Glenn Greenwald vs. David Cay Johnston on Trump-Russia ties, obstruction and more
The Justice Department has released a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s 448-page report detailing Russian meddling in the 2016 election, the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia and President Trump’s attempts to impede the special counsel’s investigation. The report states the campaign “expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts,” but Mueller concluded, “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” Mueller also outlined at least 10 instances where Trump attempted to impede the special counsel’s investigation, but Mueller came to no definitive conclusion on whether Trump broke the law by obstructing justice. In the report, Mueller suggests that this is a decision for Congress to make. We host a debate on the report’s findings between two Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists: Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept and David Cay Johnston, who has covered Donald Trump since the 1980s. His most recent book is “It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America.”
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: On Thursday, the Justice Department released a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s 448-page report detailing Russian meddling in the 2016 election, the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia and President Trump’s attempts to obstruct justice in the special counsel’s investigation. The report states, quote, the campaign expected to “benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts,” but Mueller concluded, “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
Mueller also outlined at least 10 instances where Trump attempted to impede the special counsel’s investigation, but Mueller came to no definitive conclusion on whether Trump broke the law by obstructing justice. In the report, Mueller suggests this is a decision for Congress to make. The report states, quote, “With respect to whether the president can be found to have obstructed justice by exercising his powers under Article II of the Constitution, we concluded Congress has authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice,” unquote.
But many questions remain about the Mueller report. About 10% of the report was redacted. Mueller has yet to speak publicly about his findings.
On Thursday, Attorney General William Barr held a news conference before the redacted report was released. Barr defended the president’s actions, claiming Trump had a, quote, “sincere belief” that Mueller’s probe was undermining his presidency.
ATTORNEY GENERAL WILLIAM BARR: In assessing the president’s actions discussed in the report, it is important to bear in mind the context. President Trump faced an unprecedented situation. As he entered into office and sought to perform his responsibilities as president, federal agents and prosecutors were scrutinizing his conduct before and after taking office, and the conduct of some of his associates. At the same, there was relentless speculation in the news media about the president’s personal culpability.
Yet, as he said from the beginning, there was in fact no collusion. And as the special counsel’s report acknowledges, there is substantial evidence to show that the president was frustrated and angered by his sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents and fueled by illegal leaks. Nonetheless, the White House fully cooperated with the special counsel’s investigation, providing unfettered access to campaign and White House documents, directing senior aides to testify freely, and asserting no privilege claims.
AMY GOODMAN: Democratic lawmakers are accusing Attorney General Barr of mischaracterizing some of Mueller’s findings. House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler has announced plans to issue a subpoena for the full, unredacted Mueller report and to request Mueller testify before the committee. Nadler spoke in New York Thursday.
REP. JERROLD NADLER: Even in its incomplete form, however, the Mueller report outlines disturbing evidence that President Trump engaged in obstruction of justice and other misconduct. Contrary to the attorney general’s statement this morning that the White House, quote, “fully cooperated,” unquote, with the investigation, the report makes clear that the president refused to be interviewed by the special counsel and refused to provide written answers to follow-up questions, page 13 of volume two; makes clear that his associates destroyed evidence relevant to the Russian investigation, page 10, volume one. The report concluded there was “substantial evidence,” in quotes, that President Trump attempted to prevent an investigation into his campaign and his own conduct, page 76, page 78, page 90, page 157, volume two.
AMY GOODMAN: While Democrats urged further congressional probes into the findings of the report, some went further, turning to talk of impeachment, in the hours after the report was released.
For more, we’re joined by two guests. Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, founding editor of The Intercept, leading critic of the media coverage of alleged Russian collusion, he joins us from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. And David Cay Johnston is also a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter, previously with The New York Times, now founder and editor of DCReport.org. He has covered Trump for years. His most recent book on him, It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America.
We welcome you both back to Democracy Now! for this rematch. Today let’s begin with Glenn Greenwald in Brazil. As you read through the 448-page report, Glenn, your overall response and what you thought was most significant about what Robert Mueller and his team found?
GLENN GREENWALD: I don’t think there can be any question that the most significant finding has to be about the allegations that kicked off the entire saga almost three years ago, which was the two-pronged conspiracy theory that Donald Trump worked with, coordinated, collaborated and conspired with the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election and that Donald Trump is captive to Vladimir Putin as a result of a variety of blackmail, leverage and other forms of links that allow the Kremlin to dictate to the White House what it is that they’re supposed to do.
And I think it’s very important to point out from the outset that this was no ordinary investigation. The Democrats, the CIA, their allies in the media, who believed in this conspiracy theory, got exactly the prosecutor that they wanted, who everybody agreed was the man of the highest integrity and competence. He assembled a vast team of very aggressive prosecutors, FBI agents, forensic accountants, intelligence analysts. He had unlimited resources, the entire apparatus of the U.S. surveillance state at his disposal and 22 months to dig as deeply as he could dig to find out the answers to whether those conspiracy theories were or weren’t true. You can’t get a more sweeping or comprehensive investigation than that.
And he went through systematically each of the prongs of the conspiracy theories and found either that the evidence did not establish that they were true, or, in some cases, found the opposite, that in fact there was no evidence to support the theory at all and that the theory was simply false. One example of that is, for example—I think David mentioned this the last time we talked about it, as evidence that there was something sinister going on between the Russians and Trump—was the change to the GOP platform in mid-2016 to make it more favorable to the Russians by diluting the language about U.S. support for Ukraine. And at the time, I had always said, and said on the show the last time, that that was totally consistent with both Barack Obama and Donald Trump’s foreign policy, not to provoke Vladimir Putin by arming the Ukrainians. Mueller said this is done by some low-level aide, acting alone; there’s no evidence he coordinated it with even Donald Trump, let alone with the Russians or Vladimir Putin; and that it was just an attempt to conform the GOP platform to what Trump’s stated foreign policy was. And over and over and over, from the Trump Tower meeting to all of the post—Russian connections after both the convention and the election, Mueller used the same language over and over and over again, which is that there’s no evidence, or the evidence does not establish that these conspiracy theories actually happened.
Now, you can continue to believe in them. It sort of feels almost like arguing with people who have adopted religious beliefs, that they’re going to believe in their view of how the world works, no matter how much evidence you present them that it didn’t happen. But Democrats and proponents of this theory got what they wanted, which is the Mueller investigation, and now most of the Mueller report and his findings. And his findings are that he looked for 22 months as hard as he could and didn’t establish that these theories were true. And we already knew that because not one American was indicted or charged for conspiracy. But he went even beyond that and said the evidence doesn’t establish it.
On the obstruction issue, I think there’s a lot of evidence that Donald Trump is what we knew he was, which is an amoral liar, somebody who is willing to corruptly abuse his power to protect himself. But at the end of the day, the Democrat leaders in the House have already said they’re not going to impeach him over this. And the reason is, is because the question always was: Was Trump trying to stop the investigation because he genuinely believed that they were—it was based on a false conspiracy, or was he trying to stop the investigation because he knew he had done what people were accusing him of doing with the Russians and wanted to cover that up? And the Mueller report concluded it was the first instance: He was try to stop the investigation because he thought it was a sham all along, and therefore, even though he lied and acted improperly, it doesn’t rise to the corrupt intent needed to charge him with obstruction, which is stopping an investigation to prevent your own wrongdoing from being uncovered. And so, I think even Democrats know this is the end of the line with this entire three-year scandal that has drowned our politics in discourse.
AMY GOODMAN: David Cay Johnston, your takeaway from this report that was released, oh, about 20 hours ago, as of this broadcast?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, Amy, I agree with Glenn that Donald Trump is utterly unfit to hold office. But I think he is misreading what’s in the report. Mueller was charged with investigating to the standard of beyond reasonable doubt, a criminal standard. What he shows in the report is numerous contacts by the Russians trying to develop a relationship with the Trump campaign, the willingness of the Trump campaign and the eagerness of the Trump campaign to benefit from anything the Russians could do for them, including numerous contacts, some of them with known Russian spies. And Mueller writes something Glenn didn’t mention, that is very significant, near the top of his report: A statement that the investigation did not establish particular facts does not mean that there was no evidence of those facts. There’s lots of evidence here of improprieties. Does it rise to the standard of a criminal conspiracy charge under federal law? No. Mueller says this is properly the duty of Congress. And the standard in our Constitution is that the president takes an oath to faithfully execute the laws. We have to expect our president to be totally and completely loyal to the interests of the United States. That’s why the word “emoluments” appears three times in our Constitution. And the standard is abuse of power, or, in the words of our Constitution, high crimes and misdemeanors.
Now, I don’t think Donald Trump is going to be impeached, because there aren’t the votes to convict him. But that Donald Trump was eager, and his son Don Jr. and others in his campaign were eager, to get help from the Russians, the report explicitly states. That the Russians were eager to make sure that Hillary Clinton didn’t win, that they help both Trump and Bernie Sanders, is clearly stated in the report. So, to suggest that there’s nothing here and we should forget all this and it’s corrupted our politics, Glenn and I just fundamentally disagree about that. I think this report makes very clear that Donald Trump behaved in ways that are not loyal to the United States. He urged his staff, contrary to what Attorney General Barr said about complete cooperation, to lie, to deny, to cover up, to destroy records. He would not sit for an interview. He would not respond to further questions. And the answers in writing that he provided are artful, lawyerly-like arguments that evade. That we can’t close the loop on a conspiracy between the very best Russians at intelligence and spying, with the head of a third-generation, white-collar crime family who spent his entire life lying and denying; has been found by judges, after testifying in trials, to give testimony that wasn’t incredible; that he had convenient lapses of memory—and let’s remember Donald Trump claims to have the best memory of any living human being—all of that points to simply the fact that Mueller found lots of evidence, but nowhere near enough to meet the criminal standard of beyond reasonable doubt. That’s why he specifically refers to Congress and that this falls under the duties of Congress to look into.
AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, your response to David?
GLENN GREENWALD: So, first of all, just as reminder, the Democrats control the House of Representatives, which is the body charged with impeaching President Trump. It’s the Senate that determines whether he ought to be convicted. So, in both of the cases of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, when impeachment charges were brought, there was a lot of uncertainty about whether convictions could be obtained. But the House did its duty, anyway, under the Constitution, which is, if you really believe that Donald Trump committed serious crimes, it’s the constitutional duty of the Democrats in the House to impeach Donald Trump and then present the arguments and the evidence to convince the public that he ought to be removed from office. And they’ve made clear they’re not going to do that. And I think that’s pretty revealing.
I also want to say that David actually mischaracterized both what I said and what the Mueller report said. So, I made very clear that, in some instances, Mueller did what he was charged to do, which is to say whether there was enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt in order to indict Trump and his family members and aides on the issue of conspiracy and collusion, and he found that there wasn’t. That’s incredibly significant. You can just brush that aside if you want, but we all know that everybody spent the last three years saying Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner are inevitably about to be arrested, and then none of that happened. But the reality—so, I didn’t leave that out. I specifically said that there was parts of the report where Mueller simply said there’s not enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
But in other areas of the report, on collusion, Mueller went much further than that, to say not just that there’s not enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, but that there’s no evidence at all that this happened. And the language that he used, which I’m going to have to read, since David claims that it isn’t in there, is that Mueller himself said, “in some instances, the report points out the absence of evidence … about a particular fact or event.” For example, he says the Internet Research Agency, the Russia-based trolling farm, used Facebook posts and tweets to try and disrupt the election. And he says, “The investigation did not identify evidence that any U.S. persons knowingly or intentionally coordinated with the IRA’s interference operation.” As I said, he made the same exact claim about the change to the GOP platform regarding Ukraine, that there was no evidence—not that it didn’t rise to the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt, that there was no evidence this was anything other than a low-level aide acting on his own to change the platform, without even the knowledge of Trump, let alone Putin, to conform it to Trump’s stated foreign policy. And the same is true with all of the attempts after the convention, once Trump was nominated, by Ambassador Kislyak to try and talk to the foreign policy officials within the Trump campaign. Mueller says, “The Office did not identify any evidence” in those interactions of coordination between the campaign and the Russian government. And I could read 10 more examples like that.
So, Mueller was not only charged with this cramped, narrow, legalistic, prosecutorial duty to say whether evidence rose to a standard of a beyond a reasonable doubt—which, again, even if he had only done that and concluded that not one American—not Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, not one American—was an agent of the Russian government while working for Trump, coordinated or conspired with the Trump—with the Russian government over the campaign, that would be incredibly fatal to everything the media has been doing and saying over the last three years. But he went well beyond that, as I just read, in multiple instances, and said that so much of what we were told just didn’t happen.
The BuzzFeed story about Michael Cohen telling Mueller that Trump told him to lie, BuzzFeed now admits that never happened. Paul Manafort visiting Julian Assange three times in the Ecuadorean Embassy, as The Guardian reported, that didn’t happen. Virtually the entirety of the Steele dossier, that there were these overwhelming, year-long contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia to plan the dissemination of disinformation—the fact that they were using Roger Stone, three weeks before the WikiLeaks release, to try and find out what was in those documents that WikiLeaks has, as Mike Isikoff himself, one of the proponents, the earliest proponents, of this conspiracy theory admitted, by itself proves that the Trump campaign wasn’t doing what the Steele dossier said, since had they been in bed with the Russians all year, they wouldn’t have needed Roger Stone, two weeks before the WikiLeaks release, to find out what was in the emails. They would have been a party to it. But they weren’t. The whole thing was false. It was a scam. It was a hoax.
And again, as I said, you can just throw up your hands and say, “Well, maybe Mueller just didn’t find the evidence.” I mean, how do you argue with somebody like that? Yeah, of course, I mean, maybe Robert Mueller, after 22 months, didn’t find all the smoking guns that are out there. But we can only deal with the reality that we have, which is the reality that was produced after an incredibly comprehensive investigation, a sweeping, invasive, powerful one, that was exactly what the Democrats said they wanted. And that evidence simply did not produce the evidence to substantiate the conspiracy theories we’ve been hearing for three years. And that reality will never, ever change.
AMY GOODMAN: David Cay Johnston, we’re going to let you respond, but after this music break. David Cay Johnston and Glenn Greenwald debate the Mueller report. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: Tina Turner, covering The Beatles’ 1969 song “Come Together.” This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue our debate for the hour, the rematch of two Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, David Cay Johnston and Glenn Greenwald.
David Cay Johnston, it’s your turn, up next, but I wanted to also throw in another part of the Mueller report, where he wrote, “We recognized that a federal criminal accusation against a sitting President would place burdens on the President’s capacity to govern and potentially preempt constitutional processes for addressing presidential misconduct.” The report went on to say, Mueller’s team, quote, “determined not to apply an approach that could potentially result in a judgment that the President committed crimes.” So, if you could respond to the numerous points Glenn Greenwald just raised and also that approach, which he says is going along with Department of Justice rules?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, let’s deal with that part first. I think it’s pretty clear from the report that Mueller has problems with the Office of Legal Counsel position that you can’t indict a sitting president. Lots of people do. I do. Laurence Tribe of Harvard, who’s a great constitutional scholar, and others do. But it’s the policy. And Robert Mueller is a straight-arrow guy, so he followed the policy. And that’s partly why his report says these are matters for Congress to take up.
This is not a black-and-white situation. I think Glenn has overstated the facts by suggesting there’s absolutely nothing here, it’s completely wrong, it’s been a scam, he calls it. In fact, there is an enormous amount of evidence in this report, damning evidence, that Donald Trump’s campaign was eager to get help from the Russian government. We know that they were eager to do so, for a variety of reasons, among them, Don Jr.'s “love it” email and the subsequent efforts to lie, deny and cover up about that; Donald Trump's refusal to sit for an interview; his directing people to behave inappropriately, through either not cooperating, destroying records, etc. I mean, imagine if a previous president, let’s say Barack Obama, had had a meeting with the head of the government in Iran and had only gone with a translator from the Iranian government, or, on another occasion, with a translator from each side and had the American translator destroy their notes. I think we’d all say, “Woah! What is going on here?”
The report is clear that the Russians, through Konstantin Kilimnik, were provided with very sensitive, confidential information about polling data, that was then used to use targeted ads on Facebook. And let me explain. On Facebook, they can slice and dice stuff so that if you said, “We only want the ads to be seen by white males in the state of Wisconsin between the age of 55 and 65 who lease a Chevrolet vehicle that is not a sedan,” you can buy that ad. And so, they were able to highly target these ads. Now, that doesn’t rise to the level of a criminal conspiracy in Mueller’s view, and I totally accept that. I don’t question what’s in Mueller’s report. But the fact that they couldn’t close the loop on contacts and what was going on here, as the report says, the statement that the investigation did not establish particular facts does not mean that there is no evidence of those facts. And that’s why Mueller referred this to Congress.
That Donald Trump repeatedly lied, that the Mueller report shows that things Donald Trump called fake news he knew to be true news, and is in the Mueller report, goes to the issue Glenn and I agree on about, which is that Donald Trump is a morally corrupt, totally unfit person to be president. So, I think the report is damning as to the willingness of the Trump people to receive information, the eagerness of the Russians—and notice the report talks about the Russian government, not so much the oligarchs. Vladimir Putin, we know from this report, meets regularly with about 50 of the oligarchs and works through them. And they are not the Russian government, but they are certainly the agents of the Russian government. And that all of this material went on during the campaign and Trump lied, denied and covered up is evidence that he had a guilty mind. He had mens rea.
And so, I think that we need to recognize that while there is, without question, not the material to sustain, even if you could indict a sitting president, any kind of indictment for conspiracy—which is the word I’ve generally used, by the way—the fact is there’s a ton of damning evidence here of inappropriate conduct for a president. You take an oath of office to faithfully execute the laws. Your loyalty should be entirely to the United States. The Russians are dangling multimillion-dollar opportunities in front of Donald Trump. He lies about them. They approach—that they didn’t close deals is not—is important, but they approached them, and they were willingly embraced in a meeting by Don Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner. And this report shows extensive contacts that are very troubling. Some of them are not. Some of them turn out to be insignificant, passing conversations and things. And I agree with Glenn, some of them—and I thought so at the time—were blown up to be too big of a deal. But to say, as I think Glenn is fundamentally arguing, that there’s nothing here—he just called it a scam—I think that goes way beyond the facts and way beyond Mueller’s point that this should go to Congress and that, as he said, the statement that the investigation did not establish facts, particular facts, does not mean there was no evidence of those facts.
AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald?
GLENN GREENWALD: So, I think this—first of all, if you notice, everybody who was behind this conspiracy is starting, very bluntly, to try and conflate obstruction with collusion and, essentially, forget about the whole conspiracy and collusion part of the story and focus on obstruction, because the reality is the Mueller report—and not just the Mueller report, but the Mueller investigation—destroyed all of the predictions and hopes about what it would result in and what it would find. And that’s why there’s now this almost monomaniacal focus on the obstruction part of this story, at the expense of the collusion part.
Let me just say a couple things. This fixation on this legalistic language that Mueller included in his report, which is that a finding that we didn’t establish something doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, or doesn’t mean there’s no evidence for it, is incredibly irrational. Let me just give you an example. I can conduct an investigation and then come back and say, “My investigation did not establish that there are Martians who are controlling all of our thoughts and all of our actions using mind control methods.” That would be true. I would conduct an investigation. The evidence wouldn’t establish that. But it would also be true, I would add, that just because I didn’t find evidence to establish that doesn’t meet it didn’t happen. That’s because you can’t prove a negative. That’s all Mueller is saying. Just because our investigation didn’t demonstrate that these things took place doesn’t mean they didn’t happen, doesn’t mean that you can’t look at some events in certain ways and say that there’s some evidence for it. But, as I said, in many cases he said there was no evidence, and in many cases he says, “Our investigation did not establish.” And to try and minimize that, after three years of everything that has been dominating the news, I think, is very disingenuous.
On the question of whether or not there are disturbing aspects of Trump’s behavior, I agree that the obstruction part of the report, again, reveals some things that Donald Trump did that are, for me, utterly unsurprising, but nonetheless showing his utter lack of ethics, which is something I’ve known for 30 years living in New York. But on the part of the report that deals with everything that kicked this all off, which was Trump’s relationship with Russia, the only thing that is in the report, that David keeps harping on, is the idea that Trump and his campaign was willing to accept help from the Russians. And that’s true. When the Russians called and said, “Hey, we have some dirt about your adversary, Hillary Clinton, that shows her to be really corrupt and criminal, and we would like to give it to you,” the Trump campaign said, “Yeah, we’d love to get that.” Now, you can say, “Well, that’s just an unethical thing to do.” It’s clearly not illegal, according to Robert Mueller, because it doesn’t even rise to the level under the statute where you can make it a crime under campaign finance law, let alone conspiracy. But you can say it’s unethical, if you want.
But then you have to deal with this fact: The DNC had contractors working for it, collaborating, coordinating and working with the Ukrainian government, to dig up dirt on Paul Manafort and Donald Trump’s finances. And they succeeded in doing it. They got dirt about Paul Manafort from the Ukrainian government, because the Ukrainians wanted to help Hillary Clinton win the election, because they thought that she would be better for them than Donald Trump would be. The Steele dossier was built by someone being paid by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign, Christopher Steele, going through Moscow, working with his contacts within the Russian government, to try and get dirt about Donald Trump.
So, if you really believe that it’s so nefarious for a political campaign to try and get dirt about your opponent if you work with a foreign government to do it, why isn’t the outrage just as high when it comes to the DNC’s efforts to work with the Ukrainian government to dig up dirt about Manafort and Trump, or the use of Christopher Steele to get dirt from his contacts within Russian intelligence about Donald Trump, much of which turned out to be, if not all of it, utterly false? So, I think that that’s the most you can say, and then the question becomes: Why doesn’t that apply equally to the Democrats?
And then, I would finally add, I mean, if I were David Cay Johnston and people who thought like him, my focus now would be on demanding to know why people like Steny Hoyer and Adam Schiff and, up until now, Nancy Pelosi have pretty much said impeachment is off the table. Like, if you really believe that this is a grave threat to the republic, that these are serious crimes and misdemeanors that Donald Trump has engaged in, in abusing his power, how can you not be protesting in the streets against the leaders of the House of Representatives for failing in their constitutional duty to initiate impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump? How can it be justified, if it were really as egregious as is being suggested by David and others, for them not to do that?
AMY GOODMAN: Well, David Cay Johnston, do you think the House should move to impeach President Trump?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, I don’t think they’re going to, because there aren’t votes in the Senate to convict. And so it would be pointless. You need 67 votes. And the Republican senators are simply not going to vote, even though, in private, many of them have made it clear, in conversations with people, that they are deeply disturbed and think Donald Trump is unfit to serve.
But, you know, Glenn said something a moment ago that is absolutely false, and I don’t want to let it slide. The Steele dossier, that was first paid for through Fusion GPS, run by a former excellent reporter for The Wall Street Journal, was initially financed by Republicans. Only after Donald Trump got the nomination did a front for Hillary Clinton, a law firm, then come in and start paying for additional work. And so, to suggest this was a DNC project is just false.
As to foreign governments, I think it’s totally inappropriate that we have these foreign—
GLENN GREENWALD: Just to be clear, I agree. Just to be—let me just interject. I agree with that. I didn’t—all I said was that the Democrats paid for that report.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: OK, fine.
GLENN GREENWALD: I didn’t say that they initiated the project.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Fine, fine.
GLENN GREENWALD: You’re absolutely right about that. But the Democrats did pay for Christopher Steele’s work.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: They paid for part of it later, that’s correct.
GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: I mean, I think this whole episode has brought to light serious shortcomings. And I’m somebody who has exposed spies and foreign agents here, going back many decades. There are real serious shortcomings in our laws. We should not be having a lot of these international contacts. But Donald Trump—the reason I think the obstruction issue is in fact highly relevant here is: Why would you lie and deny, if you haven’t done anything wrong? Lying and denying is evidence of a guilty mind. And Donald Trump lied and denied, directed other people to lie. He is essentially an unindicted co-conspirator, individual one in the criminal charges that were pled to as campaign violations by Michael Cohen.
Mueller concluded that the help that was provided couldn’t be valued, and it would be a very difficult thing to do and to suss out in terms of our campaign finance laws. But that the Trump campaign provided sensitive information that helped the Russians in their efforts to make sure that Hillary Clinton didn’t get in the White House—and, remember, the Russians also tried to help the Bernie Sanders campaign for the same reason. They did not want Hillary Clinton, because she had made it clear she was going to do everything she could, short of war, to make Vladimir Putin give up Crimea and other actions. To suggest there’s nothing going on here is, I think, just wrong. There’s lots of evidence of it. And you don’t lie, deny, obstruct and cover up, unless you know you’ve done something wrong. It may not be wrong to a criminal standard, and Mueller has said it’s not—we can’t prove anything to the criminal standard of beyond a reasonable doubt. But they show an enormous amount of conduct that is improper. If you get a call from a hostile foreign power, as Don Jr. did when he got his email, and you don’t pick up the phone and call FBI counterintelligence, I think—and I would hope that Glenn would agree with me—that that is not an act of a patriot or a loyal person or even one with a fundamental sense of decency and morality.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to break. I know that Glenn is chomping at the bit, and you’ll get your response in a minute, Glenn. We’re speaking with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists David Cay Johnston and Glenn Greenwald on the release of the Mueller report—well, a part of it. It was redacted. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “Putting Up Resistance” by Beres Hammond. This is Democracy Now! I’m Amy Goodman. We’re conducting a debate, a rematch, between two Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists, Glenn Greenwald and David Cay Johnston, upon the release of the special counsel Robert Mueller’s 448-page report that concluded that the Trump campaign did not collude, did not conspire with the Russians to win the election, but did say that on the issue of obstruction of justice, Congress should decide. Glenn Greenwald, if you want to pick up where Johnston left off: Why didn’t Donald Trump Jr. go directly to the FBI when he was reached out to by Russian agents to ask if they wanted damaging information about Hillary Clinton, and also why Donald Trump obstructed and lied about so much?
GLENN GREENWALD: So, on that issue of Donald Trump Jr., the main point I made in my prior answer, which was a question to David, was completely ignored by him, about what the Democrats did with the Ukrainian government. And I’m interesting in reposing that question to him in just a second. And before I do, I just want to address something he said—
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Not true, but go ahead.
GLENN GREENWALD: —that I think is really important—OK, which was—then maybe I missed it, so I’m interested in hearing again. But David said that Hillary Clinton made it clear that she was willing to confront the Russians in every conceivable way, short of war, to make sure that they gave up Crimea. I think that is a really important point. In 2012, the Russians were very clearly hoping that Barack Obama would win and Mitt Romney would lose, because Romney was going around saying the Russians were the number one geopolitical threat and we have to be much more belligerent in confronting them, whereas Obama was saying that’s Cold War thinking and that we actually should try and get along with them a lot better. In Russian elections in the past, like when Boris Yeltsin was running, the U.S. wanted Boris Yeltsin to win, because they knew he would privatize U.S. [sic] industry in a way that would help U.S. companies, so they meddled in their election to help Yeltsin win. They meddled in 2012 to agitate anti-Russian protesters.
So, I think David is right. Hillary Clinton’s agenda, she was very critical of Obama for not confronting Putin in Ukraine, for not confronting Putin in Syria, for not doing more to sanction Russian oligarchs. And Obama’s position was actually closer to Trump’s, which was, “No, we should try and get along with Russia. We don’t want to provoke Putin unnecessarily. He’s a nuclear-armed power.” And he’s not that powerful over things like Ukraine and Syria, which are distant to the U.S. So, of course I think it’s rational that the Russians preferred the candidate saying, “Let’s get along with Russia,” to the candidate saying, “Let’s confront Russia more belligerently than Obama did.” That’s what the U.S. does, too. They interfere in other countries’ elections, including Russia, to help the candidate that will most help them.
But I am interested, David, in hearing your answer directly to the question of whether you are also angry, as angry as you are about Trump Jr. taking that meeting with the Russians, about the efforts to work with the Ukrainian government to dig up dirt about Paul Manafort and Donald Trump, as well as the use of Christopher Steele to dig up dirt by using his sources within the Russian government, the same Russian government with whom you say Trump worked, to dig up dirt about Donald Trump.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, one of the differences between us, Glenn, is I’m not driven here at all by emotion. I don’t hate anybody. I’m not angry about anything. I deal in facts that I can prove and verify. And when the facts change, my view of events change. And, of course, we never have a perfect set of facts.
But I think that involvement—I said earlier—involvement by either party with foreign governments, we need better laws and rules about this. I don’t think the Foreign Agent Registration Act is sufficient. And I think it’s absolutely improper to be doing things that were done by—on both sides, by this. That’s one where I’ll agree with you about that. This Ukrainian information gathering is troubling. Opposition research goes on all the time, but there should be some rules and controls on that. And so, in all of this, let’s be very clear that Donald Trump was—
GLENN GREENWALD: So, does that mean that they’re not patriots?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, I think that Donald Trump Jr.’s behavior was absolutely unpatriotic. Yes, I think that his failure to pick up the phone and call the FBI—
GLENN GREENWALD: What about the Democrats in working with Ukraine?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: I don’t—to be honest, I don’t enough about—
GLENN GREENWALD: And what about the Democrats working with Ukrainian government? Was that unpatriotic?
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Yeah, I don’t know enough about the details of that. I think that’s a very good question, Glenn. And I don’t know enough to give you sort of a definitive response to that. I’m very troubled by it on its face.
GLENN GREENWALD: Fair enough.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: OK?
GLENN GREENWALD: OK.
DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: So, but I think—you know, let’s remember here, Donald Trump was negotiating for a Trump Tower deal that would have put millions, maybe tens of millions, of dollars in his pocket, when he was running for president. He was lying and denying about various things. He publicly called for the Russians to hack—or, maybe that’s too strong a word—to find the, quote, “missing emails,” which weren’t missing at all. And within hours, Russian intelligence agents were working on doing that.
So, what we’ve seen, I think, is right in front of our eyes: inappropriate behavior, and behavior that shows that Donald Trump, in the most kind—as I’ve said before, the kindest thing you can say about Donald Trump is that he has divided loyalties. Donald Trump’s ultimate loyalty is only to Donald Trump. It is not to his oath of office. It is not to the country. At DCReport, we’ve been documenting all the things he’s doing that hurt the forgotten man, that he promised to be the champion of and who he is actively, aggressively working against in his administration. And you don’t lie, deny and cover up, unless you know you did something wrong.
AMY GOODMAN: Glenn, do you think that President Trump should be impeached over obstruction of justice? You have, what, Don McGahn quitting rather than firing Mueller, and, of course, President Trump fired Comey. But do you think, despite, you’ve always said, that this is not about collusion? You have 30 seconds.
GLENN GREENWALD: No, I don’t. And the reason I don’t is because—yeah, I don’t, because I think that the question was whether he was acting as a president in his right to stop an investigation that he knew was based on false allegations or whether he was trying to cover up his own wrongdoing. And once Mueller concluded that there was no evidence to establish the wrongdoing, I don’t think he had a corrupt motive. I think his motive was: “I think this investigation is garbage, and therefore I’m very open about the fact that I want to stop it.” And I don’t think that’s obstruction of justice. I think that’s just Donald Trump wanting to stop an investigation he believes never should have been launched in the first place.
AMY GOODMAN: And in five seconds, your thoughts on Donald Trump today?
GLENN GREENWALD: I mean, I think Donald Trump is a huge danger and menace to the republic for a lot of reasons that David is very adeptly covering, and I really hope that we can now turn our attention to those things, now that we’re done with this espionage thriller that has dominated us for three years. I hope we can focus on the things that matter.
AMY GOODMAN: We have to leave it there. Glenn Greenwald and David Cay Johnston, thanks so much.