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11 of the biggest moments from more than 5 hours of Mueller's blockbuster congressional hearings

Joseph Zeballos-Roig , Business Insider US
 Jul 25, 2019, 11:06 AM

The former special counsel Robert Mueller testifies before Congress on July 24.
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
  • The former special counsel Robert Mueller testified before Congress for the first time on Wednesday in two of the most highly anticipated hearings in recent memory.
  • Mueller's brief and terse answers largely hewed closely to the 448-page report he submitted to Congress in March, which was made public a month later.
  • But the hearing had several moments where lawmakers devolved into rants or offered stout defenses of Trump, while the tight-lipped Mueller broke his silence on issues like election interference.
  • Here are 11 of the biggest moments of the Mueller hearings.
  • For more stories, go to Business Insider SA.

The former special counsel Robert Mueller testified before Congress on Wednesday in two of the most highly anticipated hearings in recent memory.

Mueller's brief and terse answers largely hewed closely to the 448-page report he submitted to Congress in late March, which was made public a month later.

After a two-year investigation, the former special counsel found that Russia intervened in the 2016 presidential election to help elect President Donald Trump. Despite outlining 11 possible instances of obstruction of justice against Trump in the report, Mueller declined to charge Trump with a crime, citing longstanding Justice Department guidelines against indicting a sitting president.

For more than two decades, Mueller, a lifelong Republican, forged a reputation as a fierce protector of federal law enforcement's political independence. And Mueller made clear in Wednesday's opening statement that he would not go beyond what he already laid out in his report. "The report is my testimony. And I will stay within that text," Mueller said.

Mueller testified before the House Judiciary Committee, which focused on possible obstruction of justice by Trump. Then he took questions from House Intelligence Committee on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Democrats are in charge of both panels.

But the mostly calm hearings had several moments where lawmakers devolved into rants or offered stout defenses of Trump, while the tight-lipped Mueller broke his silence on issues like election interference.

Here are 11 of the biggest moments of the Mueller hearings.

Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York accused President Donald Trump of breaking the law in his opening statement for the House Judiciary Committee.

Win McNamee/Getty Images

Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, kicked off the first hearing of the day with a statement praising Mueller for his work and long record of public service.

"For 22 months, you never commented in public about your work, even when you were subjected to repeated and grossly unfair personal attacks," Nadler said. "Instead, your indictments spoke for you, and in astonishing detail."

Then he said Trump broke the law as president.

"Any other person who acted this way would have been charged with a crime. And in this nation, not even the president is above the law," he said.

Nadler later added that the committee would do its best to follow Mueller's example.

"Responsibility, integrity, and accountability. These are the marks by which we who serve on this committee will be measured as well," he said.

Mueller reiterated that Trump "was not exculpated" by his two-year investigation.

Under questioning from Nadler about his report's conclusions, Mueller veered from his usual brief answers to say the report didn't exonerate Trump as he and his Republican allies have claimed.

Nadler first asked several yes-or-no questions to establish that Trump wasn't cleared of wrongdoing by Mueller's investigation.

Then Nadler asked Mueller to explain his conclusions to the American public.

"Now, Director Mueller, can you explain in plain terms what that finding means so the American people can understand it?" Nadler said.

"The finding indicates that the president was not exculpated for the acts that he allegedly committed," Mueller responded.

Then he confirmed that Trump rejected the former special counsel's request for an interview.

Mueller said Trump could be charged with a crime after he leaves office.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

During the House Judiciary Committee hearing, Democratic Rep. Ken Buck asked whether the president could be charged with a crime after leaving office. Mueller responded yes.

Then Buck asked: "You believe that you could charge the president of the United States with obstruction of justice after he left office?"

"Yes," Mueller said.

In the Mueller report, 11 possible instances of obstruction of justice by Trump were outlined. But the former special counsel did not come to "a traditional prosecutorial decision" on the matter and didn't indict the president.

Mueller defended his investigation after Republican Rep. Tom McClintock accused him of making "a political case" against Trump.


Though Mueller caught a lot of heat from Republicans, he occasionally struck back to defend the integrity of his two-year probe.

McClintock grilled Mueller on the inner workings of his investigation, but Mueller demurred while answering his question and said it was beyond his scope.

Then the Republican congressman accused Mueller of investigating Trump out of a political bias against him.

"It's starting to look like having desperately tried and failed to make a legal case against the president, you made a political case instead," McClintock said. "You put it in a paper sack, lit it on fire, dropped it on our porch, rang the doorbell and ran."

Mueller pushed back against the charge.

He countered, "I don't think you will review a report that is as thorough, as fair, as consistent as the report that we have in front of us."

Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert yelled at Mueller and accused him of "perpetuating injustice" against Trump during his investigation.

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 24: House Judiciary Committe
House Judiciary Committee member Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) Getty Images

The mostly calm hearing took a sharp and odd turn when Gohmert of Texas started his questioning.

A stout Trump ally, Gohmert first submitted an article he wrote for the Fox News host Sean Hannity's website into the congressional record. It characterised Mueller's investigation as a "coup."

Then Gohmert asked Mueller about the FBI agent Peter Strzok's role in the broader Russia investigation. Strzok was removed from the inquiry after it was found that he had sent anti-Trump text messages to Lisa Page, an FBI attorney with whom he had been having an extramarital affair.

"When I did find out, I acted swiftly to have him reassigned elsewhere in the FBI," Mueller told Gohmert.

But Gohmert's line of questioning soon turned into a rant.

He defended Trump, saying the president knew he was "innocent" during the investigation and didn't obstruct justice.

"What he's doing is not obstructing justice. He is pursing justice and the fact that you ran it out two years means you perpetuated injustice," Gohmert said.

Mueller responded only with four words: "I take your question."

Mueller said that false statements and the deletion of evidence by Trump campaign and administration officials hobbled his investigation.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Democratic Rep. Val Demings of Florida focused her line of questioning on how false information affected Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Mueller acknowledged that he dealt with a variety of people who were questioned by his office, including "those not telling the full truth and those who are outright liars."

Demings also asked whether it was correct to say that "lies by Trump campaign officials and administration officials impeded" Mueller's investigation.

Mueller paused for a few seconds before responding, "I would generally agree with that."

Mueller said in a back-and-forth exchange with Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff that his investigation was "not a witch hunt".

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 24: House Intelligence Commi
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Trump repeatedly accused Mueller of waging "a witch hunt" against him - and Mueller was again ready to push back against the accusation.

Asked by Schiff, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, about his investigation, Mueller responded that it was not carried out because of any political hostility.

"It is not a witch hunt," Mueller flatly said.

Mueller agreed with several of Schiff's statements, including that the Trump campaign had appeared to welcome Russia's intervention in the 2016 election and also pursued a business deal in Moscow while he was in the middle of a presidential campaign.

And a variety of witnesses swept up in Mueller's broad investigation - involving figures in the Trump orbit like Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen, and George Papadopoulos - had lied to investigators, Mueller said.

"A number of persons that we interviewed in our investigation did lie," Mueller said.

Mueller starkly criticised Trump's praise of WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign as "problematic".

Mueller gave one his bluntest criticisms of Trump's behavior yet when asked about Trump's praise of WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential campaign.

At the time, WikiLeaks published thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic Party, including many from the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley listed some of Trump's previous statements on WikiLeaks. He once called it "a treasure trove" and said "boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks," repeatedly raving about the organisation at many of his campaign rallies. American officials later said the emails had been given to them by hackers working for Russian intelligence.

Quigley asked Mueller whether those quotes "disturbed" him.

"Problematic is an understatement in terms of what it displays of giving some hope or some boost to what is and should be illegal behavior," Mueller said.

He went on to strongly defend his investigation once again. "Absolutely, it was not a hoax," Mueller said, referring to Russian interference.

The former special counsel offered dire warnings about continuing Russian interference in American elections and said he expected it to happen again during the 2020 presidential campaign.

Mueller issued a stark warning of continuing interference in American elections by the Russian government.

Rep. Will Hurd of Texas asked Mueller if he thought that Russia's interference in the 2016 election was a singular attempt to strike at American democracy or whether the Russian government planned additional attacks.

Mueller responded that he believed that Russia was waging a long-term campaign and that it would continue into next year's presidential race.

"It wasn't a single attempt. They're doing it as we sit here. And they expect to do it during the next campaign," Mueller forcefully said.

He added that "many more countries" were developing similar capabilities.

Of the decision not to subpoena Trump, Mueller said he believed taking that legal route would have only delayed the end of the probe. Trump was also "generally" untruthful in his written answers, he said.

Mueller offered his most extensive comments yet on his decision not to subpoena Trump to sit down for an interview.

Responding to questions from Rep. Sean Maloney, Mueller said negotiations to arrange an interview with the president dragged on for over a year. And it ultimately led the special counsel to settle for written answers to his questions because he wanted to wrap up the investigation quickly instead of letting it drag on.

"We decided we did not want to exercise the subpoena powers because of the necessity of expediting the end of the investigation," Mueller said.

And he said that the special counsel's office had assumed that Trump "would fight the subpoena."

In another exchange with Demings, Mueller responded that the president was "generally" untruthful in his written answers. The report had said that they were inadequate and incomplete.

"I fear this is the new normal," Mueller said of future political campaigns accepting help from foreign powers.

In the hearings, Mueller was uncharacteristically stark on the matter of Russian election interference.

Asked by Rep. Peter Welch whether future political campaigns could be more likely to accept foreign help, Mueller responded that he feared the Russian campaign was ushering in a new dark chapter of American politics.

"I hope this is not the new normal, but I fear it is," Mueller said.

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