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
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.”