News Brief: Mueller Report, Democracy Protests In Sudan
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The bottom-line findings of the Mueller report allowed President Trump to claim victory. He does not face criminal charges. Many details give critics a lot of room for questions.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
A heavily redacted 448-page document was released, with the president's legal team describing this report as a total victory. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway claimed this was, quote, "really the best day since he got elected," and then this.
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KELLYANNE CONWAY: We're accepting apologies today, too, for anybody who feels the grace in offering them.
GREENE: Now, Democrats have a very, very different take on this report. Here is House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler.
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JERRY NADLER: The special counsel made clear that he did not exonerate the president. And the responsibility now falls to Congress to hold the president accountable for his actions.
GREENE: Two vastly different narratives. So what does the report actually say? And what are the implications of these findings?
INSKEEP: We have a team that's been digging through the document, including NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson, who's here. Hi there, Carrie.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: So if the president is not charged, what would there be in this report to hold the president accountable for, to use Jerrold Nadler's phrase?
JOHNSON: Well, there's this, Steve. The investigators actually wrote that, after the thorough investigation they conducted, if they had confidence the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, they'd say so. But they were not able to say that.
There are a number of what investigators describe as disturbing incidents - 10 or more - involving the president's attempts - alleged attempts - to obstruct justice, to try to jam up the special counsel probe, to fire the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel himself, and to try to get people to change their stories before they spoke with the media or other people, including trying to dangle carrots or sticks in front of people who were thinking about cooperating with Robert Mueller's probe.
INSKEEP: Yeah. I'm just thinking about one particular example of the many in this report. It involves Don McGahn, who was then the White House counsel. Get me - correct me if I get this wrong in any way, Carrie. The president tells McGahn, in so many words, to get rid of Robert Mueller. And the reason that this act is not taken, which might've been seen as catastrophic by the president's critics and even his allies - the reason this is not taken is only because McGahn refused and threatened to resign instead. Is that correct?
JOHNSON: That's exactly right. That's just one of a number of incidents where the president directed people in the White House to do things. And often, Steve, they actually blew him off, which turns out to be a good thing for their legal liability moving forward.
INSKEEP: And I guess McGahn, according to the report, again, as you put it, blew off the president in another way because the president, when this was reported, when this was revealed by The New York Times that the president had told McGahn to get rid of Mueller, Trump told McGahn to deny that story. And McGahn said, I'm not going to falsely deny it because it's true.
JOHNSON: Yeah. And McGahn told investigators, apparently, he felt threatened by the president - that the president was trying to test his mettle.
INSKEEP: Now, Attorney General Barr is going to face some questions after having been the man who redacted this report - or oversaw the redaction, I should say - and who then described it in a press conference yesterday.
JOHNSON: Yeah. The attorney general is set to testify on May 1 and May 2 in front of the Senate and the House. He's going to have a harder time in the House, which is controlled by Democrats, many of whom have already described a crisis of confidence at the Justice Department. They say because of the way that Barr has handled this report, they think he's played down the findings and basically protected President Trump at the expense of this investigation.
INSKEEP: Are there also internal investigations within the Department of Justice?
JOHNSON: There are, Steve. The Justice Department is investigating. The inspector general is investigating the launch of this investigation, the FISA warrants in the first place, as well as 12 ongoing investigations we don't know anything about. The special counsel has referred to other U.S. attorneys' offices and prosecutors.
INSKEEP: And when you talk about the FISA warrants, I guess we should be clear on that part. This refers to, I guess we could say, the Republican narrative or the Republican view of this investigation, which is that it never made any sense. It never had a good basis. And they are questioning why some of the surveillance warrants were approved in this investigation.
JOHNSON: Yes. The inspector general is investigating the investigators, both in the U.S. and some of the sources they relied on overseas.
INSKEEP: Carrie, thanks for your reporting on this occasion and many others over the past couple of years.
JOHNSON: My pleasure.
INSKEEP: OK. So how's this report being viewed among members of Congress? And what further lines of inquiry, if any, do Democrats intend to pursue? NPR's Tim Mak has been taking a look at this. Tim, thanks for being here.
TIM MAK, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.
INSKEEP: OK. Democrats have been focused on the question of obstruction of justice by the president. William Barr didn't think that the evidence reached that level. And Mueller himself did not make that conclusion, even though he didn't clear the president. What does that mean for Democrats?
MAK: Well, it likely means that, in the House of Representatives, impeachment is off the table. The chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff, told NPR's All Things Considered this yesterday.
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ADAM SCHIFF: The evidence would have to be graphic and spark a bipartisan consensus that it warrants the president's removal. Given the fact that the Republicans in Congress have been unwilling to stand up to this president in any respect, it's hard to see that changing here.
MAK: But Democrats did signal that they intend to continue their aggressive investigations of the president's finances, his administration and the various episodes revealed by the Mueller report. And they're going to be keeping up their demand that the full, unredacted version of that Mueller report is released.
INSKEEP: You know, Tim, when I was reading the report, you get to the black sections, and there's usually a little tag and explanation for why something is taken out. It's either part of an ongoing matter, or it is grand jury material, which is supposed to be kept secret in virtually all cases. How likely is it that Democrats are going to be getting those blackened areas removed?
MAK: Well, a small group of House members, particularly those related to DOJ oversight, are going to be able to see a less redacted version of the Mueller report. But it's hard to say when the public would be able to see it, if ever. It's going to be a long, drawn-out legal fight for a fuller version of that Mueller report.
INSKEEP: OK. Let me ask about what happens in Congress over the next year and a half. I know the presidential campaign is well underway. But, you know, there's Congress, and there are problems in the country. And the president, in his State of the Union speech, essentially gave lawmakers a choice. As the president saw it, you either have war and investigation or peace and legislation. Is there any inclination in Congress to actually legislate?
MAK: Well, Republicans are echoing the president's line. They're saying, no collusion, no obstruction. They think all of these investigations are baseless. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell yesterday focused on what he views as the Democrats' latest line of attack; that's on Attorney General Bill Barr.
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MITCH MCCONNELL: I trust Bill Barr. I think it's rather laughable to see them turn their guns on him. But that's all they're left with, frankly, is to go after him.
MAK: Well, Democrats say that they're doing oversight on a number of important issues. They characterized that there are a lot of troubling developments in the Trump administration and in the world of Trump's finances. They say it's a fundamental part of their responsibilities as a check on the executive branch. And they won't be stopping their investigations now, just because the Mueller report and that investigation is over.
INSKEEP: Tim, thanks so much.
MAK: Thanks a lot.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Tim Mak.
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INSKEEP: Omar al-Bashir's three-decade rule over Sudan may have ended, but that has not ended protests in the capital, Khartoum.
GREENE: Yeah, it sure hasn't. So let's remember what happened here. The military took control after Bashir's arrest and removal from office, announcing it would rule the country for two years before democratic elections take place. And that has not satisfied demonstrators, with hundreds of thousands of people still packing the streets in recent days, waving national flags.
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UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in foreign language).
GREENE: Those protesters have been chanting for freedom. That, for them, means an immediate transfer of power from the current army-led transitional council to a transitional civilian government.
INSKEEP: Nima Elbagir is a senior international correspondent for CNN. She is in Sudan's capital.
Could you just describe to us what it's like to move about on the streets these days in Khartoum as these protests continue?
NIMA ELBAGIR: Oh, wow. It's incredibly surreal because you see armed forces soldiers. You see Rapid Support Forces. And obviously, we're conditioned to have an immediate response, which is to get out of their way. And then you see them waving national flags and engaging and laughing with people. And you have to almost second-guess yourself and remind yourself that things have changed in such an extraordinary way.
Today is expected - because it's the one-week anniversary of the deposal of President Omar al-Bashir, it's expected to be the biggest demonstration yet, Steve. Already, I was coming through the streets of Khartoum. I was getting phone calls from friends and sources saying people have started walking from the suburbs because the expectation is that the traffic is going to be bumper-to-bumper en route to the demo site.
INSKEEP: Now, this suggests a certain political sophistication among the protesters, I should think. Because the military can look at them and say, listen; we met your key demand. We got rid of the leader that you were frustrated with. But it's clear that people have more specific demands on their mind.
ELBAGIR: Absolutely. That is what has been so incredible to see up close - how sophisticated the leadership of these protests are. And we should make clear to your audience, these are very young people. The majority of Sudan's population is under 30. And most of the kids - and I can say kids; they're 19, 20, 21 - manning the barricades, both women and men, are very young.
But when you speak to them, they have really thought through what it is it will take for them to cede the ground in front of the military headquarters because they know that that's what they gain their power from. And they say, as far as they're concerned, this military transitional council is nothing but Sudan's latest military dictatorship.
INSKEEP: Is this a highly organized set of protests with a specific set of leaders, as opposed to a group that is rather collective and working through online social media posts and that sort of thing?
ELBAGIR: It is actually both organized and collective. Because of the way that al-Bashir and his security apparatus have been targeting any key leadership or anyone who is very clearly a threat to them over the years, what they've done is they've organized horizontally. So it's very kind of communally discussed. Decisions are taken on a communal basis so that when any of their leadership is jailed, immediately, there is someone who can step into those shoes, which makes how organized they are even more incredible.
But it also means that they have immediate consensus. And the consensus for now is, we are not leaving this site. We will remain on the streets until we see a serious transition to rule and civilians making the decisions.
INSKEEP: Nima Elbagir is reporting for CNN from Khartoum. Thanks for the update.
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ELBAGIR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.