WASHINGTON — Former special counsel Robert Mueller told lawmakers Wednesday that his investigation did not “completely and totally exonerate” President Trump of obstructing justice, contrary to what the president has claimed.
In the first of two back-to-back appearances before U.S. House committees, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, kicked off questioning Wednesday morning by pressing Mueller on Trump’s claims.
“The report did not conclude that he did not commit obstruction of justice,” Nadler said. Mueller replied, “That is correct.”
Nadler continued, “And what about total exoneration? Did you actually totally exonerate the president?” Mueller responded, “No.”
The report, Nadler went on, “expressly states that it does not exonerate the president.” Mueller said, “It does.”
Just before the hearing kicked off, Trump made his latest declaration on Twitter that the report found “NO COLLUSION, NO OBSTRUCTION!”
Little new information was revealed during Wednesday’s hearings, as the famously scripted Mueller largely stuck to the findings of his report, and repeatedly refused to answer lawmakers’ speculative questions. But Democrats and Republicans alike on the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees sought to use the closely watched hearings to gain political leverage — Democrats by asking Mueller to confirm portions of his 448-page report into Russian election interference, and Republicans by attacking Democrats’ motives and the integrity of Mueller’s team.
“For people who have read the Mueller report or followed these issues, this hearing was not surprising,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, told reporters after the hearing. “For people who did not, this should have blown their minds, because they saw for the first time Robert Mueller saying yes to multiple instances of obstruction of justice by Donald Trump.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who also sits on the Judiciary Committee, said afterward, “The critical thing is that the American people saw overwhelming and devastating evidence of obstruction of justice relayed in fine detail both by the committee and by the witness and it’s irrefutable.” Raskin called Mueller’s testimony “a great victory for the truth and for the possibility of justice in the country.”
Republicans questioning Mueller, meanwhile, attacked the integrity of his team and his investigation, and accused Democrats of using the hearings as political theater.
Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) accused Mueller’s team of having “infamous and widely publicized bias,” and defended the president’s frustrations during the long-running investigation.
“Mr. Mueller, there’s one primary reason why you were called here today,” Johnson said. “Our colleagues on the other side of the aisle just want political cover. They desperately wanted you today to tell them they should impeach the president.”
Mueller, however, declined to discuss impeachment.
Trump said earlier this week that he “probably” wasn’t going to be watching Mueller testify, but his Twitter feed Wednesday morning was packed with clips and comments from the House hearings. “I would like to thank the Democrats for holding this morning’s hearing,” he tweeted after Mueller’s first appearance.
No member of North Carolina’s current depleted delegation of 11 representatives serves on the Judiciary Committee at this time.
Robin Bravender is the Washington Bureau Chief for the States Newsroom network, of which Policy Watch is a member.