Key Moments From Mueller’s Capitol Hill Testimony

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In his marathon testimony Wednesday on Capitol Hill, former special counsel Robert Mueller stuck to the facts of his report under intense questioning from Democrats and Republicans alike. His staccato answers did not diverge from his investigatory conclusions, despite the members’ best efforts.

Hearing #1: House Judiciary Committee

A resounding “no” on exoneration

Mueller already said this in his report. But it made it no less striking to hear him answer Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler’s question about whether he exonerated the President from obstruction with a resounding “no.”

Mueller made this same point later on in the proceedings, during questioning by Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA).

Lieu: “I’d like to ask you the reason, again, that you did not indict Donald Trump is because of the OLC opinion stating that you cannot indict a sitting President?”

Mueller: “That is correct”

Mueller contextualized this answer further in a later exchange with Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA).

Reschenthaler: “Isn’t it true, Mr. Mueller, that on page one of volume two, you state when quoting the statute that you had the obligation to either prosecute or not prosecute?”

Mueller: “Generally, that’s the case. Although, most cases are not done in the context of the President.” 

Reschenthaler: “In this case, you made a decision not to prosecute, correct?” 

Mueller: “No, we made a decision not to decide whether to prosecute or not.” 

GOP strategy: talk as fast as humanly possible

The Republican members of the committee seemed less intent on getting Mueller’s answers to their questions than to sprint through long blocks of questions to try to trip him up, or make him look slow. When he paused, or asked for clarification, the members tended to remind him of their time restraints and answer the question themselves.

This exchange with Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX) is typical of the dynamic:

Democrats, for their part, were speaking at a fast clip so as to maximize their limited time, but not railroading Mueller to the same extent.

Mueller shuts down questions about why he investigated in first place

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) tried to score points on why Mueller investigated Trump in the first place if he was never going to indict the President.

Mueller directed him to the Office of Legal Counsel’s own guidance, that he can carry out an investigation, even if he can’t indict a sitting President.

“You don’t know where the investigation is going to lie, and OLC opinion itself says that you can continue the investigation even though you are not going to indict the President,” Mueller said.

Sensenbrenner called the investigation “fishing.”

Mueller said that he did not meet with Trump as a candidate for FBI director 

In the first bit of new information in the hearing, Mueller said that he did not meet with Trump in a job interview for FBI director, but to discuss other possible candidates.

Trump denies this and has been long spinning the interview to paint Mueller as harboring bitterness towards him.

Mueller defends his “fair” and “thorough” report 

The mild-mannered special counsel briefly came to his report’s defense, as Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA) said that Mueller dropped his “political case” in a “paper sack” on their porch, lit it on fire and “ran.”

“I don’t think you reviewed a report that is as thorough, as fair, as consistent as the report that we have in front of us,” Mueller responded.

He also vouched for one of his fellow attorneys, Andrew Weissmann, in the course of the hearing, calling him “one of the more talented attorneys we have on board.”


Hearing #2: House Intel Committee

Cleanup on aisle OLC 

Mueller opened his second appearance of the day by cleaning up the interaction with Lieu flagged above, when he answered affirmatively that he didn’t indict Trump because of OLC guidance.

“As we say in the report, and as I said at the opening, we did not reach a determination as to whether the President committed a crime,” he clarified.

Mueller confirms that accepting foreign dirt is potentially criminal 

When asked by Rep. Jim Hines (D-CT) if a campaign should report offers of foreign dirt, he said that it “should be, can be, depending on the circumstances, a crime.”

Mueller decisively agrees that Manafort shared polling information with Russian/Ukrainian oligarchs 

In perhaps the strongest terms we’ve heard yet, Mueller definitively agrees that former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort shared campaign and polling information with Konstantin Kilimnik and Oleg Deripaska for money.

Mueller aide Aaron Zebley was sworn in…for nothing 

Despite all the hoopla Republicans raised over Aaron Zebley’s inclusion in the proceedings as a sworn-in witness who could field some of the committee members’ questions, he didn’t utter a word during the hearing.

The cable news channels also cut him out of the split screens, conveying truthfully the reality of the multi-hour session — Mueller was in it alone.


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