WASHINGTON, USA – Former US special counsel Robert Mueller made a long-awaited congressional appearance Wednesday, July 24, to testify about his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and President Donald Trump’s conduct during the probe.
Here are the main takeaways so far from the marathon hearings before two Democratic-controlled House committees.
Mueller set out by reiterating what his probe had established: that Russia interfered in the 2016 election “in sweeping and systematic fashion.”
And he restated that “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
Crucially, he reaffirmed that his team had not investigated “collusion,” which is not a legal term – giving the lie to Trump’s persistent claims the report established “no collusion.”
Mueller also repeated that Justice Department policy meant he could not make a determination as to whether the president committed a crime in his in efforts to tamper with the investigation.
“That was our decision then and it remains our decision today,” Mueller said.
But he gave the Democrats a key victory – and a rare quotable line – when he said “the president was not exculpated for the acts he allegedly committed.”
Trump not immune
Mueller has asserted repeatedly that he was unable to indict Trump or accuse him of a crime due to Justice Department policy against charging sitting presidents.
But he was asked if he could “charge the president of the United States with obstruction of justice after he left office” and he replied: “Yes.”
He appeared however to be making a general point about presidents not being immune from prosecution after their terms expire, rather than commenting specifically on Trump’s conduct.
What he wouldn’t say
Republicans and Democrats alike were hoping for significant political capital from Mueller’s testimony: a damning quote or a brilliant piece of cross-examination discrediting the investigation.
Mueller set the tone, however, by lowering expectations over what his testimony would uncover.
“I am unable to address questions about the initial opening of the FBI’s Russia investigation, which occurred months before my appointment,” Mueller said, nixing the Republicans’ hopes of making the session all about what they see as the illegal origins of the investigation.
He also dashed Democrats’ hopes that he might address the behavior of Attorney General Bill Barr, who was accused of misrepresenting the report to the American public before its release in a manner that was favorable to Trump, saying he would “not comment” on Barr’s actions.
An off day?
The Robert Mueller who appeared before Congress cut an altogether less dynamic figure than the image of the surgical prosecutor with ice in his veins invoked by reporting of his two-year investigation.
Hesitant and laconic during the morning’s hearing, Mueller frustrated Democrats who wanted a quick-fire extraction of the most damning aspects of his report.
He appeared ill-equipped to fend off Republican criticism of his work, most notably when Douglas Collins of Georgia pointed to contradictions between his report and his congressional testimony about whether “collusion” and the legal term “conspiracy” were essentially the same thing.
“I’ll leave the answer to our report,” Mueller said several times. “I’m not familiar with that,” he also told lawmakers pressing him for details. – Rappler.com