Democrats may not have gotten much out of Wednesday’s hearings with former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. But they did get him to say President Trump and his allies weren’t truthful about key aspects of the Russia investigation — repeatedly.
And on at least two occasions, Mueller seemed to break new ground in detailing the Trump team’s dishonesty.
The exchange that has everybody talking was from the second hearing, with Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.). In it, Mueller appears to say Trump wasn’t truthful in his written answers:
DEMINGS: Could you say, Director Mueller, that the president was credible?
MUELLER: I can’t answer that question.
DEMINGS: Director Mueller, isn’t it fair to say that 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: There — I would say, generally.
This is the kind of thing that, if accurate, would seem to open Trump up to legal jeopardy (albeit after he leaves office). But the question was complex, and Mueller might have gotten tripped up. Just as he corrected himself after agreeing with the premise of a question by Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) at the first hearing, some clarification might be in store here.
UPDATE: A person familiar with the investigation tells The Post, “In answering ‘generally,’ Mueller did not mean to agree with every phrase in that question. 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.’ ”
But even if he does walk this one back, there were plenty of other examples of Mueller pointing to dishonesty. He disputed Trump’s repeated assertions that he had interviewed to become FBI director shortly before becoming special counsel. When asked whether it was false for Trump to call his investigation a “witch hunt,” Mueller said, “Yes.” When asked whether he had “totally exonerated” Trump, as Trump has repeatedly claimed, Mueller said, “No.”
Then there was this exchange about documents hacked by Russia, with House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), at the start of the second hearing:
SCHIFF: The Trump campaign officials built their strategy, their messaging strategy, around those stolen documents?
MUELLER: Generally, that’s true.
SCHIFF: And then they lied to cover it up?
MUELLER: Generally, that’s true.
This is significant because not all of the guilty pleas for lying to prosecutors pertained to the hacked documents; and in fact, the biggest ones didn’t. Michael Flynn’s had to do with talks with the Russian ambassador during the transition period after Trump was elected, while Michael Cohen’s had to do with the Trump Tower Moscow project. Mueller seemed to be pointing to a larger pattern of deception from the Trump team.
And in case there was any doubt about that, witness this exchange — also with Demings — from the first hearing:
DEMINGS: According to your report, Page 9, Volume 1, witnesses lied to your offices and to Congress. Those lies materially impaired the investigation of Russia interference, according to your report. Other than the individuals who pled guilty to crimes based on their lying to you and your team, did other witnesses lie to you?
MUELLER: I think there are probably a spectrum of witnesses in terms of those who are not telling the full truth and those who are outright liars.
As with many of his responses, there’s plenty to parse here. But Mueller again seems to agree with the premise that there was more deception besides just the charged-and-pleaded variety.
These answers were also notable because Mueller repeatedly quibbled with Democrats’ characterizations of his report. When it wasn’t exactly right, he said he didn’t endorse it fully. When it came to deception, though, he wasn’t nearly so cautious. He seemed to be describing a pervasive pattern of dishonest behavior and outright lies that might not have risen to the level of a crime.