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Former Federal Prosecutor Paul Rosenzweig Discusses Mueller's Testimony

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now, for a different perspective on Mueller's testimony, I want to bring in former federal prosecutor Paul Rosenzweig. He is one of hundreds of former prosecutors who signed a letter saying the president's conduct, as described in the Mueller report, would result in multiple felony charges if he were not a sitting president. Rosenzweig was senior counsel to Kenneth Starr in the Whitewater investigation during the Clinton administration, and he was deputy assistant secretary of Homeland Security in the George W. Bush administration. Welcome to the studio.

PAUL ROSENZWEIG: Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: As we were hearing just then from President Trump's personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow, you were shaking your head. You were heaving a big sigh. What was that about?

ROSENZWEIG: (Laughter) Well, it's his personal lawyer. Jay Sekulow is paid to make the best argument that he can for the president, not for the country, not for the public interest but for the personal interests of Donald Trump. And what is most clear from what you just heard is that the president and his attorneys put his own personal interests over that of the nation, which is unfortunate.

SHAPIRO: You wrote in an op-ed in USA Today this morning that today's testimony from Robert Mueller was an opportunity for the former special counsel to set the record straight. Do you think he took advantage of that opportunity as well as he could have?

ROSENZWEIG: Only partially, I think. It certainly seemed to me that he was quite content to rest upon the text of his report and reluctant to go beyond it in any way, manner, shape or form. I think he did a pretty good job of reaffirming the fundamental conclusions of his report. In the second hearing before the House Intelligence Committee especially, he condemned the Russian interference. And he called most unfortunate the president's apparent welcoming of Russian interference in our election. And that, I think, is the right answer and the important part of Mr. Mueller's testimony today.

SHAPIRO: As somebody who worked with Ken Starr in the '90s, I want to ask you about a comparison that came up in the hearing today when Wisconsin Republican Jim Sensenbrenner asked about Mueller's decision not to come to a conclusion on whether Trump committed impeachable offenses.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JIM SENSENBRENNER: Now, while I recognize that the independent counsel statute under which Kenneth Starr operated is different from the special counsel statute, he in a number of occasions in his report stated that the - President Clinton's actions may have risen to impeachable conduct. You never used the term raising to impeachable conduct.

SHAPIRO: Mueller replied that his team stayed focused on their mandate and, quote, "our mandate does not go to other ways of addressing conduct," such as impeachment. Do you think that was the right call by Mueller?

ROSENZWEIG: Yes, I do because he's got a different organic statute. You give me a different law, I go a different direction. Ken Starr under the now-lapsed independent counsel law was required - mandated - to report on substantial and credible evidence of impeachment to Congress. Robert Mueller was required by the regulation that governed his conduct to report in a confidential manner to the attorney general on prosecution only.

SHAPIRO: Just in our last 30 seconds or so, as a person who supports impeachment, do you think today's Mueller hearings persuaded anybody who might have been on the fence or opposed?

ROSENZWEIG: I think that today's hearings will confirm in everybody their pre-existing beliefs. Those who thought that President Trump is innocent as the driven snow will now see him as Snow White. Those who were convinced that he has committed crimes for which he could be charged outside of the context here, like me, came away reaffirmed in that belief.

SHAPIRO: Paul Rosenzweig, thank you very much.

ROSENZWEIG: Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: He's a former federal prosecutor and currently a senior fellow at the conservative think tank R Street Institute. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.