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."