Donald Trump said Robert Mueller’s testimony on Capitol Hill was “one of the worst performances in the history of our country”. Meanwhile, for at least one Democratic congressman, it underscored the need to open impeachment hearings.
Over the course of more than five hours of quiet, rather than dramatic testimony on Capitol Hill, Mr Mueller defended the work of team of investigators and the report that was made public in April.
It is not clear whether the appearance of Mr Mueller will benefit the cause of those pushing for Mr Trump’s impeachment. Indeed, Nancy Pelosi said afterwards, there was no immediate plans to open proceedings.
Some Democrats were said to have been disappointed the 74-year-old who once headed the FBI, had not provided more of a blockbuster, or provided a fresh bombshell.
At the same time, Mr Mueller’s public words were significant in a number of ways. There are five of the most important things:
Possible obstruction of justice
Mr Mueller said Trump tried to have him fired, asked the White House counsel to lie about it, and ordered aide Corey Lewandowski to limit the scope of his investigation. In his response to questions from Ted Lieu and later Adam Schiff, Mr Mueller may have not gone materially beyond what was in his report, but hearing him state this in person was a powerful moment.
The president repeatedly claims Mr Mueller’s report cleared him of both collusion with Russia and obstruction of justice. But the special counsel again denied this. Asked whether the report exonerated Mr Trump on the question of obstruction of justice, Mr Mueller said: “That is not what the report said. The president was not exculpated for the acts that he allegedly committed.”
President’s written answers were ‘generally’ untruthful
Mr Mueller made clear he would have preferred a sit down interview with the president rather than a written Q&A, but that he had to agree to that given the amount of time if would have taken to go through the courts to force a face-to-face. Mr Mueller said he had sent several follow up questions but received no response.
Asked by congresswoman Val Demmings, if Mr Trump’s written answers to questions were inadequate, incomplete and untruthful, Mr Mueller said: “Generally.”
Russian interference still continuing
Mr Mueller said the Trump campaign was aware of Russia’s efforts to help him in 2016. He denied the investigation was a “witch hunt”, and that it had found the Russian government “interfered in our election in sweeping and systematic fashion”.
He said Russia’s efforts in 2016 were not a “single attempt”. He said: “They’re doing it as we sit here.”
Mueller refused to be mouthpiece for Democrats’ pushing for Trump impeachment
Congresswoman Veronica Escobar asked Mr Mueller about a mention in his report about “constitutional processes for addressing presidential misconduct”, something those in favour of Mr Trump’s impeachment took as call to arms. Mr Mueller refused to answer when asked specifically whether one of those “processes” was impeachment.
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