Tight-lipped Mueller faces Congress grilling on Russia probe
WASHINGTON, DC, USA (UPDATED) – Robert Mueller arrived on Capitol Hill Wednesday, July 24, for a marathon day of testimony on the two-year Russian meddling investigation, under pressure to spell out whether he believes President Donald Trump committed a crime.
Three months after releasing the final report on his probe into the 2016 election, much of the American public remains unclear about the former special counsel's findings on whether Trump criminally obstructed justice and whether his campaign colluded with Russians.
With Trump declaring he was "exonerated" in the probe and Democrats saying it supplied ample evidence for impeachment, the notoriously taciturn Mueller will answer questions for the first time in front of two separate, Democrat-run committees in the House of Representatives.
Trump insisted this week he would not watch the nationally-televised testimony but half an hour before it was to start he let loose with an angry Twitter tirade, complaining among other things about the fact Mueller will testify with a top aide sitting next to him.
"This was specifically NOT agreed to, and I would NEVER have agreed to it. The Greatest Witch Hunt in U.S. history, by far!" Trump wrote in one of a half dozen tweets. (READ: Meddling, collusion, obstruction: What the Mueller probe found)
No one was certain whether Mueller, who has resisted testifying, will go beyond the cryptic, heavily legalistic conclusions presented in his report, which allowed the president and his allies to claim the investigation was a politically charged witch hunt that found nothing of substance.
"NO COLLUSION, NO OBSTRUCTION!" Trump tweeted again on Tuesday, July 23.
Democrats meanwhile hoped Mueller would make clear to the public why he did not bring charges despite damning evidence outlined in the 448-page report.
How Mueller describes the obstruction allegations in particular could make his testimony explosive, potentially damaging Trump as he ramps up his campaign for reelection in 2020.
"There was enough corruption and criminality in the Trump campaign and Administration to fill a 448-page report. Every American deserves to know the crimes and corruption exposed in the Mueller Report," said Democratic Representative Ted Lieu.
Collusion, obstruction alleged
Democrats hope both to find ways to get Mueller to elaborate on his findings and to prevent Republicans on the committees from derailing the questioning.
Mueller's report documents extensive contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians, including attempts to cooperate or collude, neither of which is a specific crime.
Mueller ruled in the end that there was not enough evidence to recommend charges of criminal conspiracy, the main legal charge he could make use of.
The veteran prosecutor and former FBI director also laid out in detail 10 instances when Trump allegedly tried to obstruct the investigation.
But he said he was prevented from recommending charges against Trump because Justice Department rules prohibited him from lodging criminal charges against a sitting president.
That left it to Congress to determine whether Trump committed a crime, and a minority of Democrats are pressing for the House to impeach the president.
'The report is my testimony'
The expected 6 hours or more of questioning will be broadcast live nationally, allowing Americans to hear from the man behind the two-year investigation themselves.
But Mueller, veteran of some 88 trips to Capitol Hill over a long career in government, is notorious for saying as little as possible and has already signaled that he does not want to expound on the investigation, despite the repeated attacks on his character and his work by Trump.
"Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report," he said on May 29, as he announced the closure of the special counsel investigation.
"The work speaks for itself. And the report is my testimony."
But he also made clear he thinks the American public does not fully understand the extent and consequences of Russia's campaign to meddle in the election, which the president has repeatedly refused to acknowledge.
Trump's Justice Department meanwhile weighed in late Monday, July 22, with a statement demanding Mueller stick only to what he wrote in his report, in hopes of containing any fallout from his testimony.
"It's incredibly arrogant of the department to try to instruct him on what to say," Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said on CNN Tuesday.
"It's part of the ongoing cover-up by the administration to keep information away from the American people." – Rappler.com