Mueller muddles through Judiciary Committee testimony

July 25, 2019

In more than three hours of testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday morning, July 24, former Special Counsel Robert Mueller refused to answer many questions, saying they were outside his purview; responded to others with only a “yes” or a “no;” refrained from reading relevant portions of his own report—and did not add any personal color to the story line on the president’s efforts to obstruct the investigation.

Overall, his performance did not deliver the dramatic narrative, or the television moment, that Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-New York) and his Democratic committee members had hoped would captivate the American audience.

However, the former special counsel did clarify a number of points—putting the kibosh on the president’s constant claims of “TOTAL EXONERATON. NO COLLUSION.”

Director Mueller,” Nadler asked, “the president has repeatedly claimed that your report found there was no obstruction and that it completely and totally exonerated him, but that is not what your report said, is it?”

“Correct,” Mueller replied. “That is not what the report said.”

“So the report did not conclude that he did not commit obstruction of justice, is that correct?” Nadler asked.

“That is correct,” Mueller replied.

“And what about total exoneration? Did you totally exonerate the president?” Nadler continued.

“No,” Mueller said.

“Does your report state there is sufficient factual and legal basis for further investigation of potential obstruction of justice by the president?” Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) later inquired.

“Yes,” Mueller replied.

What’s more, in a line of questioning by Representative Ted Lieu (D-California), the legislator got Mueller to agree that the reason he did not indict Trump for obstruction was that he deferred to the opinion of the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

When asked, Mueller also confirmed that Russia was working on Donald Trump’s behalf during the 2020 presidential campaign.

“Did your investigation find that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from one of the candidates winning?” Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-California) entreated him.

“It did,”Mueller replied.

Lofgren then asked for specificity: “Which one?”

“Well,” Mueller said, “it would be Trump.”

In fact, Mueller went on to say, “During the course of my career I have seen a number of challenges to our democracy”—and noted that the Russian interference into the 2020 elections was “the worst.”

Finally, as Republicans tried to make points, frequently shouting, Representative Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) attempted to establish that Mueller had been “conflicted” in carrying out the investigation because he had interviewed with Trump the day before for the position of FBI director.

 “Not as a candidate,” Mueller replied. He noted that he met with Trump on May 16, 2017, to discuss the then-vacant FBI director position, a position that he once had held— but not because he was a candidate for the job. He said he merely outlined what it would take to do the job.

Indeed, as The Washington Post’s Devlin Barrett tweeted, Mueller is barred by law from holding the FBI director position again. Barrett’s sources did say that White House staffers raised the possibility of changing that law, but that doesn’t comport with Trump’s presentation of Mueller as having gotten “turned down” in seeking the position.

Mueller was due to appear before the House Intelligence Committee during the afternoon session—where hopes that he would tell a colorful narrative on Russian interference that would shift public opinion still were high.

Research contact: @HouseJudiciary

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