- Leah Millis/Reuters
- The former special counsel Robert Mueller frustrated both Democrats and Republicans when he testified this week before two congressional committees about the Russia investigation.
- The notoriously tight-lipped former FBI director repeatedly refused to answer questions, or even recite portions from his final report, and instead had one message for lawmakers and the public: read the report yourself.
- But there were still a few significant takeaways from Mueller’s historic testimony.
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The former special counsel Robert Mueller took center stage this week when he testified before two congressional panels in back-to-back hearings.
The first hearing, before the House Judiciary Committee, focused on Mueller’s findings in his obstruction-of-justice investigation into President Donald Trump.
The second, before the House Intelligence Committee, centered around Mueller’s original mandate: Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and whether members of the Trump campaign coordinated or conspired with Moscow to meddle in the race.
Congressional Democrats went into the marathon hearings hoping to have the man behind the Mueller report bring the document to life for the majority of Americans who haven’t yet read it. But they likely came away disappointed, because the notoriously tight-lipped former FBI director had one message for lawmakers and the public: read the report yourself.
Still, there were a few significant takeaways from Mueller’s testimony.
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President Donald Trump was ‘generally’ not truthful in his written responses to questions from prosecutors.
In an exchange with Democratic Rep. Val Demings on the House Intelligence Committee, Mueller suggested the president misled investigators in his written responses to questions.
“Isn’t it fair to say [Trump’s] written answers were not only inadequate and incomplete because he didn’t answer many of your questions, but where he did, his answers show that he wasn’t always being truthful?” Demings asked.
“Generally,” Mueller responded.
Mueller: We should ‘absolutely’ hold elected officials to a higher standard than just avoiding criminality.
- Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Toward the end of the marathon hearings, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff asked the former special counsel a pointed question: “We should hold our elected officials to a standard higher than mere avoidance of criminality, correct?”
“Absolutely,” Mueller replied.
The answer was a rare, if indirect, rebuke from Mueller of Trump and his supporters’ frequent claim that “collusion is not a crime.”
Mueller excoriated Trump for promoting WikiLeaks during the 2016 election.
In one of his sharpest public critiques of the president to date, Mueller tore into Trump for his effusive praise of WikiLeaks.
At the second hearing, which took place before the intelligence panel, Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley repeated statements Trump made heaping praise on WikiLeaks during the presidential campaign.
“I love WikiLeaks,” he said at one campaign rally shortly before the election.
“This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove,” he said at another. And at a campaign event on October 31, 2016, he said, “Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks.”
“Would any of those quotes disturb you, Mr. Director?” Quigley asked Mueller. “How do you react to them?”
“Well,” Mueller said, “problematic is an understatement in terms of what it displays in terms of giving some hope, or some boost, to what is and should be illegal activity.”
Adam Schiff and Mueller engaged in a line of questioning that was devastating to the president and his allies.
- Getty Images
Mueller was significantly more forthcoming in his testimony to the intelligence committee than to the judiciary committee.
Perhaps the most memorable exchange came with Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the intel committee’s chairman who is also a former prosecutor.
Like other lawmakers with previous prosecutorial experience, Schiff used his time to ask simple yes-or-no questions to the former special counsel instead of making a lengthy speech.
The resulting line of questioning cast the White House in a damaging light as Mueller confirmed how Trump and his associates used the campaign and the presidency to profit and later lied to investigators about it.
Trump challenged Mueller to contradict him, under oath, on a key episode from the report. Mueller did just that.
Before the hearings, Trump dared Mueller on Twitter to testify under oath that he did not interview for the FBI director job one day before being appointed special counsel.
Mueller did just that, telling lawmakers that he went to the White House, but only because the president had requested his advice and input on who he should tap for the job after dismissing James Comey.
The meeting, Mueller said under penalty of perjury, “was about the job, but not about me applying for the job.”
Mueller on US political campaigns inviting foreign interference: ‘I hope this is not the new normal, but I fear it is.’
- Leah Millis/Reuters
In a telling exchange with Democratic Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont, Mueller offered a stark view of American political campaigns accepting or inviting electoral interference from foreign governments.
“Have we established a new normal from this past campaign that is going to apply to future campaigns, so that if any one of us running for the U.S. House ― any candidate for the U.S. Senate, any candidate for the presidency of the United States ― aware that a hostile foreign power is trying to influence an election, has no duty to report that to the FBI or other authorities?” Welch asked.
“I hope this is not the new normal,” Mueller responded. “But I fear it is.”
In another exchange with Schiff, Mueller emphasized that accepting foreign help is “unpatriotic” and “wrong.”
The Russians are continuing to meddle even ‘as we sit here.’
Asked near the end of his marathon testimony about Russian interference in the US electoral process, Mueller said that not only have they not been deterred, but “they’re doing it as we sit here.”