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tv   PBS News Hour  PBS  July 23, 2019 7:00pm-7:31pm PDT

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♪ ff woodru: i'm judy woodruff and welcome to this pbs newshour special, inside the report. the spotlight turns to the u.s. capitol as former special counsel robert mueller is set to testify before two committees of the eshouse of representat when his redacted report was publicly released in april, mueller indicateitthat it speaks folf. but the report is 448 pages lg. it is dense, and many of us don't have time to read it from cover to cover, itso my colleaguesany oflisa desjardins and to william brangham decided to dig into what it does, and does not say. they begin with the question of russian interference in the 16 presidential election narrator: major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by...
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and with the ongoing support of these institutions... and friends of the newshour... this program was made possible by the corporation for public broadcasting and from viewers like you, thank you. brangham: through two years of this investigation, through the indictment of 34 individuals, d then spelled out clearly in his final rept, robert mueller made one thing crystal clear,pt russia att to interfere with our 2016 election. here's the last thing mueller said. mueller: and i will close by reiterating the
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central allegati, of our indictmen that there were multiple, systematic efforts to terfere in our election. and that allegation deserves the attentionof very american. brangham: and so that's where we will start. volume one of his report, it's just over half of the total report, and it deals excsively with what the russians did. desjardins: eller lays this out, like the entire report, essentially as a large outline, saying russia attacked in two ways. he writes, first, that it carried out a social media prmpaign that favored esidential candidatena j. trump. and, second, a russian intelligence service conducted computer int esion operations againities, employees and volunteers working on the clinton campaign. translation, russia used the internet to fool american voters and hacatrs to attack demo computer networks. brangham: according to mueller's rept, the russian campaign began in mid-2014. that's when the employees of what's known as the
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internet research agency first ce to the u.s. to gather the material that they would later use in their elaborate social media postings. this is the ira's headquarters a. in st. petersburg, rus desjardins: by the end of 2016, the russians had set up fake social media accounts that reached millions of voters aimed at promoting trump o dividing branghamrussians created fake hashtags, like #kidsfortrump. they bought thousands of online ads. they impersonated u.s. citizens and set up real political rallies, like a 2015 confederate rally in hston. they made posters like this one of "miners for trump" to promote a rally in pittsburgh in 2016. desjardins: the mueller report lays out how this ensnared real american political operatives, including the trump campaign and its allies. donald trump jr. and top advise like kellyanne conway all retweeted these fake accounts. let's go to page 34 for an example. it shows a 2016 facebook post se from candidate trump h
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where he thanked organizers and promoted a rally in miami. but mueller writes that russians in the ira organized that rally, and even used a fake facebook account to brag that, "mr. trump posted about our event." brangham: according to the report, ira staffers also posed as american citizens and tried to communicate with the trump campaign to ask them for assistance coordinatinsome of. but the report notes, "the investigation h not identified evidence that anl understood these requests were coming from foreign nationals." and mueller's investigators found no similar connections between thn ira and the clinmpaign. desjardins: next, the report looks at russia's hacking, concluding, russia's largest foreign intelligence service, known as the gru, attacked the democratic party and the clinton campaign. the investu ation found the ole the password and identities of network administrators and used those to get access to democratic files.
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the report says, "the gru's operations extended beyond stealing material, and included releasing documen stolen from the clinton campaign and its supporters." brangham: to release those materials, the russians created online personas with names like fe "dcleaks" and "guc2.0" to establish a relationship with wikileaks, which then released these stolefiles to the public. on page 45, mueller documents how, in early july of 2016, wikileaks contacted the russians privately on twier saying, "if you have anything hillary-related, we want it in fee next two days pble." and then, on july 22, three days before the democratic national convention began, wikileaks released more than 20,000 emails another stolen documents. it was a clear attempt to embarrass clinton and weaken her candidacy. desjardins: timing is a constant theme in this report. the week after the democratic convention, mueller writes,
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candidate trump made this t.controversial statem president trump: russia, if you're listening, fhope you're able d the 30,000 emails that are missing. i think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press. desjardins: now, president trump has repeatedly insisted this was a joke. but mueller writes, within five hours of candidate trump saying those words, the gru targeted clinton's personal office for the rst time. notably, mueller found no evidence that the campaign knew that russians would respon but the report showed for the first time how soon russians acted after the president spoke. brangham: there were other new revelations in the report as ll. mueller says the russians directly targeted our election systems. they used cyberattacks against private technology firms that make election software, as well as officials in several states and county governments.
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desjardins: for more than 100 pages, robert mueller lays out scores of russian contacts with the trump campaign or the trump presidency. from the start, mueller is frank about why, to see whether those contamps constituted atd russian interference or influence on the election, and whether these contacts o resulted in coordinati conspiracy with the trump campaign. brangham: and mueller's conclusion about this conspiracy comes right away. xt in the very line, mueller writes, "based on the available information, io the investigdid not establish such coordination." mueller reached that conclusion even though, he writes, "there were numerous links between the campaign and the russians, that several people connected to the campaignli to his team and tried to obstruct their investigation into their contacts with the russians." desjardins: ok, let's talk heabout specifics with contacts, starting with the trump business and a big event in russia. group: welcome to moscow! desjardins: in 2013, donald trump takes his
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miss universe pageant to moscow. the mueller report points out, this is how the trumps got to know aras agalarov,a ssian billionaire and ally of vladimir putin. he owned the event ht l where the pages held. his son emin is a pop singer who sang at the event. ♪ emin: this could be the night. ♪ brangham: things start moving pretty quickly. within a few months, donald trump jr. sig a preliminary agreement with agalarov's company to build a big trump tower property in moscow. ivanka trumpinisits the countr 2014, scouting out possible then tseem to stall. desjardins: until 2015. president trump: theni am officially running for president of the united states. (cheering and plause) desjardins: in june, mr. trump announces his candidacy.r muelints out that, three months later, a new effort to build the trump tower in moscow begins, this time led by trump's lawyer, michael cohen,
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and developer felix sater. brangham: on pags 69, mueller make clear that candidate trump knew this was happening. he writes "cohen provided updates directly to trump about the project throughout 2015 and into 2016." but mueller stresses that, publicly, candidate trump repeatedly denies any such dealings.en prestrump: i have nothing to do with russia.n' i have any jobs in russia. i'm all over the world, but we're not involved in russia. brangham: meanwhile, felix sater tells michael cohen hein wowith high-level russian officials. he emails cohen, saying, "buddy, our boy can become president of the usa, and we can engineer it. i will go all of putin's teamy in on this." desjardins: the moscow trump tower project is just one source of russian contacts. mueller outlines aboutot a dozen of them in. they vary campide carter page meets with russians and travels to moscow to give a speech. aide j.d. gordon sayhe pushed for a change in the republican platform
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to water down tough language about russia and ukraine. policy adviser michael flynn gives speeches in russia and thhas numerous contacts the russian ambassador, including a discussion of softening sanctions foreign policy and national security adviser jeff sessions also meets with the russian ambassador. campaign cguirman paul manafort rly shares internal polling data with a man tied to russian intelligence. and fellow trump aose george papadopoepeatedly meets with a different man connected to russian intelligence, and who tells papadopoulosge papathe russians have dirt on hillary clinton. for all of these connections, mueller gives dates and times, often to the very minute brangham: and another contact point was the infamous new york trump tower meeting on june 9, 2016. that morning, donald trump jr. tells colleagues he has a lead on negative information about hillary clinton. that lead comes from a source you might remember, the pop singer emin agalarov, and his father,
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who's tied to putin. one of their staffers pitches the meeting to tmp jr., claiming they had dirt on clinton. trump jr. responds, "if it's what you say, i love it." the trump tower meeting ends with trp's son-in-law, jared kushner, calling it a waste of time. sjardins: on page 185, the report says "the special counsel considered whether to charge trump campai officials with crimes in connection with the june 9 meeting." but they decide no, for two reasons. first, mueller can't prove that trump's team knew they were acting illegally. it is against the law to take political contributions from foreign nationals. and, two, the value of the information may have been too low to prosecute. brangham: mueller notes that collusion is not a specific offense, that the actual crimes are conspiracy or coordination. desjardins: one more thing mueller points out investigators couldn't get all the information they wanted. donald trump jr. never agreed to an interview,
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the same with several key russians. some witnesses lied to investigators initially. some camthign aides deleter texts. and mueller states the president's written answers were inadequate. muelleitspecifically says possible this missing information could shed new light on the investigation. brangham: did president trump commit obstruction of justice? that's the question that takes up the final roughly be 200 pages of the mueller's report. mueller made headlines saying this about the president's actions. mueller: if we had had confidence tt the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so. we did noterhowever, make a dnation as to whether the president did commit a crime. de ardins: that conclusion, with nr the president is guilty or innocent, is where mueller starts this part of the report. he explains his lack of aion by invoking an overriding question: can a sitting president be indicted?
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on page one, his answer is no. mueller points to justice department policy that the indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting president would undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions. mueller: under longstanding department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. that is unconstitutional. even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public view, that, too, is prohibited. desjardins: mueller says the job of assessing whether a sitting president broke the law, and what to do about it, belongs to congress. brangham: so, as mueller does in this section of the report, he let's move on toase for and against obstruction. desjardins: the report sees the president's actions in two phases, before and afterne key event: the firing of fbi director james comey. brangham: so let's look at how the report examines comey's firing. mueller makes the case that the president repeatedly
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wanted assurance that comey was the present's ally, and he didt get it. at a private dinner with comey, the fbi director says the president asksy. for his loya in february, the president clears out the oval office tone be aith comey, and asks him to let go of the investigation into michael flynn, the former national security adviser. mueller's report states comey felt these weredi ct orders from the president. desjardins: tension builds quickly. comey: i have been authorized by the department of justice... desjardins: on march 20 of 2017, comey publicly tells congress that the fbi is investigating russian atd cks on the election y links to the trump campaign. the mueller report shows the president immediately starts contacting or relaacng messages to thng attorney general, intelligence officials,ly and repeat to comey himself, asking for public declarations that the president is not under investigation. on may 3, comey testifies beforeongress and does not
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say what the president wants. brangham: the president l fires comey six daer. on page 70, mueller writes that,ig on the of comey's firing, the white house wanted to put out a statement saying it was acting attorneygeneral ra to fire comey. but rosenstein said he wouldn't participate in putting out a false story. desjardins: that same week, the president says this lester holt of nbc news. president trump: and,n fact, when i decided to just do it, i said to myself, i said, you know, this russia thing with trump and russia is a made-up story. desjardins: now, many held that interview up as a clear admission that the president fired comey to obstructhe russia investigation.t eller's report says the full nbc interview actually showed the opposite. on page 74, "the president stened that he understood wh he made the decision to fire comey that the action might prolong the investigation." brangham: mueller's report concludes that the evidence doesn't establish that the
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w termination of com designed to cover up a conspiracy between the trump campaign and russia. desjardins: but, of course, comey's firing led directly to e appointment of the special counsel and an investigation of the president. special counsel robert mueller investigated some 10 different acts by the president for potential obstruction of justice. some of these am: in each instance, mueller lays out three things: what the president did, what may have been obstructed by ha those actions, and the president's intent was. mueller's conclusions range from a clear no evidence ofto obstructioases with substantial evidence. those cases, those with the most evidence, center on the president's attempts to fire or limit ecial counsel mueller himself. desjardins: the repot begins this segmth an eye-popping statement. te page 77, mueller w "the acting attorney general appointed a special counsel on may 17, 2017,
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prompting the president to state that it was the end of his presidency." brangham: mueller recounts a scene in the oval office that day where attorney genal jeff sessions tells the president that mueller's been appointed. and the president says, "oh, my god. this is terrible. this is the end of my presency. i'm (bleep)." top aide hope hicks testifies later that she en had only seen the pres like that one other time, when the "access hollywood" tape came out during the campaign. desjardins: the next day, the president was asked about the special counsel appointmt. president trump: well, i respect the move, but the entire thing s been a witch-hunt, and there is no collusion between certainly myself and my campaign. but i can always speak for myself and the russians. zero. desjardins: but, privately, the report says, the presideniaundermined the spcounsel's credibility. page 80, "the president repeatedly told advisers thatun special cosel mueller had conflicts of interest." but, the report says, top aide stephen bannon andke othestaff disagreed, telling the president they
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were not true conflicts and even riculous. brangham: according to the report, what happens next is critical. june 14, the ws hington post reveat the president is under investigation for obstruction of justice. according to mueller, three days later, esident trump tells ite house counsel don mcgahn to call acting attorney general rod rosenstein to say mueller has conflicts and can't serve anymore. the president says mueller has to go. mcgahnoesn't comply. desjardins: now, this is all based on mcgahn's testimony. mueller points out the president publicly disputes much of it. t, in the end, mueller finds mcgahn highly credible, reporting that he reacted strongly w to the presidentds. mueller writes, "mcgahn packed up his office, prepared to submit a regnation letter and told chief of staff reince priebus the president had asked hi toazy (bleep)." brangham: another serious chge about the president is that he tried to block mueller from
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investigating him or his campaign. on june 19, ks17, president trump is former campaign manager corey lewandowski to take a note to attorney general jeff sessions directing sessions to say publicly, "i am going to meet with the special prosecutor and let the special prosecutor move forward with investigating election meddling for future elections," meaning robert mueller would not investigate what happened in the 2016 election.j dins: lewandowski never passed on that message. these acts, taken together, prompted some of mueller's strongest langge in the report. on page 89, he writes: "substantial evidence indicates the attempts to remove the special counsel were linked to investigations du of the president's c." page 97, "substantial evidence indicates that the president's effort to limit the special counsel's investigation was intended to prevent further scrutiny of the president's and his campaign's conduct."
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brangham: now, we realize this is a lot,wi bu regards to other actions by the president, robert mueller found much less and sometimes no evidence of obstruction. take attorney general jeff sessions. sessions: therefore, i have recused myself. hs brangham: moarlier, he had recused himself from overseeing this russia probe because of his own undisclosed contacts with the russian ambassador. the president repeatedly pressured sessions to unrecuse himself and retake control of the investigation. a but mueller finds only asonable inference, not specific evidence, that this was meant to protect the president. desjardins: nextpamichael flynn an manafort. mueller investigated whether mr. trump floated potential presidential pardons for them in order to influence their testimony or cooperation elwith the special cou. mueller writes, "the evidence regarding flynns inconclusive," but, with manafort, "the evidence indicates mr. trump wanted manafort to believe a pardon was possible."
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brangham: and, finally, michael cohen. mueller looks at whether the president directed his lawyerng to lie to ss about plans to build a trump tower in moscow. the report says, "while there is evidence the president knew that cohen has made false statements," eller also writes, "the evidence doesn't establish that the president directed or aided cohen's false testimony." desjardins: to mueller,ct obstn is a crime of paramount importance. he went out of his way c. to say this in publi mueller: when a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government's eort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable. desjardins: mueller's report lays out a long string of examples where it finds evidence,so times substantial evidence, that the president tried to obstruct justice. brangham: for example, the president asked fbi director
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james comey to let go of one investigation. he told his white house counsel, don mcgahn, that mueller has to go, and later told him to lie and deny that conversation ever happened. other cases, mueller says what seems like suspicious activity was not obstruction, like when president trump tried to bury emails showing how his son welcomed a meeting with russians who were offining dirt on hillary n. mueller concludes that didn't afft the investigation. desjardins: overall, mueller writes, "the evidence does point to a range of personal motives animating the president's conduct. those include concerns the investigation would call into question the legitimacy of his election and whether certain events could be seen as criminal activity by the president, his campaign or family." brangham: but, despite that, mueller decided not to indict the presidt. the reason, he said, is a justice department opinion issued during the watergate scandal. it says that a sitting president cannot be indicted.
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this is internal agency policy from 1973, not a law or court ruling. desjardins: mueller seems to understand this is not a tisfying conclusion r anyone, saying the case raises difficult issues. but he writes, "u.s. law rests on the fundamental principle that no person in this country is so high that he is above the law." on the question of what to do now, mueller points to congress. mueller: the constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting esident of wrongdoing. brangham: he's lking, of course, about the impeachment process. re this is why the stakeso high with this investigation. but the report, written as a legal document, is tough to absorb. so what did this investigation produce? mueller lists all of the court cases triggered by his probe. ta so far, a tol of 34 people have been indicted. the vast mruority of those arssian nationals.
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but the investigation also led to a three-year prison sentence for trump's former lawyer michael cohen on fraudd mpaign finance violations. former tanmp campaign chaiaul manafort is serving seven-and-a-half years on charges unrelated t campaign. manafort's deputy, ricatgates, and formernal security adviser michael flynn both pleaded guilty to lying to the fbi and have yet to be sentenced. desjardins: meanwhile, another big case is heading to trial. trump confidant roger stone is charged by mueller with obstruction and lying to congress about his contas with wikileaks and the release of democratic documerus stolen by the brangham: there are more than a dozen other ongoing cases mueller cites, but those are fully redacted, and we just don't know who or what is involved. the report leaves open its most wrenching and difficult quidtion, whether the prt himself broke the law. desjardins: the report's final conclusion is that single, complicated paragraph you may have heard before.
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it reads in part: "if we had conghdence after a thorounvestigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.he based onacts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment. accordingly, while this report doesn't conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him." mueller: thank you for being here today. brangham: mueller so far has spoken publicly for just nine minutes about this report. mueller: no questions. brangham: he indicated te wants to leavehe stage and return to prate life. whateverueller's future, his report remains a challenge for america's leaders on all sides. woodruff: thank you for watching our pbs newshour special: inside the report. as always, you can find more reporting, on ourneebsite at pbs.orhour.
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narrator: major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by... d with the ongoing suppo of th. and friends of the newshour. this program was made posble by the corporation for public broadcasting and from viewers like you, thank you. u're watching pbs.
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