In back-to-back testimony before two committees of the House of Representatives, the former special counsel may have not greatly changed the likelihood of whether or not Donald Trump will face impeachment.
But over the course of more than five hours of testimony, he refuted the president’s frequent claims he was cleared from obstruction of justice charges, confirmed Mr Trump had asked a former White House counsel to lie on his behalf, and said it was “generally true” the president’s sworn answers to him were incomplete and untruthful.
The president later claimed it was a great day for him and the Republicans, even though much of Mr Mueller’s testimony was utterly damning. “We had a very good day today,” said the president. “There was no defence of what Robert Mueller was trying to defend. There was no defence to this ridiculous hoax, this witch hunt.”
Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic House Judiciary chairman, asked Mr Mueller: “The president has repeatedly claimed that your report found that there was no obstruction and that it completely and totally exonerated him. But that is not what your report said is it?”
“Correct. It is not what the report said,” Mr Mueller told the committee.
“So the report did not conclude that he did not commit obstruction of justice? Is that correct,” the chairman asked.
“That is correct,” Mr Mueller replied.
Mr Mueller declined to implicate the president in any specific criminal act or indicate whether he would have charged Mr Trump with obstruction of justice if he were not currently the sitting president of the United States. Democrats repeatedly suggested the sole reason Mr Trump was not charged in the investigation was due to guidelines that said a sitting president cannot be indicted – a claim the former special counsel appeared to agree with when speaking to California Democrat Ted Lieu, before later retracting his comments in his second testimony on Wednesday.
“Although Department policy barred you from indicting the president for this conduct, you made clear that he is not exonerated,” House judiciary chairman Jerrold Nadler said in his opening statement. “Any other person who acted this way would have been charged with a crime. And in this nation, not even the president is above the law.”
Mr Mueller continued to make clear during his testimony on Wednesday that Mr Trump was not cleared of obstruction of justice, saying at one point, “The president was not exculpated for the acts that he allegedly committed.”
He also noted his team did not “address ‘collusion,’ which is not a legal term,” during his opening remarks.
The former special counsel’s 448-page report on Russian interference in the 2016 election did not fully exonerate the president as Mr Trump has repeatedly claimed. “If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” the report reads. “We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime.”
On Wednesday, Mr Mueller made clear that Mr Trump could still face obstruction of justice charges when he is no longer president.
“Under Department of Justice policy, the president could be prosecuted for obstruction of justice crimes after he leaves office, correct?” Mr Nadler asked.
“True,” Mr Mueller replied.
The former special counsel also described in detail Russia’s “sweeping and systematic” efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. He said he did not find sufficient evidence to connect the president to these efforts in a criminal conspiracy.
Before Mr Mueller arrived at Capitol Hill on Wednesday for his back-to-back testimonies before Congressional committees, over 80 House Democrats expressed support for launching an impeachment inquiry into the president.
It remains unclear for now whether the former special counsel’s public testimony will increase calls for impeachment across Washington and beyond. An NBC News and Wall Street Journal poll published on 14 July showed 21 per cent of registered voters felt Congress had enough evidence to begin impeachment hearings.
Mr Trump launched a series of attacks against the former special counsel on Twitter ahead of his public testimony on Wednesday, writing, “So why didn’t the highly conflicted Robert Mueller investigate how and why Crooked Hillary Clinton deleted and acid washed 33,000 Emails immediately AFTER getting a SUBPOENA from the United States Congress? She must have GREAT lawyers!”
The president also tweeted his frequent, all-caps claim: “NO COLLUSION, NO OBSTRUCTION!”
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