Mueller testifies on the Russia probe (Video inside article)
Former Trump-Russia special counsel Robert Mueller finally faced congressional interrogators on Wednesday.
Mueller's testimony before the House Judiciary Committee began at 8:30 a.m. EST and ran for roughly three hours. His testimony before the House Intelligence Committee began at 12:50 p.m. EST.
Schiff adjourned the hearing at 3:29 p.m. today, bringing Mueller's testimony to a close nearly seven hours after it started.
"Your works speaks of a president who committed countless acts of obstruction of justice," Schiff said in his closing remarks about Mueller's report. The chairman also said it was up to Congress to determine whether it was necessary for the president to be impeached.
Democratic Rep. Sean Maloney asked Mueller why he didn't interview the president.
Mueller explained his team "negotiated" with the president and his lawyers for an interview for a little more than a year. But, as the investigation drew to a close, Mueller said the special counsel's office decided not to subpoena the president "because of the necessity of expediting the investigation."
Mueller said the president would have fought the subpoena, drawing out the investigation. Mueller conceded an in-person interview with the president would have been more useful than the written answers the president provided, and confirmed he believed he could have subpoenaed the president if he had decided to do so.
Republican Rep. Will Hurd said he would finally ask about what he thinks is a bipartisan topic -- how the U.S. can prevent Russian interference in future elections.
Mueller insisted the "ability of our intelligence agencies to work together in this arena is perhaps more important" than developing specific techniques. Any legislation that can encourage agencies to work together to fight foreign interference should be pursued soon and aggressively, Mueller said.
The former special counsel also said "many more countries" are developing the capability to do what the Russians did in 2016. Asked if he has any overarching strategies for fighting any interference, however, Mueller did not have answers.
Mueller noted he expects Russia to continue to interfere in the next election, saying, "they're doing it as we sit here."
Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley read several instances of Mr. Trump praising WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign after the organization published emails stolen by Russia to damage Hillary Clinton.
When asked if he found those comments disturbing, Mueller said: "Problematic is an understatement." He added the comments could have offered "some boost to what is and should be illegal activity."
Mueller also said that potential collaboration with WikiLeaks "certainly calls for investigation."
GOP Rep. Mike Turner questioned whether Mueller had the ability to "exonerate" Mr. Trump. Mueller declined to argue whether Attorney General William Barr had the power to exonerate someone of a crime, saying: "I'm going to pass on that."
Asked why, Mueller replied: "Because it embroils us in a legal discussion and I'm not prepared to do a legal discussion in that arena."
"You have no more power to declare Trump exonerated than you do to declare him Anderson Cooper," Turner said, after referencing a headline seen on CNN.
The concept of "total exoneration" in the investigation (or lack thereof) originated with Mr. Trump.
In his opening statement, Mueller clarified an exchange he had with Rep. Ted Lieu in the first hearing. Lieu had asserted Mueller did not recommend charges against the president because of Justice Department policy that says a sitting president cannot be indicted.
"The reason again that you did not indict Donald Trump is because of the OLC opinion stating that you cannot indict a sitting President, correct?" Lieu had asked.
"That is correct," Mueller responded, sparking immediate reaction online.
But Mueller clarified that his office "did not reach a determination as to whether the president committed a crime."
Mueller defended the integrity of his team of investigators, saying he did not believe their political beliefs impacted their ability to do their jobs. When there was a conflict, like with Peter Strzok, those investigators were transferred.
Mueller said asking about someone's political affiliation before hiring them is "not done" at DOJ.
"I've been in this business almost 25 years, and in those 25 years I've not had occasion once to ask about somebody's political affiliation. It is not done," Mueller said. "What I care about is the capability of the individual to do the job and do the job seriously and quickly and with integrity."
Under questioning by Rep. Greg Steube, Mueller repeatedly said he could not get into whether his investigators interviewed former British spy and dossier author Christopher Steele.
Mueller said at the beginning of the hearing he couldn't discuss the origins of the Russia investigation, something he repeated during the congressman's line of questioning.
"As I said at the outset this morning, that was one of the investigations I could not speak to," Mueller told Steube.
GOP Rep. Debbie Lesko criticized Mueller for citing news articles in the second section of the report, which dealt with whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice. Lesko said, by her count, the report cited The Washington Post around 60 times, The New York Times 75 times and Fox News 25 times.
"It looks like Volume II is mostly regurgitated press stories," Lesko said.
Mr. Trump initially denied a 2018 New York Times article reporting he asked former White House Counsel Don McGahn to have Mueller fired, even though the Mueller report later confirmed the incident.
Mueller's team specifically informed the Judiciary and Intelligence committees that he would decline to read from the report during the hearing, according to a committee source involved in the negotiations surrounding Mueller's appearance.
He has asked members several times to read portions of the report aloud themselves. A Democratic source said their questioning was structured around that assumption, which is why members have had citations ready.
Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell referenced a May letter signed by about 1,000 former federal prosecutors of both parties, who agreed that Mr. Trump would be charged with obstruction if he weren't president.
Swalwell asked whether Mueller agreed with the prosecutors.
"They have a different case," Mueller said.
Swalwell then asked if Mueller wanted to sign the letter.
Democratic Rep. David Cicilline asked Mueller about Mr. Trump's multiple attempts to limit the scope of the Russia investigation, such as when he asked former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reverse his decision to recuse himself from the probe or when he told former White House Counsel Don McGahn to order Mueller's firing.
"An unsuccessful attempt to obstruct is still a crime, is that right?" Cicilline asked.
"True," Mueller replied, again indicating Mr. Trump could conceivably face indictment after leaving office.
Mueller reaffirmed to GOP Rep. Ken Buck that a president can be indicted on criminal charges after he leaves office. Current Justice Department guidance says a sitting president cannot be indicted.
"We cannot indict a sitting president, so one of the tools a prosecutor could use isn't there," Mueller said about making a determination about whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice.
Republicans on the committee have repeatedly criticized Mueller for not making a determination while also not exonerating the president, arguing he should have made a determination one way or the other.
Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, a staunch Trump ally, raised his voice as he criticized Mueller for not doing enough to address the dossier authored by former British spy Christopher Steele.
Mueller declined to address the matter in detail, adding that the subject is "under investigation" internally at the Justice Department and is therefore "beyond my purview." Gaetz shot back, calling that notion "absurd."
When Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch asked why the president wanted to fire him, Mueller responded, "I can't answer that question."
But Mueller did confirm his report suggests the president wanted to fire him because Mueller was investigating him for obstruction of justice.
Mueller's report outlines multiple times when McGahn said he was instructed to remove the special counsel.
Rep. Louie Gohmert, a firebrand ultra-conservative, asserted that Mueller spoke with Mr. Trump about becoming FBI director before he was appointed special counsel in 2017, but Mueller clarified he did not meet with Mr. Trump "as a candidate." The president has repeatedly claimed Mueller is "conflicted" because he wanted to be FBI director, and Mr. Trump didn't offer him the job.
When asked why he did not determine if the president had undertaken any "impeachable conduct," Mueller noted his mandate did not include determining whether an offense could be addressed by other means.
"We have studiously kept in the center of the investigation our mandate. And our mandate does not go to other ways of addressing conduct. Our mandate goes to developing the report and turning the report in to the attorney general," Mueller said, in response to a question by Republican Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner.
GOP Rep. John Ratcliffe slammed Mueller for not exonerating Mr. Trump in his report, arguing there should be a presumption of innocence if someone is not indicted of a crime.
"Donald Trump should not be above the law. He's not. But he damn sure shouldn't be below the law, which is where Volume II this report puts him," Ratcliffe said, referring to the section of the report dealing with obstruction.
Ratcliffe said Mueller was meant to come to a decision on obstruction of justice under his mandate as special counsel. Ratcliffe criticized Mueller for failing to do so in the second portion of his report.
"You wrote 180 pages about decisions that weren't reached," Ratcliffe said.
Mueller was largely unable to respond, and Ratcliffe's combative questioning served as an indication of how Republicans would use their time to undermine the conclusions of the report and Mueller's seeming independence.
Noting that "collusion" is not a legal term, ranking member Rep. Doug Collins asked whether Mueller believed the terms "collusion" and "conspiracy" were synonymous. The report found that no Trump campaign official criminally conspired with Russian individuals to influence the election.
Mueller initially said "collusion" and "conspiracy" were not synonymous. However, when Collins noted the report said the two terms were "largely synonymous," Mueller deferred to the language in his report.
Questioning Mueller first, Nadler asked whether the report totally exonerated the president, as Mr. Trump and his allies have frequently claimed.
"No," Mueller responded.
Mueller also reiterated his report did not clear the president of obstruction of justice, and that the president could still be indicted after leaving office.