- Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
- Republicans took a victory lap after the former special counsel Robert Mueller’s appearance before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday morning.
- Since news of the hearing first emerged, it was billed as a high-stakes opportunity for congressional Democrats to bring Mueller’s report to life and drum up public support for impeaching President Donald Trump.
- But the former FBI director was conspicuously tight-lipped throughout the course of his testimony, repeatedly telling lawmakers to refer to his report for answers to their questions. He also refused to read aloud portions from the report when asked to do so.
- Republicans seized on Mueller’s dry performance as being “the death rattle for impeachment” for Democrats.
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WASHINGTON – Republican lawmakers felt victorious after the former special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. In particular, they believe his decision to avoid delving into details of the special counsel report was a lackluster performance that should “close the book” on multiple inquiries into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Mueller did not provide the fireworks or captivating television many Democrats had hoped for, and it’s unclear whether the judiciary-committee hearing will be successful in informing the American public.
But Mueller’s obstinate refusal to answer questions – he instead repeatedly referred lawmakers to his report – gave Republicans the impression that if Democrats hoped to gain momentum from the hearing, they’d be sorely disappointed.
“I think today, no one could’ve watched the hearing and walked away believing that Director Mueller had a firm grasp of the details,” Republican Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina told reporters outside the hearing room.
“It’s probably predetermined where the Democrats want to go with this,” Meadows said of what might come next. “But at the same time I think the American people will see it as time to turn the page, close the book, and finish the chapter, and get on with life.”
Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, told reporters that Mueller “verified what we’ve already known for three months.”
“I think when we look back at what happened today, we finally found the ending – hopefully – of the Mueller report and hopefully found the end of the unprecedented investigation that continued on,” Collins added. “And they actually talked to him about obstruction, which is the one thing the Democrats wanted to talk about. He actually said I disagree with your conclusions.”
Collins was likely referring to certain points in the hearing during which Mueller told House Democrats he didn’t agree with their characterizations of his findings in the obstruction case.
In one instance, New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries highlighted one of the examples of obstruction that Mueller laid out and said it showed Trump had corrupt intent when he interfered in the investigation.
“Let me say, if I might, I don’t subscribe necessarily to the way you analyze it,” Mueller said. “I’m not saying it’s out of the ballpark, but I’m not supportive of the analytical charge.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, who during his questioning appeared combative toward Mueller and questioned the political motives of his investigative team, echoed Meadows in saying he thought the former FBI director was ill-prepared for the hearing.
“I found Director Mueller intellectually disheveled, frequently confused and highly evasive on basic questions about the activities of Russians and their commingling of interests with people associated with Democrats,” he said. “I think Democrats hoped that this hearing would be a launching-off point for impeachment, it looked more like the death rattle for impeachment to us.”
Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas struck a different tone than most of the prominent Republicans who either watched the hearing or participated in questioning Mueller.
Gohmert characterized Mueller as almost attempting to deceive the committee with how he answered most of the questions.
“He’s not as feeble as he would have people believe,” Gohmert told INSIDER.
“There’s no way to say Republicans should be pleased with how the hearing went because this was over two years after a special counsel is appointed that concluded that what everybody knew – or at least we all knew – there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians,” he added.
The Trump 2020 campaign team also blasted out an email declaring that Mueller’s testimony “has been a total DISASTER for Democrats.”
“Despite his difficulties answering questions about his handling of the investigation, Mueller confirmed what we’ve known from the very beginning: there was NO COLLUSION, NO OBSTRUCTION, and the treatment of President Trump is TOTALLY UNPRECEDENTED,” the email said.
Mueller said in his report, during a May news conference, and during his opening statement on Wednesday that he did not find sufficient evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
But the former FBI director emphasized that his team “did not address collusion, which is not a legal term.”
On the question of obstruction, Mueller’s team declined to make a “traditional prosecutorial judgment,” citing Justice Department guidelines that bar prosecutors from indicting a sitting president. His team said, however, that if they had confidence the president did not commit a crime, they would have said so.