Transcript: Rep. David Cicilline's interview on 'The Investigation' podcast

PHOTO: Rep. David Cicilline during "Grammys on the Hill," Advocacy Day, April 10, 2019, in Washington, DC.PlayShannon Finney/WireImage/Getty Images, FILE
WATCH Top House Democrat on questions he plans to ask Mueller during testimony

Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., sat down for an interview for the latest episode of “The Investigation," a new ABC News podcast. A transcript of Cicilline's interview as it appears in this episode of the podcast follows here:

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ABC NEWS' CHRIS VLASTO: Welcome to "The investigation." I’m Chris Vlasto, senior executive producer here at ABC News, and I'm joined by my colleagues, John Santucci and Katherine Faulders. Joining us today is Congressman David Cicilline, one of the first congressman to call for an impeachment inquiry and is also a member of the Judiciary Committee. And Congressman, you have said that you anticipate Mueller's testimony tomorrow to be - it's going to be a very sobering hearing. I mean what do you mean by that? What do you, what do you expect to - Bob Mueller to do?

REP. DAVID CICILLINE: What I mean is this is I think will be the first time that the majority of the American people have the opportunity to actually hear directly from Mr. Mueller about what is in his report. I mean he conducted an investigation for 22 months and I think he's going to re - recount the serious misconduct of the president such as the president attempting to fire the special counsel and directing his legal counsel to do that, that legal counsel Don McGahn refused and then he asked Don McGahn to lie about it and he can prepare a false document. You’ll hear Mr. Mueller talk about Corey Lewandowski a third, you know, party not in the administration and the president directed him to tell the attorney general of the United States to tell the special counsel to limit his investigation to future presidential elections and not examine the 2016 election. Those are just two examples of serious misconduct by the president. I think it will be an opportunity for Mr. Mueller to really walk the committee and the American people through the report. But the reason I said sober is because these are very serious allegations, this is very serious misconduct. And for most people it will be really the first time that they hear about the contents of the report.

VLASTO: But don't you think we already know it? Don't you think it's already? He's a guy that's going to just, he's a by the book prosecutor and who's going to sit there and when anyone asks a question he's going to say that's what it says in the report in page 212 or as I stated in the report on page 402 and that it will become a dry rehash, rehash or –

CICILLINE: Well it's only a rehash if you've read the report. I think look if anyone is expecting there's going to be some new information or Mr. Mueller is going to add some information that's not in the report that's not going to happen and I don't think anyone expected to. But the report, if all the special counsel does is - walk through the findings in that report and the evidence he collected is explosive and damning and very, very disturbing. But it is the first time most people hear, most people have not read them the Mueller report less than three percent of the American people have read it. So I think most people have not read it. If you’ve read the full Mueller report, it will be repetitious, but most people haven't. So for most people this will be the first occasion to really understand exactly the evidence he collected, the judgments he made, and the conduct of the president at issue. And it's explosive, it's damning and very serious and I think he will deliver it in a way that conveys the seriousness of it. But you're right, it's not going to be exciting. But I think it's deadly serious and I think that's how the hearing will proceed.

VLASTO: But let me ask you though in our polling a year ago August - 49 percent of the American people expected that there would be, wanted impeachment hearings. Now the number is down to 37 percent. What do you think's happened? Do you think people just say nothing's going to happen anyway? The Senate already has the votes to protect the president, so what's really the point? Aren’t you worried about that?

CICILLINE: I mean I think they're - I think look I think first and foremost judgments about whether or not you begin the proceeding to remove a president of the United States is a serious undertaking and it has to be determined by the facts that exist and not by you know putting your finger in the wind to their political judgment. This is like in my mind equivalent to a war vote. This this involves our Constitution, the rule of law, not only holding this president accountable, but future presidents as well. And I think it has to be governed by one thing and that's the evidence. When the Nixon impeachment inquiry was opened only 17 percent of the American people thought President Nixon should be impeached. By the time the hearings were concluded and they knew the full story and all the evidence an overwhelming majority of Americans thought he should be impeached and he resigned from office. So, we're at the very beginning. It's double. Thirty-eight percent of the people begin impeachment should be open double of what it was for Nixon and they don't even know the story yet. And so I think when people actually hear the evidence presented by the special counsel and he brings the Mueller report to light it will have an enormous impact on public perception. And again I think people are making judgments up what they think is the right, you know, move for our country based on the evidence that's presented both in this hearing and in other hearings. And I think we have to make judgments that that understand this is about protecting the rule of law. Protecting the constitution, making certain that nobody in this country including the president United States is above the law.

ABC NEWS' JOHN SANTUCCI: Let me ask you this sir. One of the things that we've been hearing from our sources is that allies of the president welcome impeachment proceedings because the way they see it their internal polling shows that it actually would do quite well for the president and not so well for the democratic party what do you make of that?

CICILLINE: I don't believe that. I think the president's whole sort of reason for being is his brand. I think being one of only three or two presidents to have been impeached is not something the president welcomes. It would be a significant negative mark on his administration. He will be known as having been impeached if that happens. But, but you're again getting way ahead of where we are. I think what, what I'm suggesting is the opening of an inquiry which is the formal process, which is the vehicle by which the American people will learn the full story that we should begin that process. Mr. Mueller would be, would be part of that. Beginning to let the American people hear directly from witnesses about the conduct of the president and at the end of that make a judgment as to whether or not we ought to file articles of impeachment. But we certainly have enough evidence in the Mueller report by itself to warrant the opening of a formal inquiry and then you add to that the conduct of the president to obstruct Congress and prevent witnesses coming forward present - preventing documents from being produced. And that was Article 3 in the Nixon impeachment. So look I think there is substantial evidence to begin this inquiry. I think we have to make judgments about what is right for our country. And I think you have to worry about the political fallout later. I think the American people are smarter than people are giving credit for. If in fact they are persuaded that the president committed ten serious instance of obstruction of justice that they will support his removal from office. But they don't know all of that evidence yet because they haven't had the opportunity to watch Robert Mueller or frankly most people haven't read the report. But I think we make a big mistake if we start trying to make political calculations of what we think is good for one political party or not. Our Founders created this vehicle so we could hold the president accountable. Mr. Mueller makes it clear in the report that Congress is really the only place where a president could be held accountable because a sitting president can't be charged according to the OLC memo. And unless we're prepared to say the president is above the law and I don't think people are and people expect us to do our job and hold him accountable.

ABC NEWS' KATHERINE FAULDERS: Congressman, just one more question on impeachment. You know you've, you and some of your democratic colleagues have repeatedly tried to pressure Speaker Pelosi to throw her support behind impeachment proceedings. Do you think she will ever get to a yes on this? Is this a Mueller hearing a part of that? What do you think her red line is on starting an impeachment inquiry considering she said the president is engaged in a cover up?

CICILLINE: Yeah, I don't know that people are trying to change the speaker's mind. I think the speaker is reflecting the sentiment of the caucus. I think what she does really expertly is she listens to the members of the caucus. There are ongoing conversations as people as they review evidence and think about kind of the best path forward. And I think that will continue to be an ongoing conversation. And I do think when the caucus, you know, there is consensus in the caucus that it is time to open an impeachment inquiry. My expectation is that the speaker will reflect that consensus and I think she has been a speaker that really invites people to share their views on this. There's lots of discussions. I'm - feel very comfortable sharing my views with the speaker and I think you know as more and more people come to the conclusion that the time has come to begin a formal process of considering whether or not articles of impeachment should be filed, that when it reaches the point that that the caucus believes that that's the right path forward the speaker will reflect that sentiment as well.

FAULDERS: And is this hearing part of getting there, getting the speaker and the caucus to a yes on beginning impeachment proceedings?

CICILLINE: Well it's more, I mean, it’s part of our responsibility. I mean, we you know the special counsel conducted this investigation on behalf of the American people after a serious, you know, systematic and sweeping attack on our democracy by the Russians and an effort by this president to impede, undermine, or prevent this investigation that reported it done and we now have a responsibility to take the contents of that report continue and build upon those findings and take whatever action we consider appropriate to hold the administration accountable. But this is very much our responsibility as the Judiciary Committee in our oversight responsibility and our responsibly as we contemplate how to hold the administration and the president accountable.

SANTUCCI: So Congressman let, let's focus in on Wednesday. You have three hours with Robert Mueller we have barely heard from him over the course of his nearly two year investigation, except for that one statement he gave from the Department of Justice. That was the only time we've heard from him since he took the job and completed his report. You mentioned all of the areas he outlines, but you know look I think you'd be the first to admit a lot of the hearings that we have seen very few that we've seen publicly so far from the democratic leadership. They can get a bit chaotic at times on both sides right? People can talk over each other, get lost. What do you and your colleagues on your side of the aisle on the Judiciary Committee, where do you need to focus? What is that one thing that, you know, if I'm watching this in swing state Pennsylvania and I'm - need to be swayed what I think about Donald Trump. What do I need to take away from the report? Do I want to know about Michael Cohen? Do I want to know with Stormy Daniels? With what he ordered his former White House counsel Don McGahn to do and not do? What, what do you think is that one fact that someone needs to pull out of the report and chew on?

CICILLINE: Well I don't think there's one, but I do think you, you touched on a couple. I think you first need to demonstrate that that report does not exonerate the president on the offenses of obstruction of justice - that obstruction of justice is a serious crime.

SANTUCCI: OK. But but stop for a second. We've been hearing those words for too long. Give me a specific part. Well I mean for a fact. Something that you believe.

CICILLINE: Well, let me finish. No. There are going to be five factual occurrences that relate. First one is the direction to Don McGahn to fire the special counsel then a direction to Don McGahn again to lie and say the president never had never told him to fire him and then to go so far as to say prepare a memo you know incorporating this, this, this lie that I never asked him to write. That's number - that's a whole set of facts. Two, the Corey Lewandowski there's a second obstruction of justice where he tells Corey Lewandowski to go tell the attorney general he has to tell the special counsel to limit this investigation forward looking to future presidential. That's obstruction of justice. So those are two. There are five instances of obstruction of justice where all three elements of the offense are met. Those I think will be the focus of the hearing, but for the fact that they're at the Office of Legal Counsel rendered this memorandum which by the way was written by the same lawyer who wrote the torture memo and it was on the you know on the eve of a president who was facing impeachment. Is no, there's no law, there's no precedent, there's no court decision, there's no provision in the Constitution that says a sitting president can't be indicted, but that's the Office of Legal Counsel memorandum. But there are five factual, five particular acts of the president that where all three elements of obstruction of justice are met. And I expect that will be the focus of the hearing.

FAULDERS: Congressman, though talk a little bit about your strategy. I was meeting with some of your democratic colleagues recently who are really talking about the crafting of the questions, how exactly you're going to ask Mueller these questions. They say he never gives a 10-word answer when a one word answer will do. How are you crafting these questions? What do you plan to ask him? Are you going to ask him, do you want to ask him directly if he thinks the president committed a crime? How are you approaching this?

CICILLINE: Well I mean I think everyone is going to - everyone recognizes that this is an opportunity for the American people to hear from Mr. Mueller. So I think you and you're right. No I don't think anyone expects that he's going to give long detailed answers. So, I think a lot of it will be referencing what he wrote in his report. And I think you know where most of us will avoid questions which ask him to speculate because he's not going to do that. He's going to limit his testimony to what's in the report. But as I've said that is damning and significant and serious. And so I think you will hear people ask him questions that just affirm what he found and the conclusions he came to with respect to the president's conduct and I hope it will be done in a way that is very easy to understand and very methodical. We can't account for the way the Republicans will, will use their five minutes which may be quite different. But I think you will see the Democrats be very strategic about allowing Mr. Mueller to walk us through the conduct of the president at issue here and the facts that he uncovered and that are contained in the report.

VLASTO: But Congressman I - you know I'm a TV producer and I remember the Watergate hearings and those hearings mesmerized the nation because there were actual tapes. We heard Richard Nixon's voice say do this, Mr. Dean. In this, do you think the expectations if the headlines on Thursday morning are snoozer or food fight between Republicans and Democrats? Is this over? Can it keep going without a public fascination?

CICILLINE: Yeah, I mean I look, I do not think you need, I take your point but I don't think you need a tape. I think the testimony of Mr. Mueller and the evidence he collected is substantial. I think the American people when they hear it will be deeply disturbed. And as I said we start off the hearing with twice as many people who think an impeachment inquiry is appropriate. That Nixon did the beginning of his hearing. So, so and people have come to that conclusion haven't read the report yet. But I think the fact is when they actually hear the evidence, and they hear it from Mr. Mueller, they will become even more persuaded that an impeachment inquiry is appropriate. But to answer your question directly. This is not the end. This is an important moment. We have lots more witnesses we need to hear from. There is no question that Mr. Mueller is a very important part of this investigation. But this is not the end of the inquiry. This is really the beginning of, of the Judiciary Committee's work and that's why a number of other fact witnesses are already under subpoena so that the American people can learn the full truth about exactly what the president did.

FAULDERS: So, you kind of teed up that next question in a way, you say there's going to be more witnesses, this is just the beginning. So I'm just gonna ask you what's next after this? You have, you've already authorized those 12 more individuals. Do you still expect the committee to subpoena all those individuals for, for their testimony and documents? And do you really think you know going into a one-month August recess that you're going to have momentum behind this, that we're still going to be talking about Mueller when you guys come back in September?

CICILLINE: Yeah, I mean I think there’s a - the chairman of the committee will obviously make a decision about what subpoenas to issue but a number have already been issued. We are particularly interested of course in hearing from Don McGahn. Particularly interested in hearing from again from Hope Hicks, Corey Lewandowski, Michael Flynn. I mean I think there's a lot of witnesses that have firsthand knowledge that are referenced in the Mueller report. I think there's also a reasonable possibility that we may do some work in the district work period of August it may be that there are some depositions or some hearings that will need to be held and I think members of the committee are perfectly prepared to come back to continue our work even during the August recess.

VLASTO: All right. Well thank you very much, Congressman. We look forward to the hearing tomorrow on Wednesday. Thank you very much.

CICILLINE: Thanks so much.