, tonight keeping them honest with something else that also matters a lot, namely direct attacks by the president on the legitimacy of the investigation and the man in charge of it.

Today, Mueller directly contradicted many of those allegations which the president was making even after the hearings late today.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There was no defense to this ridiculous hoax. This witch hunt that's been going on for a long time, pretty much from the time I came down on the escalator with our first lady. And it's a disgrace what happened, but I think today proved a lot to everybody.

The answer is very simple. Nothing was done wrong. This was all a big hoax and if you look at it today, nothing was done wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: He says no wrongdoing and all it takes is a look at the court docket to see that that's pulse and Mr. Mueller had said the opposite just hours before. He and others pointing to the convictions or guilty pleas from Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, his deputy Rick Gates, president's first national security advisor Michael Flynn, dozens of indictments. As for the hoax and witch hunt allegations, he addressed that, as well.


REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): When Donald Trump called your investigation a witch hunt, that was also false, was it not?


SCHIFF: Well, your investigation is not a witch hunt, is it --

MUELLER: It is not a witch hunt.

SCHIFF: When the president said the Russian interference was a hoax, that was false, wasn't it?


SCHIFF: When he said it publicly, it was false?

MUELLER: He did say publicly that it was false, yes.


COOPER: So not a witch hunt, not a hoax, either. As for the president's claim repeated twice this afternoon that nothing was done wrong, it's definitely not what Mueller found. Watch.


REP. JERRY NADLER (D-NY): Director Mueller, the president has repeatedly claimed that your report found there was no obstruction and that it completely and totally exonerated him, but that is not what your report said, is it?

MUELLER: Correct, that is not what the report said.


COOPER: Well, the president has also claimed that the special counsel who was twice nominated to be FBI director, once by Republicans and by Democrats, has conflicts of interest and a grudge against the president because he was turned down for the directorship a third time.


TRUMP: He's got big conflicts with me. As you know, he wanted the job of the FBI director. He didn't get it, and we had a business relationship where I said no, and I would say that he wasn't happy, then all of a sudden, he gets this position.


COOPER: Well, for the record, the so-called business relationship concerned a refund Mueller was seeking for the balance of unused membership at one of the president's country clubs, something according to the Mueller report, former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon told President Trump was, quote, ridiculous and petty.

As for the president's claim that Mueller wanted his old job back, Mueller was asked about that today.


REP. GREG STEUBE (R-FL): So you don't recall on May 16th, 2017 that you interviewed with the president regarding the FBI director job?

MUELLER: I interviewed with the president and it was --

STEUBE: About the FBI director job?

MUELLER: It was about the job and not about me applying for the job.

STEUBE: So, your statement here today is that you didn't interview to apply for the FBI director job?

MUELLER: That's correct.


COOPER: The president today also called attention to a moment early on that had Democrats buzzing because it went to the heart of the case they were trying to make the special counsel would have indicted the president on obstruction charges were not for the Justice Department guidelines barring a sitting president from being indicted.

That moment happened during questioning by California Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu.


REP. TED LIEU (D-CA): To recap what we heard, we have heard today that the president ordered former White House counsel Don McGahn to fire you. The president ordered Don McGahn to then cover that up and create a false paper trail. And now, we've heard the president ordered Corey Lewandowski to tell Jeff Sessions to limit your investigation so that he, you stop investigating the president.

[20:05:06] I believe a reasonable person looking at these facts could conclude that all three elements of the crime of obstruction of justice have been met, and I'd like to ask you, the reason again that you did not indict Donald Trump is because of OLC opinion stating that you cannot indict a sitting president, correct?

MUELLER: That is correct.


COOPER: Well, as you might imagine, that made news, unwelcome news to Mueller who walked back his remarks a short time later.


MUELLER: I want to go back to one thing that was said this morning by Mr. Lieu who said and I quote, you didn't charge the president because of the OLC opinion. That is not the correct way to say it. As we say in the report and as I said at the opening, we did not reach a determination as to whether the president committed a crime.


COOPER: Which is consistent with language from his report but still leaves open the question what would Mueller have done if not for the OLC opinion.

I spoke with Congressman Lieu earlier tonight.


COOPER: Congressman Lieu, your exchange with Mueller produced clearly one of the more surprising responses from him of the day. Were you surprised by his first answer this morning and then by his walk back later in the day?

LIEU: I was not surprised by his first answer because Special Counsel Mueller himself who always brings up the OLC opinion saying that he was instructed he could not indict a sitting president, and I simply walked Special Counsel Mueller through the three elements of obstruction of justice. I showed that they were all met and then I asked him basically is the reason he didn't indict Donald Trump because of that opinion and he said yes. It was perfectly logical and it made perfect sense.

COOPER: So, in -- because when he walked it back, he seemed to lay the blame on you for the way you frame the question rather than himself on the way he answered it. Do you think he didn't understand what you said or do you think he actually did understand it and his original answer was what he really thought but he just didn't want to say that publicly?

LIEU: I believe he fully understood my question. It was a logical extension of me getting him to establish the three elements of obstruction of justice were met and I think it's what he actually believes. I think he may have walked it back because he understood that what that means is we got a felon in the White House, and that's what the hearing showed today, that Donald Trump committed multiple acts of obstruction of justice. Those are felonies.

Now, what the American people and Congress choose to do with that information we'll see in the next few days and weeks.

COOPER: So when he later says that, you know, they reached no conclusion and they reached no con conclusion because of the OLC guidelines of guidelines operating from the beginning, you think in his mind he did reach a conclusion and he did reveal that?

LIEU: Absolutely. He lays out the three elements of obstruction of justice. He said yes to the first two, and then the third element with intent, I simply read him when he wrote in his report. He said there was substantial evidence of corrupt intent. That these all three elements so you can call it whatever you want, but every person who looks at it, including over 1,400 prosecutors, calls it obstruction of justice.

COOPER: There has been a lot of surprise and discussion of how Mueller performed today. It was clearly very different than he had done, you know, in years past. I think this is the first time in six years he was testifying.

Did it surprise you and do you think it muted what Democrats hoped the impact of this would be?

LIEU: I would have liked to have Special Counsel Robert Mueller but he answered yes and true to a number of devastating facts and if the American people are watching this, the only conclusion they conclude is that the Russians systematically and sweepingly interfered in our 2016 elections, the Trump campaign embraced that interference and then the president committed acts of obstruction of justice to stop the investigation into that interference.

COOPER: You could make the argument, the reason he said the president was not exonerated was to tip his hand about that opinion, about his belief, because he could have said there is not a basis to charge him, he didn't say that, which is what he said on, you know, the conspiracy/collusion. He said, you know, that clearly he was not exonerated.

LIEU: That's a great point. So Robert Mueller himself brings up the fact that he did not exonerate the president and then he says the OLC opinion prevents me from indicting a sitting president. That's like saying two plus two and that we're here going OK, that means four, right?

And that's essentially where I got him to commit to today. And if the American people watch these hearings, that's the only conclusion they could come up with that the president of the United States committed multiple felonies.

COOPER: Does this change anything? Do you believe long term? Does this move others in Congress or you toward supporting impeachment, should it move the Democrats in the house toward moving toward impeachment?

LIEU: We know that additional Democratic members of Congress today said that they support opening an impeachment inquiry. We'll see how the American public feels and we'll know in the next few days and next few weeks how the American public assimilates this information that Donald Trump engaged in multiple acts of obstruction of justice which are felonies.

COOPER: And is that what it's going to boil down to for Democrats if the public wants an impeachment or if it's not politically popular, is that something that you should take into account?

LIEU: I believe public sentiment is absolutely a big factor, but so are other factors, including what the Constitution says evidence shows. And again, if anyone watching these two hearings who had not read the Mueller report or learned about the issues, they would have been surprised today because Special Counsel Robert Mueller directly contradicts both Donald Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr.

COOPER: Congressman Lieu, appreciate your time. Thank you.

LIEU: Thank you, Anderson.


COOPER: All right. Lots to talk about. Joining us tonight, a lot of people, I'm only going to do this once, I promise.

"AXE FILES" host and former top Obama advisor David Axelrod, CNN senior political reporter, Nia-Malika Henderson, CNN chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, CNN chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, CNN legal analyst Carrie Cordero, "USA Today" columnist Kirsten Powers, also, former Trump campaign strategist and CNN political commentator David Urban.

David Axelrod, I mean, if Democrats were looking for -- you know, we heard nothing from Democrats other than if all he does is read from the report, that will be great.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Of course, he did read from the report.

COOPER: Right.

AXELROD: He did read from the report.

Listen, I think what Ted Lieu said was really interesting. He said, well, we'll have to wait a few days and see what the American people say. The reality is the last poll I saw was the "Wall Street Journal"/NBC poll last weekend that said 21 percent of Americans favored impeachment and that was down from 27 percent in June.

The question is, did what we see today move the needle? There is no doubt there was damaging blows that were landed in this, but was it enough to actually move the needle in a way that would create a climate where impeachment makes sense? If I'm Nancy Pelosi, I'm sitting there thinking, you know, 21 percent is a bad number, I got 31 people in districts that Donald Trump won and sitting on the other side of the road, a Senate that will throw out anything we do anyway.

So I make people walk the plank. I think she is going to slow walk this and continue to investigate.

COOPER: I mean, if there were damaging blows today, it was a pretty long, drawn out messy and at times hard to understand fight.

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: I think that's right, a lot of hype going into this. You had Adam Schiff, for instance, saying that he really wanted and expected that Robert Mueller would bring this to life and I don't think he did.

You had Hakeem Jeffries sort of say, well, we didn't really expect it to be Robert Redford. We expected it to be Robert Mueller.

I think they expected Robert Mueller to be much more engaged than he --

COOPER: Right, this was not the Robert Mueller that testified --

HENDERSON: That's right. He seemed at times, I mean, at times, he was very engaged and had a real command of the facts with this sort of yes and no question, that was probably the most effective part. But they were able to trip him up with some of the facts that were in the report that he didn't have a full command on. So, I think I don't know that Democrats expected that.

I think they expected, you know, sort of moments that could be replayed in a sound byte and he clearly didn't want to do that.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, he was more comfortable in the afternoon talking about Russian interference and he got very animated about that. He sort of said to the American public, you know, this is a living message here. You have to pay attention to this because it's going on as I sit here, and he did throw a bunch of shade at Donald Trump and administration by saying that their investigation was impeded by all of the lies, that the president is talking about WikiLeaks and saying, you know, I love you WikiLeaks was problematic would be an understatement. He called it disturbing, subject to investigation.

So, he did go on a little bit about that, but on everything else --

COOPER: If that's the most exciting --



BORGER: Well, second half is it was like, you know, getting water from a stone. You couldn't do it. He didn't want to be there. And he wasn't honestly fully in command of everything that was in front of him. He seemed halting at times, not understand --

AXELROD: Can I say one thing? One of the reasons he did better in the afternoon is the Republicans realized in the break that they were beating up on this guy who seemed a little uncertain of himself and they weren't very sympathetic and they came back and they were a lot less aggressive in their questioning, still with a lot of crazy conspiracy theories but they weren't really aggressive in the way they were in the morning.

COOPER: David?

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So a couple things, couple observations for the past week or two we've heard Americans haven't watched this.

[20:15:01] Wait for the movie. Watch the movie. It's going to be great.

Americans saw the movie and it got like a 12 on Rotten Tomatoes, OK? It is -- nobody's --

COOPER: I think "The Washington Post", somebody else said the book was better than the movie.

URBAN: The book was way better than the movie. My takeaway from this was just how -- it seemed to me, this is a patriot guy who served his country with great distinction. I had occasion in the past to come across his path as FBI director, and a very strong guy and kind of out of touch with his own report when he was asked -- one of the members asked him, so how many interviews did you participate in?

And he kind of looked like he had never heard or thought of that before. He said, not many. I would have drilled down, I would have asked him. How many out of 500? Give me a number, 20? Ten?

Like those are things -- he didn't seem to have a command of the Mueller report which has his name on it.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN CHIEF LEGAL ANALYST: I think it's possible to over state the -- I mean, the stage craft was lousy. I mean, you know, this wasn't Mueller report the movie. This was Mueller report the book on tape but it was the substance --

COOPER: By the way, someone recorded a book on tape --


COOPER: Implication.

TOOBIN: Exempt for yours.


TOOBIN: But, you know, if you listened to what he actually said, I mean, the fact is, you know, Don McGahn, the story of Don McGahn is one of the most obvious and egregious obstructions of justice you can imagine taking place in the White House he tells McGahn first to fire Mueller for no good reason and then tells Don McGahn to lie about whether he was told to fire Mueller.

Now, it would be better if Don McGahn were telling that story. That's how --

URBAN: But that's the book, Jeff. We read that. That's been out there for months. Months.

TOOBIN: You have.

AXELROD: David loves the book. He thinks everybody should read it.

URBAN: "New York Times" best seller.


COOPER: -- tried to walk him through that if it didn't have the impact, I mean, whose fault is that?

TOOBIN: Well, I mean, I don't know whose fault it is. The fact is it is an extraordinary story, there is lots of evidence of obstruction of justice and the fact that the show was not so great --

URBAN: The other thing for both two lawyers here, I play one on TV but the fact that the president was being exonerated, right, prosecutors don't exonerate. They prosecute. Name another instance in the history of prosecution --

AXELRDO: David, but there is only one --

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That's the same talking points that the Republicans -

URBAN: It's not the talking point, Carrie. It's the fact of the legal system in America.

COOPER: Let her --

CORDERO: But it is the same talking point the Republicans in the hearing were using today. So, on the point --

URBAN: What's your answer to it?

CORDERO: On the issue of what he communicated during the hearing, if anyone was expecting him to come in and tell the story which is how some of the members were previewing this, they were wrong. He didn't want to be there. He didn't want to tell an entire narrative.

URBAN: But just back to my question.

CORDERO: What he was effective in doing was countering the president's main talking point, which is that this entire investigation was bogus and that the entire investigation had no purpose.

COOPER: But I do -- but --


TOOBIN: Deserves an answer.

COOPER: Go ahead.

TOOBIN: You deserve an answer to your question which is why did he do the exoneration? Because under the regulation under which he was appointed, he was required to explain why he did and didn't prosecute in each individual. That's his job.

URBAN: He's not required to say not exonerated. COOPER: But by saying not exonerated, was he essentially tipping his

hand to Congress?

TOOBIN: Well, he was doing the job he was assigned to do.

COOPER: Couldn't he have said we didn't, you know, we didn't find the evidence or we didn't -- the same thing he said --

URBAN: A lot of it -- he said a lot of things.

COOPER: We didn't find, you know, enough evidence of.

TOOBIN: He could have said a lot of different things. What he seemed to me to be doing was fulfilling the obligation that he was --


AXELROD: Isn't it also -- isn't it also true that he isn't like every other American, no other American is immune from prosecution because of the Department of Justice rules that say even if you're guilty, you can't be prosecuted.

URBAN: You can be prosecuted when he leaves office. I remember during the last trial of impeachment I participated in, the impeachment of Bill Clinton, my former boss wrote an op-ed. It appeared November 11th in "The New York Times" that said if you don't want to prosecute Clinton, prosecute him when he's gone. You can do it.


KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: But it's important to remember when this initially -- when Barr put out his statement and the argument over Republicans was basically, you know, the fact that he wasn't being prosecuted was proof that he was innocent. That really was the -- that was the argument --

URBAN: I'm saying --

POWERS: So, I think it does matter for him to -- for it to be very clear it's not an exoneration because he didn't prosecute.

COOPER: I want to play some of what the Republicans seemed to be focusing on, which was Fusion GPS. You know, the idea there is something in the origins of this that don't smell right.

[20:15:02] There's obviously the subject of investigations going on. I just want to play their focus on Fusion GPS.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The unverified Steele dossier.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Steele's information.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, Christopher Steele's reporting.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Steele dossier.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Christopher Steele.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Steele dossier.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Christopher Steele.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Steele dossier.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Steele dossier.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Steele reporting.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The name of the firm was Fusion GPS, is that correct?


COOPER: So Mueller --


COOPER: -- when he first started out said I won't be addressing any of this. Obviously, they ignored that and, you know, for understandable reasons. I wonder what you make of their focus, how that play?

POWERS: Well, I just think this is the right wing conspiracy theory is that this was all -- this all started from a phony dossier that was, you know, funded by the Democrats even though it wasn't originally -- you know, the investigation wasn't even initially paid for by the Democrats and, so this is like the conspiracy theory I think that the Republicans have been pushing. I don't think it helped that Mueller said he didn't even know.

URBAN: Right, completely incredible.

POWERS: What we're talking about because that was jarring because that is something that I think everybody is aware of Fusion GPS. I mean, if you just pick up the newspaper, you would be aware of it.

URBAN: Again, not being in touch with his own report. That's the narrative.

COOPER: We're going to take a quick break. We're going to pick up the conversation in just a few moments.

Coming up next, the president's reaction today and victory lap on the south lawn. We're joined by top Trump observer, Maggie Haberman, as well as Mueller biographer Garrett Graff.

And later, we spoke a bit about Pelosi. We'll take a closer look at how the Democratic leadership seized the hearings or at least what they are saying about the hearings publicly. We'll be right back.


[20:25:58] COOPER: The president yesterday said he might watch a bit of hearings today, which in hindsight may have been a bit of an understatement, judging by the head of steam he built up all day, as we played at the top. He vented quite extensively out of the South Lawn, celebrating, understandably, on his way to West Virginia.

Here's another sample.


TRUMP: We have done a great job and we've done it under this terrible phony cloud, a phony cloud that's all it was, and they should be ashamed of themselves, absolutely ashamed, and everyone knew it was a hoax, especially the Democrats. So, WikiLeaks is a hoax, just like everything else and all of those problems having to do with crime were the biggest hoax of all. It was a witch hunt, a total witch hunt.


COOPER: He also said, I'm quoting now, it was a fake set of facts that the Democrats used to do really an illegal over throw investigation.

Joining us with more, CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins. So, Kaitlan, clearly, the president, you know, feels very good about

today and wants to give that impression certainly. Is that the opinion of the White House writ large?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they think it worked out in the president's favor because you have to keep in mind none of the facts of the Mueller report changed today. It was the optics that the president and his allies think work here and that's why you see the president coming out on the South Lawn, essentially declaring himself vindicated as he's criticizing Robert Mueller's performance and saying that he's walking away from this day believing Democrats are the ones who are going to be devastated by all of this, which is certainly not the attitude the president had going into today.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, his mood clearly lifted or changed. He was, you know, it was clearly different before the hearing if you're judging by his tweets.

COLLINS: Oh, yes, it changed big time. This morning he was up early calling people agitated that this guy who's loomed over his presidency for so long was going to be appearing back in front of the cameras, bringing all of this back up, but you notice a very obvious shift in the president's attitude is that first hearing getting underway and the president was essentially hanging on every word watching it very closely and that's when the president started to shift from this mood of irritation to a sense of almost being triumphant.

COOPER: And lastly, I mean, the president did seem confused today when asked about Mueller's clarification. Do you know -- is it clear to you what he thought Mueller was trying to correct?

COLLINS: Yes, he became combative with reporters leaving the White House and asking about that part of the hearing where Mueller said, yes, theoretically, the president could be charged after he leaves office and the president pushed back on reporters, telling them, no, Mueller corrected that at the beginning of the second hearing but as you noted in your interview with Ted Lieu, that was actually Mueller coming out and correcting what he seemed to agree to that, yes, the only reason they didn't indict the president is because of the OLC opinion and Mueller said that's not something we decided to make an assessment on.

The president said repeatedly two or three times to reporters no, that was something he corrected. The president referencing what Mueller said about Trump being able to be indicted out of office when actually when Mueller was issuing the correction, he's talking about a decision he made in this investigation but that seemed to be a misconception the president had from watching this hearing.

COOPER: Kaitlan Collins, appreciate it.

More prospective now on two principals, President Trump and Robert Mueller, the looming Robert Mueller, as Kaitlan put it.

Joining us is Mueller biographer, Garrett Graff, author of "The Threat Matrix: Inside Mueller's FBI and the War on Global Terror". Also, CNN political analyst and "New York Times" White House correspondent Maggie Haberman.

Maggie, I want to read something you read on Twitter about the president's reaction on the White House lawn. You wrote, quote, generally, people express relief and joy by being cherry or saying nothing, letting fact speak. Trump often expresses delight by seeming angry.

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: He was all wound up. I don't think I'm not saying anything that was clear to everybody watching the president's press conference with reporters. He was incredibly combative. He was fairly feeling triumphant. But triumph often translates to him as anger, or, you know, being fiery, and I expect we'll see more of that in the coming days.

Look, his folks are feeling very good.

COOPER: Understandably.

HABERMAN: Yes, this was not -- Democrats didn't do a great job of setting expectations going into this. Mueller appeared certainly throughout the morning halting in his answers. He got at times unfamiliar with what was in the report. He got much stronger in the second hearing, which was really about election interference and about the institutions of democracy and there he was willing to stray away from the report.

But when it came down to the President's conduct, specifically, and that was the first several hours of the day, Mueller was much less willing to engage with the Congress members and the President felt as if that was in his favor.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Garrett, I mean, we -- you know, over the last couple nights, we've looked at past Mueller testimony and there's a lot of it. It is radically different than what he gave today.

GARRETT GRAFF, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: In a way, yes. But also, you know, this was someone who is very clear that he didn't want to say anything today. And, you know, I think a lot --

COOPER: But it seem like even when he was trying to say something sometimes he was unable to say it.

GRAFF: I don't actually know that that's true. I've been sort of going back -- I sort of started there this morning and -- but as the day went on, I think you sort of saw him shake off a little bit of the rust. I mean, it's been six years since the last time he testified in open Congress -- open congressional hearing.

And also, the second half of the day, as Maggie said, when he was talking about Russia, he was much more engaged, much more willing to sort of stray beyond the different corners of the report. It's clear -- I think actually that he cares a lot more about that second half about the question of the Russia attack on the election. It's damage to institutions. It's damage to the U.S. politics. And in some ways, you know, I think his sort of message to Congress in the first half of the hearing today was, guys, I went out and did the work. You do whatever you want with this. Like, this is a question for you.

COOPER: Congressman Ted Lieu earlier was saying that he believes when Mueller gave that answer in the affirmative to Ted Lieu's question about, you know, the OLC report being the -- were not for the OLC report it would have been indicted the president. Ted Lieu thinks Mueller was actually giving an honest answer in that and that the walk back was not really what he kind of -- that he basically tipped his inner thinking.

GRAFF: I think that that's likely accurate, especially layered on some of the other answers that he was giving this morning. One of the ones that sort of stood out to me was the way that he corrected at one point that it's not that he declined to prosecute. It was that he declined to make a decision about whether to prosecute, which seems consistent with that.

But, yes, there were very few honest personal opinions of Robert Mueller. The one that stood out to me was his exchange about the President and WikiLeaks where he said problematic is an under statement. I think that that might have been the only true personal opinion we saw out of Robert Mueller today.

COOPER: It was interesting, Maggie, to have the President say, you know, WikiLeaks is a hoax. I'm not sure how Julian Assange is going to interpret that given that he is now facing charges.

HABERMAN: I have the exact same thought. And the President was pretty reliant on WikiLeaks in the final month.

COOPER: Right. He said he love WikiLeaks.

HABERMAN: I love WikiLeaks and that -- WikiLeaks is as many things but as an existing thing, it's not a hoax. Look --

COOPER: I don't know if he was meaning --

HABERMAN: I don't know what he meant with that.

COOPER: Right. Roger Stone -- my own involvement with the WikiLeaks, you know --

HABERMAN: It was all a hoax. I mean, remember, Donald Trump is very good at turning things into an up down referendum on himself and he speaks in these kind of absolute terms and I think that's what he was doing there.

But, look, again, his folks feel pretty good about today. I think Garrett is right that what Robert Mueller cares more about is about preserving the institutions of democracy. That's what he said in his only other public statement on this.

He was very clear that, you know, there was interference here. It is going to happen again and he was clear today that it's not just the Russians who Americans need to worry about, he's clearly concerned that Americans are not as alert to that as they should be and frankly that Congress is not sounding the alarm the way they could.

GRAFF: And that the President is not personally engaged.

HABERMAN: And the point -- the President is -- has said almost nothing about this throughout his presidency. He has at times conceded it was Russia, at times appeared to minimize that it was Russia if acknowledging it at all. The White House is never going to be the leader on this during the Trump presidency.


COOPER: You were reacting, I think, during a live blog on "The New York Times" page to a moment in the hearings. I want to play that moment and have you talk about why you think it's significant. Let's watch.


REP. SEAN MALONEY, (D-NY): Why didn't you subpoena the President?

ROBERT MUELLER, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL: At the outset, after we took over the investigation and began it and pursued it, quite obviously one of the things we anticipated wanting to accomplish that is getting -- having the interview of the President.

But finally, one of -- we were almost towards the end of our investigation and we had little success in pushing to get the interview of the President. We decided that we did not want to exercise the subpoena powers because of the necessity of expediting the end of the investigation.

MALONEY: Was that -- excuse me -- did you --

[20:35:00] MUELLER: I was going to say the expectation was if we did subpoena the President, he would fight the subpoena and we would be in the midst of the investigation for a substantial period of time.


COOPER: You cited that as an important moment?

HABERMAN: That stood out to me because one of the major questions going into today was why didn't Mueller ever subpoena the President. There were a couple of other subpoenas people wondered about him not issuing, but that was a big one, why they didn't -- and there had been this lengthy back and forth about negotiation for his testimony if they ended up accepting written answers. We hadn't heard the report --

COOPER: Written down answers only on collusion question or conspiracy, not obstruction.


HABERMAN: Right. And we had not really heard Mueller address this before. It was not really clear from the report why they didn't go further. So hearing him say it -- and what he said was essentially despite the President's complaints about Mueller, he said he didn't want to be unfair to the President.

They felt -- essentially they felt like they wanted to wrap this up as quickly as possible so it wasn't hanging out there. I thought that that was a compelling moment, whether it has significance legally going forward or not, you know, I think that's a different question. But I think that wrapping up that issue of why he didn't subpoena testimony from the President was important.

COOPER: Yes. Garrett Graff, Maggie Haberman, thanks very much.

Still to come, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's reaction to today's testimony and what she says this means for impeachment talk by Democrats.


[20:40:11] COOPER: Shortly after today's hearings ended, Democratic leaders in the House appear before reporters to discuss what is next, namely, where did their investigations go now that Robert Mueller has testified.

CNN Senior Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju was at that event, got to ask Speaker Pelosi whether these investigations will ultimately lead to impeachment. Take a look.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You have long said that there's no point in moving forward with an impeachment inquiry because Republicans control the Senate. It's going to die in the Senate. Is that no longer your chief concern?

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I have never long said that. If we have a case for impeachment, that's the place we will have to go. The fact that -- why I'd like it to be a strong case is because I don't -- it's based on the facts. The facts and the law, that's what matters, not politics, not partisanship, just patriotism. The stronger our case is, the worse the Senate will look for just letting the President off the hook.


COOPER: And Manu Raju joins us now from Capitol Hill. So, talk more about what Speaker Pelosi and the other committee chairman have to say about the next steps.

RAJU: Behind close doors, Anderson, they engaged in actually a relatively robust debate with a number of members who pressed the speaker and the leadership about the next steps in the aftermath of the Mueller testimony.

And we were told that she and Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, welcomed a more detailed discussion. Nadler, according to our sources, even flow to the notion of actually drafting articles of impeachment, one that would be drafted by the six committees that are investigating the President.

Now, I'm told that this is not something that will definitely be gone. It is something that he floated as an idea and Nadler thought was asked about what the process would be when formally launching an impeachment inquiry.

Now, he said it would not have to go for a full House vote and one source told our colleague, Dana Bash, if they took that, they mean that once a lawsuits are exhausted in court, then that's going to be a very potential next step launching -- going forward with an impeachment inquiry.

Now, Pelosi in this meeting clearly did not take off the idea of moving forward with an impeachment inquiry even if she says she wants to move forward with their strongest possible case, move forward in court.

And I'm told also, Anderson, she told her members if you need to support an impeachment inquiry because it's best for your district, go for it. That's something that you should be willing to do if it's best for you.

She did not try to dissuade anyone from voicing their support. So expect more people to voice support for an impeachment inquiry and perhaps the speaker herself could ultimately shift her position. But at the moment, she wants to stay the course and keep the fight in the courts, Anderson.

COOPER: You know, Speaker Pelosi in that press conference, you know, we're saying, look, this should be done based on the law and the merits of the case, not on public opinion, not on politics. It's hard to believe that -- you know, Congressman Lieu when he was on with me said that, you know, the public perception should play a role and, you know, in a few days they will know more.

Do you fell -- I mean, in talking to people there and staff members, is there any kind of rise in interest in impeachment or is there a kind of a deflated -- deflation of it?

RAJU: No. I think there's only a rise among the Democratic members in the House Democratic Caucus who are calling for it and that's what was interesting about this closed door meeting tonight because there were a number of members who wanted to pursue this route. Expect more to announce that publicly.

And, Anderson, it was -- some people are interpreting Pelosi's comments tonight to me when I asked her about her past concerns about the Senate Republicans not moving forward on convicting the President if their House were to impeach and that being one reason why they shouldn't move for an impeachment. She pushed back on that. A lot of people are viewing that as potential shift, because now she's talking about the courts as their main issue right now. See how the court fight where it plays out, saying the Senate Republicans are not really the issue here, that's not exactly what she's been saying a few weeks ago. So we'll see if she shifts even further in the weeks ahead, Anderson.

COOPER: All right, Manu Raju. Manu, thanks very much. Back with our political and legal team.

DAVID URBAN, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: So I would just say, look, there's one thing that we -- everyone should remember. There are 34 Democrats and Trump won -- in districts that won in Trump districts that enable Nancy Pelosi to be a speaker and she is very cognizant of that fact. And you push for with impeachment, two years from now, she'll be the majority -- you know, minority leader, excuse me.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: So I think the big question is how can you have some form of impeachment inquiry without getting the whole House to vote on it because she doesn't want to force those members, for example -- to take a vote that could hurt them in their district.

And, you know, according to a reporting from Manu and Dana that there was some discussion today in this meeting of whether the Judiciary Committee and some other committees could sort of informally begin some kind of impeachment inquiries in their own committees without having an official vote.

[20:45:05] JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: You know, it might be -- I'm sorry to interrupt you.

BORGER: No, I just said -- it seems kind of silly to me, but that's the kind of thing they're talking about because they understand the political difficulties (ph).

TOOBIN: You know what might be a good idea for the Democrats in the House of Representatives is to find out something. You know, I mean, remember --

BORGER: Don McGahn.

TOOBIN: Remember that they, you know, they got one control of the House of Representatives and they were going to do investigations. Name one thing that any of these investigations have uncovered. Now we're almost, you know, at the summer recess.

BORGER: Where are the tapes, is that what you're saying?

TOOBIN: Like what are they doing? I mean, the fact --

BORGER: Well, I mean --

URBAN: Go Jeff. Go Jeff. Go Jeff.

TOOBIN: You know, they've been -- they have been stymied by the President. I mean, they have had run into unprecedented, you know, interference from the President. But I mean, let's not kid ourselves, this has been a wall to wall failure in all these committees.

COOPER: Do you see this is a wall to wall failure?

KIRSTEN POWERS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, definitely. Yes. I mean, I think that -- I agree with everything that you're saying. And I think it's -- you know, the process is being driven by obviously political interest by wanting to please the base that are very animated understandably about Donald Trump and really want to see him go and really want to see him be held accountable.

But I think that they haven't -- they don't -- I mean, Nancy Pelosi if she thought that this was going to work, I think she would support it. It's -- there's no questions this is not a person who is a fan of Donald Trump and I think she feels the same way.

But Jeffrey is right. I mean, they need to do better than what they're doing and I actually think this whole hearing that we watched today was pretty close to a disaster for them as well.

I just don't think that they didn't advance the ball in any way for themselves and then also had a situation where Robert Mueller was looking kind of out of his depth. You know, you can make your excuses for him if you want, but I think that he wasn't helping their case.


NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER: I mean, what do they do now? I mean, I think some of those folks in that meeting with the leader and Nadler were essentially saying what is our strategy? Because it's not really clear what the strategy is other than sort of slow walking, waiting on these court cases, which I imagine could take some time, so it's unclear.

BORGER: Oh, yes.

HENDERSON: They -- it's also I think clear that Nancy Pelosi has been pretty consistent on here. She at one point said that the President actually wanted impeachment, because he thought I just -- she thinks that it would be politically good for the President. So, she just seems disinclined to impeach but she also seems to have to make the motion to --

COOPER: So you think that's what they're doing, slow walking?

HENDERSON: Yes. (INAUDIBLE) I think is going to happen.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: That same poll that said that 21 percent supported impeachment also said that 50 percent believe that Democrat should continue investigating. So, I think that is the safe middle path here for now.

And just in terms of what they do next, I mean shifted layout of series of things that he wanted to pursue now, money laundering and some other elements of this, and I expect that he will. So this is the intersection of politics and law.

I thought it was interesting, the exchange that Mike Quigley from Chicago had with Mueller in which he pointed out that if a President were to be elected to two terms and the statute runs on obstruction, isn't that essentially make him unaccountable?

And my interpretation of that was Quigley who has endorsed impeachment was making the argument that we have to move forward because otherwise the President, you know, could be unaccountable.

BORGER: But what they're going to do is go to court --

TOOBIN: Is quickly throwing in the towel and Trump getting reelected already?

BORGER: Right. I doubt it.

AXELROD: No, no.

BORGER: What they have to do --

AXELROD: But, I mean, I do -- but it was an interesting.

TOOBIN: It is an interesting one.

AXELROD: And it does give the President the added incentive.

BORGER: And Mueller didn't know the answer to it, by the way. He didn't know. But what are they going to do to get Don McGahn up? I mean, this is the star witness. Mueller as it turns out was anything but the star witness.

How do they get Don McGahn there? They're going to court and Jerry Nadler talked about that today at their closed door meeting. And they have to get McGahn because having Mueller who wrote the report is not like having John Dean White House Counsel testifying before the Watergate committee.

COOPER: Don't they keep moving the goalpost on this?


COOPER: Like, it was all about the Mueller report and that came out.

URBAN: When that comes out, we're going to see.

COOPER: That was going to be it. That's the Bible. They have all these investigative powers and then it was well, OK, that -- it's confusing. Its 448 pages when he testifies, when he talks and now it's Don McGahn?

HENDERSON: I think it goes what Nancy Pelosi isn't inclined to impeach this President. I mean, that is what she's been --

COOPER: David, do you think it would -- would it hurt Democrats in 2020? AXELROD: I think it could. I think it could. I think that, you know, it was interesting to see what happened in 2018 and why Democrats did so well, because they steered around those issues and talked about issues that were very much on people's minds that touched their own lives. And part of the commitment they made was that they weren't going to play bumper cars on this issue. That they were going to actually try and solve problem.

[20:50:00] So, I think what Pelosi is -- her calculations is, let's keep investigating. If you get -- if smoking guns arise through these investigations, if we get McGahn, if other things happen, we can adjust accordingly, but for now let's just keep playing.

URBAN: You're in America. What -- I'm sorry, go ahead.

CARRIE CORDERO, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: David, you're exactly right, though, that the intersection of the politics and the legal is really having an impact. Because not just on the issue -- on the one issue that you mentioned, but all of these different cases that the House is trying to bring, whether it is cases for subpoenas, for -- excuse me, for documents that they're trying to obtain.

Or whether its subpoenas for witnesses that maybe they're going to try to bring in the future and try to get some of these key witnesses in. All of these are connected to whether they've taken other steps, for example, whether or not they've opened an impeachment inquiry, whether they can demonstrate to courts that they are seriously conduct -- they've taken every step they possibly can.

So they have to negotiate with the White House. Now they've brought Mueller in, so they've taken that step. If they open an impeachment inquiry, that's another step that they can demonstrate to the courts that they are conducting an investigation and they need these witnesses or these documents for a particular reason. And so what's happening is their --


CORDERO: -- they don't know which one comes first and so the litigation strategy is failing a little bit because they're taking the political concerns and the politics is suffering because they're not taking the legal, they're not being effective in the legal side.

BORGER: Would it make it easier to get the witnesses? I mean, they have a disagreement about that?

TOOBIN: Yes. I think that's an interesting legal question that is unsettled.

BORGER: Are you glad I asked?

TOOBIN: Yes, Gloria. But the question of will you have better luck in the courts in an impeachment proceeding versus an oversight proceeding, I don't think actually that's the case. I think oversight you'll -- I think basically it's the same legal question. And I think by and large the Democrats should win those. But, you know, the courts move slowly. And every time, you know, you go to the district court, you have to wait for the district court decision, does automatically appeal to the Court of Appeals, and then certainly there will be petitions for (INAUDIBLE) at the Supreme Court. I mean, you know, there are only -- there's less than a year and a half until the election.

URBAN: And the Ninth Circuit is jammed.

TOOBIN: So, I mean -- you know, I am critical of the Democrats', you know, failure to accomplish much of anything in terms of oversight, but they have had substantial obstacles and it is not -- there is not an obvious path to a speedier success.

URBAN: So I would say what David was talking in the 2018 midterms, people want to see legislators legislate. They want to see things happen. I think the path to success, you just saw debt ceiling raised, people every side kind of got half a loaf, Republicans took it on the chin, I think, in terms of, you know, incredible run away spending, you know, which is very interesting.

COOPER: It is very extraordinary for the Republicans.

URBAN: Very extraordinary, right? And so USMCA is coming up on the table here. There's going to be a move to -- whether they're going to past -- the House is going to do something there. I think the path of success for Democrats is legislatively be forward, pass some things, look like the body, we can work. We're functional, not just somebody who keeps throwing bricks through the window.

AXELROD: They would say that they've passed -- they say that they passed a ton of things and they've died in the Senate.

URBAN: But, you can -- but, David, my point is passed things that get signed into law --

COOPER: All right.

URBAN: -- that's legislative.

COOPER: I'd like to take a break. Thanks everybody. It's certainly been an eventful day to say the least. Chris Cuomo is coming up at the top of the hour. Chris, you're obviously covering this. What did you make of today?

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: You are correct, my friend, we will be looking at this a little bit differently. Right now, people have been able to process what was said, but what does it mean?

We have two main questions. One, what are we going to do to protect our next election? You can no longer unless you just want to protect this President's political interests argue that Russian interference wasn't real and isn't just as real if not a more real threat in the next election.

So we'll lay that out and we'll start pushing for answers about what's going to be done, because the only answer to do nothing about it is a really ugly political reason, which is just to protect this President. That's unacceptable. It should be unacceptable to this President.

Second, the Democrats have to make a decision. As you see there with your great minds on the panel, there's a lot of dancing because they don't know how it turns out for them, but that's too damn bad.

The job is to take an oath and then live up to it to the best of your conscience. And if you can't do that, then get out and let somebody else do the job. It is time for the Democrats to make a decision. Nancy Pelosi today, as Axe just said, is in the middle of the road but there's only two lanes.

COOPER: Yes. Well, she seems to be getting into the slow lane with this one. Chris, thanks very much. We'll see you in just a couple minutes.

Near of the end of the long day in the witness chair, Robert Mueller had several warnings about Russian interference in the next election and whether we as a country are ready for it. What he had to say, just ahead.

[20:58:18] COOPER: We close tonight's show with the irony that the entire reason we had a special counsel investigation in the first place, and I don't mean that the President fired James Comey, the entire reason was because of what Rod Rosenstein wrote when he appointed Robert Mueller in May of 2017, to investigate "the Russian government's effort to interfere in the 2016 president election."

To investigate what they did and who, if anyone aided them, and that discussion was largely absent from today's political theater. In fairness, one Republican today focused almost solely on that, though. Will Hurd of Texas use his time with the former special counsel to discuss Russian election interference and whether there will be a next time.


REP. WILL HURD (R-TX): In your investigation, did you think that this was a single attempt by the Russians to get involved in our election or did you find evidence to suggest they'll try to do this again?

MUELLER: It wasn't a single attempt. They're doing it as we sit here. And they expect to do it during the next campaign.


COOPER: Mueller also said it's not just Russia either, that many more countries are developing the same capability. The former FBI director's assessment was echoed by the man who currently holds that position, Christopher Wray, who told Senate panel just yesterday that, "Russians are absolutely intent in trying to influence with our elections through the foreign influence."

All of this sounds obvious to many, but President Trump as you know has repeatedly defended Vladimir Putin and questioned Russia's role in election interference. Now, U.S. government official previously told CNN that getting in the White House to pay attention to the threat is "like pulling teeth."

Mueller offered another ominous warning today as well. He agreed with Democratic Congressman Peter Welch that the Trump campaign may have established a new normal in 2016, that campaign is may no longer feel obligated to report when a hostile foreign government is trying to influence the election. In fact, it seems as if the campaign is ready to do so again.

In April, President Trump was asked if it happened again, if Russia or China offered information on an opponent should you accept it and should you call the FBI. His response, there's nothing wrong with listening. Actually, Mr. President, there is. There very much is.

The news continues right now. I want to hand it over to Chris for "Cuomo Prime Time." Chris?