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Sunday Politics: Mueller Report Expectations


This week, Congress and the public await the expected release of the Mueller report - or at least what Attorney General William Barr is willing to let them see. What will it say? How much will it be redacted? What will the president tweet about it? Joining me now to discuss this and other political news of the day is national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Good morning, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Sacha.

PFEIFFER: Mara, when the Mueller report comes out, what are the key elements Congress will be looking for?

LIASSON: Well, Congress has asked for the report and all the underlying investigative materials. It's - I doubt they'll get everything that they want, so there's going to be a big fight about getting as much material as they're calling for. What we're watching for is what in the report explains why Bob Mueller decided not to make a conclusion about obstruction of justice. We'll be looking and Congress will be looking for what he says about Russian contacts with the Trump campaign. He didn't think any of them rose to the legal crime of conspiracy.

But, you know, Congress is very suspicious of Attorney General William Barr's redactions because last week he repeated the unfounded claim of the president that somehow the Justice Department had spied on Trump and his campaign. It was court-approved surveillance, surveillance approved by a judge. But suspicions are now running high. And the president has tweeted - why should the Democrats in Congress have a right to examine the report? - which is a very basic, simple question with a simple answer. Article 1 says that Congress is a separate and equal branch of government and they have a right to oversee the Justice Department.

So he has been now, again, calling the report treasonous and saying that it should not be released after previously he said he was fine with it coming out.

PFEIFFER: Right. And what do you make of that? So why the criticism of it while sort of simultaneously claiming that it largely clears him?

LIASSON: Well, I think originally, he really wanted to establish a narrative based on Barr's summary of the Mueller report - that it completely exonerated him. Then there were a whole bunch of reports that the summary did not accurately reflect what was in the report and the suggestion that there were a lot of negative things in that report about the president. So he went back to attacking the Mueller report - trying to undermine its credibility - so that when it does come out, he can dismiss it as a partisan witch hunt.

PFEIFFER: And is that undermining campaign viewed as working?

LIASSON: Actually not. And what's so interesting about public opinion since Barr's summary was released is that it hasn't really moved at all. Big chunks of the public still believe the president has not been exonerated despite the fact that he's been repeating that he's been totally and completely exonerated. And that's because so much of the American public is so locked in. Seventy percent of Americans are - either strongly disapprove of Donald Trump or strongly approve of him. It's about, you know, 40 who strongly disapprove, about 29 who strongly approve. It shows you that even though he can dominate the media narrative, he can't always win the argument.

PFEIFFER: Different issue, which is WikiLeaks, which was in the news this week - last week, Trump said, I know nothing about WikiLeaks. That's quite different from when he said, I love WikiLeaks, during the 2016 campaign.

LIASSON: He actually said that about 141 times, either on tape - on video - or in tweets. And what that shows you is that - how confident he is that he can sit in the Oval Office and say, I don't know anything about WikiLeaks, knowing that every TV station in the world is going to start playing all the tape of him saying how much he loved WikiLeaks during the campaign. It shows you how confident he is that the norms and rules about how presidents should be accurate and truthful do not apply to him.

PFEIFFER: And presumably, he'll think the same in terms of issues he's expected to run on, like immigration.

LIASSON: Well, immigration is the No. 1 issue the president ran on in 2016. He's going to run on it again in 2020. And of course, he's been very, very frustrated because more and more families are coming to the border to apply for asylum. And he has offered a bunch of different proposals - closing the border, shutting down the asylum system - and nothing seems to be working. The latest thing that he is proposing is to take these asylum-seekers and send them to sanctuary cities, cities that have decided to limit their cooperation with immigration authorities. Here's what he said.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: And they want more people in their sanctuary cities. Well, we'll give them more people. We can give them a lot. We can give them an unlimited supply. And let's see if they're so happy.

LIASSON: Yeah. So you can see here, on the one hand, this is a bit of a self-own because immigrants would love to be sent to San Francisco and cities that are welcoming to them. The mayors of those cities have already said, fine, we'll take it. So in his effort to own the libs (ph), he has used policy and families as pawns to punish his political opponents. And that certainly breaks another norm.

PFEIFFER: That's NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson.

Thanks, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.