"Shields and Brooks on the Mueller report and what happens next" PBS NewsHour 3/22/2019
"Shields and Brooks on the Mueller report and what happens next" PBS NewsHour 3/22/2019
SUMMARY: Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to analyze the impact of the Mueller report, with Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif) chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, participating by phone.
Judy Woodruff (NewsHour): And joining us now in our studio in Washington, our regular Friday news analysis team, Mark Shields and David Brooks.
It looks like we have a little bit of news, although we don't know what the news is in the news.
Judy Woodruff: We are waiting for more information. We're going just on the thinnest of threads.
But, Mark, based on what we're hearing — and, of course, we just heard from two individuals who work in — have worked at the Justice Department, have been a federal prosecutor.
If it's the case there are no indictments being recommended, that's going to bring a sigh of relief from this White House, isn't it?
Mark Shields, syndicated columnist: I would say it is, Judy.
I mean, we know about Robert Mueller, that this has been leak-proof, and that he has a reputation for incredible thoroughness. And I think the relief — or maybe the question will turn out to have been the indictment or whether they can indict a sitting President or not.
And, you know, I don't know, quite frankly. But, I mean, let's be frank — 34 people have been indicted, right, six associates of the President. Five have pleaded guilty. I mean, we are — this is not for naught. It's not an empty exercise, by any means.
Judy Woodruff: David, how do you read what little bit, little bit we know?
David Brooks, New York Times: Yes, the news event is, a piece of paper was handed from one office to another office. That is what happened today.
This takes place in a political context. And I think a lot of people — we have been talking about the Mueller report. And some people were treating it as the messiah that was going to come and rid them of Donald Trump.
And there was an expectation that it would shift fundamentally the ball game. Right now, there are daily allegations about Trump about this or that, bad tweets. Republicans have stuck with him. Democrats have opposed. And we have been in this World War II situation.
And so the question is, does the Report change that trench warfare, essentially? And if there are no indictments, I really have trouble seeing how it does that. No indictments on collusion, but even the ones I expected there might be were on the obstruction piece.
And this started as an obstruction investigation, after the Comey firing. And so if there's no indictments even on obstruction, then there will be bad stuff, presumably, but we will fundamentally probably be in the same situation.
And so I think the smart money for the past month has always been shifting, as we have been saying, to the Southern District of New York and to his financial crimes. The collusion, I have always been a skeptic, just because I don't think there was a Trump campaign. There was no organized thing to actually do the collusion.
Judy Woodruff: It sounds — David is saying, in essence, Mark, that, yes, there have been referrals to the Southern District of New York, but they don't appear to go to the heart of what this investigation was about.
That's the reason they were referred to the Southern District.
Mark Shields: Yes.
I mean, remember, Bob Mueller had a pretty narrow mandate, which was Russia and Russia's involvement in this election. So, in that sense — but, no, I do agree, Judy, that what we have, beyond being astonishingly leak-proof, is the question of what does come out.
I mean, you will recall the Starr Report coming out in all its graphic, specific, embarrassing detail.
Judy Woodruff: About President Clinton.
Mark Shields: About President Clinton.
And the policy has been in the past, the Department of Justice, that you do not identify anybody who is targeted, but against whom no legal action was taken. So, we don't know what the status is of the report on the President or anybody else at this point, I mean, unlike in the Comey investigation, where he felt obliged to make his statements about Hillary Clinton, the Presidential candidate, in 2016.
Judy Woodruff: I'm going to ask both of you to stand by, sit there and wait with me, because on the phone right now is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, congressman from California.
Congressman Schiff, obviously, we're in the very early moments, hours of having this report transmitted from the special counsel, Robert Mueller, to the office of the attorney general.
The briefings have not yet happened, I gather, at your end. But what do you know so far?
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif): Well, I think what we know so far is that this report is going to deal with the decisions to prosecute certain people and the decisions not to prosecute others, why the special counsel felt the evidence was sufficient as to some, but not as to others.
The important point here, though, is, this focuses predominantly on the criminal investigation. But this investigation began as a counterintelligence investigation. And that may be the far more significant side of the House, because that goes to the question of whether the President or anyone around him has been acting, either wittingly or unwittingly, as an agent of a foreign power.
And it's going to be very important, number one, that the report is made public, so the public understands what decisions the special counsel made and the criminal evidence. But it's going to be even more important, potentially, that the Congress understand, if there are counterintelligence risks, that this President or those around him are acting not in the national interest, but because they have some pecuniary interest or because they're beholden or are compromised in any way.
The Congress and our committee in particular has a statutory right to know. And we expect that the Justice Department is going to share that information with us, because they're going to have to.
Judy Woodruff: Well, when you remind us that this investigation began as a counterintelligence investigation, what does that say about what we may or may not be seeing right now in this report?
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif): Well, it means that what we are going to see when the report is made public — and we may have to fight the attorney general to make sure that happens — but in a very bipartisan showing on a very polarized issue, the House quite overwhelmingly said, we expect this to be made public.
That may only tell us about prosecutorial decisions that may shed very little light on the issue of compromise. And to give you one very graphic illustration, the President during the campaign sought to consummate, which — something that would have been among the most lucrative deals of his life, and that is the building of a tower that would have required Kremlin support, at a time he was publicly espousing a new relationship with Russia and praising Vladimir Putin, whose green light might be necessary for that project.
That is obviously deeply compromising, but that may not be much of the report, because, whether it was criminal or not will go into the report, but what is essential in terms of the public safety and the security of the country is another matter entirely.
Judy Woodruff: And, Congressman, what do you make of these early reports that this will not include any further indictments than what we have already seen?
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif): Well, I think a couple of things.
First, that means that this office, the special counsel's office, which is essentially like an outside counsel for the Justice Department, it won't be bringing any future indictments.
That doesn't preclude either the main Justice Department or the Southern District of New York or other elements of the Justice Department from bringing indictments. And I think it's very possible, given the number of redactions in the Mueller pleadings that suggest other investigations that are still ongoing.
But the last point that I want to make, because it addresses the conversation you were having before I came online, is this issue of, does the department share information about people not indicted?
And it's important for people to know that, during the last Congress, the Justice Department shared over 880,000 pages of discovery with the Congress in an investigation in which no one was indicted about Hillary Clinton, about Bruce Ohr, about Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, about Andy McCabe and others.
And it did so because of the intense public interest and it did so because Congress insisted on transparency.
And, as I told them at the time, they are not getting away with a double standard. If the Congress changes hands, as it has, we will insist on the same level of transparency as to this even more important investigation.
So the department may speak in generalities about that, but the reality is, it departs from that policy when the public interest demands it, and, here, clearly, the public interest demands it.
Judy Woodruff: Congressman Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, thank you very much. We appreciate your joining us.
And again I'm joined in our Washington studio by our analysts, Mark Shields and David Brooks.
David, you hear the congressman, Chairman Schiff, making a point about transparency and saying, this is paramount right now.
David Brooks: Yes. I think we're all uncomfortable with the idea that prosecutors dump a bunch of information on someone they decide not to charge.
That is generally the rule. And so I understand their suspicion. But I think Adam Schiff's argument is essentially the correct one, that there are exceptions to this case.
And when you're investigating the President of the United States over something where he may have compromised national security issues, I do making it public is the — the weight is on that side.
And once they make it public to Congress, we will all know. And so the idea — Mueller has not leaked, but we're about to have a little fight over how much we release. But I suspect, by the end of the day, everything will come out.
Judy Woodruff: Mark, I don't know if you want to comment on that.
But I do want to come back to this point that Chairman Schiff made about the distinction between what's the criminal investigation and what is the investigation into counterintelligence, the Russia piece of this, which there have been a number of indictments around that so far. But we don't know yet how many more shoes, if any, there are to drop on that.
Mark Shields: No. No, we don't.
And, I mean, his point, that whether the President willingly or — wittingly or unwittingly is dealing with a foreign power — I was rather struck by Mitch McConnell, who is — if anything else, he's very careful.
He made a statement today saying, when this came out, that, "Many Republicans have long believed that Russia poses a significant threat to American interests," which, is you know, sort of — I mean, he's not someone given to idle chatter.
And I don't know, but I think that's where the focus is going to turn. And, obviously, his mention — he said main Justice — I mean, the Justice Department or the Southern District of New York as well.
Judy Woodruff: I want to come back. Pick up on that, David, if you want to, but I want — I do want to come back to your point earlier about how much energy and time.
And this was — Yamiche and Lisa were speaking about this earlier, how much time and energy and oxygen has been expended in Washington over the last two years-plus reflecting on this, anticipating this, wondering what's going to happen, and a lot of fingers pointed at the President.
David Brooks: Yes, a fair investigation is worth it, even if it doesn't come with indictments. You have to investigate things, even if just to find out what happened.
And when the President of the United States' campaign team has a meeting in the Trump Tower with Russians, that merits an investigation. And if you come up and there's no further indictments, I think we trust Robert Mueller, and we say, well, good job, and thank you for your service.
That doesn't mean it's going to change the politics, but I do think an investigation has been done, and a sign that American institutions can actually work.
Judy Woodruff: And again picking up on what Chairman Schiff said, Mark, about, yes, we know that — we now know, at least if we believe Michael Cohen, the President's lawyer, there were continuing efforts to try to strike a deal over a Trump Tower in Moscow into — well into the campaign in 2016.
Mark Shields: Yes. That's right, well into 2016, is what Michael Cohen has testified.
David Brooks: There are decisions lawyers make, and there are decisions voters make.
Mark Shields: That's right.
David Brooks: And whether Michael Cohen and whether Trump was complicit or bowing down to Vladimir Putin for this reason or another, that's a decision more for voters than for lawyers, I would say.
Judy Woodruff: At this stage, though, I think both — and both of you have said this — when we don't know any more than we know, we want to be careful about assuming.
Mark Shields: We do.
And, I mean, whatever Robert Mueller is and has been, I mean, his career has been one of being careful, being thoughtful, of being complete, and not rushing to judgment.
So, whatever he delivers will be taken with gravitas and seriousness but any fair-minded person. Obviously, partisans on both sides will go to their corners.
Judy Woodruff: Yes.
Mark Shields: But, I mean, he — I can't think of a public figure who would have been more credible in this situation.
Judy Woodruff: You haven't seen leaks.
David Brooks: And at a moment when Sean Hannity and many others have been going after Robert Mueller day after day after day…
Mark Shields: Yes.
David Brooks: … he must have felt an incredible temptation to strike back in some way, but he just…
David Brooks: … and delivered the report.
Judy Woodruff: Yes.
I'm trying to compare this with other investigations where the leaks have been at a minimum. This may be — this may hold the record for the fewest bits of information shared with the press, with the public.
Mark Shields: He ought to be the personnel director for any President's administration.
The people he chose were exactly like him. They have been just as circumspect, just as discreet, and just as tight-lipped.
Judy Woodruff: All right.
Well, it is has just literally come out in the last hour or so. We learned at 5:00 Eastern that the report had been submitted and the Congress was notified.
And now we wait. We wait. We see what happens.
Mark Shields, David Brooks, thank you.
Mark Shields: Thank you.
David Brooks: Thank you.