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.”
Here’s what Florida Reps. said:
Five Florida lawmakers sit on the Judiciary committee. They each had five minutes to question Mueller.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, who represents a southeast Florida district that includes Fort Lauderdale and Boca Raton, highlighted the report’s findings that Trump had attempted to get Mueller fired from his post. “These are extraordinarily troubling events,” Deutch said.
Mueller said he couldn’t comment on why Trump wanted him fired, so Deutch referred him back to his own report.
“Director Mueller, you found evidence as you lay out in your report that the president wanted to fire you because you were investigating him for obstruction of justice, isn’t that correct?” Deutch asked.
Mueller replied, “That’s what it says in the report, yes, and I stand behind the report.”
Deutch said, “Anyone else who blatantly interfered with a criminal investigation like yours would be arrested and indicted on charges of obstruction of justice. Director Mueller, you determined that you were barred from indicting a sitting president. … That is exactly why this committee must hold the president accountable.”
Democratic U.S. Rep. Val Demings, who represents the Orlando area, and sits on both the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, asked Mueller whether it was accurate that “lies by Trump campaign officials and administration officials impeded your investigation” into Russian election interference and obstruction of justice.
“I would generally agree with that,” Mueller told her.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who represents the southern tip of Florida, including the Everglades, pressed Mueller on his finding that “the president’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the president declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.”
Mueller replied, “That is accurate and that is what we found.”
Mucarsel-Powell said, “I have certainly made up my mind about whether what we have reviewed today meets the elements of obstruction, including whether there was corrupt intent and what is clear is that anyone else, including some members of Congress, would have been charged with crimes for these acts.
“We would not have allowed this behavior from any of the previous 44 presidents. We should not allow it now or for the future to protect our democracy. And yes, we will continue to investigate, because as you clearly state at the end of your report, no one is above the law.”
Demings and Mucarsel-Powell are among the dozens of congressional Democrats who have publicly said they support pursuing impeachment proceedings against Trump.
The two Florida Republicans on the Judiciary panel are Reps. Matt Gaetz, who represents the Pensacola area, and freshman Greg Steube, who represents a South-Central Florida district that stretches from Fort Myers to Orlando.
Gaetz, a frequent Trump defender on FOX News, used his time to question the motives of Mueller and his team. Gaetz questioned why Mueller didn’t do more to pursue the origins of the so-called “Steele dossier” — a document penned by a former British intelligence officer that alleged a conspiracy between Trump and Russia.
“That’s beyond my purview,” Mueller told Gaetz.
The Florida congressman went on to question the motives of Mueller’s team, asserting that the attorneys working on the investigation were biased and had pledged themselves to a Trump resistance effort.
Mueller stridently defended his team and his report on Wednesday.
“I don’t think you will have reviewed a report that is as thorough, as fair, as consistent as the report that we have in front of us,” he said.
Rep. Steube, a freshman, grilled Mueller over reports that the former special counsel had interviewed with Trump in 2017 to become FBI director before he was picked to oversee the Russia investigation.
Trump wrote on Twitter ahead of the hearing Wednesday morning, “It has been reported that Robert Mueller is saying that he did not apply and interview for the job of FBI Director (and get turned down) the day before he was wrongfully appointed Special Counsel.”
Steube asked, “Did you indeed interview for the FBI director job one day before you were appointed as special counsel?”
Mueller, who served as FBI director under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, said he didn’t think it was a job interview.
“It’s my understanding I was not applying for the job,” Mueller told Steube.
“I was asked to give my input on what it would take to do the job which triggered the interview you’re talking about.”