A rush transcript of “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” airing on Sunday, April 21, 2019 on ABC News is below. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated. For previous show transcripts, visit the “This Week” transcript archive.
ANNOUNCER: This Week with George Stephanopoulos starts right now.
MARTHA RADDATZ, THIS WEEK CO-ANCHOR: The Mueller report is out.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Game over, folks.
RADDATZ: But the fight is far from finished.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF, (D) CALIFORNIA: It's certainly not game over.
REP. JERROLD NADLER, (D) NEW YORK: The responsibility now falls to congress to hold the president accountable.
PETE BUTTIGIEG, 2020 DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm pretty sure he deserves to be impeached.
SEN. KAMALA HARRIS, (D) CALIFORNIA: There was an obstruction of justice by this president.
SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN, (D) MASSACHUSETTS: This is about accountability.
RADDATZ: Will Democrats now move to impeach? And how will the Mueller report shape the 2020 race? This morning, we're covering all the fallout with White House counselor Kellyanne Conway and the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff.
Plus, the latest insight and analysis from our Powerhouse Roundtable.
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, it's This Week. Here now, co-anchor, Martha Raddatz.
RADDATZ: Good morning, and welcome to This Week.
After nearly two years, the Mueller report has finally been made public, giving us all a chance to review the special counsel's findings. The president's opinion seems to have changed very little, repeating his now familiar refrain of no collusion, no obstruction.
But it's not so clear cut. Mueller's investigation did not find that the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election, but the special counsel's team did find a series of contacts between Trump campaign officials and individuals with ties to the Russian government. And the report paints a picture of a president who committed acts that were, quote, capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations, putting pressure on his White House counsel to fire Robert Mueller, asking former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to unrecuse himself from the Russia investigation, and asking the deputy attorney general to mislead the public about why the president fired former FBI director James Comey.
But the special counsel concluded Trump's efforts to influence the investigation, quote, were mostly unsuccessful, largely because the persons who surrounded the president declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.
The special counsel's findings also detail a culture of mistruths at the White House from the top-down. The president falsely claiming reports about his administration were fake news. His staff misleading the public multiple times about Comey's firing. And the president himself dictating a misleading statement to the public about that 2016 Trump Tower meeting.
Now, as we brace for what could be a long legal battle over the full report and congress's role,these key lines could determine what happens next. "If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."
For more on all this, we're joined now by the counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway. Good morning, Kellyanne. Thanks for coming in on an Easter morning.
The president says there' is total vindication, complete exoneration. No collusion. No obstruction. I want to start with obstruction.
You have seen what the Mueller team concluded, and I want to go to that ending line, "while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."
So, how does the president call this complete exoneration?
KELLYANNE CONWAY, WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: The president says that because he's known from the beginning that there was no collusion. There's no criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin to try to disrupt and spread disinformation about our elections. And that really was the central premise here. I think ABC was among the first networks to use the word collusion in July of 2016, mainly because the Obama administration knew what Russia was trying to do and failed to act.
RADDATZ: Kellyanne, I want to go to obstruction of justice and what Mueller concluded, and I'll read it again, "while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him." So, let's...
CONWAY: But that's not really -- respectfully, that's not really the job of a prosecutor. The job of a prosecutor. The job of a prosecutor is to gather evidence and decide whether to indict or to decline to indict. They declined to indict. The president is not going to jail, he’s staying in the White House for five and a half more years. Why? Because they – because they found no crime, no conspiracy. That was the central premise. That is what everybody, including your next guest Adam Schiff said time and again, dozens of times, hundreds of times, in print, on Twitter, on TV. And this – I think there’s a couple other things in the Mueller report that are very important.
Not only was obstruction of justice not found, that there was complete compliance. So as the Barr – as Mr. Barr, the attorney general has also said, that the sheer compliance, the millions of pages of documents, the 500 witnesses, the 2,800 inquiries, the subpoenas, on and on, all of this means the $25 million of taxpayer money, the two years that we’ve been doing this that they were never interfered or impeded, so there was no obstruction ...
RADDATZ: Kellyanne, we’re getting away from this. So, you – will you acknowledge that Mueller explicitly refused to clear the president on obstruction?
CONWAY: There was no reason for him to do that or not to do that for a very simple reason. The central premise here was collusion and there isn’t any. And I am really shocked that ...
RADDATZ: But he looked at exactly what you were talking about. Two years he looked at obstruction of justice ...
CONWAY: And if he could have charged a crime he would have, because there was enormous pressure ...
RADDATZ: So, you think this totally exonerates him?
RADDATZ: From obstruction of justice?
CONWAY: Yes, I do. And the word exoneration was unnecessary in the Mueller report and I would say inappropriate. Just like the May 9, 2017 memo by the newly confirmed 94 to six deputy attorney general, Mr. Rosenstein, made clear that FBI Director Jim Comey the summer before should never have gone out and said we’re declining to prosecute Hillary Clinton. You just don’t do that. You either prosecute or you don’t. You either bring an indictment or you don’t. And in this case no one named Kushner, Trump, anybody affiliated ...
RADDATZ: Kellyanne, I want to stick to – I want to stick to what has happened in this report. The president is now calling the report crazy, Mueller highly conflicted on March 26. Just a few weeks ago Trump said he thought Mueller acted honorably. Does he still think that?
So, they wanted to be able to say I never saw his election coming because they cheated and they stole the election and they were colluding with Russia. The most important ...
RADDATZ: Kellyanne, let’s go back ...
CONWAY: Can we talk about the Russian interference though, because that is important.
RADDATZ: Yes, we’re going to talk about the Russian interference. I want to go through this Mueller report. Mueller cites a series of unsuccessful actions the president took to try to influence the investigation, including then-White House Counsel Don McGahn, telling him to have Mueller removed in June 2017 and later asking McGahn to deny that had happened. Here’s what the report says. McGahn recalled that the president called him at home twice and on both occasions directed him to call Rosenstein and say that Mueller had conflicts that precluded him from serving as special counsel. McGahn recalled the president telling him, Mueller has to go and call me back when you do it.
In January of 2018 the New York Times reported that the president had ordered McGahn to fire Mueller and after, in the Mueller report, it says, after the story broke, the president, through his personal counsel and two aides, sought to have McGahn deny that he had been directed to remove the special counsel. Each time he was approached, McGahn responded that he would not refute the press accounts because they were accurate in reporting on the president’s effort to have the special counsel removed. But here’s what the president said when asked whether he’d ever tried to fire Mueller.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REPORTER: Mr. President, you’ve thought or thought about or considered leading the dismissal of the special counsel or is there anything that Bob Mueller could do that would send you in that direction?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I haven’t given it any thought. I mean, I’ve been reading about it from you people, you say oh I’m going to dismiss him. No, I’m not dismissing anybody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: And this is what he said when the story came out in the New York Times about Don McGahn’s refusal when asked if he sought to fire Robert Mueller, he said, fake news, folks, fake news, typical New York Times, fake news. But that’s not true, is it? The president did try to have Mueller ...
CONWAY: The president ...
RADDATZ: ... removed and it was not fake news.
CONWAY: That is a couple of minutes of one side, so I hope that you’ll give me ample time to respond, Martha. I’ve been sitting here patiently and respectfully. Martha, this has been a frustrated president about an ill-conceived, illegitimate investigation from the beginning and in the Mueller report, if you’re not cherry-picking a couple of pieces -- in the Mueller report you see again and again no interference or obstruction of an investigation that the president believed from the beginning and knew from the beginning has been proven to be --
RADDATZ: We are talking about what the president said. He called it fake news. He said he did not try to have Mueller --
CONWAY: -- conspiracy --
RADDATZ: He said he did not have any effort to try to remove --
RADDATZ: That’s not true.
CONWAY: The Mueller report itself says that there was no interference. That is -- that document says --
RADDATZ: The Mueller report -- I just read to you about the Mueller report --
CONWAY: If Mueller wanted to -- I’m sorry, if the president wanted to fire Bob Mueller he would have. In other words, he had -- he has the authority to do that. He fired Director Comey, he could -- he’s fired other people from the White House -- He’s fired Cabinet members.
RADDATZ: Why did he -- why did the president then -- why did the president say to the press and the public that he had not thought about removing Mueller?
CONWAY: He thinks the whole thing is fake news. He thinks the whole thing is fake news. He was --
RADDATZ: So you’re still -- is the Mueller report fake news?
CONWAY: No, the Mueller report clearly shows that Russia said the (ph) …
RADDATZ: But the Mueller report clearly shows that the president …
CONWAY: Martha, let me respond.
RADDATZ: … called Don McGahn (inaudible).
CONWAY: If I may – if I may respond, the Mueller report does say that Russia tried to interfere with this election. Military officials, people at the highest levels. But, quote, "unsuccessfully to – to affect the outcome of the election." Which means Donald Trump has been legitimately elected, fairly and squarely. And number two, the Russian interference – the alleged Russian interference in the election was done – was unaided by anybody in the Trump campaign.
I thought that’s what we were investigating …
RADDATZ: Was Don McGahn telling the truth in the Mueller report?
CONWAY: Don McGahn stayed on the job for 18 months after that. So I think that’s very telling because …
RADDATZ: Was Don McGahn telling the truth when he said …
CONWAY: He’s an honorable man, I wasn’t there for …
RADDATZ: … That the president asked him to remove Mueller?
CONWAY: … Any of their conversations in this – in this regard. And I will tell you that Don McGahn – I believe that if he were ever asked to …
RADDATZ: But you also said that he would not – that you deny that – that Don McGahn tried to …
CONWAY: Well, the president never – well, the president never asked me that question. I can speak to – I can speak to that. But let’s not mislead the viewers as to what the Mueller report truly does …
RADDATZ: But you said we are complying and cooperating with the investigation.
CONWAY: Donald Trump …
RADDATZ: He has not even discussed – not firing, he has not discussed firing Bob Mueller.
CONWAY: With me? Definitely not discussed it with me. I can speak for my conversations with the president. There are other things in the Mueller report that don’t sound like Donald Trump. He has never – I’ve been by his side for three straight years. He has never once said to me, "my candidacy is over," even though others were saying it was, "my presidency is over."
So, what I’m telling – what I want the viewers to understand is what is in this report and what’s not in this report. There will be no criminal charges brought against President Trump. There will be no criminal charges brought against anybody in his family or anybody connected to his campaign that I managed to a successful end. If anybody should be outraged today, it’s all of us who have spent years of angst and anxiety with people who never saw his election coming trying to put an asterisk next to it. Now …
RADDATZ: Kellyanne …
CONWAY: Now, we should be concerned about Russian interference.
RADDATZ: I do want to talk about Russian interference, but I want to get a clear answer on Don McGahn. Do you believe Don McGahn when he says the president tried to get him to fire Bob Mueller?
CONWAY: I believe the president was frustrated about the investigation from the very beginning and knew it was ill-conceived. And I would remind everybody of something that gets zero coverage, which is, days before …
RADDATZ: Please answer that question, Kellyanne. It’s the only question …
CONWAY: You’ve got to ask Don McGahn and the president. I can only talk about …
RADDATZ: It is in the Mueller report and Don McGahn said he’s telling the truth, under oath …
CONWAY: I don’t believe – I don’t believe it amounts to obstruction of justice and if it had, then Mueller would have said this is obstruction of justice …
RADDATZ: But do you believe Don McGahn?
CONWAY: I believe that Don McGahn is an honorable attorney who stayed on the job 18 months after this alleged incident took place and that, if he were being asked to obstruct justice or violate the constitution or commit a crime – help to commit a crime by the president of the United States, he wouldn’t have stayed. I certainly wouldn’t stay. The president is – was rightly frustrated and trying to, like everybody else tries to do, make an ill-conceived, illegitimate investigation that’s produced no collusion, no criminal conspiracy, no indictment, no impeachment of this president.
He was trying to make it go away because he says, on page 61 – on page 61 of Volume 2 – people should read it – the – Mueller admits that the president is rightly frustrated that he thinks this ill-conceived investigation is going to affect his ability to go forward with foreign policy and his domestic agenda. He’s been under a cloud from day one even though on January 6 …
RADDATZ: Kellyanne, let’s – we have just a few minutes and I do want to talk about collusion …
CONWAY: FBI Director Comey goes – goes to Trump Tower – this is important – never bothers to come and meet the president-elect for two months between his election and January 6th, comes for that intelligence briefing in Trump Tower. You know how Jim Comey spends the last minutes of his time? Telling the president about some unverified dossier about some golden shower nonsense that’s been disproven in the Mueller report. The BuzzFeed report was wrong…
RADDATZ: Kellyanne, let’s talk about – let’s talk about what else was not proven. The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference.
CONWAY: Of course, that’s important.
RADDATZ: Exactly right in the Mueller investigation. But at the heart of this investigation was Russia’s role in the 2016 election, and the Mueller report was unequivocal about that as well saying the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion. The investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome and that the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts."
You were campaign chair, do you accept that Russia worked to help elect Donald Trump?
CONWAY: I think they to sow disinformation, discord in our democracy, and we should never allow that from any foreign government, foreign actor. They were also unsuccessful. Donald Trump won -- we didn't need WikiLeaks, we had Wisconsin. He won because he was the better candidate with a better message. And we had a fraction of the personnel, we had a fraction of the resources. And we were very smart about deploying our two greatest assets, Donald Trump and Mike Pence.
Martha, it's very important that your next guest, Adam Schiff, to his credit, he and the senator of his state, Dianne Feinstein, pled with President Obama to do more about Russian interference. They sent a letter to President Obama in September of 2016. Your network talked about collusion in July of 2016.
RADDATZ: We will ask Congressman Schiff about that.
CONWAY: This was an open secret during the Obama administration, so their credit people were trying to get the Obama administration to be more serious. They dropped the ball completely, looked the other way. Why? Because the candidate they wanted to win they thought would win. That is a disgrace on our democracy, and it should never happen again.
But let me make very clear, as campaign manager I never gave a thought to Russia interference, to Russia helping us.
RADDATZ: You retweeted some things that came from Russian trolls.
CONWAY: Well, how would I know that?
CONWAY: And I was contacted by WikiLeaks and never responded. I'm sure the investigators know that.
RADDATZ: But let me -- I want to end here with something Senator Mitt Romney said...
CONWAY: When we see Donald Trump get re-elected, people will point to a couple of things like taxes, deregulation...
RADDATZ: Tens of millions of people read those social media posts, tens of millions.
CONWAY: But do you know else he'll get reelected, we'll look back at this week, and we'll look at this flawed -- this ill-conceived investigation into collusion, which was meant to sound spy-like and actually...
RADDATZ: Actually they didn't use that word, they used conspiracy.
CONWAY: No, the investigators used the right word, but most of the people in the media and the Democratic Party, which sometimes it’s difficult to know the difference, respectfully...
RADDATZ: And the president is still using that...
CONWAY: ...collusion, but they're all trying to say we didn't use that word. Adam Schiff in at least 14 tweets I saw today, constantly on TV, collusion, collusion. It was meant to sound furtive, it was meant to sound criminal, it was meant to sound like the president would be frog marched out of office.
People will look back at this week as another reason he got re-elected, mark my words, because they spent 22 months, $25 million in taxpayer dollars, constantly beating the drum of collusion. That's why I think that you have many of the 2020 candidates, and Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer themselves saying we're not talking impeachment.
RADDATZ: Kellyanne, let me end with this, you have read the report. You have also read reports of lying in the White House and that atmosphere, about Comey, about other things, about the Trump Tower--
CONWAY: What do you mean, Comey? I'm sorry.
RADDATZ: Why Comey was fired?
CONWAY: Because he's a proven liar.
RADDATZ: Why Comey was fired.
CONWAY: No, no, I think Comey was fired for several reasons. First of all, Comey himself has admitted that the president has the absolute constitutional authority to fire the FBI director. But I will tell you when I went on TV in those ensuing days, I relied almost exclusively on the Rosenstein memo from May 9, 2017. It's a remarkable document that I had memorized at the time. The name of that document, that memo, is called "restoring the integrity of the FBI." And it goes on to say that Jim Comey usurped Attorney General Loretta Lynch's power. He should never have done a press conference. That the way that he handled the end of the Hillary Clinton email investigation..
RADDATZ: Mueller on why Trump fired Comey, substantial indicates that the catalyst for the president's decision to fire Comey was Comey's unwillingness to publicly state that the president was not personally under investigation, despite the president's repeated requests that Comey make such announcement.
CONWAY: Well, that's enough, but so was the Rosenstein memo.
RADDATZ: I just want to end with a comment by Senator Mitt Romney, who also weighed in on this. He released a strong statement Friday about the report. Here's what he said, "I am sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the president. I am also appalled that among other things, fellow citizens working in a campaign, the president welcomed help from Russia."
Senator Romney did say it was good news that president wasn't charged with a crime, but does he have a point that this shouldn't be a standard for the highest office in the land?
CONWAY: The campaign that I managed in those last few months did not welcome help from Russia, and in fact I don't recall being offered help from Russia. It would have been a ridiculous...
RADDATZ: Should the president at least apologize for WikiLeaks, saying...Russia, release those emails--
CONWAY: I think the president deserves an apology from millions of people in country, including those who have a lot of power in this country in a particular political party, many in the media as well, who didn't just say let's let the Mueller investigation go on and let’s see what the conclusion is but day after day, graphic after graphic, chyron after chyron, panel after panel, story after story, were leading the public to believe that there was collusion, there was criminal conspiracy. As for Mr. Romney, as a junior senator in Utah, who certainly wanted to sit in the Oval Office, was told -- was promised, indeed, by his overpaid and underwhelming consultants that he would be elected president, I thought that Mr. Romney missed a great opportunity -- missed a great opportunity-- Senator Romney missed a great opportunity this weekend to say one very important thing, which is that he was right in 2012 when he said to the whole world in his debate against then-president Barack Obama that the biggest geopolitical foe was Russia.
People laughed at him, the media ignored him. He was right about that and I think that President Obama should have listened to those words in 2014 when he had ample evidence that Russia was trying to interfere in our democracy and in our elections. So -- but instead Senator Romney did what most people do, they have to have Trump as the subject, the predicate and the adverb in every sentence whereas he should say look, the Mueller report exonerates me, Mitt Romney, I was right about Russia trying to sow discord.
I think this is why many people want to investigate the investigators now and find out why the Obama administration ignored Russian interference and how we got that FISA warrant, that phony dossier --
RADDATZ: That’s got to be a wrapping point there, Kellyanne.
CONWAY: Thank you for having me. Full exoneration, no obstruction, no criminal conspiracy. The president and everyone should have a happy Easter, happy Passover, whatever it is you -- that you celebrate. Thank you, Martha.
RADDATZ: Thanks very much, Kellyanne. And joining me now, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee. Congressman Schiff, Kellyanne Conway has said you should resign as committee chair, I assume you will not. But what about the evidence? You just heard her, you have said there is ample and abundant evidence of collusion leaving the very strong impression there was illegal activity.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): Well, you heard another display of alternate facts from Kellyanne Conway today where she could not even acknowledge that the Russians tried to help the Trump campaign and did provide substantial help to the campaign. But look, I’ve been very clear over the past year, year and a half, that there is ample evidence of collusion in plain sight.
And I use that word very carefully because I also distinguish time and time again between collusion, that is acts of corruption that may or may not be criminal, and proof of a criminal conspiracy. And that is a distinction that Bob Mueller made within the first few pages of his report. In fact, every act that I’ve pointed to as evidence of collusion has now been borne out by the report.
And I will also say that, with respect to most of those acts involving the meeting at Trump Tower, involving the provision of polling data, involving the discussions between the national security advisor and the Russian ambassador; all these and so many more, Kellyanne Conway and the president of the United States call this fake news, disputed that these facts were even facts.
RADDATZ: But Congressman – Congressman …
SCHIFF: We now know from Bob Mueller they were fact.
RADDATZ: You – you went farther than saying ample evidence, you once described to me on this program that the Trump administration’s actions related to the Russian probe are, quote, of a size and scope probably beyond Watergate. What do you say now?
SCHIFF: Well, I think it’s clear from the Mueller report that that’s exactly right. The obstruction of justice in particular in this case is far worse than anything that Richard Nixon did. The -- the break in by the Russians of the Democratic institutions, a foreign adversary far more significant than the plumbers breaking into the Democratic headquarters. So yes, I would say in every way this is more significant than Watergate. And the fact that a candidate for president and now president of the United States would not only not stand up and resist Russian interference in our election but would welcome it goes well beyond anything Nixon did.
The fact that the president of the United States would take Putin’s side over his own intelligence agencies go well beyond anything Richard Nixon did. So yes, I think it is far more serious than Watergate.
RADDATZ: On obstruction of justice, based on the information in the report, do you believe the president did obstruct justice?
SCHIFF: I do believe that he obstructed justice and did so in many ways. And I think that the Mueller report points out how the elements of obstruction are met in several instances, several courses of the president’s conduct. What Bob Mueller said -- and this is obviously directly contrary to what Bill Barr represented to the country -- is that he felt bound by the office of legal counsel opinion that he could not indict a sitting president. Now Kellyanne Conway points to that as proof of innocence but it’s not. Bob Mueller made it abundantly clear he felt he could not indict the president. The most that he could do was say that the evidence did not exonerate the president.
And I think the reason why he did that is because he could not only not indict the president but I think he also felt that he could not say that the president should be indicted, because that would be effectively the same thing. That would cast the same stigma over the president that the president would be powerless to remove. So I think that’s why Bob Mueller made that non-traditional prosecutorial judgment. He came as close to saying that the evidence of obstruction was evidence of a crime as he could within the Department of Justice regulations. And that’s, I think, the point that he was trying to get across, that he preserved the evidence for when the president was out of office and that he also laid out the evidence so that Congress could understand and undertake its own responsibility.
RADDATZ: And Congressman Schiff, let’s turn to impeachment. Senator Elizabeth Warren has tweeted, the severity of this misconduct demands that elected officials in both parties set aside political considerations and do their constitutional duty, that means the House should initiate impeachment proceedings against the president of the United States. You’ve said unless there’s bipartisan support for it, it is a bad idea. But what about that constitutional duty or any precedent that this might set?
SCHIFF: Well look, I think Liz Warren makes an important point, and that is that the level of evidence in the Muller report is serious and damning and in a normal circumstance would be, I think without question within the realm of impeachable offenses. We are, unfortunately, in an environment today where the GOP leadership, people like Kevin McCarthy, are willing to carry the president’s water not matter how corrupt or unethical or dishonest the president’s conduct may be. And in those kind of circumstances, when Mitch McConnell will not stand up to the president either, it means that an impeachment is likely to be unsuccessful.
Now it may be that we undertake an impeachment nonetheless. I think what we’re going to have to decide as a caucus is what is the best thing for the country. Is the best thing for the country to take up an impeachment proceeding because to do otherwise sends a message that this conduct is somehow compatible with office or is it in the best interest of the country not to take up an impeachment that we know will not be successful in the Senate because the Republican leadership will not do its duty? That’s a very tough question and I think is one we ought not to make overnight.
RADDATZ: And just the final question here, Congressman, you said the Attorney General Bill Barr did a grave disservice to the country by misrepresenting significant parts of the Mueller report.
Congressman Eric Swalwell, your colleague in the Intel Commission, said Barr should resign. Do you think he needs to step down?
SCHIFF: Look, I think he should have never been confirmed and I said so at the time, and he absolutely should never have been even considered unless he recused himself from an investigation in which he had such an obvious bias.
I’m not ready to speculate about whether he should resign or not given that that’s not going to happen anyway. But the fact of the matter is that Bill Barr views himself as the president’s lawyer, not the attorney general of the United States of America.
And he I think quite deliberately misrepresented in saying that there was no evidence of collusion and that is not what the Mueller report says. When he said that there was no obstruction and that essentially wanted him to make that decision, gave the impression, Mueller did not feel bound by the Office of Legal Counsel opinion, that mislead the country.
When he provided his own summary and we now know that Bob Mueller had his own summary, there was nothing preventing Bill Barr from, if he wanted to give advanced notice of what the report was going to say, to give Bob Mueller’s own words, Bill Barr instead chose to mislead the country with his own spin.
A spin that was embraced by the president, and I think that history will reflect that Bill Barr let the country down when it needed an attorney general of substance.
RADDATZ: OK thanks very much for joining us this morning, Congressman. Up next, ABC’s Terry Moran and Pierre Thomas break down all the fallout over the Mueller report when we come back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PIERRE THOMAS, CHIEF JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT, ABC NEWS: Did the Special Counsel indicate that he wanted you to make the decision or that it should be left for Congress?
WILLIAM BARR, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY GENERAL: Special Counsel Mueller did not indicate that his purpose was to leave the decision to Congress. I hope that was not his view since we don’t convene grand juries and conduct criminal investigations for that purpose.
But I am told that his reaction to that was that it was my prerogative as attorney general to make that decision.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RADDATZ: ABC’s Chief Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas there questioning Attorney General Bill Barr at his press conference before the release of the Mueller report on Thursday. Pierre joins me now as well as Senior National Correspondent Terry Moran. Good morning to both of you.
And Pierre, let’s go right to that question, was it Barr’s prerogative to make that conclusion?
THOMAS: Martha, one thing that struck me about the press conference the other day is that Barr views himself as a colleague and a peer of Bob Mueller. He does not have Bob Mueller on a pedestal. And at the end of the day, his position is that I’m the attorney general, he reports to me, it was my call to make.
RADDATZ: And Terry, you said about a month ago on this program that if Mueller did no have evidence to support that the president aided the Russians, that’s a reckoning for the progressives and Democrats, he has been cleared of conspiracy with the Russians, but does this report leave a clear reckoning for Democrats?
MORAN: Well, I think it does. Donald Trump is not going to be removed from office for this, whatever the House of Representatives does. Donald Trump’s not going to be frog marched out of the White House in handcuffs and the 2016 election is not going to be reversed by this. And too many Democrats and progressives stake their hopes on that.
RADDATZ: But -- but even with the obstruction of justice --
RADDATZ: But even with the obstruction of justice that he did not make a determination -- Mueller.
RADDATZ: Still a reckoning?
MORAN: A reckoning for Democrats, for sure, because now that hope is dead. And as a result, they -- they are going to go to the public, as many of the candidates already are, with an argument more than don't you hate him, too, don't you want to get rid of him, too. And I think that is a positive reckoning for Democrats. This has been an obsession. This has been something that consumed energy -- political energy in the -- in the Democratic party and in the media as well. And I think getting past that is good for the country.
RADDATZ: And Pierre, but there are these other investigations, 12, 14, however many investigations there are, we know nothing about most of those investigations. Do you know anything?
THOMAS: No, we only know about two of them. One involves Michael Cohen, the other involves former White House counsel Greg Craig. There are 12 others. And what it proves is that the -- there will be echoes of the Mueller investigation long after he’s closed up shop. It also means that you have the FBI and the Justice Department that will have to make more decisions, potentially, about the president and others.
RADDATZ: And Terry, just finally, I -- I want to talk about the seriousness of this Russian interference, however, that is at the heart of this. They did a lot to interfere in that election.
MORAN: It was the most serious and dastardly attack on the American election process in our history. It was hacking of multiple computers, it was the effort to -- to slant the election to one way, it was an attack on the count itself, trying to hack the counting machines to come up with a false result. It was the spread of fake news. All Americans should be united against that. I think one of the disappointments people have with President Trump is that he was so reluctant to acknowledge the obvious and defend the country.
And I think there’s -- there are questions about how much President Obama could have done at the time as well. But President Trump spent months -- I was in Helsinki, I saw him do it, denying it.
RADDATZ: Just 10 seconds.
THOMAS: Martha, real briefly. At one point the Mueller report said that there were 59 computers associated with the Democrats that the Russians were rummaging through and that they targeted hundreds of Clinton campaign officials and advisers. It's stunning. It was audacious.
RADDATZ: And -- and hopefully we're doing something about that next time. Up next, with Democrats divided over impeachment, how will that debate shake up the 2020 race? The roundtable takes on that and more when we come back.
RADDATZ: The Round Table is all here ready to go, and a reminder all week long you can get the latest on politics with breaking news alerts on the ABC News App. We’ll be right back.
RADDATZ: And the powerhouse Round Table joins me now, ABC News Political Director Rick Klein, NPR White House reporter Ayesha Rascoe, Republican strategist and ABC News contributor Sarah Fagen and Democratic strategist and ABC News contributor Stephanie Cutter.
Welcome everyone. Happy Easter.
And, Rick, I'm going to start with you, the president and his team are claiming, as you've heard, complete vindication. Democrats say, not so fast, and they want more investigation. Does this leaves the country exactly where we were before just completely divided, each person hearing what they want to hear?
RICK KLEIN, ABC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR: This moment was climactic and anticlimactic at the same time. And it's an extraordinary thing where in the political class, at least, to say nothing of the public, we don't know yet, but in the political class I think it's fair to say no one's mind was changed about President Trump.
That doesn't mean that there aren't really serious things that are raised in the Mueller report, but it does mean that as a practical political matter this just wasn't a game-changer.
RADDATZ: And Ayesha, the picture the Mueller Report paints of the West Wing, and you heard me talk to Kellyanne Conway about this, it's not really a glowing one. The Washington Post put it this way, "the vivid portrait that emerges from Mueller's 448-page report is of a presidency plagued by paranoia, insecurity and scheming, and of an inner circle gripped by fear of Trump spasms."
You cover the White House every day, is that the sense you get?
AYESHA RASCOE, NPR WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, I think what that report showed in like very vivid imagery is how this is a White House where you have a president that is often times disconnected from his staff. Often times, you will talk to people and it's just like, we don't know what he's talking about. We don't know what's going on.
And then what you see in this, and what I think will have the long-term implications is this idea the president tells people to do things and then they don't necessarily do them. And that he likes to push boundaries and that so far he's kind of been confined by people not going through with some of his kind of boundary pushing orders.
But what happens when someone does something that he's asking them to do, some of this has come up with the Department of Homeland Security, when he's asking them to do something that may not be legal? What happens when someone follows through on that?
RADDATZ: And Sara, it's kind of exactly what I was going to ask you, the report lays out these several instances when the president directed aides to do something they did not follow through on. Kind of a blessing in disguise in this case, it seems. But what does this tell you about the White House?
SARA FAGEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, you know, I think for all the chatter about some of the Trump staff going into the administration about perhaps people not being qualified or perhaps him not having the best team, they actually turn out to be a great team for Donald Trump. They know him well. And as Bob Mueller pointed out in that report, which is the president was very frustrated with this investigation and believed that it was never true and never should have been conducted, and he had a staff, particularly in Don McGahn, who knew he was lashing out and didn't act on it. And as a result of that...
RADDATZ: So they know when to ignore him and when not to?
FAGEN: Well, it's like anybody in a relationship, you know when somebody is frustrated and they're venting versus when they're serious. And I read this -- and I think perhaps even Bob Mueller, to his credit, while that wasn't his job is to psychoanalyze the president, he took that into account that the people closest to Trump knew when Trump was lashing out and angry and upset about something he read because he felt it was unfair and unjustified. And, you know, when it was true, and Don McGahn served the president actually quite well in this regard.
RADDATZ: And Stephanie, Senator Elizabeth Warren, as you heard now, calling for impeachment. Do you think many others will follow? Do you think that will happen? Do you think it should happen as we approach 2020?
STEPHANIE CUTTER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST AND ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: I think that there will be more that call for impeachment proceedings. But I think by and large most Democrats are looking for Democrats to do their job.
And what does that mean? It means that they've got to continue investigating, and get the facts. And a big piece of that is getting Bob Mueller to testify before the House. I think that this debate -- you know we all think of this fate -- and this moment as a static debate, what should Democrats do, what should they not do? I think if Bob Mueller comes and testifies to the country, and even just -- he could just read off of the report, I think that's a big moment, a big moment not just for Democrats, but for Republicans.
All the questions this morning have all been about what Democrats should do. What should Republicans do? Republicans...
RADDATZ: But is the country exhausted by this?
RADDATZ: I go out in the country, people aren't even tracking the Mueller report.
CUTTER: They are exhausted. It's not coming up on the campaign trail. I think that we’ve all realized that; however, I was struck by something a freshman Democrat said over the past couple of days, Abby Spanberger, who is a new member from Northern Virginia, a swing district. She said is it divisive? Absolutely. It's divisive to start impeachment proceedings. Does that mean we shouldn't do our job? No. We need to do our job.
So – what the question is, how does that all flow. Remember, there was a year between investigation – before impeachment proceedings started on Richard Nixon. Democrats have some more investigating to do. They’ve asked for his tax returns.
Let’s look at what’s happening with his business with Russia. Why is he so cozy with Russia? He invited Russian interference in this election. Why? We need to get to the bottom of that.
RADDATZ: And Rick, on that same vein, this wasn’t the report that many Democrats were hoping for and Congress is continuing to push for – for investigations. But I was struck by the focus of the Democratic address this week from Representative Debbie Dingell. She talked about healthcare. She talked about jobs. I think the message was pretty clear in that of just move on. Let’s not get into the Trump accusations again and again and again.
KLEIN: I think the answer for Democrats may – not necessarily move on, but move to the side this whole issue. And if it isn’t impeachment, maybe it kind of looks like impeachment lite where you’ve got a whole series of investigations. And I think, Chairman Schiff, in your interview a few moments ago, hinted at this; that, yeah, there’s probably enough if you want to impeach the president, to say there are high crimes and misdemeanors. And you can pursue that but that isn’t necessarily – well, it’s almost certainly not going to be successful.
And short of that, there’s lots you can do inside the confines of the Mueller report, plus other things around there. And by the way, I think 2020 candidates would like to see that handled on Capitol Hill because it takes the pressure off of them. They are not being asked about it, they want to have a good answer, I think it’s helpful for them to say, "Look, the process is working its way through when, as a functional matter, we know this is going to be litigated in next year’s election, not through impeachment.
RADDATZ: And – and how much focus do you think there will be on this? What are you hearing from voters? What do you think is happening out there in terms of this report?
RASCOE: It seems like, as always, voters are focused on kind of those bread and butter issues; the economy, healthcare. And it – and it has seemed like that’s what Democrats have been talking about on the trail. They haven’t necessarily been leading with "We’re going to impeach the president." I think that there is a case for people that are very adamant about wanting to see some type of justice when it comes to the president. And those Democrats who are like, "why should we let this just slide? We should be more aggressive."
And so I think that’s why you see Elizabeth Warren – Warren coming out and saying, look, we should -- this rises to the level of impeachment. Let’s at least look at this because there is this need, I think, on the Democratic side, to put up a fight, among some. I think, for a lot of average Americans, they’re probably going to be focused on those pocketbook issues.
RADDATZ: And Stephanie, let’s move on to the Democrats a little bit here. The Trump campaign raised about a million dollars from its supporters after the Mueller report. They also raised more than $30 million in the first quarter, as much as Senators Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, the two top fundraisers. Is that a bad sign for Democrats?
CUTTER: Well, yes.
But it’s also …
RADDATZ: Quite – quite – yes, quite simply.
CUTTER: Yes, it’s also a sign of …
RADDATZ: Let’s talk about going forward, then.
CUTTER: … The power of the incumbency. You know, I’ve been on the other side trying to reelect a president and that power of incumbency cannot be underestimated in a presidential campaign. He’s got the time and the resources to put together a campaign. He doesn’t have to go through a primary. We’ve got, as of today, 18 people running. When Biden gets in, we’ll have 19 people running. That’s a lot of money being split, that’s a lot of effort.
RADDATZ: Seth Moulton gets in this week …
CUTTER: Seth – Seth Moulton will be 20 …
RADDATZ: The congressman from Massachusetts, another veteran.
CUTTER: Another veteran. And so, you know, the challenging party going through our primary, it’s much more difficult than the power of the incumbency. I also think raising money off of the Mueller report, he’s got a very active base and he stokes it every single day. We’ve seen it, he’s trying to destroy Mueller’s credibility, even after the report comes out. That has an impact on its base. It has an impact on our base too.
RADDATZ: Should – should Biden be the face of the Democratic Party?
FAGEN: I – I would argue …
RASCOE: You can go.
FAGEN: I would argue that if Democrats were smart, they would nominate somebody like Joe Biden. I mean, the reality is, Donald Trump is …
RADDATZ: Stephanie’s smiling there.
FAGEN: Yes – well what strikes me, as a Republican operative, is how quick many Democrats dismiss this idea and say Joe Biden is not the future of the Democratic Party. But I look at it quite differently, which is, Donald Trump is actually in the strongest position he’s ever been to be reelected. He has a very strong economy and he was just exonerated from the underlying charge of this Russia conspiracy.
And many of Donald Trump’s supporters, and even people who are swing supporters, people who maybe don’t like everything about Trump but like his policies, look at this and say "He was unfairly treated in this process." He is strongly positioned to be reelected. The Democratic Party going and talking about Medicare for all, free college education, free healthcare, taxes on everybody to pay for all of these things, that is not a winning message, Joe Biden is a sensible, middle class individual who people respect and like.
RADDATZ: I want to ask our two reporters here to talk about lessons learned. What lessons did the Republicans and Democrats learn from the past two years?
RASCOE: I think that’s very hard to say because I think in D.C. do people really learn lessons? But I think that –
RADDATZ: Or they might learn the wrong ones, yes, yes.
RASCOE: -- they learn the wrong ones. But I think what – and what is interesting, and this kind of goes off of what was just being said is when Donald Trump came into office, he came into office as the outsider with very not sensible ideas, but we’re going to have a wall and Mexico is going to pay for it.
And now it’s kind of reversed, now he’s the incumbent, trust me, and all of these Democrats have these very kind of wild ideas, do we want to trust them? But what I – but what I think that we – what we saw with President Trump is that things that look very kind of wild and outrageous to the kind of D.C. establishment can quickly become the norm if they are sold in the right way.
And so I think that Democrats, even though they’re looking at these bold ideas, that may be what they need to do to get the attention and to get the attention of voters.
RADDATZ: And Rick?
KLEIN: And for Republicans, I think these last three years have tracked President Trump’s hijacking and complete takeover of the Republican Party, Mitt Romney not withstanding.
Republicans are still behind him and they are going to be in with him for better or for worse through 2020. For Democrats, I think their expectations around Mueller probably were unrealistic. They were hoping that Mueller would kind of be a get out of jail free card, and this would get the hard work done for them, when in fact the whole political environment created President Trump and it’s going to take politics to oust him.
And if Democrats want to defeat him, they’re going to have to do it the hard way, they’re going to have to do it by grinding out over the course of a campaign, it’s not going to be solved for them by Bob Mueller or any other outside force.
RADDATZ: OK thanks to all of you and have a great day today, we will be right back.
That’s all for us today, thanks for sharing part of your Easter Sunday with us and we extend our thoughts to the people of Sri Lanka after those devastating bombing attacks on churches and hotels there this morning. Have a good day.