STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Let's pick up on a statement that we've been discussing from President Trump today responding to Robert Mueller, the special counsel who, for what he says is the only time, spoken public as the special counsel. The president, as we have noted, has said falsely a number of times that he was totally exonerated by the Mueller report. Robert Mueller rebutted that, pointing out that if he had been able to say with confidence that the president had not obstructed justice, he would have done so. He did not do so.
The president has now offered a revised statement on Twitter, pointing out more accurately there was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our country, a person is innocent. The case is closed. The idea that if someone is not charged, they are innocent or not guilty in any case in the United States is true. The argument as to whether there was insufficient evidence, of course, there's plenty of room for debate there. In any case, he argues the case is closed.
NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is among those who've been helping us analyze that. Is the president correct on that point? Is this over?
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Well, it certainly is over as far as the Justice Department is concerned. Robert Mueller worked - works for the Justice Department. He is not going to charge the president and he explained, in his report and today in his remarks, why he's not going to - because of long-standing Justice Department policy that says you can't indict a sitting president. What I thought was interesting about this tweet is this was a very restrained statement from the president of the United States.
LIASSON: He did not say Robert Mueller is a dirty cop. Robert Mueller has 18 haters on his staff, 18 angry Democrats, you know, I was exonerated. He just says nothing changes, insufficient evidence. Insufficient evidence - that is the most restrained thing I've ever heard from the president of the United States.
INSKEEP: But we should note that is the one phrase there that is probably the most arguable. You can say there was insufficient evidence for Robert...
LIASSON: For Robert Mueller to...
LIASSON: Well, there was insufficient evidence of conspiracy. That, Mueller makes clear. The reason they didn't charge anyone with a crime in the first part of the report about whether they conspired - illegally conspired with Russia to interfere in the presidential election, to damage a presidential candidate - aka Hillary Clinton - there was insufficient evidence for them to do that.
As far as the obstruction part of the report, he said, if we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit the crime of obstruction, we would have said so. We didn't make a determination about whether he did or didn't...
INSKEEP: Let's hear that...
LIASSON: ...So that's two different things.
INSKEEP: Let's hear that in Robert Mueller's own words. Here, let's give a listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF ROBERT MUELLER STATEMENT)
ROBERT MUELLER: The order appointing me special counsel authorized us to investigate actions that could obstruct the investigation. And we conducted that investigation. And we kept the office of the acting attorney general apprised 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.
INSKEEP: Mueller said that he could not indict the president because of a Justice Department regulation involving a sitting president and that it was, under the Constitution, up to a process other than the criminal justice system - which appears clearly to be Congress - to go after the president on that charge, if anyone chooses to go after them at all.
LIASSON: That was the most vague part of his statement. On the one hand, he says, we could not exonerate him. If we had had confidence that he didn't commit a crime, we would have said so. Then he goes on to say, we didn't make a determination as to whether he committed a crime or not.
INSKEEP: OK. So let's bring another voice into the conversation. NPR national security editor Phil Ewing has been with us throughout the morning and has been coordinating our coverage on this subject for many, many months. We hear the president saying the case is closed, Phil. Are all the questions answered at this point?
PHIL EWING, BYLINE: All the questions are not answered. And the case - the larger case is probably also not closed. Robert Mueller's chapter is coming to an end by his own admission in his own statement today. He's leaving the Justice Department. His office is being closed down, and the people who work there will return to their previous lives. But one thing the special counsel did not address in his remarks this morning was the number of alternate matters that he spun out of his own compass and gave to other aspects of the Justice Department.
There are investigations including - if I remember correctly - some dozen, which are redacted, in the last appendix of his report - completely backed out. And we don't know who or what are the subjects that are being pursued elsewhere. We don't know precisely who's pursuing them. But there have been indications that U.S. attorneys in New York City, in New Jersey, in Washington, D.C., in the Eastern District of Virginia, all are looking into cases that were - that have relied upon evidence that was developed by Mueller's investigations.
INSKEEP: And even though we don't know what all those investigations were, we know what some of those kinds of investigations have been - for example, the entire matter of Michael Cohen, the president's one-time personal attorney.
EWING: That's right - who's been sentenced to prison. There's also questions raised about the conduct of the president's inaugural committee, how it raised the money that it spent and what it did with that money, the president's business dealings before he was elected, the president's personal finances - that's also the subject of attention by Congress.
But there have been suggestions in the press, based on indications from people in these U.S. attorneys' offices and the Justice Department, that there could be criminal cases. We know there are criminal cases because of that appendix in the Mueller report. We just don't know precisely what their focus is or who's responsible for them now.
INSKEEP: Is there an entirely different track of investigation that's going on entirely out of our view here, Phil? Because we've been talking about criminal proceedings, criminal charges - maybe in the case of the president - impeachment proceedings, should the House of Representatives choose to move in that way at some point. But there's also counterintelligence, efforts by national security agencies at home and abroad to understand who is targeting the U.S. election system and how they might be acting next.
EWING: That's right. And that's been the subject of a dispute between the House Intelligence Committee and the Justice Department. We talked about this a little bit earlier in this program. The chairman, Adam Schiff, wants material from the Justice Department that describes the details from Volume 1 of the Mueller report about this Russian social media agitation - the cyberattacks and the other aspects of that type of work by the Russian government. And I expect members of Congress' interest in that will continue to be high, as will be the public interest going forward.
INSKEEP: We're told that Kim Wehle, former assistant U.S. attorney, is still with us. And I'm going to give you the last word. Very briefly, Kim, is there one burning question that's still on your mind, something you really want to know?
KIM WEHLE: Well, I want to know what happened in the 2020 election, frankly because I think, as was mentioned, there's a couple options for holding this president accountable for potential crimes. I mean, Mr. Mueller said he did - if he had confidence that he did not commit a crime, he would have said so. So we have to see how much - how this plays out in 2020 and if the statute of limitation hasn't expired.
Number two, this Justice Department policy banning indictment of a sitting president doesn't apply to states. So the other line of investigation has to do with the state of New York....
INSKEEP: Oh, state governments could pick it up.
INSKEEP: Kim Wehle, thanks so much - really appreciate your insights.
WEHLE: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.