The first hearing, before the House Judiciary Committee chaired by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), took place in the morning, and the second, before the House Intelligence Committee chaired by Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), took place in the afternoon.
6:45 p.m.: Republican leaders take a victory lap in wake of testimony
Republican leaders took a victory lap Wednesday evening – but refused to criticize Mueller’s performance. Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the Judiciary Committee’s ranking member, argued that if Democrats thought he underperformed, it was simply because they “didn’t like how he answered” questions and were “trying to find a way to salvage something.”
“The Democrats say they want to paint a picture -- well, why don’t we start with today,” Collins said. “Someone asked, did you find out anything new? The answer is no. We’ve had the report for three months, and Mr. Mueller simply said what was in the report.”
Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said he thought Trump caught some of the Mueller hearing. He expressed sympathy for the “poor president” having had to suffer through the last three years of investigations. Asked whether he has any concerns about Trump’s behavior as outlined in the report, McCarthy said, “No, I do not. This president has not done anything wrong.”
Republicans also disputed Democratic leaders’ claim that they were continuing the investigation for love of democracy and country.
“When you’re so focused on stopping the president it’s actually tough to do what’s best for the country and... tough to do what’s best for our election system,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said.
6:30 p.m.: Pelosi’s resistance to impeachment unchanged after hearing
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has been reluctant to launch impeachment proceedings against Trump, signaled Wednesday that her position has not changed after Mueller’s testimony.
“We still have some outstanding matters in the courts. It’s about the Congress, the Constitution and the courts,” she said at a news conference with three of her committee chairmen -- Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), chairman of the House Oversight Committee.
Pelosi said Mueller “affirmed in public what the Mueller report put forth.” She praised the work of her committee chairmen and said Congress would continue to exercise its oversight authority of the Trump administration.
“Investigating so we have grist for the mill to litigate in the court,” Pelosi said.
6:24 p.m.: The reaction to Mueller’s testimony, outside the fundraiser in W.Va. where Trump is headed
WHEELING, W.Va. — Crowds of supporters and protesters gathered on opposing sides of the street here ahead of Trump’s arrival Wednesday night after a day of testimony from Mueller.
The president’s supporters were defiant. Fred Nicholson, 52, echoed Trump and described the Russia investigation as “a witch hunt.”
“Nothing is going to come of it,” he said. “I don’t think it’s damaging to Trump at all. Today Mueller just said what he’s said before, nothing’s going to hurt him.”
Sarah Moorhead, 38, added: “I haven’t been keeping up with it today, but I looked at Facebook and again it looks like there’s no collusion and it should be left alone. I’m tired of hearing about it, the report has come out, I think it’s a dead issue and we need to move on because America is doing great right now.”
Protesters shouted “vote him out” and “this is what America looks like.” The majority of those asked said they have given up on the idea of impeachment and just want to see the president voted out of office in 2020.
Teddie Grogan, 70, said she thought that Mueller had not given the performance he should have. “I was so very disappointed in the way he presented himself, he stumbled and didn’t know where things were,” she said.
“He just didn’t come across as the strong patriot that I’ve known in the past, that has confronted and talked back to politicians,” Grogan said. “I felt let down today. It’s not about politics for me, it’s about my country. I just hope people watched it and caught some of what happened.”
On the question of impeachment, she said: “I’d rather see him voted out of office, but I’m so afraid he won’t be. I wish they would hold impeachment hearings, just to get the information out there.”
Another protester, 28-year-old Alexa Weiss, said that at the “very least” the report had shown that Trump was guilty of a “conspiracy to interfere with the election, at worse, treason.”
“I think at this point impeachment is just taking up more time,” she added. “We need to get out and vote next election to put this in the past.”
Trump landed in Wheeling at 6:03 p.m., and after a few minutes of shaking hands and posing for photos with supporters at the airport, he was off to WesBanco Arena for his fundraiser.
5:17 p.m.: Mueller did not mean to imply Trump’s written answers were untruthful, person familiar with his investigation says
One of the more notable moments in the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing was when Mueller appeared to agree with Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) when she asserted that when Trump supplied written answers to Mueller’s investigators, “he wasn’t always being truthful.”
Demings, a former law enforcement officer, asked: “Director Mueller, isn’t it fair to say the president’s written answers were not only inadequate and incomplete, because he didn’t answer many of your questions, but where he did, his answers showed that he wasn’t always being truthful?”
Mueller paused and then began an answer, “There…” he said. Then he said, “I would say, generally.”
The answer left some room for interpretation. But a person familiar with Mueller’s account said he was not trying to agree with every part of Demings premise, and was focused more on Trump’s answers being “incomplete” rather than untruthful.
“In answering ‘generally,’ Mueller did not mean to agree with every phrase in that question,” the person said. “The Mueller report, which is the statement of record here, is what stands, and in the Mueller report, it states that the president’s written answers were ‘incomplete’ or ‘imprecise.’ ”
4:45 p.m.: New questions about Flynn and Kushner
Mueller’s statement that ongoing FBI investigations prevented him from discussing whether former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s lies posed a national security threat came as news to the intelligence committee, according to a senior Democratic aide.
Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) had checked with Mueller to make sure he was referring to a current investigation during his testimony. The panel has yet to speak with Flynn for its own investigation, an interview that has been tabled until September at the earliest, given the committee’s focus this week on Mueller.
Flynn, who admitted to lying about his communications with then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak, is one of several potential witnesses who has yet to fully comply with an intelligence panel subpoena, though aides said they have begun to receive documents related to his expected eventual testimony.
The aides added that Mueller’s testimony about potential national security risks from foreign contacts “raises more questions about Jared Kushner,” the president’s son-in-law and adviser, particularly related to Kushner’s personal and business contacts in the Persian Gulf.
4:30 p.m.: Trump declares it a ‘very good day,’ calls Mueller investigation a ‘witch hunt’
Emerging from the Oval Office after the hearing had ended, Trump declared the White House had a “very good day” and asserted there was “no defense of what Robert Mueller was trying to defend.” He said Mueller did “horrible” job in testifying and called the event a “devastating day” for Democrats.
“This has been a very bad thing for our country,” Trump said. “And despite everything we’ve been through, it’s been an incredible two-and-a-half years for our country.”
Trump spoke just before boarding Marine One en route to a fundraiser in West Virginia. He renewed some of his consistent attacks on Mueller’s investigation, calling it “phony” and saying Mueller did not have the right to “exonerate” — as Mueller had pointedly declared he could not do.
“What he showed more than anything else is that this whole thing has been three years of embarrassment and waste of time for our country,” Trump said.
Asked if he was worried that he could be indicted once out of office, Trump criticized the reporter who asked the question as “fake news” and “one of the worst.” He defended his decision not to sit for an interview with Mueller.
“I’ve seen how they’ve destroyed people,” Trump said. “I did the right thing.”
4 p.m.: RNC says ‘case closed’ after Mueller hearings
The Republican National Committee issued a statement describing the Mueller hearings as “a disaster for Democrats.”
“After three years, millions of taxpayer dollars and countless lies from Democrats, Mueller just reaffirmed what we’ve known all along: There was no collusion and no obstruction. Case closed,” Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said.
The Trump campaign once again accused Democrats of conducting a “witch hunt.”
“This entire spectacle has always been about the Democrats trying to undo the legitimate result of the 2016 election and today they again failed miserably,” Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said.
3:30 p.m.: The hearing has ended
The hearing has ended. Almost precisely as it did so, Trump tweeted, “TRUTH IS A FORCE OF NATURE!”
3:25 p.m.: Mueller appears to agree, ‘generally,’ that Trump’s written answers were not always truthful
Mueller appeared to agree with Democrat Val Demings (D-Fla.) on Wednesday when she asserted that when Trump supplied written answers to Mueller’s investigators, “he wasn’t always being truthful.”
Demings, a former law enforcement officer, asked: “Director Mueller, isn’t it fair to say the president’s written answers were not only inadequate and incomplete, because he didn’t answer many of your questions, but where he did, his answers showed that he wasn’t always being truthful?”
Mueller paused and then began an answer, “There…” he said. Then he said, “I would say, generally.”
The first part of Demings assertion — that Trump’s answers were inadequate and incomplete — is found in Mueller’s report. But the report does not assert that Trump’s answers were untruthful. The accusation would mark a serious escalation in Mueller’s criticisms of the president’s conduct.
It is not clear how forcefully Mueller was intending to endorse that idea. At other points in his testimony, he answered “generally,” as a way to agree with parts of long questions but apparently to suggest he was not necessarily agreeing with every word.
A spokesman for Mueller did not immediately respond to a question about whether he was intending to say that the president’s written answers were not truthful.
3:20 p.m.: Mueller agrees that accepting foreign election assistance is ‘unpatriotic’
In bringing the hearing to a close, Schiff sought Mueller’s agreement that Trump’s behavior was unethical and wrong if not criminal, and he largely succeeded.
Mueller agreed with Schiff’s characterization that seeking campaign assistance from a foreign power was “unpatriotic” and “wrong,” and that candidates for high office must be held to a high standard. Mueller had previously said that, in general, accepting assistance from a foreign power is a crime.
Mueller also agreed that when government officials lie, it can open them up to blackmail. Speaking about former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s lies to the FBI about his conversations with the former Russian ambassador to the United States, Schiff said the Russians knew about those calls and asked if they could have exposed Flynn’s lies. “Yes,” Mueller said.
Mueller also agreed that the Russian government could have revealed that Trump wasn’t telling the truth about how long into his campaign he had been in talks about a potential real estate deal in Moscow. Schiff called such leverage “the stuff of counterintelligence nightmares,” a characterization Mueller didn’t dispute. Mueller added that it spoke to the need for a “strong counterintelligence entity” to ward against foreign governments compromising U.S. public officials.
“We are all left to wonder whether the president is representing us or his financial interests,” Schiff said.
3:15 p.m.: Mueller’s silent partner
After a last-minute rush to include Mueller’s longtime aide in Wednesday’s proceedings, the aide didn’t say a single word – apart from being sworn in for the House Intelligence Committee’s questioning.
Aaron Zebley, who served as a sort of chief of staff to Mueller during the course of his probe, sat next to the former special counsel during both sessions of Wednesday’s hearing. He was not officially a witness during the House Judiciary Committee’s session, but was sworn in by the House Intelligence Committee, despite panel Republicans raising concerns with the unorthodox move.
Nevertheless, Zebley stayed a silent partner throughout, neither fielding nor answering any questions, nor interjecting any responses to queries directed toward Mueller.
Lawmakers thanked him for being part of the proceedings anyway.
3:10 p.m.: What Mueller didn’t do is a roadmap for the intel panel
Mueller’s report left several avenues of inquiry untouched, which he laid out under questioning from Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) Wednesday, in effect, ticking off areas the Democrat-led House Intelligence Committee will continue to pursue after this hearing.
Mueller agreed that his report had not detailed “the president’s financial ties or dealings with Russia,” nor whether oligarchs ever tried to engage” in money laundering through the president’s businesses,” as Krishnamoorthi put it. Mueller said he was never instructed not to touch Trump’s finances – but those matters were clearly less central to his probe than they are to the intelligence panel.
Panel chairman Schiff has said that following the money trail is an essential part of examining the potential counterintelligence concerns associated with Trump’s actions regarding foreign actors, especially the Russians. Mueller told Krishnamoorthi that “counterintelligence goals of our investigation…were secondary to any criminal ones.”
He also declined to detail whether former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s false statement could pose a national security risk, saying he could not address those matters because the FBI is “currently” looking at “aspects of that particular issue.”
3:05 p.m.: Mueller: Special counsel could have hit Trump with subpoena but figured the president would fight it and prolong probe
Mueller said the special counsel team understood that it “could subpoena the president” but chose not to because they assumed Trump would fight it and extend the investigation for a “substantial period of time.”
In his most extensive comments yet on the decision not to compel Trump to sit down for an interview, Mueller conceded the president’s written answers to questions — which he ultimately had to settle for in place of an interview — were “certainly not as useful as the interview would be.” From the outset, he said, “one of the things we wanted to accomplish in that was having the interview of the president.”
But Mueller said negotiations over a sit-down dragged on for more than a year, and “we decided that we did not want to exercise the subpoena powers because of the necessity of expediting the end of the investigation.”
Asked if Justice Department officials had somehow undercut his authority to issue a subpoena, Mueller said, “We understood we could subpoena the president.”
Mueller said that investigators determined they had significant evidence of Trump’s intent, and they balanced that against “how much time you are willing to spend in the courts litigating an interview with the president.” He said they assumed Trump “would fight the subpoena.”
3 p.m.: Mueller stays tight-lipped on allegations of spies in our midst, foreign or domestic
Mueller declined to answer whether his report had featured individuals who acted as informants or sources to the U.S. government without identifying them as such, in response to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) asking him for that information.
“It is important for this committee to know if [Konstantin] Kilimnik has ties to our own State Department, which it appears he does,” Nunes said, as an example of why he was asking. Mueller said that delved into areas he was “loath” to get into.
Neither would he offer further details on whether Konstantin Kilimnik -- a dual citizen of Russia and Ukraine who was Paul Manafort’s longtime business associate — or other individuals suspected of being Russian intelligence agents actually were.
Nunes’s questions followed his earlier queries about the potential intelligence affiliations of Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese professor whose tip-off to former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton eventually set off the FBI’s investigation of Trump’s campaign. GOP leaders have devoted time Wednesday toward suggesting that various players in the Russia probe might have been part of a greater Western intelligence network interested in undermining Trump.
2:55 p.m.: ‘I hope this is not the new normal’
Former special counsel Mueller told members of Congress that he hopes future campaigns don’t think it’s acceptable to take assistance from foreign governments.
In response to questions from Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) about contacts between the Trump campaign asking if there has been a “new normal established that’s going to apply to future campaigns,” Mueller said: “I hope this is not the new normal, but I fear it is.”
That came after Welch noted that Mueller’s report found there was insufficient evidence to prove a criminal conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign. But, Welch asked, that doesn’t mean the investigation turned up no evidence that such a conspiracy existed, does it?
“Absolutely correct,” Mueller said.
Republicans have often said Mueller’s report found no such evidence and have tried during Wednesday’s hearing to get Mueller to agree. Trump has adopted as a daily mantra that Mueller found “no collusion.”
In response to questioning, Mueller appeared to struggle to repeat a section of the report that explains that the investigators specifically did not evaluate whether Trump or anyone around him had “colluded” with Russia, because, as the report said, “collusion is not a specific offense or theory of liability” found in U.S. law.
“We don’t use the word collusion,” Mueller said. “Not collusion but one of other terms that fills in when collusion is not used.”
“Conspiracy?” Welch interjected.
2:50 p.m.: Mueller shoots down Trump-Alfa Bank server story
In a rare moment of revelation, Mueller said that he doesn’t think that a server used by the Trump Organization was communicating with a server at a Russian bank in a way that suggested some nefarious purpose.
Rep. Will Hurd (R-Tex.) questioned Mueller about a story that first appeared in Slate examining mysterious communications between the Trump server and one used by Alfa Bank, which to some researchers said appeared deliberate and possible evidence of corrupt intent.
“I believe it’s not true,” Mueller said of the story’s findings, emphasizing that just because he doesn’t believe it doesn’t mean his team didn’t investigate it. On that matter, Mueller declined to comment.
The matter has been an enduring mystery surrounding possible ties between Trump and Russians. Mueller’s report makes no mention of the communications between the two servers, which some researchers have said may be evidence merely that the two servers were exchanging spam or marketing messages.
Mueller also offered another policy recommendation: that Congress should pursue “aggressively” any legislation that might improve cooperation among the FBI and intelligence agencies to guard against election interference.
2:45 p.m.: A more forceful, in-command Mueller, concerned about foreign election meddling
Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee in the morning, Mueller had a few notable stumbles. He misstated which president had nominated him to serve as the top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts. (Mueller guessed George H.W. Bush. In fact, it was Ronald Reagan.) He flubbed one of his report’s critical assertions, suggesting that Justice Department policy that prevents the indictment of sitting president is what stopped his team from charging Trump, when the special counsel actually made no decision on whether Trump should be charged.
But before the House Intelligence Committee, Mueller has appeared far more forceful and in command. At the outset, he corrected his assertion about Justice Department policy and its affect on a charging decision. He offered an impassioned plea for policymakers to address Russian meddling in the U.S. elections, and he forcefully noted the Russian efforts were not over.
“They’re doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it in the next campaign,” he said. He also said that “many more countries” were developing such capabilities.
On several occasions, he also pointedly took issue with Trump’s behavior and characterizations of the special counsel’s work. At one point, he said that “problematic is an understatement” to describe Trump’s favorable comments about WikiLeaks, and he accused the president of “giving some hope or some boost to what is and should be illegal behavior.”
2:40 p.m.: Did Mueller leak?
Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) accused Mueller of doing an unsatisfactory job preventing leaks from his investigation from getting to the press, and he suggested that Trump deserved an apology for having so much negative attention directed his way if he was not ultimately indicted.
“I do not believe we would be responsible for leaks,” Mueller said. “I do believe that we have done a good job of ensuring that no leaks occur.”
But Stewart said he could cite 25 instances of news reports that he suspected came from Mueller’s probe, asking him about two: why CNN had managed to capture the FBI raid on Roger Stone’s home, and why there were reports that members of Mueller’s team believed the attorney general had misrepresented portions of his report.
Mueller said he had no knowledge of any leaks regarding those matters; his team was indeed famous for being tight-lipped. CNN has publicly stated that it set up cameras outside of Stone’s home after observing the special counsel’s actions for over a year and guessing that Stone could soon be targeted.
Mueller argued that he had “undertaken to make sure that we minimize the possibility of leaks, and I think we were successful.”
“Well I wish you were more successful, sir,” Stewart quipped.
2:30 p.m.: Mitch McConnell fundraises off Mueller hearing
Trump’s presidential campaign sent an email to supporters earlier Wednesday asking for donations as Mueller’s testimony was underway. Now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) campaign is doing the same.
“House Democrats will never stop harassing President Trump,” McConnell’s campaign account tweeted in the afternoon. “Imagine if they controlled the Senate too. Please donate right now and help Mitch stop them.”
McConnell is up for reelection in 2020; among the rival candidates who have thrown their hats in the ring is Democrat Amy McGrath, a retired Marine and combat pilot.
2:25 p.m.: Republicans offer props to Mueller — the theatrical kind
Three of the first Republican members on the House Intelligence Committee to question Mueller on Wednesday wielded props to help make their points, adding visual flair to the hearing’s second session as the GOP attempted to poke holes in Mueller’s work.
Panel ranking member Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) opened the GOP’s questions by displaying a picture of Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud with British politician Boris Johnson, who just took over as the U.K.’s prime minister. The portrait was to illustrate how Mifsud – who told former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton – had relationships with Western leaders. The GOP has tried to suggest that Mifsud may have been part of a Western intelligence scheme to entrap Trump.
Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) later displayed a large board featuring Mueller’s own words from his report, stating that “the investigation did not establish that members of Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” He also held up a binder that he said contained 25 examples of leaks he believed came from Mueller’s probe.
But the most original props came from Rep. Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio), who used his time to make the case that Mueller’s focus on having not “exonerated” Trump – a phrase Democrats have leaped on – was “misleading, and it’s meaningless.”
To boost his argument that the attorney general had no real power to exonerate, Turner waved a hefty criminal law textbook he said came from Mueller’s law school (without mentioning that Mueller went to the University of Virginia, but hat-tipping his own law school, Case Western). He then displayed a screen shot of a CNN broadcast from earlier in the day, stating Mueller’s line about exoneration in the chyron.
Not to be outdone, Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell (Calif.) also offered up a prop of his own: a chart of the various Trump campaign aides, transition team officials and business associates who had been found guilty of lying to the FBI and Congress, and other crimes.
2:10 p.m.: Mueller asserts Trump’s statements about WikiLeaks are “problematic” and give “hope or some boost” to illegal activity
Mueller said he found repeated statements by Trump during the campaign praising WikiLeaks to be “problematic” -- his most pointed criticism of Trump’s behavior since beginning congressional testimony.
Asked by Rep Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) if he agreed with a comment from then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo that WikiLeaks functions as a “hostile intelligence service,” Mueller said that he did. Mueller noted that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been indicted.
Quigley then read aloud from comments Trump made during the campaign after WikiLeaks had published documents stolen from Democrats. Mueller’s prosecutors have alleged that the emails were hacked by Russian military intelligence officers and then published by the group. Trump at one point said, “I love WikiLeaks,” making praise for the group a staple of his campaign rallies before the election. Donald Trump Jr. tweeted a link to stolen documents that, according to Mueller’s report, had been provided to him by WikiLeaks in a Twitter direct message.
Mueller replied that he did indeed find the elder Trump’s comments disturbing.
“Problematic is an understatement in terms of what it displays of giving some hope or some boost to what is and should be illegal behavior,” Mueller said.
2 p.m.: Mueller warns U.S. needs to guard against Russian interference
Mueller has so far not offered much personal opinion about what he investigated. But he took an opportunity to call on U.S. leaders to move “swiftly” to address Russia’s interference in the nation’s democratic process.
“We have underplayed to a certain extent that aspect of our investigation,” Mueller said, adding that Russia’s multipronged effort to undermine the 2016 election could do “long-term damage to the United States that we need to move quickly to address.”
Mueller said his team wrote their report so “it would be our living message to those who came after us.” They intended it to serve as “a signal” to others who are responsible for protecting the integrity of the democratic process -- “don’t let this problem continue to linger as it has over so many years,” he said.
1:50: “You have no more power to declare him exonerated than you have to declare him Anderson Cooper”
Republicans kept up their attacks on Mueller’s assertion that the president could not be exonerated, arguing that it was an unfair standard that goes against traditional prosecutorial practice.
Stacking law books in front of him, Rep. Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio) sarcastically asked Mueller to point him to any legal code about Justice Department exonerations.
Mueller defended that language in the report, saying Attorney General William P. Barr should know how his investigators came down on the question.
“You have no more power to declare him exonerated than you have to declare him Anderson Cooper,” Turner said, referring to the CNN anchor. “The statement about exoneration is misleading, it’s meaningless, and it colors this investigation.”
:45 p.m.: Mueller says campaign officials who are offered foreign assistance should report approaches to FBI
Mueller said he believes campaign officials given offers of assistance by foreign powers should report those approaches to the FBI.
“I would think that’s something they would and should do,” he said, in response to questions from Rep. Terri A. Sewell (D-Ala.) about the Trump campaign’s failure to report a meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in June 2016.
However, Mueller steadfastly refused to endorse Sewell’s description of that meeting as “illegal” or to sign on when she asked if he didn’t think the American people should be concerned that three senior Trump aides attended the meeting.
“I can’t accept that characterization,” he said.
Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. accepted the meeting after he was told by a music promoter that the lawyer would bring damaging information about Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help elect Trump. The promoter, Rob Goldstone, has said his email was an exaggeration and that he was not aware of a Russian effort to elect Trump at the time.
After Mueller submitted his report, Trump was asked by ABC News whether he would report to the FBI any offers of assistance or dirt about his opponent in 2020, and he indicated he might not.
“I think you might want to listen; there isn’t anything wrong with listening,” Trump continued. “If somebody called from a country, Norway, [and said] ‘we have information on your opponent’ -- oh, I think I’d want to hear it.”
1:40 p.m.: Mueller confirms social media campaign meant to benefit Trump
Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) pressed Mueller on the Russian social media influence campaign and got the former special counsel to say unequivocally who it was meant to help.
“Who did the Russian social media campaign ultimately intend to benefit, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?” Himes asked.
“Donald Trump,” Mueller responded, though then added, “Donald Trump, but there were instances where Hillary Clinton was subject to much the same behavior.”
When Himes pressed him to say if the effort affected the election results, Mueller deflected.
“I’m not going to speculate,” he said.
1:35 p.m.: White House calls Mueller testimony “an epic embarrassment”
Shortly before Mueller took his seat before the House Intelligence Committee, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham weighed in on Mueller’s morning testimony before the Judiciary Committee.
“The last three hours have been an epic embarrassment for the Democrats,” Grisham said. “Expect more of the same in the second half.”
Trump later tweeted: “I would like to thank the Democrats for holding this morning’s hearing. Now, after 3 hours, Robert Mueller has to subject himself to #ShiftySchiff - an Embarrassment to our Country!”
1:32 p.m.: Nunes accuses officials of being dishonest about Russia probe origins
The intelligence panel’s top Republican accused federal officials, including Mueller, of being dishonest about when the FBI started investigating Trump’s alleged Russia ties – suggesting their work started much earlier than the July 31, 2016 start date that has been given.
Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) raised several questions as to why Mueller had not investigated the earlier role of Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud, who told former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos that the Russians had compromising information on Hillary Clinton, ultimately prompting the whole Russia probe. Nunes asked Mueller why he never named Mifsud as a Russian agent, why the FBI took several months to interview him and why Mueller never charged Mifsud with a crime, though he had lied to federal investigators.
Nunes also asked Mueller about several figures connected to Trump campaign officials who moved in British intelligence circles. But Mueller refused to comment about those matters beyond acknowledging that he had not indicted Mifsud.
“I stand by that which is in the report and not so to that which is not in the report,” he said.
1:30 p.m.: Republicans object to Mueller’s deputy being sworn in
Mueller was sworn in to the House Intelligence Committee with his deputy, Aaron Zebley. The move quickly drew a condemnation from Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.).
“This is highly unusual for Mr. Zebley to be sworn in. We’re here to ask director Mueller questions. He’s here as counsel,” Nunes said. “Our side is not going to be directing any questions to Mr. Zebley. And we have concerns about his prior representation of the Hillary Clinton campaign aide.”
Schiff said lawmakers were free to question whomever they wanted.
In early questioning, no one has asked Zebley a question; nor has he interjected to weigh in. He gave no opening statement. Mueller’s opening statement largely repeated what he said in the previous, House Judiciary Committee hearing, though he also discussed how his team handled counterintelligence information their probe uncovered.
He said the special counsel reached no “counterintelligence conclusions,” but set up a process to pass counterintelligence information to the FBI. Questions about what was done with that information, he told lawmakers, should be addressed to the bureau.
1:25 p.m.: Mueller: “It is not a witch hunt”
Former special counsel Mueller opened his session with the House Intelligence Committee pushing back against President Trump’s criticisms of his prosecutors’ work.
“It is not a witch hunt,” Mueller said, flatly, after he was asked by Schiff if Trump’s repeated statements about the special counsel investigation were accurate.
Mueller agreed that Russia interfered in the 2016 election and that the Trump campaign appeared to welcome that help. Trump, he agreed, had publicly called on the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails. Trump also pursued a business deal in Moscow while running for president. Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, had responded “I love it,” when asked if he was interested in dirt on Clinton provided as part of a Russian government effort to help his father.
And Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos all lied to the FBI.
“A number of persons that we interviewed in our investigation did lie,” Mueller said.
1:20 p.m.: Mueller opens with a correction
Mueller opened his House Intelligence Committee testimony with a notable correction to a statement he made earlier, suggesting his team would have charged Trump if not for Justice Department legal guidance that prohibits the indictment of sitting presidents.
The suggestion came during an exchange with Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) on the House Judiciary Committee. Mueller was asked if the reason he “did not indict Donald Trump is because of OLC opinion stating that you cannot indict a sitting president.”
“That is correct,” Mueller said.
That seemed to contradict what Mueller wrote in his report and what Mueller’s office had said previously, though Mueller passed an opportunity to clean it up at the earlier hearing. At the Intelligence Committee hearing, though, he returned to that moment.
“That is not the correct way to say it,” he said of Lieu’s description, adding later, “We did not reach a determination as to whether the president committed a crime.”
1:10 p.m.: Nunes compares Russia probe to the Loch Ness monster
“Welcome, everyone, to the last gasp of the Russia collusion conspiracy theory.” With that, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, signaled the direction he and fellow Republicans are likely to take their questioning in this second hearing with Mueller.
Nunes, one of the most stalwart skeptics of the origins of the FBI’s counterintelligence probe of the Trump campaign, unleashed a litany of well-known accusations against Mueller and his team, characterizing the probe as a misguided and politically motivated effort to stop Trump from becoming president that was hatched by an opposition research firm working with the Hillary Clinton campaign and an ex-British spy.
Nunes called the hearing a “spectacle” and “public theater” that was distracting the intelligence committee from its regular business. He also claimed Democrats had used Mueller’s appearance as another attempt to find “collusion” between Trump and Russia.
“Like the Loch Ness monster they insist it’s there even if no one can find it,” Nunes said.
1 p.m. Second hearing opens: Schiff accuses Trump of ‘disloyalty to country’
The House Intelligence Committee chairman opened the second half of Mueller’s testimony Wednesday by accusing Trump of “disloyalty to country,” which he defined as “something worse” than a crime: a violation of “the very obligation of citizenship.”
“Your investigation determined that the Trump campaign – including Trump himself – knew that a foreign power was intervening in our election and welcomed it, built Russian meddling into their strategy, and used it,” Schiff said – an argument he has repeated in recent weeks, and one that attempts to reconcile Mueller’s determination that he could not charge the president with a conspiracy with Democrats’ ongoing concerns that Trump’s actions nonetheless could present a threat to the country.
The second half of Mueller’s testimony will closely focus on the actions of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election and the Trump campaign alleged response – matters addressed in the first volume of Mueller’s report. The House Judiciary Committee focused on obstruction of justice, which is featured in the second volume of the report.
Schiff accused Trump of “a scheme to cover up, obstruct and deceive every bit as systematic and pervasive as the Russian disinformation campaign itself, but far more pernicious since this rot came from within” the country.
“To most Americans, that is the very definition of collusion, whether it is a crime or not,” he concluded.
12:30 p.m.: Where are they now?
Six aides and associates of President Trump were charged with crimes as part of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation. Here’s where they are now:
Michael Cohen: Otisville Federal Correctional Institution, Otisville, N.Y. Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison after he pleaded guilty to bank and tax fraud, as well as to lying to Congress about efforts to build a Trump Tower in Moscow during the campaign. He also pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations related to arranging pre-campaign payments for the silence of two women who said they’d had affairs with President Trump, payments Cohen said were directed by Trump. He recently released a statement from prison questioning why he has been the only person charged in connection with the scheme, given that he coordinated with both the president and executives of the Trump Organization.
Michael Flynn: Awaiting sentencing for lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition. Flynn resigned as Trump’s national security adviser 14 days after taking office after he lied to the vice president about the ambassador and then pleaded guilty in December 2017. He met repeatedly with the special counsel’s team, which endorsed Flynn’s request that he serve no prison time. However, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan told Flynn in December 2018 that he was disdainful of the retired general’s conduct and appeared prepared to sentence him to prison time. Flynn requested a delay in the sentencing so he could continue cooperating with the government. This summer, he changed lawyers, bringing on a new team that had been critical of the investigation. Prosecutors have said he then changed his account of work he conducted for Turkey while advising Trump’s campaign, causing them to skip calling him at the just-concluded trial of his former business partner, who was convicted Tuesday of serving as an unregistered Turkish agent. Sullivan has asked for a status update in Flynn’s case on Aug. 27.
Rick Gates: Trump’s former deputy campaign manager, Gates is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty in February 2018 to conspiracy to defraud the United States and lying to federal investigators related to his work as a political consultant in Ukraine before joining the Trump campaign and his boss Paul Manafort’s financial misdeeds. Gates cooperated with the Mueller team, meeting repeatedly with prosecutors to provide evidence and testifying against Manafort in Virginia in August 2018. A status report about his case is due to District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson on Aug. 30.
Paul Manafort: Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan. The former Trump campaign manager was convicted of bank and tax fraud by a jury in Virginia in August 2018. The following month, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the United States, failing to register as a foreign agent while working as a political consultant in Ukraine and attempting to tamper with witness testimony in the Mueller investigation and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. However, prosecutors later told a judge that they believed Manafort continued to lie to them, particularly about his interactions with a Russian employee the FBI has assessed has ties to Russian intelligence. He was sentenced to 7 ½ years in federal prison. He has been charged with bank fraud under New York state law and awaits trial.
George Papadopoulos: Living in Los Angeles, filming a docuseries about his life, active on Twitter. Papadopoulos pleaded guilty in October 2018 to lying to the FBI about details of his interactions with a Maltese professor who told him during he campaign that the Russians held damaging information about Democrat Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of emails. After publicly musing about potentially withdrawing his plea, he was sentenced in September 2018 to 14 days in prison and ultimately served 12 days at the Federal Correctional Institution in Oxford, Wis. He has written a book called Deep State Target and has become a Fox News staple, asserting that he was unfairly targeted by Justice Department opposed to President Trump. His lawyer has submitted a request asking that Trump pardon Papadopoulos.
Roger Stone: Awaiting trial on charges he lied to Congress about his efforts to contact WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange during the 2016 election. He has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to go on trial in Washington in November. He has been active in defending himself on social media, leading him to be scolded repeatedly by District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson. After ordering him not to speak publicly about the case, she recently expanded her gag order, requiring that he stay off social media until after his trial.
12:05 p.m.: Mueller misstates which president appointed him
Rep. Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.) caused an awkward moment for Mueller by trying to praise him.
When Stanton asked which president nominated Mueller to serve as the top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts, Mueller guessed George H.W. Bush. In fact, it was Ronald Reagan.
Republicans quickly seized on the misstep. Matt Schlapp, a key Trump ally, tweeted: “Devastating Mueller can’t remember that Reagan picked him to be a USA from Massachusetts.” As the morning hearing wore on, Republicans outside the hearing room repeatedly suggested Mueller’s answers show a poor command of the cases he oversaw.
12:01 p.m.: Republicans sharpen attacks on Mueller, alleging he was “barely involved” in team’s work
With Mueller’s testimony wrapping up, Republicans sharpened their attacks on the former special counsel. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) suggested that Mueller was removed from his own team’s work and raised questions about the sharpness of his testimony.
“The more this hearing goes on, the more it becomes painfully clear that not only did Bob Mueller not write his own report — he was barely involved or in control of it at all,” Meadows wrote on Twitter. “You know who was? His team of Democrats. This was a resistance-driven partisan witch hunt all along.”
Mueller has bristled at attacks on his team throughout the hearing, though because he has not discussed internal deliberations, his own precise role remains unclear.
Rudolph W. Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, also attacked the former special counsel on Twitter.
“Pathetic!” he wrote. “Whatever Bob’s past it’s being tarnished by being a LAP DOG for Dems. Then being destroyed on credibility, knowledge, competence and numerous ahs, pauses and excuses like ‘beyond my purview.’ It’s clear his purview was what his 18 Angry Dems wanted-to get Trump.”
11:55 p.m.: Mueller declines to talk impeachment
Concluding the Republicans’ questioning of Mueller, Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) launched a lengthy attack on Mueller’s team, what his investigation did not establish and what he refused to answer on Wednesday — especially the origins of the Russia probe. Then Johnson tried to get Mueller to throw cold water on Democrats’ impeachment efforts.
“Your report does not recommend impeachment, does it?” Johnson asked.
“I’m not going to talk about recommendations,” Mueller responded.
11:50 a.m.: Mueller defends his team
Mueller offered his staunchest defense of his team’s integrity, pushing back against Republican allegations that his lawyers were too biased against Trump to ever have been investigating his alleged Russia ties.
“I’ve been in this business for almost 25 years. In those 25 years, I’ve not had occasion once to ask about somebody’s political affiliation,” Mueller said. “It is not done. What I care about is the capability of the individual to do the job and do the job seriously and quickly and with integrity.”
Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.) had been grilling Mueller about his hiring and firing practices during the investigation, asking about former FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page — who were let go over anti-Trump texts they had exchanged while working on probes of Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton — and others who served on Mueller’s team but had outside political preferences or affiliations.
Armstrong was not satisfied with Mueller’s defense.
“It’s just simply not enough that you vouch for your team,” Armstrong said, arguing that it was important for Mueller to keep his team free of “the appearance of political conflicts of interest” as actual ones, because he could have guessed that about half of a politically divided country would be skeptical about his findings “no matter what this report concluded.”
11:45 a.m.: Mueller won’t say whether Russian interference affected election’s outcome
Rep. Greg Steube (R-Fla.) tried to get Mueller to say that he had no evidence that Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election affected a single vote in the United States. Mueller, however, wouldn’t play ball.
Aides to President Trump told Mueller’s investigators that Trump hated the investigation because he thought it would undermine his victory on election night. Steube sought to confirm that that was not true.
“Did you obtain any evidence at all that any American voter changed their vote” because of the Russian effort, Steube asked.
“I can’t speak to that,” Mueller said, later adding: “It was outside my purview.”
Steube shot back skeptically: “Russian meddling was outside your purview?”
Mueller added: “The impact of that meddling was undertaken by other agencies.”
Steube also asked Mueller if he remembered interviewing for the job of FBI director just a day before he was appointed as special counsel. Mueller said that he met with the president to discuss the job but did not consider himself a real candidate for the position.
11:40 a.m.: Cline accuses Mueller of overbroad interpretation of laws
Rep. Ben Cline (R-Va.) accused Mueller of improperly investigating Trump for potential obstruction of justice using an overbroad interpretation of relevant laws that had not been supported by courts — charging that by Mueller’s standards, even former president Barack Obama could be charged.
“I’m concerned about your over-criminalizing conduct by officials and private citizens alike,” Cline said to Mueller.
“To emphasize how broad it is,” Cline recalled how in 2015, Obama opined that Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state hadn’t created a national security problem. “Couldn’t President Obama be charged for obstruction of justice?” Cline asked.
Mueller dismissed the allegations, and defended his lawyers against Cline’s charges that their team’s interpretation of the laws was incorrect.
11:32 a.m.: The impact of false information
Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) focused brief questions on the impact of false information provided to investigators looking into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“Let’s talk about lies,” she said, asking Mueller about his experience with witnesses who did not tell the truth. Mueller said he recalled a range of problematic witnesses “including those not telling the whole truth and those who were outright liars.”
Demings asked whether it was correct to say that “lies impeded the investigation.”
Mueller responded: “I would generally agree with that.”
11:30 a.m.: A rare Mueller pushback
During his questioning, Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.), who served as a lawyer in the Navy and later as a judge in Pennsylvania, accused Mueller of including only “the very worst” information about President Trump even though he knew that Trump would not be indicted and that the report would be made public.
“Not true,” Mueller replied, in a rare moment of pushback against Republican attacks on his team’s integrity.
Mueller said that the team “strove to put in exculpatory evidence” about Trump’s conduct. Mueller said the team had to make choices about what to include. He agreed that prosecutors would generally avoid putting damaging information about a person who wasn’t being charged. But, he added, “most cases are not done in the context of the president.”
He also pushed back when Reschenthaler said the team had decided not to indict the president. “No,” Mueller said. “We made a decision not to decide whether to prosecute or not.”
Still, Reschenthaler concluded his remarks by declaring Mueller’s report to be “un-American.”
11:27 a.m.: Democrats seek confirmation on Trump’s possible influencing of witness testimony
As part one of the hearing on obstruction wound down, Democrats continued to walk Mueller through findings in his report and seek his verbal confirmation of various episodes described in it — a far cry from the hopes the party had that Mueller would bring the report to life for a live TV audience.
Congressional Progressive Caucus leader Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) asked Mueller to confirm Trump’s moves to try to influence witness testimony through his public praise of former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. According to Mueller’s report, Trump lashed out at witnesses who were cooperating with the investigation, including his onetime personal attorney Michael Cohen, but he publicly praised Manafort, who prosecutors later accused of lying and withholding information.
The former special counsel had noted in the report that while Trump’s actions largely played out publicly through tweets, it could have affected witness testimony. The president has the power to pardon people accused of criminal conduct.
“Anyone else who did these things would be prosecuted for them. We must ensure no one is above the law,” Jayapal said.
11:25 a.m.: Mueller appears to contradict himself on whether he would have indicted Trump if DOJ rules let him
In one of the most notable moments of the hearing, Mueller seemed to contradict himself and his report with what appeared to be a bombshell admission to Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.). Asked if the reason he “did not indict Donald Trump is because of OLC opinion stating that you cannot indict a sitting president.”
“That is correct,” Mueller said.
That suggestion — that but for Justice Department regulations, Mueller would have indicted Trump — seemed a critical departure from what Mueller wrote in his report, which is that he never addressed the question of whether the president could be indicted because Justice Department regulations prevented him from doing so.
Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) also noted that it seemed to stand in contrast to a May statement Mueller’s office issued in conjunction with the Justice Department stating, “The Attorney General has previously stated that the Special Counsel repeatedly affirmed that he was not saying that, but for the OLC opinion, he would have found the President obstructed justice. The Special Counsel’s report and his statement today made clear that the office concluded it would not reach a determination — one way or the other — about whether the President committed a crime. There is no conflict between these statements.”
Mueller then declined to stand by the May statement.
“I would have to look at it more closely before I said I agree with it,” he said.
“My conclusion is that what you told Mr. Lieu really contradicts what you said in the report,” Lesko responded, adding, “I just say there’s a conflict.”
11:20 a.m.: Mueller defends the integrity of his investigation
Building on Republicans’ efforts to undermine the evidence on which Mueller based his report, Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) grilled Mueller on whether he interviewed an associate of former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort whom the FBI says has ties to Russian intelligence. Mueller found that Manafort shared campaign data with the individual, Konstantin Kilimnick.
McClintock referred to news reports that have claimed Kilimnick was an intelligence source for the State Department, to discredit Mueller’s findings of his Russian connections.
“I don’t necessarily credit what you’re saying,” Mueller said, adding that he was “not going into the ins and outs” of his investigation.
McClintock then accused the former special counsel of investigating Trump for political motives.
“It’s starting to look like having desperately tried and failed to make a legal case against the president, you made a political case instead,” McClintock said. “You put it in a paper sack, lit it on fire, dropped it on our porch, rang the doorbell and ran.”
In a rare moment of defending his investigation, Mueller replied, “I don’t think you will review a report that is as thorough, as fair, as consistent as the report that we have in front of us.”
11:15 a.m.: Trump’s campaign fundraises off Mueller hearing
Trump’s 2020 campaign sent out a fundraising email as the Mueller hearing was underway, urging supporters to “send a HUGE message to all of the Trump Haters by raising $2,000,000 in the NEXT 24 HOURS.”
“Nothing about the report has changed, so WHY are they still pursuing this Nasty Witch Hunt?” the email reads. “Robert Mueller is testifying … right now, and the Democrats and Corrupt Media are going to pull out all the stops to try and TRICK the American People into believing their LIES.”
The email also repeats the false claim that there was “NO COLLUSION, NO OBSTRUCTION, COMPLETE AND TOTAL EXONERATION!”
11:10 a.m.: “They have a different case,” Mueller says of prosecutors who assert evidence was sufficient to charge Trump
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), a member of both the Judiciary and Intelligence panels, asked about a letter signed by hundreds of former Justice Department prosecutors who wrote that the evidence they saw in Mueller’s report would have produced obstruction charges against President Trump, if not for the office he holds.
“Each of us believes that the conduct of President Trump described in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report would, in the case of any other person not covered by the Office of Legal Counsel policy against indicting a sitting President, result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice,” the former federal prosecutors wrote.
“Are they wrong?,” Swalwell asked.
Mueller responded by saying: “They have a different case.”
11:05 a.m.: Mueller won’t say when team determined evidence did not establish a conspiracy
So when did the special counsel team determine there was insufficient evidence to support a criminal charge alleging President Trump conspired with Russia? Mueller won’t say.
In response to questions from Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Mueller mildly said that the investigation had “various aspects” and that prosecutors were developing evidence and interviewing witnesses during the course of their two years of work. But pushed to say when they came to the conclusion about the conspiracy case found in his report, Mueller said he would not answer.
11 a.m.: Democratic presidential candidates weigh in
Weighing in on Mueller’s testimony, a few of the Democratic presidential candidates said his investigation should push lawmakers toward impeachment.
Asked about Mueller saying Trump was not exonerated, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said: “That was clear in reading his report... the Constitution is clear: Nobody is above the law. And that means that Congress should bring impeachment proceedings against the president of the United States.”
South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg said: “There is more than enough in that report to view it as an impeachment referral,” said Buttigieg, “But we know that the Senate won’t act. I’m focusing on what I can do, which is to defeat this president.”
Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) said: “No matter what this current attorney general and this president are trying to say, the American people are smart enough to know what is and what is not truth.”
10:56 a.m.: Democrats walk Mueller through more of his own findings
Mueller continued to confirm details laid out in his report, as Democrats took it upon themselves to try to bring his 448-document to life, particular key episodes of potential obstruction of justice.
Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.) had Mueller confirm Trump’s effort to limit the scope of the investigation through Corey Lewandowski, expressing outrage that he would tap a private citizen who did not work in the White House to try to bury a probe he did not like.
Trump held a one-on-one meeting in the Oval Office with his former campaign manager, two days after he failed to get then-White House counsel Donald McGahn to initiate Mueller’s removal. In that meeting, Lewandowski told prosecutors that Trump directed him to pass a message to then-attorney general Jeff Sessions. Trump wanted Lewandowski to get Sessions to limit Mueller’s investigation and declare Trump’s own activities off limits. At a later meeting, Trump told Lewandowski if Sessions did not meet with him, the former campaign manager should tell the attorney general that he was fired.
10:52 a.m.: ‘The one case where the president cannot be charged with a crime’
Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) suggested that Mueller had compromised mainstream ethical and legal principles, as well as his own reputation, by laying out the case for potential obstruction in his report when he had already determined he could never charge the sitting president with the crime.
“By listing the 10 factual situations and not reaching the conclusion about the merits of the case, you unfairly shifted the burden of proof to the president … forcing him to prove his innocence,” Buck said.
He stressed that Mueller had made a conclusion about Russian interference, “but when it came to obstruction, you threw a bunch of stuff up against the wall to see what would stick, which is fundamentally unfair.”
Mueller defended his actions, saying the report had laid out the investigators’ “fundamental understanding of the cases” and that the obstruction matter — because of Justice Department guidelines — “was the one case where the president cannot be charged with a crime.”
Mueller added that he had not looked into the ethical standards to see if it was fair to lay out evidence that could be used against Trump should he leave office. But according to department rules, the government “can continue the investigation to see if there are other persons that can be drawn into the conspiracy,” he said.
10:50 a.m.: Mueller won’t say if Trump obstructed justice
Mueller was careful not to be drawn into a statement that Trump committed obstruction of justice. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), questioned Mueller about the elements of an obstructive act under criminal law, in an apparent effort to get Mueller to agree with the congressman’s own analysis that Trump had done so, particularly when he tried to get Mueller fired.
Mueller agreed that Trump understood he was being investigated, and that he viewed the special counsel’s inquiry as detrimental to his interests. But he wouldn’t sign onto Jeffries’s conclusions that Trump had engaged in all the conduct that one must to be charged with obstruction.
“I don’t subscribe to the way you analyzed that,” Mueller said at the end of Jeffries’s questioning. “I’m not saying it’s out of the ballpark,” he added. “But I’m not supportive of that analytical charge.”
10:45 a.m.: Trump tweets Fox News host’s remark that hearing has been ‘disaster for the Democrats’
Trump has held off on live-tweeting the hearing, but he took the opportunity during a brief break in the proceedings to tweet about a Fox News host’s take on how things have been doing so far.
“This has been a disaster for the Democrats and a disaster for the reputation of Robert Mueller,” Trump tweeted, citing the cable network’s Chris Wallace.
Trump has previously been critical of Wallace’s questioning style. The “Fox News Sunday” host has built a reputation as a sharp interviewer who grills Republicans and Democrats alike.
Minutes after Trump’s tweet, Wallace was asked about the president quoting him. Wallace laughed and responded, “Let me just say, I’ve gotten plenty of negative tweets from the president, so I think I’m still underwater.”
10:40 a.m.: Mueller reiterates that he will not answer questions about Steele dossier
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a key critic of the Mueller investigation, used his time to hammer Mueller for his refusal to address — in his report or publicly in testimony — findings regarding the dossier put together by former British spy Christopher Steele on behalf of Democrats during the campaign.
Asked repeated questions about Steele — did Mueller believe Steele made up his research, did Mueller believe Steele’s report was the product of Russian disinformation, did Mueller believe Steele had lied to the FBI — Mueller quietly and repeatedly said the topic was outside his “purview.”
Mueller indicated that other elements of the Justice Department and the FBI are exploring those questions, an apparent reference to an inspector general’s investigation and a review of the Russia investigation being conducted by U.S. Attorney John Durham.
Still, Mueller offered no explanation for how his team decided what was their purview and what to leave to others. For instance, as Gaetz noted, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya met with Glenn Simpson, whose political research firm commissioned the Steele dossier, in the same week that she met with members of the Trump campaign. Mueller’s investigation explored the Trump meeting but not her contacts with Simpson.
(Left unsaid by either Mueller or Gaetz: The Trump campaign accepted that meeting only after Donald Trump Jr. was told Veselnitskaya was bringing damaging information about Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help elect Trump. No evidence exists that Simpson was told anything similar.)
10:30 a.m.: “I’m just going to leave it as it appears in the report”
Back from a break, Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.) tried to press Mueller on an episode in his report alleging that Trump had directed former White House counsel Donald McGahn to have the special counsel fired, and then lie about it.
As he has throughout the hearing, Mueller merely confirmed that the lines that Richmond read were accurate.
“Correct,” he said repeatedly, as Richmond described the episode. “Generally true.”
Richmond tried to convince Mueller to elaborate, asking the open-ended question, “Can you explain what you meant there?” But Mueller balked.
“I’m just going to leave it as it appears in the report,” he said.
10:20 a.m.: Pence aides back Trump’s account of 2017 meeting with Mueller
Aides to Vice President Pence confirmed Trump’s account earlier Wednesday that Pence was present during a 2017 meeting in which Trump says Mueller sought to return to the job of FBI director.
Alyssa Farah, a spokeswoman for Pence, confirmed in an email that Pence was present for the meeting in the Oval Office “when Robert Mueller interviewed for the job of FBI Director in May of 2017.”
During his testimony Wednesday, Mueller confirmed that he met with Trump about the position of FBI director but “not as a candidate.”
Former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon told investigators that the purpose of the meeting was not a job interview but to have Mueller “offer a perspective on the institution of the FBI,” according to the special counsel’s report.
Trump has previously cited the meeting as evidence for his contention that Mueller had conflicts of interest.
During a morning tweet, Trump suggested that Pence could back him up if Mueller did not tell the truth about the meeting
10:15 a.m.: The mysterious case of Joseph Mifsud
President Trump’s ally Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) grilled Mueller Wednesday about Joseph Mifsud, the Maltese professor who told former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton — but lied to federal investigators and was never charged.
Mifsud’s information — which Papadopoulos later related to Australia’s then-ambassador to the United Kingdom, who alerted the FBI — prompted the entire investigation that formed the foundation for Mueller’s probe. Republicans have questioned those origins — but Jordan and others in the GOP have also specifically questioned whether Mifsud was a potential Western intelligence asset, set up to trick Papadopoulos into passing on information that would prompt the probe of Trump’s Russia ties.
The Mifsud theory has failed to catch on outside the Republican base, but Jordan focused his questions for Mueller on one simple aspect of it: Why, if the special counsel had charged so many of Trump’s associates for lying to the FBI, had he never brought charges against Mifsud, who lied repeatedly to federal agents and whose words launched the entire Russia probe?
“You can charge all kinds of people around the president with false statements … but the guy who puts this whole story in motion, you can’t charge him,” Jordan challenged Mueller.
“I’m not sure I agree with your characterizations,” retorted Mueller, who also said it was “obvious we can’t get into charging decisions” during the public hearing.
10:10 a.m.: Mueller continues one- or two-word responses to confirm obstruction episodes
Democrats — appearing to realize that Mueller would not elaborate on his report — continued to read key episodes of the 448-page documents and ask him to confirm the accounts with simple “yes” and “no” answers.
Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) guided Mueller through an episode in his report in which Trump tried to convince his then-White House counsel Donald McGahn to deny reports that Trump requested he fire Mueller.
In late January 2018, the New York Times reported that McGahn had threatened to resign the previous year rather than follow through on an order from Trump to fire Mueller. Mueller’s report describes how Trump pressured McGahn to deny the story, including in an Oval Office meeting, in which Trump asked if McGahn would “do a correction.” McGahn said that he would not.
Trump also asked then-aide Rob Porter to tell McGahn to “create a record” making it clear that Trump had never directed McGahn to fire Mueller. He told Porter that if McGahn didn’t write a letter to file on the issue, he might have to “get rid of him.”
There is “substantial evidence,” Mueller wrote in his report, that in repeatedly urging McGahn to dispute that he was ordered to have the special counsel fired, Trump was acting to try to influence McGahn’s account and prevent further scrutiny of Trump’s conduct with regards to the investigation.
Mueller, however, wouldn’t elaborate, confirming these details with simple answers, including “correct” or “yes.” Bass ended her five-minute session with her own statement: “If anyone else had ordered a witness to create a false record … that person would face criminal charges.”
10:05 a.m.: Roby pushes Mueller to explain interactions with the attorney general
Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.) asked Mueller to explain his interactions with Attorney General William P. Barr, whom Democrats have said mischaracterized the special counsel’s work.
She asked Mueller whether he had “sought to change the narrative” about his report when he signed a March letter to Barr complaining about the way the attorney general originally characterized his findings.
In that late March letter, Mueller expressed dissatisfaction to Barr about the attorney general’s initial four-page memo to Congress describing the principal conclusions of the investigation.
Mueller wrote that Barr’s memo “did not fully capture the context, nature and substance” of the work his staff had completed.
At a May hearing, Barr called Mueller’s letter “a bit snitty.”
Roby pushed Mueller to explain how his letter had leaked publicly and asked who wrote the document. “I can’t get into who wrote it,” Mueller said. “I will say the letter stands for itself.”
10 a.m.: Why did Trump want Mueller gone?
Democrats’ efforts to get Mueller to explain the motivations of the president fell flat Wednesday, even when it came to getting Mueller to repeat assertions his report made about precisely those questions.
“The most important question I have for you today is why: Why did the president of the United States want you fired?” Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) asked Mueller, who said he couldn’t answer the question. So Deutch answered it for him, by citing a passage from the report in which Mueller wrote “substantial evidence indicates that the president’s attempts to remove the special counsel were linked to the special counsel’s oversight of investigations that involved the president’s conduct, and most immediately to reports that the president was being investigated for potential obstruction of justice.”
Deutch focused most closely on Trump’s contacts with then-White House counsel Donald McGahn, a key witness in Mueller’s probe, who told investigators about how Trump appeared to order him to carry out Mueller’s termination, and later lie about it.
Deutch asked Mueller if McGahn understood what the president’s motivations were. Mueller referred him “toward what was written in the report, in terms of characterizing his feelings.”
9:57 a.m.: Mueller and Gohmert spar
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.), an old nemesis of Mueller’s, spent his five minutes on the attack. First, he got Mueller to concede that he and fired former FBI director James B. Comey “were friends.” Then, he tried to suggest that the FBI investigation of the president was politically biased from the beginning.
As Gohmert’s tempo quickened and frequently cut off Mueller’s attempted answers, the former special counsel asked in frustration, “May I finish?”
Gohmert barreled forward, arguing that, rather than obstruct justice, Trump set out to defend himself from Trump-hating prosecutors and agents.
“What he’s doing is not obstructing justice. He is pursing justice and the fact that you ran it out two years means you perpetuated injustice,” Gohmert said.
Gohmert and Mueller have a history of antagonism. At a congressional hearing in 2013 when Mueller was FBI director, the congressman angrily accused the FBI of missing a key investigative step before the Boston Marathon bombing. Mueller, who generally takes a low-key approach to congressional hearings, got angry and denied the accusation.
9:55 a.m.: Johnson: Diving into an obstruction episode
Rep. Hank C. Johnson (D-Ga.) has begun the Democrats’ strategy of asking sharp, tight questions to explore specific episodes of possible obstruction of justice described in Mueller’s report.
Johnson asked “yes” and “no” questions about an episode described in the report in which Trump called McGahn, the White House counsel, twice at home over a weekend in June 2017 and directed him to get Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to fire Mueller.
“Mueller has to go,” McGahn recounted Trump told him, according to the report. “Call me back when you do it.”
Rather than following the order, McGahn drove to the White House to pack up his belongings and informed three other White House staffers he intended to resign. Ultimately, McGahn remained in his post, and Trump let the matter drop.
Mueller wrote in his report that “substantial evidence” existed that Trump’s efforts to remove Mueller were linked to the special counsel’s investigation of Trump’s conduct.
Parceling out those details, Mueller continually said Johnson had his facts “correct” or that he had “generally” followed the account of the report. But Mueller declined to be pushed even a bit beyond the exact words of the report. At one point, Johnson asked Mueller if he could explain the “significance” of the phone call Trump made to McGahn at home on a Saturday to discuss Mueller. “I’m going to ask you to rely on what we wrote in our report about that,” Mueller responded.
9:45 a.m.: Mueller declines to answer questions on Steele dossier’s origins
Mueller declined to answer questions from Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) about the origins of the Steele dossier, the memos alleging various connections between members of the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
Mueller repeatedly said that the dossier and Fusion GPS, the U.S.-based investigation company that hired Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer, were “outside my purview,” and that the Justice Department was already investigating the dossier.
Republicans have seized on Steele’s research to argue that the FBI probe of the Trump campaign was begun improperly, saying that federal agents leaned too heavily on it when they sought a warrant to monitor the communications of former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page because of his contacts with Russians.
Republicans have also argued the Steele dossier was opposition research funded by the Hillary Clinton campaign. Clinton’s campaign did hire a law firm that hired Fusion GPS. Steele had begun his research earlier at the behest of conservative funders who wanted to compile opposition research about Trump.
9:40 a.m.: Democrats read portions of report themselves, as Mueller responds with short affirmations
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) sought to guide Mueller through one of the most explosive chapters of his report’s presentation of potential obstruction of justice — Trump’s appeals to then-attorney general Jeff Sessions to steer investigative scrutiny away from him — and was met with mostly one-word answers from Mueller.
Sessions recused himself from the government’s investigations of Russia and Trump before Mueller was appointed as special counsel, a decision that Trump tried to get him to undo, as documented in the report. Cohen attempted to sweep Mueller up in a dramatic retelling of the episodes, but the former special counsel’s preferred response was to simply tell him: “that’s in the report,” “I’ll refer you to the report for that,” or some variation.
The exchange illustrated what has been on display throughout the hearing: that for the most part, Mueller is offering sparse responses, and mostly leaving it to Democratic lawmakers to bring the words of his report to life in their own voices.
9:34 a.m.: Another Republican accuses Mueller of ‘fishing’ without charging Trump
Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), who once chaired the Judiciary panel, used his time to criticize Mueller for laying out hundreds of pages worth of investigative material on Trump without charging him with any crime.
Citing the second volume of Mueller’s report, in which Mueller said he decided not to make a traditionally prosecutorial judgment about whether Trump obstructed justice, Sensenbrenner asked why Mueller did the entire investigation when he knew he wasn’t ever going to prosecute Trump.
“The OLC opinion itself says that you can continue the investigation … even if you don’t indict the president,” Mueller responded, referring to Justice Department rules barring the prosecution of a sitting president.
“If you’re not going to indict the president, then you’re just going to continue fishing, that’s my opinion,” Sensenbrenner said.
Sensenbrenner grew visibly frustrated with Mueller when he had to repeat his questions several times. Sensenbrenner also probed why Mueller didn’t use the phrase “impeachable conduct” to describe any actions by Trump laid out in his report, particularly since he appeared to kick to Congress the determination of whether Trump obstructed justice. Mueller merely answered that wasn’t in his mandate.
9:25 a.m.: Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee launches questions on obstruction
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) pushed Mueller on obstruction of justice, walking the former special counsel, through rapid-fire questions about Volume II’s discussion of potential obstruction of justice, expected to be a recurrent theme of inquiry for Democrats.
In that second volume, Mueller’s team described 10 episodes in which Trump’s actions raised concern about potential obstruction of justice. In some of those cases, the special counsel indicated there was evidence to support key elements of an obstruction charge. But the report stopped short of making an assessment that Trump committed a crime. Democrats repeatedly said before the hearing that they planned to focus on those episodes.
While Jackson Lee’s questions were predictable, Mueller responded in a halting manner, repeatedly asking the Texas lawmaker to repeat her questions.
Her final query was whether conviction on an obstruction of justice charge warranted a significant amount of time in jail. “Yes,” Mueller responded.
9:20 a.m.: Ratcliffe: Mueller applied an “inverted burden of proof”
Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Tex.) made a lengthy speech, accusing Mueller of inverting the American legal system’s traditional presumption of innocence by declaring in Volume II of his report that he was not recommending charging Trump with obstruction of justice but also could not exonerate him.
Ratcliffe questioned Mueller about whether a prosecutor had ever before found it be his role to conclusively determine a person’s innocence — as opposed to determining whether evidence existed that he committed a crime. Mueller said he could not think of another case and then quietly interjected, “This is a unique situation.”
Ratcliffe then jumped in to say that nowhere in Justice Department policies and standards or in the order appointing Mueller as special counsel could such a mission be found. The presumption of innocence, Ratcliffe said, “exists for everyone. Everyone is entitled to it — including the president.”
The congressman said Mueller had “applied this inverted burden of proof” and then wrote a report about it.
He noted that Democrats have said Trump is not above the law.
“He’s not,” Ratcliffe said. “But he damn sure shouldn’t be below the law, which is where Volume II of this report puts him.”
Mueller sat quietly and did not respond.
9:15 a.m. Mueller says Russians believed a Trump victory would benefit them
Under questioning from Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), Mueller said that the Russians did perceive that the victory of one presidential candidate would benefit them: “It would be Trump,” Mueller said.
The former special counsel also confirmed findings from his report that Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort gave internal campaign information and polling data to an associate whom the FBI has assessed has ties to Russian intelligence.
But Mueller declined to discuss how that information might have assisted the Russians in their efforts to disrupt the campaign. “That’s a little bit out of our path,” Mueller said.
9:10 a.m.: Collusion, conspiracy or none of the above?
Rep. Douglas A. Collins, the panel’s ranking Republican, and Mueller got into a tense back-and-forth about a comparison of terms that has bedeviled the public chatter surrounding Mueller’s probe: if Mueller didn’t find Trump was guilty of a conspiracy, does that also mean he was exonerated of collusion?
Technically, collusion isn’t a specific crime, but in his report, Mueller acknowledged that in common parlance, “collusion is largely synonymous with conspiracy as that crime is set forth in the general federal conspiracy statute.” But when Collins asked him Wednesday if they were colloquially equivalent, Mueller said “No.”
Collins then repeatedly asked Mueller, “Are you contradicting your report,” repeatedly reading from the former special counsel’s text and asking if he needed to speak more slowly for Mueller to follow him.
“I leave it with the report,” Mueller ultimately said, prompting Collins to say he hoped the collusion question could “finally” be put to rest.
9:05 a.m.: Mueller pushes back on Trump’s ‘no collusion, no obstruction’ claim
Mueller rejected claims by Trump that his report cleared him from wrongdoing and confirmed that he could be charged after he leaves office.
In the first back-and-forth, Nadler, the committee chairman, listed basic yes-or-no questions — or inquiries that could be answered in a few words — to get Mueller to confirm that he did not exonerate Trump.
“Did you actually totally exonerate the president?” the New York Democrat asked.
“Does that say there was no obstruction?” Nadler said, reading an excerpt from the report where Mueller’s team discussed they could not “exonerate” Trump on the matter.
Mueller went on to talk about Justice Department rules that say a sitting president cannot be indicted.
“The report did not conclude that he did not commit of obstruction of justice,” Nadler asked again.
“That is correct,” Mueller said.
The president has repeatedly claimed the report showed there was “no collusion” and “no obstruction.”
Asked if “under DOJ policy the president could be prosecuted for obstruction of justice crimes after he leaves office,” Mueller responded: “True.”
Mueller also confirmed that Trump refused to be interviewed by his team.
9 a.m.: Mueller makes clear his investigation did not exonerate the president
“The president was not exculpated for the acts that he allegedly committed,” the former special counsel told the House Judiciary Committee.
Asked whether the president could potentially be indicted after leaving office, Mueller responded, “True.”
8:55 a.m.: What Mueller stressed in his opening statement
In his opening statement, Mueller stressed three points: the special counsel’s investigation found “sweeping and systematic” Russian interference in the 2016 election, it did not establish a conspiracy between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign and its inquiry into obstruction was “of critical importance.”
In response to later questions, Mueller would say more explicitly, as his report did, that the investigation did not exonerate Trump on obstruction. But in his opening statement, he stopped short of even that.
“Finally, as described in Volume 2 of our report, we investigated a series of actions by the president toward the investigation,” Mueller said. “Based on Justice Department policy and principles of fairness, we decided we would not make a determination as to whether the president committed a crime. That was our decision then and it remains our decision today.”
8:50 a.m.: The topics Mueller says he won’t address
In his prepared opening statement, Mueller reiterated that he plans to stay “within the text” of his 448-page report and provided a list of questions he won’t be able to answer.
“In writing the report, we stated the results of our investigation with precision. We scrutinized every word,” Mueller said. “I do not intend to summarize or describe the results of our work in a different way in the course of my testimony today.”
Likely to the disappointment of Republicans, he said he would be “unable to address questions about the opening of the FBI’s Russia investigation, which occurred months before my appointment, or matters related to the so-called ‘Steele Dossier.’” Conservatives have focused much of their ire on that document — an opposition research product funded by the Clinton campaign that made lurid and unproven allegations against Trump and played a role in the early portion of the Russia investigation.
Likely to the dismay of Democrats, Mueller also said he would “not comment on the actions of the attorney general or of Congress.”
Mueller noted that court rules or judicial orders limit the disclosure of some information, and that the Justice Department had asserted “privileges concerning investigative information and decisions, ongoing matters within the Justice Department, and deliberations within our office.”
“These are Justice Department privileges that I will respect,” Mueller said.
8:45 a.m.: Republicans to question origins of Mueller report
The House Judiciary Committee’s top Republican opened by arguing that Trump is innocent, and promising the GOP would look into “how baseless gossip,” as he put it, formed the foundation of the special counsel’s report.
“The report concludes no one in the president’s campaign colluded, collaborated or conspired with the Russians,” Rep. Douglas A. Collins (R-Ga.) said in his opening statement. He also argued that while Trump had an “understandably negative” view of Mueller’s probe, and could have shut it down, he “did not use his authority to close the investigation” because he “knew he was innocent.”
Collins also promised that Republicans would use the hearing to push Mueller on what they see as the faulty beginnings of the FBI’s investigation of the president’s Russia ties that formed the basis of his probe. Trump’s congressional allies in the GOP have long argued that the investigation was biased against the president, putting stock in a forthcoming review from the Justice Department’s inspector general, and a promise from Attorney General William P Barr to look into those origins, to support their case.
“Those results will be released, and we will need to learn from them to ensure the government’s intelligence and law enforcement powers are never again turned on a private citizen or political candidate as the result of the political leanings of a handful of FBI agents,” Collins said.
8:35 a.m.: First protester interrupts the hearing
The first protester interrupted the hearing just minutes before it got underway. As Mueller was taking his seat, and the camera clicks echoed throughout the silence, a young man tried to push through the hearing room doors and yelled: “Kushner and Manafort downloaded encrypted apps on the day of the Trump tower meeting!”
The man was quickly pushed out of the room by security officers at the door.
The protester appeared to be suggesting that Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort were communicating off the books about their meeting with Russian officials offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.
8:32 a.m.: Mueller enters the room, and the hearing begins
Mueller entered the hearing room very close to 8:30 a.m., standing behind the witness table and smiling slightly as he waited for Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) to gavel in the hearing. He was accompanied by two of his deputies, Andrew Goldstein and James Quarles, who sat behind him.
At 8:33 a.m., Nadler began the hearing.
8:30 a.m.: Nadler praises Mueller for his service, preempts GOP attacks
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) in his opening statement praised Mueller’s longtime career of public service, seeking to preempt expected GOP attacks on the war hero-turned-FBI director who has found himself in Trump’s crosshairs.
“Your career … is a model of responsibility,” Nadler told Mueller, listing his accomplishments as a decorated Marine officer who received a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star while fighting the Vietnam, then led the FBI following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attack.
Nadler said Mueller returned to public service to take up the Russia investigation and “conducted that investigation with remarkable integrity,” never commenting on his work in public, “even when you were subjected to repeated and grossly unfair personal attacks.”
Nadler was referring to Trump’s unsubstantiated claim that Mueller, a lifelong Republican, had a conflict of interest in overseeing the probe. Trump has panned the investigation as a “witchhunt” and claimed team investigators were “angry Democrats” who have a grudge against him. Some Republicans on the Judiciary panel are expected to echo this line of attack Wednesday. Democrats have sought to highlight Mueller’s accomplishments to push back.
“Instead, your indictments spoke for you, and in astonishing detail,” Nadler continued. “In the Paul Manafort case alone, you recovered as much as $42 million — so that the cost of your investigation to the taxpayers approaches zero.”
Nadler also sought to justify his move to bring Mueller before the public despite his reluctance to testify.
“Director Mueller, we have a responsibility to address the evidence you have uncovered,” he said. “ You recognized as much when you said ‘the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.’ That process begins with the work of this Committee.”
8:15 a.m.: Trump says Pence witnessed 2017 meeting with Mueller about the FBI
As Trump continued to tweet ahead of the hearings, he contended that Mueller sought the job of FBI director from him in a 2017 meeting at which Vice President Pence was present.
Trump’s contention that Mueller wanted to replace James B. Comey as FBI director has been previously disputed by people familiar with their meeting.
The two men had a roughly 30-minute meeting at the White House in May 2017.
Mueller was invited to the White House because Trump aides were concerned about the political fallout and controversy over Trump’s firing of Comey and believed having the former FBI director meet with the president could have a calming effect, according to a former administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sensitive issue.
Former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon told investigators the purpose of the meeting was not a job interview but to have Mueller “offer a perspective on the institution of the FBI,” according to the special counsel’s report, and “although the White House thought about beseeching Mueller to become Director again, he did not come in looking for the job.”
Trump has previously cited the meeting as evidence for his contention that Mueller had conflicts of interest.
8:10 a.m.: Long lines to watch the testimony
With a half-hour to go before the start of the hearing, the line of hopeful Mueller-watchers had snaked through several long hallways of the Rayburn House Office Building, with scores more queued up — more than could ever fit in the approximately 50 seats in the hearing room reserved for the public.
But compared with past high-profile hearings in the House’s investigations of Trump — such as the House Oversight Committee’s session earlier this year with former Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen — there was an air of relative calm: no protesters visible (or audible) outside, no massive crush of people waiting to enter the building.
Staffers and other members of the public who lined up will be rotated in shifts through the hearing room throughout the day, to give as many people a chance to glimpse the historic event as possible.
8 a.m.: Mueller arrives for first hearing
Mueller arrived more than 30 minutes early at the House Judiciary Committee at 7:52 a.m., flanked by more than a half-dozen police officers.
He ignored shouted questions from reporters about whether he would follow Justice Department demands that he keep his answer to the “four corners” of his 448-page report.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) and his Democratic members, who will question Mueller in the afternoon about Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, plan to try to persuade Mueller into talking about his nearly two-year investigation, beyond what he wrote in the document. Justice officials have objected to that line of questioning.
7:45 a.m. On eve of Mueller testimony, a conviction in a case that stemmed from his work
The day before Mueller’s testimony, prosecutors secured a conviction at trial in a case that grew out of the special counsel probe. Bijan Rafiekian, former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s former partner in a consulting firm, was found guilty of illegally lobbying for Turkey and conspiring to cover it up.
Flynn, who pleaded guilty in the Mueller probe to lying about his contacts with Russians, cooperated against his ex-colleague and acknowledged making false statements about the Turkey project. The trial highlighted some of those falsehoods and omissions, including that an op-ed Flynn wrote on Election Day had nothing to do with his paid contract to advocate for Turkish interests.
But just before the trial, Flynn refused to say he lied, maintaining he never read forms filed with the Justice Department before signing them and only realized in hindsight that they were inaccurate. He was not called to testify, prompting a defense attorney for Rafiekian to say Flynn “got a pass.”
Flynn will now be sentenced in D.C. federal court. The impact of Rafiekian’s trial and conviction is still unclear.
7:15 a.m.: Trump lashes out at Democrats and Mueller deputy as hearings approach
In advance of the hearings, Trump lashed out at Democrats, claiming they have tried to “illegally fabricate a crime” of obstruction of Mueller’s probe.
In his first tweet of the morning, Trump also questioned why Mueller is not investigating the FBI and others behind an investigation that he termed an “illegal and treasonous attack on our country.” He claimed to be “a very innocent President.”
Next, Trump turned his attention to Aaron Zebley, Mueller’s deputy special counsel who is expected to appear with him at one of Wednesday’s hearings and be sworn in for possible testimony at the other.
Mueller’s request to have Zebley appear with him spurred some controversy Tuesday, as Republicans decried the move as a last-minute surprise that goes against normal procedure. The Justice Department also objects to Zebley’s testifying.
“It was NEVER agreed that Robert Mueller could use one of his many Democrat Never Trumper lawyers to sit next to him and help him with his answers,” Trump wrote. “This was specifically NOT agreed to, and I would NEVER have agreed to it. The Greatest Witch Hunt in U.S. history, by far!”
Trump told reporters this week that he plans to watch “a little bit” of the hearings. Trump has nothing on his public schedule Wednesday until 4:10 p.m., when he plans to head to West Virginia for a fundraising reception.
7 a.m.: What will Republicans ask about?
Republicans in Congress have long sought to investigate the Mueller probe — which some say they believe was initiated inappropriately before Mueller’s appointment and was tainted by anti-Trump bias. They already have questioned other FBI and Justice Department officials about those concerns. Now, they will get a crack at Mueller himself.
Perhaps the ripest area of inquiry could be how Mueller handled two people who worked on the case — FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page — and who were found to have exchanged anti-Trump text messages.
Mueller removed Strzok from the investigation after the messages were discovered, and Page already had left. Both have insisted their personal views did not affect their work. But Mueller himself might be asked about what steps he took to make sure of that and what he knew about the political leanings of other members of his team.
On Monday, Trump himself referred to Strzok and Page in a tweet in which he both questioned the value of Wednesday’s hearing and suggested lawmakers should ask about the text messages.
“Highly conflicted Robert Mueller should not be given another bite at the apple,” Trump wrote. “In the end it will be bad for him and the phony Democrats in Congress who have done nothing but waste time on this ridiculous Witch Hunt. Result of the Mueller Report, NO COLLUSION, NO OBSTRUCTION! But the questions should be asked, why were all of Clinton’s people given immunity, and why were the text messages of Peter S and his lover, Lisa Page, deleted and destroyed right after they left Mueller, and after we requested them (this is Illegal)?”
Trump seemed to be referring to a report made public in December that said the Justice Department inspector general could not recover texts from the phones assigned to Strzok and Page for their work with Mueller because by the time investigators requested the devices, they had been reset in preparation for others to use them.
The report makes no mention of Mueller’s playing any role in the deletion of texts and notes that the Justice Department had told investigators it “routinely resets mobile devices to factory settings” when they are returned to be given to other users. The inspector general recovered thousands of Page’s and Strzok’s texts from other devices and said there was “no evidence” either of them tried to get around FBI data retention policies.
6:30 a.m.: Democrats likely to focus on obstruction
Democrats are likely to focus much of their questioning on the myriad episodes Mueller outlined in his report that describe efforts by Trump to stymie his investigation. Even if Mueller does not go beyond the report, some lawmakers say, his publicly describing Trump’s conduct could be revelatory for an American public that has not fully absorbed the special counsel’s written findings. Even FBI Director Christopher A. Wray conceded Tuesday that he had not “read every single word” of the document, though he had reviewed it.
“For many Americans this will be blockbuster, new information,” Rep. Ted Lieu, a California Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, told The Post recently. “We just need him to convey the facts, and that will result in people learning . . . there is a lot of evidence that the president obstructed justice.”
6 a.m.: A reluctant witness, intent on sticking to the script
Mueller’s appearance on Capitol Hill on Tuesday will be must-see television, and Democrats — especially those who support impeaching the president — view it as a pivotal moment in their bid to educate the public about what they say are Trump’s efforts to obstruct an investigation into ties between his campaign and the Kremlin.
But Mueller might leave them disappointed.
The only other time Mueller spoke publicly about his probe, at a news conference in May, he signaled that he did not want to testify and, if forced to do so, would not speak beyond his report.
“We chose those words carefully, and the work speaks for itself,” Mueller said.
Those who know Mueller have told The Washington Post they expect he will stick to his word and probably leave lawmakers disappointed with how little he reveals. A former FBI director, Mueller is no stranger to congressional hearings and politely deflecting inquiries — though when pressed, he occasionally gives in.
A Mueller spokesman reiterated this week that Mueller does not intend to talk beyond his report, and added that he will submit a copy of the publicly available version of the document as his official statement for the record. Mueller will also read a separate opening statement, the spokesman said.