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Journalist Garrett Graff On Mueller Report


Special counsel Robert Mueller has turned in his final report, as we all know, after almost two years of investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. For the moment, we are on pause as we wait to find out how much of the report Attorney General Bill Barr will release. We might get Barr's report later today - possibly, maybe - so many caveats. Journalist Garrett Graff joins us now. He's the author of multiple books on technology and national security, and he writes for Wired. And he's going to walk us through what the big questions are.

Welcome to the program.

GARRETT GRAFF: Thanks for having me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right. There's been a lot of talk over the weekend about the fact that the DOJ has said there will be no new indictments. But there are still many kinds of questions that this report could shed light on - right? - particularly regarding the president and evidence of his personal involvement in a crime.

GRAFF: Exactly. If Robert Mueller was respecting the Justice Department policy that the president could not be indicted while in office, we were never going to find out about the president's own culpability in some of these instances and incidents until this final report. And so there are really three big things that we're going to be looking for in this report.

One is whether Robert Mueller is accusing the president of participating in any specific crimes. Remember that he's already been implicated in the campaign finance felonies that Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to and was identified in the court papers last summer as individual No. 1, the person who directed that conspiracy. But we don't know whether Mueller has his own set of crimes that he thinks the president might be culpable of. The second area where we're really looking for information in this is the obstruction of justice investigation, which remember, was...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right, which is the original sin that started the investigation, right? The Comey firing - this is the thing that seemed to really worry the president and the people around him.

GRAFF: Exactly. And there's no reason to believe that Mueller's obstruction inquiry only focused on the Comey firing. And in fact, we know that Mueller is interested in a wide variety of the president's behavior over the last two years, including the president's role in shaping that statement that he gave on Air Force One, effectively covering up and downplaying the Trump Tower meeting in June, 2016, when that was first reported. So that - the obstruction question is the next big area that we're really going to be interested in. And then the third is what I would call the counterintelligence angle, which is...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And we don't know very much there, right? I mean, it's about whether there was behavior to benefit a foreign interest.

GRAFF: Exactly. And this is, you know, really the meat of the collusion question, which is, was the president, at any point, taking action or conspiring with Russia or any other foreign entity to advance foreign interests at the expense of American interests? And that could be the Trump Tower-Moscow deal. That could be the 2016 election attack, or it could be any of the sort of conversations that the Trump campaign or White House or transition had about easing sanctions or recognizing Crimea. So this is behavior that wouldn't necessarily be considered criminal but would certainly be considered suspicious and would be a challenge for the United States from our counterintelligence or an espionage perspective.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So even if there's damning evidence in the report, could it still be information that isn't indictable?

GRAFF: Exactly. And so this is where - this is, in some ways, the area that will be most tricky for the Justice Department and Attorney General Barr to sort through, which is everyone is very wary of, you know, the Comey precedent, the sort of widespread criticism he got in July, 2016, in talking about the Hillary Clinton email investigation, where the FBI didn't want to bring charges. But Comey sort of lambasted her for her behavior publicly.

So there's - no one sort of wants to be in that same position of attacking the president for things that are not fully criminal. But there's also all sorts of material that might not rise to the level of a prosecutable felony that can be convicted before a reasonable jury beyond a reasonable doubt with 85 percent certainty - which is the standard that prosecutors use to bring a charge - but that would still represent behavior or actions or a conspiracy that we wouldn't want to be part of our American political system.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Garrett Graff. He's a contributing editor for Wired magazine and the co-author of the book "Dawn Of The Code War: America's Battle Against Russia, China And The Rising Global Cyber Threat." Thank you so much.

GRAFF: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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