A Look At The Political Ramifications Of The Mueller Report For Trump

Apr 18, 2019
Originally published on April 18, 2019 7:45 pm
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Joining us now to talk through what the release of the report means for the president is NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Hey, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hey, Ailsa.

CHANG: So it sounds like the president is pretty happy. But it's not like there wasn't unflattering and potentially damaging information about him in this report. Let's talk about that.

LIASSON: Well, there's a lot of damaging information. First of all, Mueller established that Russia interfered in the election, something the president still hasn't consistently accepted. The very embarrassing scene that you just described, where Trump finds out there's a special counsel investigating him, and he says, I'm F-ed - expletive deleted.

CHANG: Yeah.

LIASSON: Then there was the vindication of the fake news; turned out fake news was real news. Mueller actually corroborated several news reports that the president has called fake - one of them where he asked his White House counsel, Don McGahn, to order the deputy attorney general to fire Bob Mueller, which he didn't do, or the Mueller report validated news reports that show the president dictating the false statement about the Trump Tower meeting with the Russians. So there is a lot of embarrassing material; unclear if it will be anything in the report that will change the political dynamic in a major way because people are so locked in about their views about the president.

CHANG: Yeah, it sounds like the partisan reaction so far has been pretty predictable.

LIASSON: Yes. Trump and the Republicans are sticking to the no collusion, no obstruction message. Democrats are upset; they feel the report is more damning than Attorney General Barr's description of it. The House Judiciary Committee chairman, Jerry Nadler, said that Congress will continue to investigate the president. Here's what he said today.

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JERRY NADLER: The responsibility now falls to Congress to hold the president accountable for his actions. Congress must get the full, unredacted report, along with the underlying evidence uncovered by special counsel Mueller. Congress requires this material in order to perform our constitutionally mandated responsibilities.

LIASSON: So Democrats are going to continue to investigate following the road map that Mueller has laid out, but they have a lot of big decisions to make. There are Democrats who think the president should be impeached ASAP; there are others, including Nancy Pelosi, who have said there has to be an overwhelming, bipartisan call for his impeachment.

CHANG: Right.

LIASSON: This report doesn't seem to provide the basis for that. Today, Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, said impeachment wasn't worthwhile because we have elections in 18 months, and voters can decide for themselves.

CHANG: OK, so can we just step back for a second. While we're all still digesting this 400-page report, what are the big-picture takeaways that we've learned about Trump as president?

LIASSON: Two big things leap out at me - one is how many people acted as guardrails around the president. So if we think about Donald Trump as a stress test on democratic institutions, they pretty much held up. Despite his denigrating the FBI, calling them dirty cops, Mueller was not fired. Despite him demanding that Don McGahn fire Mueller, Don McGahn didn't do that. And as the special counsel said, the president's efforts to influence the investigation were unsuccessful largely because the people around him declined to follow his orders.

And the second thing that really leaps out at me is there is a high bar for criminality. You can call on the Russians to hack your opponents' emails. You can praise WikiLeaks for disseminating the hacked emails. You can meet with Russian officials; you can lie about those meetings. You can expect to benefit from Russia's illegal actions. But all of that is not necessarily criminal. And remember Mueller's bottom line - no Trump campaign official knowingly assisted the Russian government in their interference, and no American illegally participated in Russia's hacking of emails.

CHANG: That's NPR's Mara Liasson. Thanks, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.