Thanks for following our live coverage on Wednesday of former special counsel Robert Mueller's testimony before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees about his report into Russian election interference and President Donald Trump.
Read more of our coverage below:
- Mueller says Trump not exonerated, knocks president's praise of WikiLeaks.
- 'Bob Mueller is struggling': The Democrats don't get their Trump gotcha moment.
- Fact checking Mueller's congressional hearings.
- Mueller clarifies comments on whether he could indict Trump.
- A complete timeline of all 198 times Mueller deflected, declined or deferred a question.
- 2020 candidates say Mueller's already made the case for impeachment.
- Mueller left impeachment breadcrumbs, if Democrats choose to follow.
Download the NBC News app for full coverage of Mueller's testimony
Democrats don’t see momentum for impeachment right now
WASHINGTON — Robert Mueller’s testimony is unlikely to reverse House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s reluctance to launch immediate impeachment proceedings against President Trump, instead lending momentum towards calls for more congressional investigations, Democratic lawmakers and top aides told NBC News.
“He was clear about the things that counted, that he did not exonerate the president, that there were multiple instances of obstruction of justice” Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-Penn., told NBC News. "We absolutely have to” call in more witnesses, she said.
“I think it’s a very important first day,” Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Penn, said. “Some people are saying this is the last day. This is the beginning.”
Senior Democratic Intelligence Committee officials who briefed reporters after their hearing said Mueller’s articulation of national security risks that can come from foreign contacts, among other issues, "raises a lot more questions” to pursue.
In a press conference after the hearings, Pelosi was asked by NBC News whether her views had changed on impeachment. "My position has always been whatever decision we made in that regard would have to be done with our strongest possible hand, and we still have some outstanding matters in the courts," she said. "It's about the Congress, the Constitution, and the courts. And we are fighting the president in the courts."
Pelosi told Democrats in a closed-door meeting Wednesday evening that the president has engaged in wrongdoing.
Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., said that Pelosi told members that they can come out for impeachment if that’s what they thought was right based on the testimony. “She was more clear today about” telling members to support impeachment if they want than she has been in the last, Demings said.
Still, Democrats close to the speaker cautioned that the proceedings are unlikely to change her go-slow approach.
Robert Raben, an assistant attorney general under Bill Clinton who is close to Pelosi’s office and has been advising House and Senate Judiciary members, said “if someone was hoping that this would be the surge toward a tipping point, that wasn’t the case.”
“The ground did not shift (on impeachment),” Raben told NBC. “Pelosi’s strategy of investigate, legislate and litigate will remain intact,” he said.
Three Democratic aides, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said the hearings won't cause Pelosi to reverse course.
“The question is how many (Democratic) members come out for it and what’s the threshold that makes it uncomfortable and unsustainable for her” to resist impeachment. Prior to the hearings, there were 88 Democrats who’ve publicly called for an impeachment inquiry.
“If we get into triple digits and 45-50% it might be harder for her” to resist, the aide said.
Alex Moe contributed
GOP to Democrats: 'It's time to move' on
GOP leaders held a press conference on Wednesday following Mueller’s testimony and excoriated Democrats for signaling in their own earlier, separate press conference that they would continue to build off of Mueller’s investigation and probe Trump.
Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, said Mueller did not say what the Democrats wanted to hear and that they only want to run “dog and pony shows.”
Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the ranking member of the Oversight Committee, and Devin Nunes of California, the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, also claimed that the hearings cleared the president of wrongdoing and said that the real issue is the origins of the investigation.
“The only people to be hurt in this is the American people,” said House Minority Speaker Kevin McCarthy. “This should be the end of the chapter of this book that we put America through.”
He added, “It’s time to move past the 2016 election.”
Pelosi stays course on impeachment, Nadler to go to court over Mueller grand jury info, McGahn subpoena
Pelosi said Wednesday evening that her position on whether the House pursues impeachment has not yet changed following Mueller's testimony.
"My position has always been whatever decision we make in that regard would have to be done with our strongest possible hand, and we still have some outstanding matters in the courts,” she said at a news conference, flanked by three of her committee chairmen, when NBC News’ Kasie Hunt asked whether the Mueller hearings changed her thinking on impeachment.
“If we have a case for impeachment, that’s the place where we’ll have to go,” she added, saying, “The stronger our case is, the worse the Senate will look for letting the president off the hook.”
Nadler said at the news conference that by the end of the week, he'll ask the courts for the grand jury information in the Mueller report and to enforce a subpoena issued to former White House counsel Don McGahn.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said Mueller’s testimony “was a giant step in making sure that the American people got a picture of all of this.”
Mueller left trail of impeachment breadcrumbs for Democrats
There was no made-for-TV moment, but former special counsel Robert Mueller still delivered plenty of breadcrumbs for Democrats who want to follow the politically risky trail toward an impeachment of President Donald Trump.
For all the star power Mueller lacked, he offered up just as much in the way of substance.
But if Democrats want to impeach Trump, they're going to have to take his work, build on it, prove the case — and hope it doesn't blow up in their faces politically.
Read more on what today's hearings brought to the impeachment debate here.
'Historic': Pelosi reacts to Mueller testimony
At a press conference later on Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the Mueller testimony "historic."
“It is a crossing of the threshold in terms of public awareness,” she said.
She also noted that the Mueller report did not include information about Trump's personal finances, which is something that Democrats in Congress have been pursuing on their own.
Republicans holding news conference on Mueller's testimony
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is holding a press conference with Reps. Jordan, Collins and Nunes at 6 p.m. to discuss Mueller's testimony, McCarthy's office announced.
Trump: Mueller's testimony 'a great day for me'
Trump painted Muller's testimony before Congress as a win on Wednesday, calling it "a great day for me" and brushing off questions about the fact that Mueller did not explicitly clear him of wrongdoing.
"He didn't have the right to exonerate," Trump told reporters as he was leaving the White House en route to a fundraiser in West Virginia, despite his repeated prior claims that the report represented "total exoneration." "That was something where he totally folded, because he never had the right to exonerate," the president added.
Mueller did "very poorly" during his testimony, Trump said, adding that “in all fairness, he had nothing to work with.”
When asked by NBC News if he was concerned about the potential of being indicted once he was out of office — a topic that caused some confusion during the testimony — Trump did not offer an answer, instead calling the reporter "fake news."
Trump thanked Republicans for their performance during the pair of Mueller hearings Wednesday, applauding them as "incredible warriors" who defended the country.
“In the end, they didn’t get away with it,” Trump said of Democrats.
House Intelligence Dems talk takeaways, next steps
Democratic officials on the Intelligence Committee held a background briefing after the second Mueller hearing to discuss key takeaways and next steps.
Here are some of the takeaways:
- The possibility of an ongoing FBI investigation involving Michael Flynn was something new they learned, but they directed further questions to the FBI.
- Mueller’s articulation of national security risks that can come from foreign contacts and lies about such contacts "raises a lot more questions about Jared Kushner,” an official said.
- Mueller’s testimony in response to questions from Rep. Demings suggesting that Trump’s written answers to the special counsel's questions were generally untruthful is particularly noteworthy, they said.
- He “obviously went beyond the four corners of the report” about issues in the first volume, an official said. "So we have a lot of work to do, because it's incumbent upon our committee to bring to light whether any foreign policy decisions are being motivated by compromise, or personal interest, as opposed to the national interest.”
And some next steps:
- Officials declined to put a timeline on the committee’s investigation or discuss how their findings ultimately would be presented to the public, or whether the effort potentially could be rolled into an impeachment probe. "To be honest, I think what has become clear is there's a lot, a lot of fact-gathering that still is required,” one official said. “No investigation operates properly with an end date."
- “We have ongoing investigations that are open," an official said. "The financial investigation is one that will get more attention” now that Mueller is over.
- They had been working to bring Rick Gates and Michael Flynn in for interviews as soon as this work period, but that was tabled when the Mueller hearings were postponed by a week. "But we continue to speak to their lawyers about them complying with the subpoena," an official said, adding, "We've received some documents … and I have gotten indication that there are going to produce more. And then ... we're going to regroup and try to schedule their testimony for September.
Fact check: Nunes claims Democrats colluded with Russia
"There is collusion in plain sight. Collusion between Russia and the Democratic Party. The Democrats colluded with Russian sources to develop the Steele dossier," Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., alleged during his opening statement.
There's no evidence that the Democratic Party colluded with the foreign adversary that, according to the conclusions of the intelligence community and the results of Mueller's investigation, was working to elect their political opponent. And while inquiries into the origins of the Russia investigation are ongoing within the Department of Justice, there is no publicly available evidence of the kind of extensive conspiracy Nunes is alleging.
Hillary Clinton's campaign and the Democratic National Committee, through a lawyer, did foot the bill for Washington-based research firm Fusion GPS to probe then-candidate Trump and his ties to Russia. Fusion GPS hired Christopher Steele, a British ex-spy and Russia expert, to do the work, and Steele ultimately penned an explosive report — the "dossier" — that included unverified claims that the Russian government was working with Trump and that the president was filmed with prostitutes in Moscow.
(Clinton has said she did not know of Steele's efforts, and her campaign has pointed out that the practice of gathering opposition research on rival political candidates is routine.)
But the FBI also used Steele as a paid informant for an unknown period of time. While the FBI noted in official proceedings that Steele was initially hired by political opponents, they also said they viewed him as credible.
Politico, citing two sources familiar with the Justice Department probes, reported earlier this month that Steele was interviewed by the DOJ internal watchdog in June.
Nunes' office did not immediately respond to a request for additional information. Mueller, for his part, repeatedly declined to answer any questions about Steele or the dossier. "These matters are the subject of ongoing review by the Department," Mueller told the House Judiciary Committee.
Dems to hold post-hearing news conference
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., will join Schiff and Nadler for a news conference at about 5 p.m. following today’s two Mueller hearings, a committee spokesperson said.
Trump spikes the football after Mueller’s testimony ends
Trump spikes the football after Mueller’s testimony ends
Moments after Mueller’s testimony ended, Trump chimed in with a tweet.
“TRUTH IS A FORCE OF NATURE,” Trump wrote.
And just before that, Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale released a statement on behalf of the campaign claiming a total victory for the president.
“These hearings were a disaster for Democrats,” Parscale wrote. “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.”
Mueller detailed various elements of his report throughout the day, insisting that he had not exonerated Trump.
Mueller refuses to answer 198 times
Mueller deflected or declined to answer questions 198 times, according to our tracker.
Mueller won’t say if he looked at Trump’s personal finances
Mueller said his report did not cover Trump’s business ties to Russia, but added that he could not say whether he obtained the president’s personal finances, including his tax returns, when questioned by Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill. He did say, however, no one asked him to not look into the president’s finances.
Encrypted messaging apps get a shoutout
Swalwell touched on a small but intriguing part of the Mueller report — the use of encrypted messaging apps.
Apps such as Confide have become popular in Washington in recent years as a way to enjoy the convenience of smartphone messaging without worrying about pesky things like subpoenas. Mueller’s report found that some people associated with the Trump campaign “deleted relevant communications or communicated during the relevant period using applications that feature encryption or that do not provide for long-term retention of data or communications records.”
Mueller’s report went on to say that this meant certain lines of investigation could not be fully explored.
“In such cases, the Office was not able to corroborate witness statements through comparison to contemporaneous communications or fully question witnesses about statements that appeared inconsistent with other known facts,” the report stated.
Fact check: Castro says Trump, his associates 'lied' about business dealings with Russia
This claim, made by Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, is accurate.
Trump pursued a "highly lucrative” Trump Tower project in Moscow while running for president, according to the Mueller report. Trumpsigned a letter of intent on the project in November 2015 — six months after he announced his presidential bid — and efforts to build the tower continued through “at least” June 2016, according to the report. Trump even considered travel to Russia during this time, according to Mueller’s report.
Trump's longtime personal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, led negotiations for the Moscow project. Cohen, who held the title of vice president at the Trump Organization, pleaded guilty to lying about the timeline of the project to Congress in 2017. In February 2019, testifying publicly on the Hill about his former boss’s misdeeds before heading to prison, Cohen alleged Trump had wanted Congress to receive misleading testimony about his ties to Russia.
"Mr. Trump had made clear to me, through his personal statements to me that we both knew were false and through his lies to the country, that he wanted me to lie,” Cohen told House lawmakers. “And he made it clear to me because his personal attorneys reviewed my statement before I gave it to Congress.”
Mueller explains why he didn’t subpoena Trump for an interview
Rep. Sean Maloney, D-N.Y., asked Mueller a question on a lot of peoples’ minds: “Why didn’t you subpoena the president” for an interview?
Trump refused to sit with Mueller or his team for an interview, instead opting to provide answers to written questions on possible conspiracy with Russia — but not on obstruction, which his legal team argued amounted to a “perjury trap.”
Mueller said his team had “little success in pushing to get the interview,” which they had been requesting for more than a year.
The special counsel's office decided "we did not want to exercise the subpoena power because of the necessity of expediting the end of the investigation,” he continued, adding that a subpoena would likely have led to lengthy court battle. But Mueller also acknowledged that Trump’s written answers were “not as useful as the interview would be.”
Mueller added that no one at the Justice Department pushed him to wrap up the probe.
Mueller again differentiates between conspiracy and collusion
Mueller was very careful when answering a question from Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., about his report on finding “collusion.”
There is no federal statute called “collusion,” Mueller said, and had to take a pause before confirming that he looked at conspiracy.
Trump and his allies have consistently claimed vindication, saying that Mueller found “no collusion.”
Mueller also made the distinction that failing to charge someone with a criminal conspiracy does not necessarily mean there is no evidence of one.
Welch cited as possible evidence the infamous Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer and Trump calling on Russia to find Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails.
Mueller expresses concern about a ‘new normal’
Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., asked Mueller if he’s concerned about what he described as a “new normal” in American politics in which campaigns do not report foreign contacts to federal authorities.
“I hope this is not the new normal,” Mueller replied. “But I fear it is.”
Trump came under fire last month after suggesting in an interview with ABC News that he would accept help from foreign governments ("I'd take it") and seemed to dismiss the idea that he would be obligated to inform law enforcement.
Giuliani says it’s been a ‘sad’ day for Mueller
Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani texted NBC News, saying it’s been a “sad” day for Mueller.
“Repubs score knock down after knock down and poor Mueller needs someone to throw in the towel,” he said.
Giuliani added that Rep. Mike Turner’s exchange with Mueller, in which the Ohio Republican challenged whether Mueller had any ability to exonerate the president, was the “best” so far.
Mueller has insisted in his report and during his Wednesday testimony that his report did not serve as an exoneration of the president. From the onset, Trump and his allies have insisted otherwise.
“That inclusion in his report was written by an idiot prosecutor and he can’t explain it,” Giuliani said. “Really can’t defend his report. It’s as if someone else wrote your doctoral thesis.”
Mueller says Russian interference is ongoing
Mueller said Russia is meddling in U.S. elections “as we sit here.”
He was responding to questioning from Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas, who was asking about Russian electoral interference.
“It wasn’t a single attempt — they’re doing it as we sit here,’ Mueller said. “And they expect to do it during the next campaign.”
Mueller earlier said that Russia sought to benefit Trump and harm Clinton in 2016, reiterating what was in his report.
In stark contrast with some of the conservative Republicans on the panel, Hurd, a moderate lawmaker, avoided attacks on Mueller’s integrity and the veracity of his team’s report.
Still no word from Mueller’s key aide
Republicans were unhappy that Mueller’s longtime right-hand man, Aaron Zebley, would be sworn in as a witness during the House Intelligence hearing. President Trump called Zebley’s appearance a “disgrace to our system.”
But after all the agita about Zebley’s last-minute inclusion, he has yet to receive or answer any questions.
Who else wasn't interviewed by Mueller? Trump's kids
Mueller wasn't able to interview the president in person as part of his investigation, and he affirmed to Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., on Wednesday that he wanted to. He also didn't interview Donald Trump Jr., the president's oldest son.
Former Justice Department officials told NBC News that they speculated the reason Trump Jr. wasn’t forced to sit for an interview was because he was expected to invoke his Fifth Amendment right not to self-incriminate. Trump daughter and White House adviser Ivanka Trump's attorney answered questions on her behalf, according to Mueller's report. There’s no indication that Trump's son Eric Trump was interviewed, either.
Though Trump complained in April that those “closest” to him were not interviewed by the special counsel, many of the president's closest advisers were indeed interviewed by the special counsel's office, including Hope Hicks, a longtime aide.
Mueller keeping well within his lane
The I-can't-speak-to-that answers from Mueller are breathtaking in some places ... Did you think the president was vulnerable to blackmail? "I can't speak to that." Did the president provide aid and comfort to a hostile foreign power? "I wouldn't characterize it with any specificity." These are both answers that could have been given with serious pushback but were not rendered that way.
Analysis: Mueller testimony shows the president lies — a lot
One thing Mueller hasn’t been shy about before the Judiciary and Intelligence committees is to contradict the president’s public statements.
It used to be that lying to the public was a major political risk for a president — during their lifetimes, Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson could have attested to that. But in the Trump era, it’s so commonplace that Mueller’s responses seemed to have less sting than they might have in the past.
Time and again, Mueller has been asked whether Trump lied, and he has said yes.
During the Intelligence Committee hearing, Schiff asked whether it was “false” when Trump asserted that the investigation was a “witch hunt.”
“Yes,” Mueller said.
Schiff asked whether Trump and his campaign lied about building his presidential campaign around documents stolen from Democrats.
“Generally, that’s true,” Mueller said.
Earlier in the day, during the Judiciary Committee hearing, Nadler asked Mueller whether there had been a total exoneration of the president from the investigation, as Trump has often claimed.
Mueller said there had not been such a conclusion.
Mueller won't say whether he wanted to interview Trump Jr.
Mueller calls Trump’s past praise of WikiLeaks 'problematic,’ worthy of probing
Mueller said Trump’s past praise of WikiLeaks was “problematic” and worthy of investigation during his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee.
Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., asked Mueller to react to four instances in which Trump praised WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign.
Mueller, hesitating at first, said voicing approval for Julian Assange’s organization is “problematic.”
“Problematic is an understatement in terms of what it displays in terms of giving some hope, or, I don’t know, some boost, to what is, and should be, illegal activity,” Mueller said.
During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump repeatedly praised WikiLeaks, both online and during campaign rallies, for releasing Clinton campaign emails. “I love WikiLeaks,” Trump said that fall.
Earlier this year, then-White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said when asked about Trump’s praise for WikiLeaks that Trump was “clearly … making a joke."
Mueller declines to answer questions 155 times
Mueller has declined to answer or deflected questions 155 times. We're keeping count here.
Who is Joseph Mifsud?
Joseph Mifsud — a London-based Maltese professor with ties to Russia — has come up several times this session.
According to Mueller's report, Mifsud traveled to Moscow in April 2016. Immediately after he returned to London, prosecutors say, he solicited then-Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos and told him that the Russians possessed incriminating information about Hillary Clinton in the form of "thousands of emails" — before it was widely and publicly known that Russia had stolen Democratic emails.
A week later, Papadopoulos mentioned the talk of emails to an Australian diplomat at a London bar in May 2016, a conversation that eventually made it back to FBI and prompted an investigation into Russia's election meddling. Papadopoulos later said he sought to use Mifsud to arrange a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Trump, and that campaign officials were aware. The Trump campaign has disputed Papadopoulos' version of events, and no meeting took place.
Mueller says his investigation ‘was not a hoax’
During a round of questioning from California Democrat Jackie Speier, Mueller pushed back against Trump’s Twitter talking point that the Russia investigation was a “hoax."
“It was not a hoax,” Mueller said, adding that he thinks lawmakers have “underplayed” the role Russia played in influencing the U.S. election. This wasn't the first time during the hearing Mueller directly dismissed attempts by the president to undermine the legitimacy of the special counsel investigation. Mueller also denied that his investigation was a “witch hunt” and that his staffers were politically motivated.
Mueller said his report was not only a time capsule for future generations but a red flare for lawmakers and law enforcement to curtail foreign election influence.
Poll: How you view Russia threat depends on who you voted for
Nunes' confusing logic
Mueller declines to speculate on whether Russia's interference swayed the election
Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., asked Mueller which 2016 candidate the Kremlin preferred as part of their interference campaign. Mueller's answer was direct: "Mr. Trump."
But Mueller wouldn't speculate on whether Moscow's efforts — a social media influence campaign and Russian intelligence officials' systemic effort to hack and dump documents stolen from Democratic officials — affected the election's outcome.
While Trump and his allies have long insisted that Russian meddling in the 2016 election had no effect on the race's outcome, Mueller’s report does not weigh in on the question. The special counsel’s “investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome."
A new statistical analysis by researchers at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, suggested that Trump’s campaign may well have been boosted by Russian meddling. The research shows that Trump's gains in popularity during the 2016 campaign correlated closely with high levels of social media activity by the Russian trolls and bots of the Internet Research Agency, a key weapon in the Russian attack.
Dem congresswoman presses Mueller on Trump Jr.
Rep. Terri Sewell, D-Ala., pressed Mueller on whether Trump Jr. broke the law by meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer during the now-infamous Trump Tower meeting.
George Papadopoulos and the beginnings of the FBI's Russia investigation
George Papadopoulos' loose lips are what started the Russia investigation, according to the report, and it's a point both Democrats and Republicans on the committee have pressed Mueller on early.
The one-time Trump campaign policy adviser told an Australian diplomat that Russia had emails that would embarrass Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, triggering an FBI investigation. He spent months trying to set up a meeting between Russians and Trump, unsuccessfully. He later pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
Counterintelligence: What Mueller meant and the implications
When Mueller says his office didn't reach counterintelligence conclusions, he means they didn't assess whether Trump campaign contacts with Russians harmed national security, and whether Trump or anyone around him was — or remains — compromised by Russia.
Counterintelligence investigations look at whether Americans are under the influence of a foreign power, whether wittingly or unwittingly. They usually unfold in secret, and they rarely result in criminal charges. Typically, the goal is to mitigate a potential security threat. That can mean firing or revoking the security clearance of an American deemed compromised, or it could simply mean a defensive briefing telling an official to steer clear of a certain foreign agent.
The Mueller report says that counterintelligence information was sent back to headquarters by FBI agents and analysts detailed to Mueller’s office who were not working on the criminal probes. As NBC News reported in April, “the FBI's efforts to assess and counter Russian efforts to influence the U.S. political system — including the Trump administration — is continuing, current and former U.S. officials say.”
What’s not clear is whether President Trump, who former acting FBI director Andrew McCabe named as a subject of the counterintelligence investigation, remains one.
The House Intelligence Committee has demanded briefing and documents from the FBI describing its counterintelligence findings in the Russia investigation, and the committee has obtained some classified information that members thus far have not discussed. Mueller will not be able to talk publicly about any of this.
Mueller: My investigation was 'not a witch hunt’
This is maybe the first time it has been said publicly, but Mueller directly contradicted one of Trump’s go-to lines about the investigation — that it was a “witch hunt.”
"It is not a witch hunt,” Mueller said after a pointed line of questioning from Chairman Schiff.
Mueller also agreed with Schiff’s characterization that many associates in Trump’s orbit welcomed Russia’s help or business and lied to investigators during the course of the investigation into meddling.
Mueller corrects earlier answer to Lieu
Mueller opened up his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee by correcting a remark he made earlier in the day during an exchange with Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif.
"Now before we go to questions, I want to add one correction to my testimony this morning," Mueller said. "I want to go back to one thing that was said this morning by Mr. Lieu, who said, 'You didn’t charge the president because of the OLC opinion.' That is not the correct way to say it. As we say in the report, and as I said in the opening, we did not reach a determination as to whether the president committed a crime."
When questioned by Lieu, who asked if he “did not indict Donald Trump” because of a 2000 Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel memo advising against the indictment of a sitting president, Mueller had said, “That is correct.”
That comment led to some confusion over whether Mueller was saying that but for the memo, he would have indicted Trump. His more than 400-page report on Russian interference made clear the OLC memo led him to rule out from the start any possible Trump indictment. And in early May, Attorney General William Barr testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Mueller "reiterated several times in a group meeting that he was not saying that but for the OLC opinion he would have found obstruction.”
Still, as was made clear in the report, Mueller said in the first session that Trump could face an indictment for obstruction of justice after leaving office.
Fact check: Did Trump allies destroy documents and use encrypted apps?
House Intel Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., made this allegation in his opening statement, and it's accurate, according to the special counsel's office.
"Constrained by uncooperative witnesses, the destruction of documents and the use of encrypted communications, your team was not able to establish each of the elements of the crime of conspiracy beyond a reasonable doubt, so not a provable crime, in any event," Schiff said.
Here's what the report said: "[S]ome of the individuals we interviewed or whose conduct we investigated — including some associated with the Trump campaign—deleted relevant communications or communicated during the relevant period using applications that feature encryption or do not provide for long term retention of data or communication records. In such cases, the Office was not able to corroborate witness statements through comparison to contemporaneous communications or fully question witnesses about statements that appeared inconsistent with known facts."
Zebley, top Mueller aide, is sworn in for House Intel hearing
Aaron Zebley, a longtime Mueller aide, was sworn in alongside Mueller at the start of the hearing before the House Intelligence Committee — meaning, he can answer questions. Zebley was deputy special counsel during the Russia investigation, and counseled Mueller during his appearance before the House Judiciary Committee earlier.
Before working on the 22-month special counsel investigation, Zebley worked in private practice with Mueller where he represented a Clinton aide who helped former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton set up a private email server.
Prior to that, Zebley spent years working for the U.S. Department of Justice, in roles ranging from an assistant U.S. attorney in Virginia to a counterterrorism FBI agent.
He also worked as Mueller's chief of staff when Mueller served as the FBI director.
Schiff appears to refer to Trump as 'angry man'
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, addressing Mueller’s aide Aaron Zebley at the start of the hearing, took a thinly veiled shot at President Donald Trump.
“I understand there’s an angry man down the street who’s not happy about you being sworn in today,” Schiff told Zebley. “But it is up to the committee.”
Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the committee's ranking Republican, suggested GOP lawmakers on the panel would not direct questions to Zebley because he had represented an aide to Hillary Clinton during an FBI investigation of Clinton's use of a private email server as secretary of state.
Trump is, evidently, watching the House Intel hearing too
Schiff opening statement: Mueller report shows Trump's 'disloyalty to country'
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff kicked off this afternoon's hearing with a blistering opening statement accusing Trump of "lies" and "disloyalty to country."
"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. "Disloyalty to country. Those are strong words, but how else are we to describe a presidential campaign which did not inform the authorities of a foreign offer of dirt on their opponent, which did not publicly shun it, or turn it away, but which instead invited it, encouraged it and made full use of it?"
He added that while Mueller's report "was not able to establish ... a provable crime," it brought up "something worse."
"A crime is the violation of a law written by Congress. But disloyalty to country violates the very obligation of citizenship, our devotion to a core principle on which our nation was founded, that we, the people, not some foreign power that wishes us ill, we decide who shall govern us."
Ari Melber: Why weren’t other prosecutors on the Hill?
In his analysis of Mueller’s testimony, MSNBC’s Ari Melber asked whether Democrats should have pushed to swear in other prosecutors to field questions the former special counsel was apparently averse to answering.
Melber said that lawmakers and viewers around the country were treated to “100 evasions and non-answers and a lot of sitting by” as Mueller’s report – and his integrity – were harshly attacked.
Was Mueller off his game?
MSNBC national security analyst Jeremy Bash sharply criticized Mueller after the first half of his testimony to Congress. He thought the usually straight-forward, methodical former FBI director was too slow in his responses and seemed off his game. He said the attacks on his work by Republicans were “ridiculous,” but Mueller did not do a convincing job detailing what he found.
“Far from breathing life into the report he kind of sucked the life out of the report,” Bash said. “I thought he was boring. I thought, in some cases, he was sort of evasive, he didn't want to explain or expand on his rationale, he seemed lost at times.” He added, “I thought it was a very ineffective defense of his own work.”
It’s unclear whether Mueller's performance will be similar when he testifies before House Intel later today.
Will impeachment be Democrats' next move?
Mueller wouldn't go near it, but Democrats are clear: Impeachment is in play.
Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, ended her questioning by saying, "This hearing has been very helpful to this committee as it exercises its constitutional duty to determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment against the president."
She later added, "It now falls on us to hold President Trump accountable."
Rep. Cohen offers applause for Mueller
As Mueller exited to Judiciary Committee private space, Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., (of KFC fame) offered a round of applause. Members had been instructed to remain seated to let him leave.
Mueller declines to answer questions 123 times
Over the course of the last few hours, Mueller has deflected or declined to answer questions 123 times. Keep track on his refusals to comment here.
And now for a brief intermission...
The House Judiciary Committee's hearing is over.
There will now be a short break before the House Intelligence Committee gets its turn to question Mueller.
Fact check: Trump says there was 'NO OBSTRUCTION' of Mueller's investigation
Trump claimed on Wednesday that an unimpeded investigation could not have been obstructed, pointing to a Fox News contributor's analysis. It's unclear exactly what point in Mueller's testimony the contributor is referring to here, but Mueller did indeed say Wednesday that his investigation was not "stopped or hindered."
But Mueller being allowed to finish his investigation isn't the same thing as reaching a conclusion of "NO OBSTRUCTION."
The former special counsel declined to come to a conclusion on whether or not the president obstructed justice — citing DOJ policy not to indict a sitting president. His report does detail the president's attempts to muddy the investigation, including efforts to tamper with witnesses and fire the special counsel. Attorney General William Barr, after receiving Mueller's report, cleared Trump of obstruction of justice.
On Wednesday, pointing to the criminal statute, Mueller told Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., that an unsuccessful attempt to obstruct justice would still be a crime.
Mueller steering clear of impeachment
Lawmakers have repeatedly asked Mueller this morning whether impeachment is one of the remedies he believes an option for the president’s conduct. But Mueller isn’t offering any window into his thinking on the topic, telling one lawmaker, “I’m not going to comment on that.”
Mueller asked about Trump Jr.
More than three hours into the hearing, Democrats finally get their question about Donald Trump Jr.
Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., asked whether the president's eldest son or his lawyers ever communicated any intent to invoke the 5th amendment.
"I'm not going to answer that," Mueller said.
Meanwhile, in the East Wing
Former Obama adviser David Axelrod reacts to Mueller hearing
Fact check: GOP rep says Trump 'cooperated fully' with Mueller's investigation
This claim, made by Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., is false.
"President Trump cooperated fully with the investigation, he knew he had done nothing wrong," Johnson said, wrapping up questioning for GOP members on the Judiciary Committee.
The president refused to sit for an interview with the special counsel’s office, agreeing only to answer written questions about Russian interference and possible coordination with his presidential campaign. He refused to answer questions about obstruction of justice, notably, and took a number of actions intended to disrupt, control and limit the investigation, according to Mueller’s report.
“The president’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the president declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests,” the report adds.
Dems' hope for a Mueller report movie hasn't materialized
If the Democrats were hoping to present a clear narrative of presidential wrongdoing during the Judiciary Committee hearing — one that could be easily understood by someone not familiar with the details of the Russia investigation — they arguably did not succeed.
They did get Robert Mueller to acknowledge that his report didn’t exonerate the president, contradicting Donald Trump’s repeated claim. And they did get him to affirm some of the report’s most damning passages on obstruction of justice.
But Mueller would not be drawn in to discussing his findings in plain language that might help the public understand what it means to obstruct a criminal investigation and why that is a crime. He declined even to read passages from the report, requiring his questioner to do that. Repeatedly, he answered questions by saying, “I’d refer you to the report.” And he re-stated his position that his team didn’t make a prosecutorial decision on whether the president committed a crime.
Mueller also often failed to push back when Republicans attacked the integrity of his investigation and its findings.
A swing voter unfamiliar with the players and the details, tuning in to learn what all the fuss is about, saw a witness whose primary objective seemed to be avoiding answering questions, as he was buffeted by politicians trying to score points. Mueller deflected or declined to answer more than 100 times. He did not seem conversant with many of the details in his report.
“I don’t think you have reviewed a report that is as thorough, as fair, as consistent as the report that we have in front of us,” he said at one point. But if the idea was that Mueller was going to deliver the movie version of a book few people read, that did not happen.
Mueller defends his team amid accusations of bias
During an exchange with Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., Mueller defended his team of attorneys who worked in the special counsel probe from allegations of political bias.
Armstrong had pressed on Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and others who have come under fire on the right for anti-Trump text messages and ties to Democrats.
Mueller said he wanted to address those allegations, saying he never asked potential employees about their political leanings, adding, “What I care about is the capability of the individual to do the job,” do it expediently “and with integrity.”
The exchange underscores what Trump and his allies have claimed, without evidence, over the course of the investigation: Mueller was conflicted and his investigation was run by "angry" Democrats. But Mueller has been insistent that he operated with independence and worked to make sure that the investigation had the appearance of fairness, including firing or transferring employees seen as conflicted. However, he did reveal that he did not know that one of the lawyers on his team, Jeannie Rhee, represented Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation before she joined his team.
Fact check: Did Mueller interview for the FBI director job?
Mueller was interrogated by Rep. Greg Steube, R-Fla., about a conversation he had with the president the day before he was appointed special counsel: Was it a job interview? The president has repeatedly said that Mueller "interviewed" for the job and was turned down, claiming this created a conflict of interest to his appointment as special counsel.
But Mueller said it wasn't a job interview.
“My understanding is I was not applying for the job, I was asked to give my input on what it would take to do the job which triggered the interview you were talking about,” Mueller told Steube. “I interviewed with the president, it was about the job, but it was not about me applying for the job.”
And Mueller's claim here is backed up by Trump's own aides, including former White House adviser Steve Bannon, who told the special counsel's office that Mueller wasn't seeking a job for himself.
"Bannon recalled that the White House had invited Mueller to speak to the President to offer a perspective on the institution of the FBI. Bannon said that, although the White House thought about beseeching Mueller to become Director again, he did not come in looking for the job,” the report reads, citing interviews with Bannon.
How the Mueller testimony highlights a culture clash
MSNBC political analyst Anand Giridharadas sums up the hearing like this:
Mueller gets a laugh!
Rep. Sylvia Garcia, D-Texas, posing a hypothetical to illustrate her point, asked Mueller if she could face five years in jail for lying to his investigators.
“Yes,” Mueller responded firmly.
But then he reconsidered.
“Well, wait,” he said. “It’s Congress.”
Mueller’s quip drew a laugh from some in the room, briefly cutting through the tension that has consumed the hearing amid the partisan grandstanding.
What does Mueller mean when he says "that is correct"?
Ted Lieu used his questioning to argue that Mueller would have indicted Trump but for the OLC restriction. Mueller replied, "That is correct."
Lieu's suggestion is along the lines that “a crime was found but could not be charged.” But that’s not what the report says. So there may be further debate about what Mueller meant by his reply to Lieu.
Dems rushing to get their questions in
As Nadler just announced, Democrats are under the gun to get as many of their remaining members time to ask questions before the agreed-upon end time.
There are at least seven Democratic members who have yet to ask questions by my count — all freshmen. As Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-Pa., was speaking, a Democratic committee staffer passed a post-it note to another member to put in front of her that appears to have suggested she quickly wrap up. She did shortly after seeing the note.
Mueller prefers 'I don’t agree' to 'That’s not true'
In his exchanges with GOP lawmakers, Mueller has seemed reluctant to accuse his questioners of stating falsehoods. He has, with a few notable exceptions, shied away from saying that various assertions and claims are “not true.”
Instead, the former special counsel has frequently responded with riffs on the same phrase: “I don’t agree with that characterization,” “I don’t agree with your analysis,” and so on.
Mueller pushes back, a bit
Mueller did push back a bit against an attack by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., but not nearly as forcefully as he could have. And he didn’t marshal any facts in his defense.
McClintock suggested the public can’t trust whether the Mueller team correctly characterized witness testimony and accused Mueller’s team of creating a political report. He also stated there was no connection between the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency (the Russian troll farm) and the Russian government, which is a laughable claim.
Mueller responded tersely, saying at one point, “I don’t necessarily credit what you’re saying occurred.” And: “I would again dispute your characterization of what occurred in that proceeding.”
McClintock: “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.”
Mueller: “I don’t think you have reviewed a report that is as thorough, as fair, as consistent as the report that we have in front of us.”
That is the most detailed sentence he has uttered in defense of his report.
Rep. Guy Reschenthaler’s questioning is another example.
The Pennsylvania Republican asked Mueller whether any of the witnesses he spoke with were cross-examined, but no witness gets cross-examined in the course of conducting an investigation. That only happens in court.
Yet there is little Mueller did to point this out.
Mueller has declined or deflected questions 81 times
Mueller has declined or deflected questions 81 times as of 11:21. Follow our live deflection tracker here.
Mueller told committees he wouldn't read from his report: source
A congressional source involved in negotiations surrounding Mueller’s appearance tells NBC News that Mueller’s team specifically informed the committees that he would decline to read from his report during the hearing. This was communicated before today’s hearings.
There had previously been speculation that Mueller might read directly from the report.
Why the deal between Paul Manafort and federal prosecutors fell apart
Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington pressed Mueller on what happened to the cooperating agreement between his prosecutors and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Manafort, a longtime Republican lobbyist who spent nearly a decade working for the pro-Russia government of Ukraine and its leader, was chairman of Trump's campaign the summer before the election.
He was first indicted in October 2017 in Washington, D.C., and charged with additional crimes in Virginia in February 2018. The federal charges included tax fraud, bank fraud, and conspiracy. A Virginia jury found Manafort guilty of dodging taxes and failing to report foreign lobbying. He then pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges in Washington, D.C., to avoid a second trial, and struck a cooperation deal with Mueller that would have made him eligible for a lighter sentence.
But the deal fell apart after the special counsel’s team accused him of making false statements in order to protect an alleged Russian conspirator — Konstantin Kilimnik. Manafort got 7.5 years in prison. Most recently, Manafort was hit with a 16-count indictment that charged him with carrying out a multimillion-dollar mortgage fraud scheme in New York — and pleaded not guilty.
None of Manafort’s crimes are related to his work for the Trump campaign, but he’s a central character of the Mueller report nonetheless.
Arizona lawmaker suggests Mueller give short shrift to … Fox News
In one of the most striking attempts to undermine Mueller’s integrity, Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., suggested the former special counsel was biased because his report cited The Washington Post and The New York Times more than Fox News.
Lesko, who is aligned with the conservative Freedom Caucus, also appeared to criticize the second volume of Mueller’s report for purportedly cribbing too much information from news reports.
In other words: Lesko seemed to accuse Mueller of being a deficient news aggregator.
Trump is watching, and conservatives critique Mueller's performance
Three points to make at this point in the hearing:
- The president is watching coverage of Mueller’s testimony on Fox News. We know this because he quoted Chris Wallace calling today a “disaster for the Democrats and a disaster for the reputation of Robert Mueller.” The president, who is in the residence, not the West Wing, is also reiterating “NO OBSTRUCTION” and quoting commentators’ reactions.
- On substance: Conservative allies of the president are seizing on pieces of Mueller’s testimony that they believe vindicate the president or portray Mueller poorly. Kellyanne Conway, for example, is pointing to the portions of testimony where Mueller repeated that the investigation did not establish sufficient evidence of conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia. Other conservatives are making particular note of Mueller’s initial answer that he was “not familiar” with Fusion GPS — the firm that hired Christopher Steele. Allies are also downplaying the impact of the moment when Mueller, under questioning from Rep. Jerrold Nadler, acknowledged his report does not “totally exonerate” President Trump.
- On performance: There is a lot of chatter and innuendo in conservative circles — publicly and privately — about Mueller’s performance so far. Conservative radio host Mark Levin described him as looking “feeble.” Matt Schlapp, American Conservative Union chairman and husband of campaign aide Mercedes Schlapp, tweeted that it’s “amazing to think that Bob Mueller and Bill Barr are approximately the same age.” Sen. Lindsey Graham, without referring to Mueller himself directly, is calling the hearing “confusing and sad.” Conservative news outlets Daily Caller and Drudge Report are visibly highlighting Mueller’s repeated refrain “Can you repeat the question?” Privately, another person close the president says Mueller looks tired and wonders how that will affect his testimony in, say, hour four. And a couple of folks have mentioned the exchange with Rep. Doug Collins, in which he pressed Mueller on whether conspiracy/collusion are essentially synonymous.
Mueller says OLC memo is why he didn’t charge Trump
Mueller, in an exchange with Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., said the 2000 Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel memo was the reason he did not indict Trump.
"The reason, again, that you did not indict Donald Trump is because of OLC opinion stating that you cannot indict a sitting president, correct?" Lieu said.
"That is correct,” Mueller responded.
In early May, when Attorney General William Barr testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Barr said Mueller “reiterated several times in a group meeting that he was not saying that but for the OLC opinion he would have found obstruction.”
Wait, what was that shaking?
During the ongoing testimony, those inside the hearing room felt the room shaking while loud booming noises were heard. Reporters looked at one another, a bit freaked out, and wondered what was going on. But it appears that it is nothing but construction reverberating from different parts of the building.
Some key context about Chabot's questions about Fusion GPS
At about 9:31 a.m., Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, asked Mueller about an NBC News report regarding Natalia Vesilnitskaya, the Russian lawyer who requested the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting. Chabot pointed out that the lawyer had been working with Fusion GPS on behalf of a Russian businessman who was being sued by New York federal prosecutors.
Chabot cited our reporting that Vesilnitskaya received the information that she believed might be damaging to Clinton from Glenn Simpson, one of the founders of the firm. In other words, the supposed “dirt” on Clinton — which turned out not to be useful to the Trump team — came from the same firm that helped generate the dossier. Republicans make much of this, but Simpson has testified under oath that his work on the two cases was kept entirely separate.
Pundits raise questions about Mueller's performance
Two veteran political observers at NBC News took note of the ways in which Mueller's performance differs from previous public appearances, with one saying "the years have clearly taken a toll" on the former special counsel. (Mueller is 74.)
Mueller says Trump can be charged with obstruction after leaving office
Asked by Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., if Trump could be charged with obstruction of justice after leaving office, Mueller offered an emphatic “yes.”
Mueller letting GOP mischaracterizations slip by
Mueller is allowing the Republicans to mischaracterize aspects of his investigation without responding, which could have the result of furthering a narrative that will reach millions of Fox viewers and other consumers of right-wing media.
The former special counsel notably did not push back when:
- Jim Jordan said the FBI “spied” on the Trump campaign, and suggested that Joseph Mifsud (the Maltese professor who told Papadopoulos the Russians had dirt on Clinton) was a U.S. agent, not a Russian agent.
- Ratcliffe (and later Rep. Buck) argued that Mueller did not follow the special counsel regulations by not making a decision on obstruction and that it was improper for Mueller to say the president had not been exonerated.
- Gaetz suggested the Russia investigation might have been the result of a set-up of the Trump campaign by Russian intelligence.
- Gohmert said Mueller hired people who didn’t like Trump, and that FBI agent Peter Strzok “hated Trump.”
All of these assertions are either false or debatable and are designed to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the investigation.
Meadows hints at 'Deep State' conspiracy theory
Mueller himself is a registered Republican, but the majority of his attorneys were registered Democrats. It’s worth noting, as PolitiFact did, that the attorneys whose registrations were obtained are registered in urban districts that are majority Democratic, where primary races typically decide the outcome of elections.
Trump supporters weigh in on 'sad' hearing
Jeffries outlines legal requirements for obstruction
Rep. Meadows opines that it's not going well for Dems
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who is not on the committee but was sitting up front, weighed in during the five-minute break.
“He seems very uninformed as to the facts," Meadows said, adding, "A 448-page report, and yet it doesn’t seem as if he has a grasp of that. ... It doesn’t seem to be going extremely well for the Democrats.”
Democrats “keep trying to get him to make explosive statements,” he said.
Meadows expects more in-depth questioning “getting to the very start of this particular investigation.”
On the Mifsud line of questioning, he said: “The report implies stronger Russian connections than are actually there. … He lied three times to the FBI and was not charged. So the question is why.”
Rep. Gaetz goes off on Mueller
Fact check: The FBI used the Steele dossier to spy on Carter Page
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, complained about the warrant the FBI obtained in order to scrutinize former Trump campaign aide Carter Page on Wednesday, noting that the Steele dossier was "part of the reason they were able to get a warrant."
Jordan is correct. The FBI released a redacted copy of the warrant last year, showing that Christopher Steele's dossier was at least part of the law enforcement agency's interest in Page.
Steele is a former British spy who compiled an explosive report about the president's relationship with Russia.
The FBI disclosed to the court that the information in the dossier was paid for by political opponents of candidate Trump, but said they viewed Steele as credible. Steele, released documents revealed, was a paid FBI informant for an unknown period of time.
Trump's family, Rudy Giuliani tweet on ongoing Mueller testimony
Trump reacts to the hearing
Jordan challenges Mueller on why he didn’t charge an FBI informant with lying. Mueller’s team already explained why
Jim Jordan went off in his questioning of Mueller and asked why his team did not charge Joseph Mifsud — a professor and FBI informant who met with George Papadopoulos in 2016 and allegedly told him that Russia had dirt on 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton — with lying to the FBI.
In the government’s 2018 sentencing memo for Papadopoulos, who was charged with making false statements, attorneys wrote that Papadopoulos’ “lies undermined investigators’ ability to challenge the professor or potentially detain or arrest him while he was still in the United States.”
“The government understands that the professor left the United States on February 11, 2017, and he has not returned to the United States since then,” prosecutors added.
Rosenberg: Good prosecutors set out to get facts, not get people
MSNBC legal analyst Chuck Rosenberg said that Mueller’s restraint during this hearing has highlighted that he is there to get the facts right and not have a "gotcha" moment. He noted that Mueller either points to his report or affirms a fair characterization of his report.
“That restraint sort of underscores that he's not trying to get anybody,” Rosenberg said.
Mueller brushes up against GOP conspiracy theories
The line of questioning from some of the more hostile Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, appears to be rooted in conspiracy theories stoked by conservative media and occasionally spread by GOP politicians.
Jordan, for example, seemed to premise some of his questions on prominent conspiracy theories about a supposed “Deep State” plot within the federal law enforcement bureaucracy to undermine Trump and derail his presidency.
Mueller has also been asked about topics familiar to regular viewers of Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News, such as Fusion GPS, the investigations firm linked to the circulation of the “Steele dossier.” (The firm is not mentioned by name in Mueller’s report.)
Analysis: Mueller pointed to criminal obstruction by the president
It’s easy to ignore a witnesses’ opening statement, but Mueller’s may have provided the Rosetta stone to his thinking on whether the president committed obstruction of justice.
A few minutes after he delivered a statement in his hallmark anodyne tone, Mueller was asked a series of questions by Nadler, D-N.Y.
“Is it correct that if you had concluded that the president committed the crime of obstruction, you could not publicly state that in your report or here today?” Nadler asked.
“Well, I would say you – the statement would be that you would not indict and you would not indict, because under the OLC opinion, a sitting president cannot be indicted," Mueller responded. "It’d be unconstitutional.”
Mueller used almost that exact language in his opening statement: “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.”
The Justice Department policy to which he referred is the Office of Legal Counsel memo that holds a sitting president cannot be indicted.
So, the report says exactly what Mueller said Wednesday he would say if he had concluded the president had committed the crime of obstruction.
Mueller and Comey were close, but not that close, Comey said
Gohmert aggressively questioned Mueller on his relationship with former FBI Director James Comey, another figure in the Russia saga whose firing triggered Mueller’s appointment. However, yesterday Comey told MSNBC’s Nicole Wallace that he and Mueller worked closely together when he was in the Justice Department but were not personal friends.
“I admire the man, I like the man. I have not spoken to him in three years," Comey said. "He doesn’t know my children’s names, I don’t know his. He’s a great American. He’s not a personal friend of mine, but he is a great American."
Analysis: Pro-impeachment Dems make their case
Fourteen of the 24 Democrats who serve on the House Judiciary Committee favor starting an impeachment inquiry against Trump. During this hearing, most of them are ending their line of questioning by noting something that more than 800 former federal prosecutors said earlier this year: If Trump were not the president he would have been indicted.
Mueller said he was guided by Justice Department guidelines against indicting a sitting president. This hearing, as others have pointed out, could build the case for more lawmakers to support an impeachment inquiry.
Fact check: Why Rep. Gohmert asked Mueller about cellphones
Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, appeared to refer to a baseless conspiracy theory during the Mueller hearings on Wednesday, asking the former special counsel about the formatting of a pair of FBI cellphones and their text messages.
"Did you ever order anybody to investigate the deletion of all of their texts off of their government phones?” Gohmert asked, meaning messages between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, the FBI lawyer and agency attorney who had an affair and were caught texting negatively about Trump on their work phones. “Did you order an investigation into the deletion and reformatting of their government phones?”
Mueller answered no, that he had not investigated the formatting of phones, pointing instead to the findings of a Justice Department internal watchdog that did probe the matter. The watchdog found that some 19,000 messages were initially missing from FBI records due to a technical error. Those messages were later recovered.
Trump himself has accused Mueller of deleting messages between the two.
Monitors highlight key moments in Mueller report
There are four monitors in the hearing room showing full-screen snapshots of the text of Mueller's report. They are located on the far left and far right walls of the room, the rear wall opposite the dais, as well as on the large monitor directly in front of Mueller which he can see.
Here's what the report said Trump exclaimed when he learned Mueller had been appointed as special counsel.
Analysis: The GOP’s defense of obstruction
The Republican case for Trump’s defense is that he is a citizen under harassment from what Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas characterized as a big, bad Justice Department. It’s certainly an argument that tugs at the heartstrings of Republican voters across the country who consider the federal government to be an intrusive force in their lives through taxation, regulation and the enforcement of generations of laws at odds with local social standards.
“What he is doing is not obstructing justice,” Gohmert said of Trump’s efforts to push back on Mueller’s investigation. “He is pursuing justice.”
Earlier in the hearing, Rep. John Ratcliffe, also a Texas Republican, similarly said Trump was being treated below the law, rather than above it or on par with it.
None of that gets at the question of whether Trump broke obstruction laws. But it also ignores the obvious fact that the president sits above the Department of Justice and all the other agencies of the federal government and therefore has much more power than the little guy in the Texans’ narrative.
Here's the latest count of Mueller's deflections
Mueller has deflected questions from lawmakers at least 26 times today.
Mueller shows glimmer of frustration
Mueller has been wearing a poker face for much of the hearing so far, careful not to betray any emotions as he faces sometimes antagonistic questions from Republican lawmakers.
But amid a series of increasingly hostile questions from Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tex., the former special counsel appeared to momentarily lose his patience.
“May I finish?” Mueller asked Gohmert, holding out his hand as if to say: Hold your horses, congressman.
Gohmert's line of questioning embodied many of the GOP conspiracy theories that trailed Mueller's investigation.
Johnson gets Mueller to confirm potential obstruction attempts
Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia hit a groove with Mueller during his line of questioning by having Mueller confirm the circumstances of Trump trying to pressure former White House counsel Don McGahn to fire the special counsel.
He ran through instances of Trump trying to fire Mueller despite being informed that trying to remove Mueller could be construed as obstruction. He got Mueller to affirm the details of the McGahn episode, which could influence voters who did not read the report.
Mueller says he spoke with Trump about FBI director job 'not as a candidate'
During a tense exchange with Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, Mueller said he discussed the FBI director job with Trump before being appointed special counsel in 2017 — but “not as a candidate.”
The argument that Mueller had some supposed conflict of interest as a result of that interview with Trump has been promoted by Trump over and over again. Just today, Trump tweeted: “It has been reported that Robert Mueller is saying that he did not apply and interview for the job of FBI Director (and get turned down) the day before he was wrongfully appointed Special Counsel. Hope he doesn’t say that under oath in that we have numerous witnesses to the interview, including” Vice President Mike Pence.
Rep. Johnson brings up a key Mueller witness — Don McGahn
Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., focused his questions around Donald F. McGahn II, who served as White House counsel for President Donald Trump from Inauguration Day to October 2018, and what McGahn revealed about Trump's actions.
McGahn sat for a reported 30 hours of interviews with Mueller’s team, and is one of the most prominent witnesses named in the special counsel’s report. Crucially, McGahn told Mueller’s investigators under oath that Trump directed him to have Mueller fired multiple times over the course of the special counsel investigation. Trump has disputed this.
Mueller ‘not familiar’ with Fusion GPS
Mueller said he was “not familiar” with Fusion GPS, the investigations firm involved in the circulation of the Steele Dossier, when asked by GOP Rep. Steve Chabot of Ohio. Mueller said earlier in his testimony that he would not address questions on the dossier and origins of the Russia probe, rather stick to the text of his 400-plus page report.
Mueller later reiterated that earlier answer from his opening statement. Fusion GPS is not mentioned by name in the Mueller report.
GOP lawmakers contradict each other
Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, appeared to score some points on Mueller — until the next Republican to ask questions, former Judiciary Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., undermined the point of Ratcliffe’s questioning.
Ratcliffe argued that, rather than being placed “above the law,” Trump was being treated unfairly because Mueller had chosen, in unusual fashion, to detail activities for which Trump was not charged with any crime.
But a few minutes later Sensenbrenner read from the original document setting out the instructions for the special counsel’s probe, which included charging him with “explaining the prosecution or declination decisions.”
Moreover, Mueller’s report was initially supposed to be private and was only released publicly — setting off the chain of events that led to today’s hearing — because the Trump Justice Department decided, under pressure, to put it out. Otherwise, Mueller’s thoughts and conclusions would have remained private.
Is Mueller disrupting the rhythm?
What the Mueller report says about 'collusion'
Republicans have so far pushed Mueller on his conclusions about whether the Trump campaign colluded or coordinated with Russia in their election interference attempts. Here's what Mueller's report said about that:
“[C]ollusion is not a specific offense of theory of liability found in the United States Code, nor is it a term of art in federal criminal law,” the Mueller report notes. “For those reasons, the Office’s focus in analyzing questions of joint criminal liability was based on conspiracy as defined in federal law.”
The reports said that while the Trump campaign expected to benefit “electorally” from Russia’s hacking, “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
Democrats are adapting to GOP line of questioning
Democrats have planned for a coordinated and sequential series of questions among the full membership to address what they consider to be the most important points of the report. But it’s clear they are adapting as the hearing proceeds and as Republicans attempt to undercut the report.
Senior members of the Democratic committee staff, including special oversight counsels Norm Eisen and Barry Berke, have been huddling with the Democrats next in line to ask questions. I have not seen any Democratic members leave the room. At the moment there are at least two empty Republican chairs – Ken Buck of Colorado and Guy Reschenthaler of Pennsylvania.
Cohen gets Mueller to highlight a potential Trump obstruction episode
Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., focused largely on Trump’s response to former attorney general Jeff Sessions recusing himself from overseeing the Russia probe.
He highlighted the parts of the report that illustrated Trump’s ire at Sessions and his desire to get him to take back control of the probe. Cohen was trying to get at the lengths to which Trump went to stop or rein in the probe as an instance of obstruction of justice.
Mueller stays mum
The hearing has been underway for nearly an hour, and a pattern is beginning to emerge.
House members, each allotted five minutes, have peppered Mueller with loaded, sometimes nakedly partisan questions at a brisk pace. Mueller, for his part, has responded with crisp answers, sometimes pared down to a simple “Yes” or “No.” He has also repeatedly said, “Can you repeat the question?”
The former special counsel, widely expected to limit his testimony to the letter of his report, appears to be sticking to that strategy.
Rep. Ratcliffe criticizes the conclusions of the Mueller report
2020 contenders Warren, Moulton weigh in
2002 presidential candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., pressed for impeachment of Trump ahead of Mueller's testimony.
"Robert Mueller's report is an impeachment referral, and it's up to Congress to act. But impeachment shouldn't be the only way that a sitting president can be held accountable for committing a crime. No president is above the law," Warren tweeted before Mueller was sworn in, linking to a blog post on Medium.
Moulton, for his part, tweeted: "No matter what Robert Mueller says today, the president needs to be impeached."
Meanwhile, other lawmakers weighed in.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., a fierce defender of the president, insisted in a tweet there was "NO COLLUSION."
Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., defended the former special counsel's character and the caliber of his investigative work, tweeting: "I met Robert Mueller in 2006. He is a man of integrity and duty. @HouseJudiciary will follow his example. His report contains facts that should be shocking to every American."
Mueller pressed on how his inability to declare a crime took place doesn’t amount to an exoneration
Rep.John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, pressed Mueller on how his report was not an exoneration of the president. Ratcliffe asked if there was any other example of the Justice Department declining to file charges against an individual and saying they were not exonerated of a crime.
“This is a unique situation,” Mueller said, adding that he could not name such an earlier situation.
Mueller has repeatedly cited a Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel memo, which advises against the indictment of a sitting president, as something that from the onset of his probe made an indictment impossible.
Live updates: How many times has Robert Mueller deflected a question?
All eyes and ears are on former special counsel Robert Mueller today. Republicans hope to highlight what they see as a faulty premise for the Mueller probe. Democrats hope he'll say something to incriminate President Donald Trump, or at least bring more Americans to understand what they see to be the president’s wrongdoings.
But how many times will Mueller refuse to say much at all?
When he spoke publicly about the report in May, Mueller said that the report would serve as his testimony and that he "would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress." This means that despite the high stakes of today's hearings, Mueller might end up dodging more questions than he answers.
We'll be keeping track here.
Trump Jr. lashes out at Mueller for not addressing the origins of the probe
Collins pressed Mueller on collusion definition
Collins pressed Mueller aggressively on whether collusion and conspiracy are synonymous, which somewhat tripped up Mueller.
Trump has used “no collusion” as a rallying cry since the Mueller was appointed. Collins was trying to get Mueller to say that collusion and conspiracy were the same things because the special counsel found insufficient evidence for a criminal conspiracy during his probe.
Mueller said at first they weren’t synonymous, but after Collins pointed to the report, Mueller backtracked.
Republicans are likely to return to this line of attack to illustrate their point that the president was exonerated.
“That went a little fast for me.”
The first moment of levity: Mueller cracks a smile and appears to chuckle after Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., rattles off a series of questions about the makeup of Mueller’s special counsel team.
“That went a little fast for me,” Mueller told Collins.
Mueller pressed about Manafort associate Konstantin Kilimnik
Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California used her time to question Mueller about his findings regarding former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort (who is now serving time in prison) and a man named Konstantin Kilimnik — a Russian and Ukrainian business associate of Manafort's.
According to the special counsel, the FBI has concluded Kilimnik has ties to Russian intelligence and pitched Manafort on a plan to get Trump on board with a Ukraine peace deal that would effectively give Russians control of eastern Ukraine, with the support of a Trump White House. He also discussed Trump’s election strategies with Manafort and was given internal polling data about the Trump campaign, according to the report — something Lofgren zeroed in on in her questioning.
Mueller charged Kilimnik with obstruction of justice in 2018, but he has remained in Russia without addressing the charges other than telling reporters the report’s claims about him are “a made-up narrative.”
Mueller questioned about Trump’s lack of a live interview
Nadler questioned Mueller extensively about Trump’s lack of a live interview with Mueller or his team for the probe. Trump answered written questions on questions of conspiracy with Russia, but not on obstruction, which his legal team said amounted to a “perjury trap.”
Mueller reiterated Trump’s refusal to do a live interview with him and his team, noting that they had sought one for about a year and found it necessary to the investigation.
Who’s sitting behind Mueller?
The man with the bushy mustache and glasses behind Mueller's left is John L. Quarles III, a former Watergate prosecutor and a former member of Mueller’s special counsel team.
The man to Mueller’s right is Andrew Goldstein, a public corruption prosecutor who worked on the cases against Michael Cohen, Roger Stone and George Papadopoulos.
Why Democrats say Trump committed a crime
While the president’s attorney general absolved him of wrongdoing, the report does not go so far. Democrats, beginning with Nadler drilling Mueller on obstruction, plan to highlight a handful of actions documented in Mueller’s report that they believe clearly show Trump committed a crime, House Judiciary Committee staffers told reporters ahead of the hearing.
That list includes repeatedly directing then-White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller; telling McGahn to deny that he had been ordered to fire Mueller; asking former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to deliver a message to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to limit the investigation to exclude the president; telling Lewandowski to let Sessions know that he's fired if he doesn't meet with Lewandowski; and potential witness tampering with Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen.
Collins set up the GOP’s line of attack
Ranking Republican Doug Collins set up the GOP’s line of attack in his opening statement. He said the report exonerates the president of conspiring with Russia to meddle in the election and that Trump could not obstruct the investigation because he was innocent.
“Nothing we hear today will change that fact,” he said. Collins instead attacked the origins of the investigation, which he said was started by a “baseless” rumor.
Mueller, however, said he cannot talk about the origins of the Russia investigation.
Mueller says he didn’t exonerate Trump
Nadler asked Mueller early in the hearing whether the former special counsel’s report exonerated the president.
“No,” Mueller said. "It is not what the report said."
Trump and his allies have insisted the opposite.
What's the 'so-called Steele dossier?'
Mueller just said he was unable to address questions related to the origins of the Russia investigation, or "matters related to the so-called Steele dossier."
The Steele dossier is an explosive, unverified report penned by a former British spy who researched Trump during the presidential election, under contract to a U.S. research firm Fusion GPS. It was eventually published by Buzzfeed News, and included claims that the Russian government was working with Trump and that the president was filmed with prostitutes in Moscow.
Some parts of the dossier have proven true — like that Russians were regularly in contact with Trump allies and that they were seeking to help the president in his election — while others have been publicly disputed.
The dossier was considered by the FBI in their investigation among other evidence, something Trump and his allies have said undermines the broader investigation. The dossier is mentioned a handful of times in the Mueller report, including in reference to the president's discussions and tweets.
Mueller says he can’t answer questions on origins of Russia probe.
Citing Justice Department “privileges concerning investigative information and decisions, ongoing matters within the Justice Department, and deliberations within our office,” Mueller said he won’t be able to answer any questions regarding the origins of the Russia probe and former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele’s dossier.
“I therefore will not be able to answer questions about certain areas that I know are of public interest,” Mueller said. “For example, I am unable to address questions about the initial opening of the FBI’s Russia investigation, which occurred months before my appointment, or matters related to the so-called ‘Steele Dossier.’ These matters are the subject of ongoing review by the Department. Any questions on these topics should therefore be directed to the FBI or the Justice Department.”
Republicans were set to ask questions on both topics, which have routinely come under fire from the right. Ahead of his testimony, Trump pushed for Mueller to address those topics.
Mueller delivers opening statement
Mueller's opening statement reiterates that he does not intend to go beyond the scope of the Mueller report.
"I do not intend to summarize or describe the results of our work in a different way in the course of my testimony today," he said. "As I said on May 29: the report is my testimony. And I will stay within that text."
Who is Aaron Zebley, the top Mueller aide appearing with him?
The man accompanying Mueller today is Aaron Zebley, a longtime Mueller aide. He was deputy special counsel during the Russia investigation, and will counsel Mueller during his appearance before the House Judiciary Committee. He will not be sworn in for this first hearing.
Before working on the 22-month special counsel investigation, Zebley worked in private practice with Mueller where he represented a Clinton aide who helped former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton set up a private email server.
Prior to that, Zebley spent years working for the U.S. Department of Justice, in roles ranging from an assistant U.S. attorney in Virginia to a counterterrorism FBI agent.
He worked as Mueller's chief of staff when Mueller served as the FBI director, and Zebley investigated the Pentagon attack after 9/11. He was notably a key agent in the case against Zacarias Moussaoui, who was part of the 9/11 conspiracy. Before that, he worked for seven years as an FBI counter terrorism agent. He investigated the 1998 Al Qaeda embassy bombings in Africa and was credited with securing a confession from one of the bombers.
Protester interrupts start of hearing
As he made his way to his seat, Mueller shook hands with several Democratic Judiciary Committee members along the aisle. Just before Nadler gaveled in, a man began shouting: “Kushner and Manafort downloaded encrypted apps on the day of the Trump Tower meeting!” The man repeated that several times until he was quickly and forcibly removed.