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Mueller's first public comments. TRANSCRIPT: 5/29/19, The 11th Hour w/ Brian Williams.

Guests: Katie Benner, John Heilmann

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Former Republican Congressman, Tom Coleman, gets tonight`s LAST WORD.  Thank you very much for joining us.


O`DONNELL:  We appreciate it.

And coming up, you`re going to see the fall 9 1/2 minutes of Robert Mueller`s statement today on "THE 11TH HOUR" with Brian Williams, which starts now.

BRIAN WILLIAMS, THE 11TH HOUR, HOST:  The breaking news tonight, the voice of Robert Mueller, the special counsel himself breaks his silence with a chilling warning about the Russian attack on our country.  He also adds if he had any evidence that the President had not committed a crime, he would have said so.

The obvious and immediate victim of Mueller`s comments, Attorney General Bill Barr who now looks like a man whose gone out of his way to preserve, protect and defend his boss and the Trump presidency.

And now the big choice before the Democrats and the House while already tonight the President is back to calling it a witch hunt as THE 11TH HOUR gets underway on this Wednesday night.

Well, good evening once again from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.  Day 860 of the Trump administration.  And today was striking at a basic level because we haven`t heard Robert Mueller`s voice for over two years, yet we`ve talked about him every night for the same length of time.

We don`t know if he was frustrated by how his hard work has been portrayed.  We don`t know if he was angry at the way the attorney general got out ahead and summarized his work or how the President spun it over these intervening weeks.  We`re left only with his words as he spoke them on his last day at work and perhaps his last day in public life.

"The Washington Post" editorial page spoke for a lot of people tonight when they wrote he should have said this weeks ago.  But make no mistake because of his baring and rectitude and the near ora that some had conferred upon him, Mueller spoke with great authority today.  He said chilling things about the President.  On another front his words were designed to be chilling about the attack on this country and election by Russia.

So here is how we want to begin tonight for those who haven`t seen it, we`re going to play it.  For those who have, please note here how perhaps different things will stand out to you.  At the conclusion, we`ll talk with our journalist and experts but here it is, as it happened 11:00 a.m. Eastern Time this morning when 74-year-old Robert Swan Mueller, III entered the Justice Department briefing room.


ROBERT MUELLER, FMR. SPECIAL COUNSEL DEPT. OF JUSTICE:  Good morning, everyone, and thank you for being here.

Two years ago, the acting attorney general asked me to serve as special counsel and he created the Special Counsel`s Office.  The appointment order directed the office to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.  This included investigating any links or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign.

Now I have not spoken publicly during our investigation.  I`m speaking out today because our investigation is complete.  The attorney general has made the report on our investigation largely public.  We are formally closing the Special Counsel`s Office and as well I`m resigning from the Department of Justice to return to private life.

I`ll make a few remarks about the results of our work.  But beyond these few remarks, it is important that the office`s written work speak for itself.  Let me begin where the appointment order begins and that is interference in the 2016 Presidential election.

As alleged by the grand jury in an indictment, Russian intelligence officers who are part of the Russian military launched a concerted attack on our political system.  The indictment alleges that the use of sophisticated cyber techniques to hack into computers and networks used by the Clinton campaign.  They stole private information and then release that information through fake online and identities and through the organization WikiLeaks.  The releases were designed and timed to interfere with our election and to damage a presidential candidate.

And at the same time as the grand jury alleged in a separate indictment, a private Russian entity engage in a social media operation where Russian citizens posed as Americans in order to influence an election.  These indictments contain allegations and we are not commenting on the guilt or innocence of any specific defendant.  Every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The indictments allege and the other activities in our report describe efforts to interfere in our political system, they needed to be investigated and understood and that is among the reasons why the Department of Justice established our office.

That is also a reason we investigated efforts to obstruct the investigation.  The matters we investigated were in paramount importance.  It was critical for us to obtain full and accurate information from every person we questioned.

When a subject of an investigation obstructs an investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government`s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.

Let me say a word about the report.  The report has two parts.  Addressing the two main issues we were asked to investigate.  The first volume of the report details numerous efforts emanating from Russia to influence the election.  This volume includes a discussion of the Trump campaign`s response to this activity as well as our conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy.

And in this second volume, the report describes the results and analysis of our obstruction of justice investigation involving the President.

The order appointing the special counsel authorized us to investigate actions that could obstruct the investigation.  We conducted that investigation and we kept the office of the acting attorney general a prized of the progress of our work.  And as set forth in the report after that investigation, if we had had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.

We did not however make a determination as to whether the President did commit a crime.  The introduction to the volume two of our report explains that decision.  It explains that under long standing 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.

The Special Counsel`s Office is part of the Department of Justice, and by regulation, it was bound by that department policy.  Charging the President with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.

The department`s written opinion explaining the policy makes several important points that further informed our handling of the obstruction investigation.  Those points are summarized in our report and I will describe two of them for you.

First, the opinion explicitly permits the investigation of a sitting president because it is important to preserve evidence while memories are fresh and documents available.  Among other things, that evidence could be used if there are co-coconspirators who could be charged now.

And second, the opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting President of wrong doing.

And beyond department policy, we are regarded by principles of fairness.  It would be unfair to potentially, it would be unfair to potentially accuse somebody of a crime when there can be no court resolution of the actual charge.

So that was Justice Department policy.  Those were the principles under which we operated and from them, we concluded that we would, would not reach a determination one way or the other about whether the President committed a crime.

That is the office`s final position and we will not comment on any other conclusion or hypotheticals about the President.

We conducted an independent criminal investigation and reported the results to the attorney general as required by department regulations.  The attorney general then concluded that it was appropriate to provide our report to Congress and to the American people.

At one point in time, I requested that certain portions of the report be released, the attorney general preferred to make that -- preferred to make the entire report public all at once and we appreciate that the attorney general made the report largely public and I certainly did not question the attorney general`s good faith in that decision.

Now I hope and expect this to be the only time that I will speak to you in this manner.  I am making that decision myself, no one has told me whether I can or should testify or speak further about this matter.

There has been discussion about an appearance before Congress.  Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report.  It contains our findings and analysis and the reasons for the decisions we made.  We chose those words carefully and the work speaks for itself and the report is my testimony.  I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress.

In addition, access to our underlying work product is being decided in a process that does not involve our office.  So beyond what I`ve said here today, and what is contained in our written work, I do not believe it is appropriate for me to speak further about the investigation or to comment on the actions of the Justice Department or Congress.  And it`s for that reason I will not be taking questions today, as well.

Now before I step away, I want to thank the attorneys, the FBI agents, the analysts, the professional staff who helped us conduct this investigation in a fair and independent manner.  These individuals who spent nearly two years with the Special Counsel`s Office were of the highest integrity.

And I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments that there were multiple systematic efforts to interfere in our election.  And that allegation deserves the attention of every American.  Thank you, thank you for being here today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Sir, if do you subpoena --

MUELER:  No questions.


WILLIAMS:  And with that, about nine and a half minutes, he was gone.  Let`s get to our lead off discussion on a Wednesday night.  Frank Figliuzzi, former FBI Assistant Director for Counter Intelligence who worked of course for Robert Mueller.  Jeremy Bash, former Chief of Staff at CIA and the Pentagon, former Chief Counsel for the House Intel Committee.  Katie Benner, Justice Department Reporter for "The New York Times."  And Philip Rucker, Pulitzer Prize-winning White House Bureau Chief for "The Washington Post."  Thank you all for being on our broadcast tonight.

Frank, I`d like to begin with you.  For the long view, what is it we have just witnessed?

FRANK FIGLIUZZI, FMR. FBI ASSIST. DIRECTOR FOR COUNTERINTELLIGENCE:  We saw a man of great integrity, a public servant, career public servant stand up and take control of a situation that he was losing control of.  With all the talk of public testimony, Congressional, Senate hearings, House Hearings, he decided enough was enough.  He was going to speak.

And people who know Mueller know that this was both typical Mueller and a- typical because today he publicly, although, in a measured fashion rebuked his boss.  That`s very atypical for Mueller.

What was typical today is the measured tone, the sticking to the facts and not becoming the story himself.  The take away for me with regard to the attorney general is I have far more questions than answers and I have leadership questions, how did we get to the point today where there was a major dysfunction, disconnect between the attorney general and the special counsel with regard to the rules they were playing by, they were playing by different rules.  Mueller was playing by rules and it appears Barr may have thrown the rule book out.

WILLIAMS:  All right, Katie, let`s pick up on that very point.  What does your reporting tell you as to how this went down and is everybody getting along over there at DOJ tonight do you think?

KATIE BENNER, THE NEW YORK TIMES JUSTICE DEPT. REPORTER:  Well, I think the Justice Department has done a lot to try to say that the special counsel and Bill Barr are doing just fine.  They put out a joint statement saying that, you know, Mueller and Barr, they are not actually all that far apart in terms of what they think the report says.

Clearly, Bill Barr chose to weigh in on something that Bob Mueller said nobody should weigh in on except for a process outside of the prosecutorial system.  So that is -- it makes that statement look a little bit odd in that light.  But certainly the Justice Department is trying to show that the two men are still unified.

Interestingly, though, it is clear that Robert Mueller wanted to step in and dispel a lot of myths, most importantly, the myth that he was working without a frame work or that his decision not to prosecute or to prosecute was somehow mysterious, which is how Bill Barr had portrayed it when the report was first released.  He said, he really couldn`t figure out why Mueller had done this.  Mueller made it very clear why he did this today.

For those who didn`t read the report, he said it`s because he was hemmed in by both Justice Department regulations and an OLC opinion and Justice Department opinion that said you can`t indict a sitting President.  He made it clear as day he is doing just fine.

WILLIAMS:  So, Jeremy Bash, you watch this closely.  Did he veer at all from his own assignment which was to hue to what he had already written in the report?  And you used a phrase in our coverage earlier today that this was a Constitutional plea.  Can you define that for us?

JEREMY BASH, FMR. CIA CHIEF OF STAFF:  Yes, I think the mere fact that he stepped up to the podium is highly relevant and of historical note for two reasons.

Number one, is all the content was present in the April 18th report.  So here is six weeks later, he felt the need to push back on the narrative that had been advanced by the President, by the attorney general that there was total exoneration, that the only thing left to investigate were the origins of this investigation.  And I think Bob Mueller`s mere presence at the podium was a stark repudiation of his attorney general and of the President.

And second, in terms of the content, I thought it was interesting, Brian, that what did he choose to highlight?  He chose to basically held up his report and take a highlighter to the fact that he could not charge a President under legal office of legal counsel guidance.

Congress is the only branch of government that can bring charges now against a sitting president.  He noted that if he was confidence that the President had not committed crimes, he would have clearly said so, which is a very odd turn of phrases.  It`s a lawyerly polite way of saying I think there is misconduct and wrongdoing by the President and if I wasn`t confident to that, I would have let you know.  And he opened the door, I think, for Congress to do its job in holding impeachment hearings.

WILLIAMS:  Phil Rucker, physically, I think it`s fair to say, and this is on us, because we`ve been running the same chain of now an equated file tape of Robert Mueller who, for a public figure, has not been a terribly public man.  He appeared older today but that`s also what people picked up on in the contrast to Donald Trump and his bearing, in his presence, in his demeanor, how damaging was this as a contrast to what we`re already seeing tonight all capital letters again with the witch hunt from the White House?

PHILIP RUCKER, WASHINGTON POST WHITE HOUSE BUREAU CHIEF:  Yeah, Brian.  So if Donald Trump is all about the show, all about bombast and bragging, Mueller is all about the facts.  He kept to a script today.  You saw him reading from that paper.  He did not use adjectives, he did not betray any emotion.

He just told you almost word for word the conclusions of the report and very little more.  He tried to be sober.  he tried to be very careful and measured in his tone and he tried to relay certain pieces of information to the American people that I think he fears people in the country have not fully comprehended.  Including, it`s important to note, the fact that Russia did have this incredible interference campaign in the election and just how systematic that was for this country and how dangerous he believes that was.

WILLIAMS:  That`s exactly where we`re going.  When we come back to our viewers running one thing for nine and a half minutes only means we have to sneak away to a quick commercial break.  All of our guests are staying with us.

When we come back, Robert Mueller began and ended those comments as you saw with an ominous warning about Russia.

And later, dozens in Congress now demanding this President be held accountable but are they all talking about the same remedy?  As THE 11TH HOUR is just getting started on this consequential Wednesday night.



MUELLER:  The indictments alleged and the other activities in our report that describe efforts to interfere in the political system they needed to be investigated and understood.

And I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments that there were multiple systematic efforts to interfere in our election.  And that allegation deserves the attention of every American.


WILLIAMS:  Still with us our panel Frank Figliuzzi, Jeremy Bash, Katie Benner and Philip Rucker.

Jeremy, that is chilling to hear him say it I don`t know how many times I`ve now heard it 12 hours later.  Where was the senior official in our government today?  And this speaks to this section of the Mueller report, where was the senior official coming off of this warning by Mueller asking, demanding we redouble our efforts to secure our next election?

BASH:  Well, the commander in chief doesn`t think that way, Brian, because in some respects, an important respects he welcomed the Russian interference.  Because one thing Bob Mueller did not note, and I wish he would have stated it is that the Intelligence community definitively concluded that this Russian interference wasn`t just to interfere in our election.  It was designed specifically to denigrate one candidate and to help Donald Trump.  That was in the Intelligence community assessment.

And so what we have seen for the past two years is Trump repaying the Russians and allowing the Russians to have leverage over an American President, the American presidency and American foreign policy.  That is the clarion call from Bob Mueller tonight and it`s something that should resound loudly in the ears of everybody who cares about American national security.

WILLIAMS:  Frank Figliuzzi, as citizens how are we to feel lying here vulnerable to a second round of attacks from Russia?

FIGLIUZZI:  Well, vulnerable is a good word to use.  I think that what Americans need to be doing and I`ve said this before is just demanding answers from their elected representatives and state county local officials registered of voters.  Demand answers as to what they are doing to secure the elections.

But on a much larger scale, understand this, if we were living in some kind of normal government administration, tomorrow there would be a press conference with the President, the attorney general and the heads of the Intelligence agencies announcing their plan to protect and secure the 2020 elections.  We`re not going to get that.

And as Jeremy eluded to, there is reasons why we`re not going to get that.  One of those could be that the President simply wants this to happen again, wants to leave open the possibility that other nations could continue to assist him.

The other thing is, if it happens again, and it will if we don`t defend against it, the President wants plausible deniability.  If he comes out and says I`m building a program to stop it and that it doesn`t work, he could say it`s all my fault and he doesn`t want that either.  So we`re stuck in this period of time where essentially a green light has been given to our adversaries to mess with our next election.

WILLIAMS:  Katie, Frank is right, of course, in normal times we would have in effect a marshall plan already announced up and running that wouldn`t wait for tomorrow.

Absent that, Katie, the talk from Mueller about the Russia attack surely seems to speak to the origins of the Mueller investigation, that investigation of the investigators at DOJ, is it truly up and running and is it truly a valid effort?

BENNER:  So the investigation is up and running at DOJ.  And I think that one of the things that Mueller was saying today is that while we may want to raise questions, while the attorney general may want to raise questions, and some Republicans might want to question some aspects of why the FBI started investigating the Trump campaign.  That there is no question that Russia has been attacking the United States and did so in a devastating way in 2016.

He really refocuses our attention on the bigger picture.  However, this investigation is underway.

And one of the things that Mueller statement say also brings to light is that the gravity of what happened with Russia, he talks about it in very patriotic terms.  This is something that was a threat to the county.

And so if you are the President, if you are the attorney general and you are not taking this incredibly seriously.  If you`re somehow doing something to obstruct the investigation, it says it speaks directly to your patriotism.

And, again, this becomes a Congressional question.  What do we do with our leaders if they are doing something deeply unpatriotic?  You know, so there are many ways that Barr is asking Congress and saying, you know, this could be your moment to act.

WILLIAMS:  Phil Rucker, on days like this, I don`t think any of us are satisfied on the candor and clarity front.  You and I have had this conversation before because you`re a writer.  I think this report probably suffered for lack of a writer, this report probably assumed an American attention span that no longer exists, stylistically it was more 1919 than 2019.

And I think this report had a huge burden as a public document.  Do you really think this is the last we will hear of Robert Mueller, or do you think his appearance in conversational English will be compelled before a committee or two?

RUCKER:  That`s a good question, Brian, about the conversational English because we`ve still not heard that from Robert Mueller.  He was so careful in what he said today.  So efficient with words to hue closely to the written word and the report that he didn`t delve into the kind of detail and color and expository language that I think a lot of Democrats on Capitol Hill are eager to hear from him.

I don`t think this is going to be the end of the requests from the Democrats.  In fact, Chairman Nadler said today, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Democrat said today that they would exhaust every option.  Every option is on the table and they`re going to be looking into the President`s lies and crimes and other misdemeanors.

Speaker Pelosi has been determined to hold back on initiating impeachment proceedings until she feels like the Congress has gathered the necessary evidence.  They have not had much momentum so far in gathering that evidence in part because so many administration witnesses have declined to come forward to testify on the Hill, but there are documents that they are starting to be receiving financial documents.  They`re hopeful of getting other documents relating to the Mueller report from the Department of Justice.  And of course, they still want to hear from Robert Mueller himself and he very well may end up compelled to appear before that committee.

WILLIAMS:  Our front four have added so much to our understanding tonight.  To Frank Figliuzzi, Jeremy Bash, Katie Benner, and Phil Rucker, our thanks for coming on the broadcast again on this consequential Wednesday night.

And coming up for us, what we witnessed today and what it`s done to the name of one William Barr.


WILLIAMS:  Attorney General William Barr is in Alaska tonight and that`s still not far enough from Washington to avoid the blow back from what we witnessed in those stern words from Robert Mueller today.  In plain English, Bill Barr might have played his old friend Bob Mueller when he got out ahead of the Mueller report and did advanced damage control giving air cover to his boss, the President, by speaking first.  Today, Mueller directly contradicted some of Barr`s claims.  Here are some examples.


ROBERT MUELLER, FORMER SPECIAL COUNSEL, DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE:  Under longstanding department policy, a President cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office.

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL:  We specifically asked about the OLC opinion and whether or not he was taking the possession that he would have found a crime but for the existence of the OLC opinion and he made it very clear several times that that was not his position.

MUELLER:  If we had had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.

BARR:  He made it clear that he had not made the determination that there was a crime.

MUELLER:  Charging the President with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.


WILLIAMS:  Well, this would be interesting.  With us tonight, Cynthia Alksne, a former federal prosecutor and a veteran of the Justice Department who worked with both Bill Barr and Robert Mueller, and Matthew Miller, former chief spokesman over at the Justice Department.

Cynthia, you know what I`m going to say, one of the last times I spoke to you on television was after Barr was appointed and you, you had a lot of company in saying this, to be fair, you said you were going to give him the benefit of the doubt because you had served under him, because it was his signature on your certificate when you became a fed.  What do you make of the name Bill Barr now?

CYNTHIA ALKSNE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Well, I think he`s a liar.  I mean it`s sad thing to say but I can`t be more -- I like to be direct and here I am being direct.  Bill Barr led the country to believe that Mueller did not take into account the OLC memo and rule you can`t indict a sitting President.  And that`s what he led us to believe.  And that isn`t true.  And you can use a lot of fancy words to say it and you can hide in Alaska and you could do all kinds of things but the bottom line is, he lied to us.

WILLIAMS:  So, Matt, how big a service looking back on it did this attorney general supply to the man he apparently regards as his client, the man who appointed him, the president of the United States?

MATTHEW MILLER, FORMER JUSTICE DEPARTMENT CHIEF SPOKESMAN:  He did an extraordinary service because if you look at what the statements come down to, a lot of them revolve around what happens next.  If you take Bill Barr`s view of the world, nothing should have a next because his view of the world, there was no obstruction.  There was no collusion.  He said both of those things in his press conference and at other times in his testimony before Congress.  And so there`s nothing else that needs to be done.  There`s nothing Congress needs to do.

And if you look at what Mueller said in his report and what he reiterated again today, he very specifically didn`t make that determination around obstruction because it`s someone else`s call, because it`s Congress` call.  So the way that Bill Barr took that off the table kind of early on and it was even before that press conference, where he took it off in that letter that was released almost a month before the press conference.  He gave, you know, the political momentum -- the President the political momentum he needed to try to head off any kind of impeachment proceeding.  That may not ultimately be successful but it`s at least been successful in, you know, thwarting any momentum so far and I think that was a huge, huge benefit for him.

WILLIAMS:  Cynthia, it`s so easy for people like me in the cheap seats to look at this and think or say that Barr played Mueller.  Subset of that however is it possible that Mueller is kind of the last of a breed?  It has taken him weeks to come forward and add to what he know, add to the coverage, speak up for his own work product.  Is he operating off a rule book from another better time perhaps?

ALKSNE:  Well, I do think he`s operating off a rule book that doesn`t include constant television.  You know, on some level, this is something that doesn`t come naturally to him.  And if you think back to Comey, I mean people are used to now because of the way Comey reacted in the Hillary Clinton investigation and the way he`s testified in the Hill, they`re used to the prosecutor as coming on television as a story teller.

It`s actually pretty improper and it`s not the way it should be done.  So if he`s the last of a breed, I`m sorry about it because I would hope that that is the breed we would continue to have.  You know, it`s interesting that he accepted the OLC memo in a very different way than most of us did.  He not only said the OLC memo is a rule and you can`t indict a sitting president, he took it one step further.  He had absorbed that as rule and found that the -- it was unconstitutional to indict a sitting president.  He is somebody who absorbs these rules into his DNA and I hope he`s not the end of the breed but he might be. 

WILLIAMS:  Matt, you`re the coms guy here.  As a viewer, the scene today was as kind of spare and taciturn as the speaker in that auditorium we all know very well, you know it differently from those of us again in the cheap seats where the guests sit.  What did you make of it as a communications event? 

MILLER:  You know, it was a very effective event but it was an even that came really a month, or a month and a half too late.  I mean try to imagine what would have happen if the first thing that the public would have heard about the report would have been this press conference that Bob Mueller gave today rather than allowing Bill Barr to get out and frame the event first.  It would be an entirely different exercise, I think.

And I think, you know, Cynthia`s point about him not operating in television land, I think is largely right.  But this isn`t really anything new.  This is kind of the way he operated as the FBI director.  I can`t tell you how many times I tried to convince him and try to convince his staff, the FBI to have him stand up and do press conferences.  He never wanted to kind of lend his personal credibility in a way that could be politicized.  And I think you saw that here in this investigation.

And I think, you know, when you question whether he should have done it earlier or not, I think it`s one thing for him to know that the President was going to misuse his words and I think he probably would have expected that.  But I think what he couldn`t have expected when he didn`t expect was that the Attorney General would misuse what he said and the Attorney General would mislead the public about what he said.  That`s an extraordinary thing for an Attorney General to do to a prosecutor, especially one he`s known so long that was handling such an important mission.  I think that must have deeply disappointed him and it was one of the reasons you saw him do what he did today.

WILLIAMS:  You`ve both given us a lot to think about with this segment.  Our thanks to Cynthia Alksne, to Matthew Miller for coming back on the broadcast.

And coming up, a look at what`s going on while the Democrats try to figure out what`s going on.


WILLIAMS:  After hearing from Robert Mueller today and speaking in California, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said nothing is off the table.  To the frustration of some of the more boisterous Democrats and her caucus, that position is still far from impeachment.


REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) CALIFORNIA, HOUSE SPEAKER:  We`re legislating, we`re investigating and we are litigating and we`re going to as we go down the path make a decision based on the strongest possible case to get the best results for the American people.


WILLIAMS:  And earlier, there was this.  House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler of New York says Congress will hold the President accountable.


REP. JERRY NADLER, (D) NEW YORK, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  This special counsel makes clear that obstruction of justice, which he found substantial evidence of is a serious crime that strikes at the core of our justice system and that the constitution points to Congress to take action to hold the President accountable.  That`s exactly what we will do.  The President`s response to repeatedly lie to the American people and ignore all congressional subpoenas is immoral and unlawful.  No one is above the law and we will hold the President accountable.


WILLIAMS:  And this reminder volume, two of Robert Mueller`s report outlines nearly a dozen instances of possible obstruction of justice from the President including but not limited to the firing of James Comey, Trump`s efforts to remove Mueller and his efforts to curtail the Russia investigation writ large.

With us for more tonight, John Heilman, veteran journalist, MSNBC national affairs analyst, co-author of "Game Change," co-host of the "The Circus" on show time and Robert Costa, national political reporter for "The Washington Post" and moderator of "Washington Week" on PBS.

Gentlemen, good evening to you both.  John, I`m going to show you what the news folks at Fox News, how they reacted initially.  We`ll talk about it after this.


BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS:  This was not as the President says time and time again no collusion, no obstruction.  It was much more nuance than that.  It was not anywhere as clear cut as Attorney General Bill Bar, in fact, it was almost exactly the opposite, not clear cut.

ANDREW NAPOLITANO, FOX NEWS:  It was a parting shot at his soon to be former boss Bill Barr who basically whitewashed what Mueller said in the four-page summary he distributed back in March.


WILLIAMS:  So, John, that`s Baier and Napolitano, part of their news coverage.  Well, tonight, they go into opinion programming as this network does, as well.  Here were some of their banner graphics on the screen.  Mueller gets political just as America was starting to move on from the Russia hoax.  Mueller`s pathetic final bow, that was on Laura Ingraham tonight but this question also appeared as a graphic.  Why didn`t Mueller let the work speak for itself?  Answer that for us.

JOHN HEILMANN, MSNBC NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST:  Well, I think, you know, Mueller has tried to let the work speak for itself and I think he knows the extent that -- I hate answer questions rhetorically on screen on Fox at prime time but I think, you know, the frustration of people on the left and many people who are anywhere moderately left or center is that -- including Robert De Dinero, who was out in "The New York Times" tonight with an op-ed piece saying, you know, Bob Mueller must speak more even forthrightly, must come out and seeing more, must come out before Congress.

So, look, I think, you know, Mueller is letting the work speak for itself but I think he wanted to focus on some things that he thought as we clearly now we now know not just from the letters that he wrote previously to Bill Barr but now from this where he has basically feels as though his work has been misrepresented by the president of the United States and by the Attorney General.

And I, just the implicit message of the day today, was in the very brief segment, that very brief presentation you played all up to nigh, was Mr. Trump no, not exoneration, not no collusion, not no obstruction and Mr. Barr you`ve misrepresented my work.  I`m trying to let the work speak for itself.

WILLIAMS:  Robert Costa, because they work so hard, Congress is on another richly deserved recess so it makes it harder for journalist like you to pick up consensus for where they`re going.  Is it possible -- I know you`re watching the speaker, but who else are you watching before you will declare that there`s any kind of consensus here?

ROBERT COSTA, THE WASHTINGTON POST, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER:  You have to look first at this freshman class, some of the moderates from suburban areas, Trump country, Democrats, they were able to win in difficult districts in 2018.  They are the bellwether based on my conversations with some House Democratic leader allies.  They`re saying to the Democratic ranks of course some more liberals are calling for impeachment but once those freshmen and other moderates start to turn and there is a clamor amongst some of them privately right now to move forward at least with an impeachment proceeding.

WILLIAMS:  John and Robert have agreed to stay with us through this next break.

Coming up when we come back, how Mueller`s comments are being heard and shall we say different quarters.



MUELLER:  The opinion says that the constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.


WILLIAMS:  Back with us in the conversation John Hileman and Robert Costa.

Bob, to you, the President relatively quiet tonight, ditto those around him I think given contemporary standards, will there be a strategy for first thing tomorrow morning perhaps?

COSTA:  Just spoke with Rudy Giuliani, the President`s lawyer and he said he spoke to the President and the President`s response was nothing new.  That was the quote that was heard throughout the legal team in the conference call after Mr. Mueller read his statement.

You see right now it`s a wait and see approach inside the White House of how Congress is going to proceed.  Giuliani claimed that he doesn`t think House Democrats are going to move forward any time soon and will they were continuing to fight all of these document request and witness request from Capitol Hill.

WILLIAMS:  John Heilmann, how bad a day was this for Donald Trump in your view?

HEILMANN:  Not a great day.  Not a disastrous day, I don`t think.  But I do think that in a couple of ways it`s problematic.  I think that, you know, Trump may be true that Trump is trying to bait House Republic -- House Democrats into impeaching him.  He may think that`s good politics for hymn and there are certainly Democrats who think that`s true.

WILLIAMS:  Victimhood.

HEILMANN:  Yes.  And then he could play that card because, you know, if he got convicted in the -- he got impeached in the House, he wouldn`t get convicted in the Senate.  I think it`s an incredibly risky game to play.  I don`t see how being impeached -- I mean Bill Clinton came through it.  We know that was true but it didn`t hurt Republicans more broadly.  And Donald Trump is not Bill Clinton.

So it`s -- you know, you open that door you walk down the ally into impeachment land, you don`t know what you`re going to find.  New information, new dynamics changes in public opinion, changes in center of public opinion, I would not -- is a big gamble for Trump to want to throw that door open.  And the reality is if he moved closer to impeachment today.  That`s what happened today.

The pressure to get Mueller up on the Hill is greater despite him saying I don`t want to do it, people want him more than ever because the power of his words were on clearly on display and you know have Democrats in the top tier of the Democratic race.  Bob is right to pay attention to Democrat, to freshman in marginal districts.

It`s also you got to pay attention to these Democrats who are out on the campaign trail and now most of, not all, but most of the top tier of the Democratic candidates are now pretty fully four square behind the notion involving impeachment hearing and impeachment inquiry at least.  And you got Joe Biden trying to stay close to Pelosi.  But pretty much the rest of them now are in the pool.  Sanders also trying to kind of have it both ways but everybody else is now there and they weren`t before today started.

WILLIAMS:  Bob, I don`t mean to be disrespectful but if you`re Cory Booker at whatever he is, 2, 3%, we just saw the eight Democrats calling for impeachment.  That`s fairly easy to say when you`re out on the trail.

COSTA:  It`s fairly easy to say if you`re a presidential candidate.  It`s a harder case to make at this point if you`re a member of Congress.  What they`re trying to do when you talk to House Democrats is build the case on obstruction for the American people.  And when I`m talking to House Democrats, they say what`s more important perhaps than even Mr. Mueller`s testimony should it happen is the testimony of someone like Don McGahn, the former White House counsel because his testimony could get to the question of the intent and that`s what they need to prove more than Mueller`s conclusions here, is what was the President`s intent, what could House Democrats offer the American people through their own investigations about that issue in order to make the case on obstruction.

WILLIAMS:  Two more terrific returning veteran guests for us, an embarrassment of reporting riches on our broadcast.  John Heilemann, Robert Costa, gentlemen, thank you for tonight and as always.

And coming up for us, an exclusive story broken tonight by the "Wall Street Journal" proving very continue controversial but you`ll want to hear it.


WILLIAMS:  Last thing before we go tonight, a story that if true is in equal measure sad and petty, disturbing and disappointing.  And it comes to us from the "Wall Street Journal" and we quote, "The White House wanted the U.S. Navy to move out of sight, a warship name for the late Senator John McCain, ahead of the President`s visit to Japan last week, according to an e-mail reviewed by the "Wall Street Journal.".  They say the directive read "USS John McCain needs to be out of site sight."

"The Journal" says a tarp was hung over the ships named ahead of the President`s trip according to photos reviewed by "The Journal."

Sailors on the ship who typically wear caps bearing its name were given the day off.

The Pacific Fleet is denying large portions of the story, the Pentagon is pushing back tonight, President tweeted tonight, he had no knowledge of this.  We will know more about this by morning.

The warship "John McCain" by the way, named not just for the late Arizona senator, the Naval Aviator later POW, it is also named for his father and grandfather, both admirals in the U.S. Navy.  That makes three generations of McCains in service to their country.

And that is our broadcast for this Wednesday night.  Thank you so very much for being here with us.  Good night from our NBC News headquarters here in New York.

  THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.                                                                                                     END