After nearly two years, the two-volume, 448-page redacted Mueller Report was finally released to the public Thursday.
Immediately, politicos, journalists and curious Americans took a deep dive into the pages, riveted by the details and moments outlined by the special counsel.
But partisanship aside, what does the report actually mean for the future of President Donald Trump? Is his presidency in jeopardy?
WUSA9 sat down with George Washington University Law professor Paul Berman and Lenny Steinhorn, a professor of communications and American history at American University, to talk about what’s next.
Below is a transcript of their conversation in two parts with WUSA9 anchor Bruce Johnson, lightly edited for clarity.
Bruce Johnson: What do you think they found [in the report]?
Paul Berman: I think you have to keep the big picture in mind and the big picture is that we had a foreign power that clearly hacked into our election. We had a campaign that welcomed that interference, that never reported that interference, that worked in some ways in concert and in communication with that campaign, and then you have a president that did everything he could to try to derail the investigation, stop the investigation, fire people who were conducting that investigation. And all of these things that were unprecedented in our history and should be cause for concern, regardless of the prosecutorial aspects of it.
Johnson: Cause for concern. A lot of people are going to argue that now with this report, it moves from the criminal arena to the political arena up on the hill, and so let me ask you this, without taking sides, Democrats need to hear from the special counsel and he’s agreed to testify under oath – it’s really their last shot, right? He’s got to give them something to go forward because if not…
Burman: Well I think he’s been very clear that the only reason he’s not recommending obstruction of justice charges against Trump is that he took as given, the Justice Department policy that a sitting president couldn’t be indicated. But he’s also very clear in his report that he cannot exonerate Trump and that indeed, if he had found that there was sufficient evidence that Trump did not commit obstruction of justice, he would have said so. So he didn’t say so, that really throws it into the political arena to determine what to do about these repeated instances of obstruction of justice.
Johnson: Yeah, we’re already hearing Democrats are divided. The moderates, led by Nancy Pelosi and others, that it’s too early to talk about impeachment, while others are saying no, full steam ahead.
Johnson: Your takeaways from the report?
Lenny Steinhorn: Let’s take away all the legal matters for a second. What the bar we want our president to cross over in this country? Is the bar simply that he’s not committed criminal conspiracy? That the attorney general in this particular case can’t find evidence of obstruction of justice that he says could be indictable? Is that the bar we want? Or do we want to raise that bar higher? And that’s what the Mueller Report faces every American with that question. When you look at the accumulated evidence in there of a president who asked his aides to lie, and then many of them did lie because of that – some of them refused to lie because they otherwise would have resigned, they thought it was against their values. A president who basically attacked the press for issuing reports that he knew were true – is that what we want in the White House? I think that’s what the American people have to ask themselves.
Johnson: Paul, help us out here, give us the legal response.
Burman: I do care about the law, but I agree with you that the standard of evidence that the special counsel and that Attorney General Barr used is not the only way to look at the first set of charges, which is the evidence of coordination with regard to the Russia probe. And there’s a tremendous amount of evidence there of a large number of contacts, with the Trump campaign and coordination. What they didn’t find was specific evidence of agreement. But actually the federal election laws, the regulations implementing them don’t actually require agreement so they’re using a standard beyond what a federal election law even requires. And then with regard to obstruction, it’s very clear that Mueller did in fact find sufficient evidence for obstruction, but for the Justice Department’s own policy that a sitting president can’t be indicted, Mueller essentially concludes but for that there would be enough evidence to pursue an obstruction of justice charge and that’s a really serious thing. To say that the president on 10 different occasions actually tried to shut down an investigation into an important counter-intelligence attack on our country, is kind of amazing.
Johnson: And for people who try to dismiss what you just said, we should also point out that special counsel also had the authority to exonerate the president. You know, find out that there was no criminal wrongdoing, and he chose not to do that.
Burman: And indeed, he said ‘I would say that if I could say that, but I can’t.’
Johnson: It now moves to Capitol Hill, from the criminal investigation arena to the political arena. What can we expect from the hill?
Steinhorn: In many ways, that was the special counsel was doing here, which is to kick it to Congress so it becomes a political issue as to whether the president has committed impeachable offenses and how you define impeachable offenses. So if your only definition of an impeachable offense is whether the president could be indicted, that’s one level. But I think the other level is what is his conduct as a candidate and president of the United States? Was he doing the exact same things you were talking about, trying to impede an investigation? So even if the attorney general says he’s not to be indicted on this, does it constitute the types of offenses - high crimes and misdemeanors - that would lead to impeachment? They’re not going to go down that path, but that’s the big issue laying in front of everyone, which is what was the president’s conduct and is it appropriate for the office?
Burman: And the other, I think, big issue still outstanding is there now should never again be any dispute that Russia did engage in a very sophisticated, sustained, and successful effort to hack into our election process, our social media outlets and so on and so forth. And so, no one can ever say that this was a witch hunt or that this didn’t take place or that Russia was not involved, and so hopefully we can take steps so that this never again happens.
Johnson: That’s what you’d expect the president to do now. If the president really feels that he’s been exonerated now, then turn your attention to Russia and let’s fix this.
Steinhorn: And also not to say that he believes Vladamir Putin and his denials. I mean, that whole Helsinkie news conference was actually startling because much of the information in this Mueller Report is what the intelligence community was saying all along. In fact, it’s what the media were saying all along. And for the president to go after and attack the media as an ‘enemy of the American people’ when he knew many of these stories were accurate, shame on him.
Burman: The final thing I just want to say is that it’s clear Mueller has listed a whole number of times in which the president and the president’s people have lied to the press and lied to the American people. They didn’t do it under oath so it’s not perjury, but one of the questions I think to be asked, both in Congress but even more in the next election, is whether the American people care that its major elected officials are brazenly lying to them on a daily basis.
Johnson: I think we can conclude by saying it’s also been proven with this report that this was not a witch hunt, there were a lot of substantive things, questions here that had to be answered.
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