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Congress Reacts To AG's Letter Summarizing Mueller's Findings


Let's hear now from Susan Davis, our congressional correspondent. Susan, welcome. Thank you for joining us.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hey. Michel. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: What are members of Congress saying about this?

DAVIS: No collusion, no obstruction. I think that Republicans on Capitol Hill see this as a vindication of the president. Clearly, in the letter, they made pains to make the point that this was not a legal exoneration, but I think it's fair to call it a political exoneration. You already see Republicans on the Judiciary Committee calling on Democrats to roll back or stop, entirely, their lines of investigation into the White House and to move on to other issues where they think that they - there could be bipartisan compromise, issues like immigration, any other number of issues. I think it is a very good day for Republicans on Capitol Hill.

MARTIN: And what are Democrats saying?

DAVIS: House Judiciary Chairman Nadler has made clear that he wants to continue his lines of inquiry. He has said in a statement this afternoon that he intends to ask Attorney General William Barr to come up and testify, you know? He does have some six, five, six dozen lines of inquiry out to members of the Trump administration and Trump associates that he's looking into. I do think there's a question that's raised over whether these people, who had been cooperating to some degree, step up and maybe want to play hardball a little bit more on what Jerry Nadler wants from them.

And I do think Democrats have to be a little bit careful here, you know? Tonight and tomorrow morning, people all around the world are going to wake up to headlines that say Robert Mueller says no collusion. And if Democrats really continue to, you know, put their foot on the gas on this, I do think they do risk a public blowback in terms of are they looking like it is becoming a fishing expedition and not legitimate congressional oversight.

MARTIN: Well, you said that - we've been talking to other members of Congress who say that these other areas of inquiry - of which, by my count, there are some, like, 17 separate lines of inquiry across many committees - are legitimate and concerning in their own right. They speak to the question of whether the president is using his office for private gain. They speak to the question of the basic honesty of his financial dealings, for example. They speak to whether the president observed norms and - legal norms in the inaugural committee. They say those are all very legitimate areas of inquiry. So how do they...

DAVIS: Absolutely.

MARTIN: Do they have a priority here?

DAVIS: Well, I also think - and it's worth to remember that there's still investigations ongoing into this administration and its associates being run out of the Southern District of New York. And that is something that Democrats will point to. But I don't think Democrats can look at this and say they have not spent the past 22 months putting an incredible amount of weight into what the conclusions of the Mueller investigation would tell them. And based on what we know today - and, granted, they still want to see the full report.

There are still calls across the spectrum to say there needs to be as much of this made public as possible. I think that - but, politically, Democrats did. But every time you would ask them a question about impeachment, about lines of inquiry, we have to see what the Mueller report says. We have to see what the Mueller report says.

Well, now, we have an inclination, and it may not line up with what a lot of Democrats were expecting. And they're going to have to be mindful of the fact that, yes, there are certainly lines of inquiry into this administration that are worthy of pursuing. And they will continue to do that, but I think the political sensitivity around those inquiries has just been enhanced.

MARTIN: Speaking of political sensitivities, there's a very active presidential primary already underway. How are presidential candidates reacting to this news, particularly, those who are current members of Congress, members of the Senate?

DAVIS: You know, Republicans say the Democrats talk about impeachment a lot more than Democrats are actually talking about impeachment. If you pay attention to the conversation on the campaign trail, candidates don't bring this up very often. They don't campaign on the issue of Russia. They don't bring up Robert Mueller. And if you listen to the questions that voters are asking, they don't ask about it a lot, either.

So I think the Democrats still have been playing from a playbook of the 2018 midterms in which they didn't focus on Russia. They continue to focus on kitchen table issues, health care, on taxes, on things that people care about. And I don't know if this really changes that. However, I will say, politically, I do think it may eliminate a cloud that has dogged the president. And, with that being lifted, you know, I think that they are going to have to maybe rejigger how they do, you know, make the case against his administration.

MARTIN: That is NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Sue, thank you so much.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.