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Sen. Angus King Discusses Findings Detailed In Mueller Report


All right. We now have independent Senator Angus King of Maine with us to respond to the findings. He caucuses with the Democrats and sits on the Senate intel committee. Welcome, Senator.

ANGUS KING: Ailsa, good to talk to you.

CHANG: I want to start with the conspiracy question. This report reveals extensive details about contacts between Russia and close associates of President Trump - including his son-in-law, Jared Kushner; his son, Donald Trump Jr.; his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. Even though the special counsel felt there wasn't enough evidence to charge the president or anyone in his campaign with conspiracy, are you troubled by the interactions documented in this report?

KING: Yes, because if somebody comes to your campaign representing a foreign adversary and says, we have material on your opponent and we're going to help you, your first reaction, it seems to me, ought to be to call the FBI, not arrange a meeting. And I think there's an important distinction, Ailsa. The - Robert Mueller is a very careful lawyer, and his whole report - which is now sitting on my kitchen table - is a legal analysis of criminal - whether or not there was criminal activity.

CHANG: Right.

KING: Just because something is legal or isn't criminal doesn't make it right. I've never heard of a candidate for office saying, you should elect me because I haven't been indicted. That's not necessarily being absolved of wrongdoing. There's a difference between wrongdoing and illegality. So...

CHANG: And there's a difference between criminality and what's unethical.

KING: Exactly. And I think that's an important distinction. The other point I want to make that I think sort of overarches the whole thing is that this report and even Mr. Barr's statements this morning establish for all time that the Russians in fact interfered in our election in 2016; it was a sophisticated plot, and they were trying to assist Donald Trump, at least in the last several months of the election. And that's what the intelligence community found two years ago. That's what our committee has found - our Senate intelligence committee.

So we've got to - you know, beyond all the excitement of today and whether or not there was collusion and obstruction, the really important thing ongoing is we were attacked, and we've got to figure out how they did it and how we can prevent it from happening again.

CHANG: Let's talk about the obstruction piece now. We now know that Mueller looked into at least 10 episodes when trying to decide whether there was obstruction of justice. Knowing what you know now, do you agree with Barr's determination that no obstruction occurred?

KING: I don't think you can make that determination. I think to put a - make it a football analogy, I think that the special counsel passed this question over to Congress, and the attorney general intercepted the pass. He basically made his own judgment, and we know what he thinks because he issued a - what? - a 19-page memo back before he was even appointed that said, by definition, a president can't obstruct justice. And so, you know, we know his view. I think that the provision, as I understand it - and I'm still poring through 400 pages.

CHANG: Sure.

KING: So I can't say anything definitive. But my understanding is that Mr. Mueller basically laid out, here are the elements. As you read in the introduction, we can't conclude it wasn't obstruction, and we're essentially turning it over to Congress to look at that and, I must say, to the voters; ultimately, I think the voters in 2020 are going to be the people that decide what was right and wrong in this case.

CHANG: Now, there was an interesting point in the press conference today with Attorney General Bill Barr. He defended his conclusion that there was no obstruction by pointing out that the president has at times been very cooperative in this investigation - he provided access to documents, he let his senior aides testify freely. Let me ask you, does that mean in your mind that the president could not have had a corrupt intent?

KING: Well, I think, you know, he was sort of cherry-picking the evidence. We know, for example, that the president wanted to dismiss Mr. Mueller, wanted to shut down the investigation, wanted Attorney General Sessions to unrecuse himself to take control of the situation. We know that when he first heard of the investigation, he leaned back in his chair and said, this could be the end of my presidency. And so I don't - I mean, clearly, there was cooperation. Although, on one of the very major aspects, the president refused to testify or his lawyers, anyway, refused to testify.

CHANG: Do you think it was a mistake of Robert Mueller not to have subpoenaed the president to sit down for an interview?

KING: I think, according to the report, my understanding is he realized that if he had done that, it would have added two years to this process.

CHANG: And what if that happened? Do you - would you have been also against the idea of subpoenaing the president to make him testify or interview?

KING: I don't want to second-guess Robert Mueller, but I think he probably made the right call because now at least we can get the report out; otherwise, everything would be in limbo through the next election. I think it's better to have it on the table now. And I'm hoping that my committee - I'm certainly going to urge the leadership of the intelligence committee to call Robert Mueller before our committee in an open session...

CHANG: OK. All right.

KING: ...And to discuss some of the things that he discussed in his report.

CHANG: Senator Angus King of Maine. Thank you very much.

KING: Thank you, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.