Robert Mueller, the former special counsel, testified on Wednesday morning to the House Judiciary Committee and on Wednesday afternoon to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence about his report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and President Donald Trump’s efforts to obstruct that inquiry. Updates on key moments in the hearings appear below.
Did Mueller’s Replies to Rep. Adam Schiff Provide Enough Cover for Democrats to Impeach Trump?
At the end of a long day of questioning, Robert Mueller was released by Rep. Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who chairs the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
Many observers suggested that Schiff, a former federal prosecutor, conducted the clearest and most effective round of questioning all day, by simply asking Mueller to affirm in turn the most damning conclusions in his report: that the investigation “established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome;” that the Trump campaign “expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts;” that Trump himself tried to secretly profit from the campaign by securing Russian government help in a Moscow real-estate deal; and that Trump lied about all of this.
Here’s what Mueller said:
?? Russia interfered in our election to help Trump.
?? Russians made numerous contacts with the campaign.
?? Campaign welcomed their help.
?? No one reported these contacts or interference to FBI.
?? They lied to cover it up. pic.twitter.com/ePAjUkfMlo
— Adam Schiff (@RepAdamSchiff) July 24, 2019
Tom Nichols, a professor at the Naval War College and a former Republican, suggested that “Schiff’s five minutes and Mueller’s answers would have been enough for Republicans to impeach and convict any other president before sundown today.”
Schiff closed the hearing by asking Mueller if it was fair to say that he believed that “knowingly accepting foreign assistance during a campaign is an unethical thing to do.”
“And a crime,” Mueller replied, “given certain circumstances.”
Rep. Adam Schiff: "We should hold our elected officials to a standard higher than a mere avoidance of criminality, shouldn't we?"
— ABC News (@ABC) July 24, 2019
Schiff’s approach was also adopted by Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., who got Mueller to confirm that his decision to not charge anyone on the Trump campaign with conspiring with Russia did not mean that his investigation had failed to uncover evidence of conspiracy.
After walking Mueller through several examples of the Trump campaign apparently welcoming help from Russia, Welch said: “I ask if you share my concern, and my concern is: Have we established a new normal from this past campaign that is going to apply to future campaigns? So that if any one of us running for the U.S. House, any candidate for the U.S. Senate, any candidate for the presidency of the United States aware that a hostile foreign power is trying to influence an election, has no duty to report that to the FBI or other authorities?”
Mueller replied: “I hope this is not the new normal, but I fear it is.”
Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) asked Robert Mueller if he shares his concern about the 2016 campaign establishing a new normal in reporting election interference. The former special counsel said, "I hope this is not the new normal, but I fear it."
? https://t.co/ynW6FFKTe9 pic.twitter.com/uyAPChs2BE
— CSPAN (@cspan) July 24, 2019
“Problematic Is an Understatement,” Mueller Says of Trump’s Praise for WikiLeaks
After Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., read out a series of statements from Donald Trump praising WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign, as the group released hacked emails stolen from Democrats by Russian intelligence agents, Mueller was asked if he found those comments disturbing. “Problematic is an understatement,” Mueller said, “in terms of what it displays, in terms of giving some, I don’t know, hope or some boost to what is and should be illegal activity.”
Robert Mueller on Trump's repeated praise of WikiLeaks: "Problematic is an understatement" pic.twitter.com/Xp3v9VmJwW
— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) July 24, 2019
Russian Election Interference Is Ongoing, Mueller Says
In response to questions from Rep. Will Hurd, a Texas Republican and former CIA officer, Mueller said that the United States needed to find ways to safeguard future elections from interference campaigns like the one launched by Russia in 2016 to aid the election of Trump. “Many more countries are developing the capability to replicate what the Russians have done,” Mueller said. He also said that the Russian effort “wasn’t a single attempt. They’re doing it as we sit here. And they expect to do it during the next campaign.”
Rep. Will Hurd: "Did you think that this was a single attempt by the Russians to get involved in our election or did you find evidence to suggest they'll try to do this again?"
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) July 24, 2019
Devin Nunes Floats Flimsy Conspiracy Theory Tying Joseph Mifsud to Boris Johnson
As part of his attempt to discredit the Russia investigation opened by the FBI in 2016, Rep. Devin Nunes, the California Republican who is the intelligence committee’s ranking Republican, just said that the inquiry was “not opened based on an official product from Five Eyes intelligence, but based on a rumor” from an Australian diplomat, Alexander Downer. Downer was the Australian who told the FBI that George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, boasted over drinks in London that summer that he’d heard that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton, in the form of stolen emails.
Papadopoulos later admitted to the FBI that he had first heard this from Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese professor with contacts in the Russian foreign ministry who said that Russia had obtained thousands of Clinton-related emails.
Downer, the Australian diplomat, alerted the U.S. government in July 2016, only after what might have seemed like a drunken boast at the time took on a menacing cast when WikiLeaks began releasing Clinton-related emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee by Russian hackers.
Papadopoulos also offered the FBI evidence that Mifsud did have Russian contacts. Mifsud, he said, had introduced him via email to Ivan Timofeev, a program director for the Valdai Discussion Club, an annual conference which brings together Western and Russian academics for seminars and a lecture by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Mifsud connected Timofeev and Papadopoulos in April 2016, the same month he divulged to the Trump adviser that Russia had stolen Clinton campaign emails. Timofeev, citing contacts in Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, offered to help Papadopoulos broker meetings between the Trump campaign and Russian government officials.
Video from that period, still on the Valdai YouTube channel, shows Mifsud being interviewed by Timofeev in May 2016 at the conference.
Nunes, presenting the counternarrative of a deep state plot offered by Papadopoulos, implied that Mifsud might, in fact, have been working for a Western intelligence agency to frame the Trump campaign, rather than Russia.
So basically, Devin Nunes' strategy is to read off a bunch of names, then blame Mueller for doing what Trump did and focus on conspiracy theories that have been legitimately dismissed. And he went on and on…#MuellerReport pic.twitter.com/TcEAAEF0PK
— Amee Vanderpool (@girlsreallyrule) July 24, 2019
“Mifsud has extensive contacts with Western governments and the FBI,” Nunes claimed. “For example, there is a recent photo of him standing next to Boris Johnson, the new prime minister of Great Britain,” Nunes added, as his staff displayed an image taken from Facebook of Mifsud posing beside Johnson at a fundraiser for the British Conservative in 2017.
“What we’re trying to figure out here, Mr. Mueller, is if our NATO allies or Boris Johnson have been compromised,” Nunes said.
While the point Nunes was trying to make baffled many observers, that’s likely because most of us are not devoted viewers of Fox News, where these alternative facts are well established.
Nunes' theory appears to be that Democrats conspired with Russians to assist Donald Trump in securing an electoral victory so that they could later undermine Trump's presidency.
— Jonathan Allen (@jonallendc) July 24, 2019
Here in the reality-based community, as regular readers of The Intercept already know, that photograph was not recent and does not in any way suggest that Boris Johnson, who was the British foreign minister at the time, had any sort of meeting with Mifsud. The photograph appears to have been taken on October 19, 2017, at a Conservative Party fundraiser in Reading, outside London. That was 11 days before court documents revealing Papadopoulos’s guilty plea, for lying to the FBI, were unsealed, and the previously obscure Mifsud became the focus of international attention.
The image is cropped from a photograph posted on Facebook by a British Indian associate of Mifsud, Prasenjit Kumar, a Conservative Party donor who makes a habit of posting photographs of himself with senior political leaders on Facebook.
Another entry on Kumar’s Facebook timeline showed him posing with Prime Minister Theresa May that July.
Before the event, Mifsud had boasted in an email to a colleague seen by London’s Observer newspaper that he would be “meeting Boris Johnson for dinner re Brexit,” on that date.
When the image of Johnson with Mifsud was discovered by Gavin Sheridan, an Irish journalist, the British Foreign Office told Byline, a crowdfunded journalism site, that the then-foreign secretary had never “knowingly met this person, planned to meet this person, or indeed ever heard of this person.” That Johnson, drink in hand, was looking down and away as the photograph was snapped suggests that the encounter could well have been a fleeting one, and very unlike the kind of “meeting” Mifsud had described.
Like Mifsud, Kumar has been involved in the administration of professional training programs that bring overseas students to the United Kingdom for courses of questionable academic merit. Kumar was at the time the director of the for-profit London School of Executive Training, or LSET, which offered “short-term executive courses” that would not have seemed out of place in the curriculum of Trump University.
Corporate records available online show that Kumar was previously the director of a series on now-shuttered for-profit educational ventures. Two of those institutions, Preston University and Halifax University, were rebuked by British officials in 2004 for misrepresenting themselves as accredited universities in the United Kingdom.
Although the image of Mifsud with Boris Johnson was intended to suggest that the Maltese professor might have been a Western intelligence asset, rather than a Russian cut-out, the far more likely explanation is that he, and Kumar, made a habit of associating with leading politicians to help in the promotion of their shady schools.
Kumar’s biography on the LSET website identifies him as “the think tank behind the success of a group of Colleges for the last 14 years,” and the former “President and Chancellor of a US based University.” As Scotland’s Sunday Herald reported in 2007, when Kumar was the director of Halifax College in London, that school shared a name and crest with a branch of Halifax University based in Wyoming. American educational officials reportedly warned students at the time that the Wyoming school was not authorized to grant degrees.
Also in 2007, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that the Wyoming branch of Preston University had been forced to move part of its operations to Alabama, following “a crackdown on diploma mills in Wyoming.” Six years before that, the Chronicle added, Preston had been “caught pretending that it employed professors that it, in fact, did not.”
In 2004, when Preston University and Halifax University were reprimanded for misleading students, reports focused on the fact that the schools had brought in the deputy leader of the Conservative Party at the time, Michael Ancram, to hand out diplomas and medals to students.
Mueller Says His Investigation Into Russian Interference Was “Not a Witch Hunt”
Robert Mueller is now testifying before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. In response to questioning from Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman from California, Mueller agreed that Donald Trump’s characterization of the inquiry as “a witch hunt” was false — giving the Democrats a sound bite they wanted.
— Bloomberg Quicktake (@Quicktake) July 24, 2019
Later in the hearing, Mueller added that the Russian meddling in the election, intended to support Trump’s candidacy, “was not a hoax.”
Mueller tells @RepSpeier that Russian election interference was "not a hoax."
“The indictments we returned against the Russians were substantial in their scope," he said, adding "we need to move quickly to address" issues like Russia's use of social media to meddle pic.twitter.com/WtLBY6tyGS
— Bloomberg Quicktake (@Quicktake) July 24, 2019
Mueller, a Republican, Pushes Back on a Republican Who Lectured Him About Hiring Too Many Democrats
Robert Mueller, who has given the strong impression that he just wants to get through this day and say as little as possible, pushed back forcefully on the inference, from Rep. Kelly Armstrong, a North Dakota Republican, that the number of donors to Hillary Clinton’s campaign on his team, six, was evidence of political bias.
It's not enough for Mr. Mueller to be able to vouch for his team. Federal recusal law exists for a reason. The interest of justice demands that no perceived biases exist.
I can't imagine a judge I've appeared in front of who would be comfortable with these circumstances. pic.twitter.com/qX6ocZBnGJ
— Congressman Kelly Armstrong (@RepArmstrongND) July 24, 2019
“We strove to hire those individuals that could do the job,” Mueller said. As Armstrong attempted to move on, Mueller stopped him to add: “I’ve been in this business for almost 25 years, and in those 25 years I have not had occasion, once, to ask somebody about their political affiliation. It is not done. What I care about is the capability of the individual to do the job and do the job quickly and seriously and with integrity.”
After Armstrong insisted that anyone who donated to Hillary Clinton’s campaign should have been excluded from investigating the Russian attack that aimed to undermine it, Mueller again objected forcefully. “One other fact that I would put on the table,” he said, “we hired 19 lawyers over the period of time. Of those 19 lawyers, 14 of them were transferred from elsewhere in the Department of Justice. Only five came from outside.”
By standing up for the presumption that career professionals in the Justice Department work with professional integrity, and are able to see past their personal political preferences, Mueller appeared to be speaking from a different era — or shouting into a void — to a congressman who had fully embraced Donald Trump’s wild claims that Russia did not interfere with the election and the entire investigation into that attack was a deep state plot against him cooked up by Democrats.
As Associated Press correspondent Eric Tucker noted, federal law — specifically the 1978 Civil Service Reform Act — prohibits federal agencies from discrimination in hiring on the basis of political affiliation.
Mueller making an important point here, that under the federal code, applicants are not supposed to be passed over on a job opportunity simply by dint of political leaning or bent
— Eric Tucker (@etuckerAP) July 24, 2019
Mueller Reiterates That He Did Not Apply for the Job of FBI Director, as Trump Claims
Under questioning from Greg Steube, a Florida Republican, Mueller says that he did talk to Trump on May 16, 2017, the day before he was appointed special counsel, about the FBI director job, but “in my understanding, I was not applying for the job, I was asked to give my input on what it would take to do the job.”
His conversation with Trump that day, Mueller said, “was about the job but not about me applying for the job.”
Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL): "Did you interview for the FBI director job one day before you were appointed special counsel?"
Mueller: "My understanding was I was not applying for the job, I was asked to give my input on what it would take to do the job…" https://t.co/EbzpQ0lnrr pic.twitter.com/Iai9EBtW4a
— CBS Evening News (@CBSEveningNews) July 24, 2019
Asked directly by Steube if he was saying that he did not interview to apply for the FBI director job, Mueller said, “That is correct.”
Steube then asked if Mueller told Vice President Mike Pence that the job of FBI director was the only one he would consider returning to government service to take up. Mueller said he did not recall saying that.
Rep. Matt Gaetz Questions Mueller From Inside the Hermetically Sealed Bubble of Right-Wing Conspiracy Theories
Perhaps the most extraordinary exchange so far came during the questioning of Mueller by Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Florida Republican who revealed what the investigation into the Russian attack on the 2016 presidential election looks like to people who get all of their information from right-wing propaganda networks.
Gaetz himself was proud enough of his questioning that he immediately posted video of it, from Fox News, on his Twitter account.
Gaetz: "Can you state with confidence the Steele dossier was not part of Russia's disinformation campaign?"
Mueller: "With regard to Steele…that's beyond my purview."
Gaetz: "It's exactly your purview! The organizing principle was to fully investigate Russia's interference!" pic.twitter.com/z5E5Gl7xZU
— Rep. Matt Gaetz (@RepMattGaetz) July 24, 2019
In an exchange that electrified right-wing viewers, Gaetz hammered Mueller for refusing to charge Christopher Steele, the former British spy who compiled a dossier of opposition research from sources in Russia, with perjury for telling the FBI that his sources said Donald Trump and his campaign did conspire with the Russian government to win the 2016 presidential election.
When Mueller refused to comment on Steele’s dossier — because of a separate, ongoing Justice Department investigation into the role his opposition research played in the FBI investigation — Gaetz suggested that Steele must have lied, since, he said, there was no conspiracy between Trump and the Russians.
“Only one of two things is possible,” Gaetz told Mueller. “Either Steele made this whole thing up and there were never any Russians telling him of this vast criminal conspiracy that you didn’t find, or Russians lied to Steele. Now if Russians were lying to Steele to undermine our confidence in our duly elected president that would seem to be precisely your purview.”
There is, of course, a third possibility that Gaetz refuses to acknowledge, because it is unhelpful to Trump: that the Trump campaign did attempt to coordinate with the Russians to undermine Clinton — and the thrust of Steele’s dossier was accurate if possibly exaggerated — but, as Mueller said at the start of the hearing, his investigators “found insufficient evidence of the president’s culpability.”
Gaetz’s claim, that Russian officials lied to Steele’s Russian sources during the 2016 campaign to undermine the confidence of the American public in their president, in private conversations months before Trump’s election, clearly makes no sense.
One of Gaetz’s Republican colleagues, Rep. Debbie Lesko, even implied that Mueller had exhibited a liberal bias by citing reporting from the Washington Post and New York Times more often than Fox News in the footnotes of his report.
Rep. Lesko: Report quoted Times and Post far more often than Fox News. pic.twitter.com/CXNTwZiIQV
— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) July 24, 2019
Mueller Says He Was Not a Candidate to Replace Comey as Trump Has Claimed
During an attempt to smear Robert Mueller as conflicted in his investigation of Trump, Rep. Louie Gohmert ignored some news he accidentally elicited: Mueller said clearly that, when he met President Trump the day before he was appointed special counsel, it “was not as a candidate” to replace James Comey, as Trump has repeatedly claimed. Mueller tried to elaborate on the incident, but Gohmert cut him off.
Just before Mueller’s testimony began on Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted that he had heard that Mueller might contradict him on this point, and suggested that it would be perjury for him to say so under oath. Trump also said that one of the witnesses who could testify to his version of events is the vice president.
….interview, including the Vice President of the United States!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 24, 2019
Someone should ask Mike Pence on the record if he would be willing to testify against Robert Mueller in a prospective perjury trial on this point.
Gohmert’s questioning was emblematic of the Republicans on the committee in that it sought to reinforce smears about Mueller and conspiracy theories about the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election that are supported by little or no evidence, but have been repeated again and again on Fox News and other pro-Trump media outlets. At the start of his five minutes, Gohmert asked to introduce as evidence, “Robert Mueller: Unmasked,” a screed about Mueller published on Sean Hannity’s website. The author of that screed? Rep. Louie Gohmert.
During the hearing, Republicans on the committee tried, unsuccessfully, to get Mueller to comment on the conspiracy theory that the entire investigation was based on false claims invented by Fusion GPS, the firm that hired Christopher Steele to investigate Trump’s ties to Russia. While Mueller said that an investigation of the origins of the FBI investigation he inherited was outside his purview, and was being looked at by another part of the Justice Department, Rep. Matt Gaetz shared video on Twitter of the Russian lawyer who met Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner in Trump Tower during the campaign saying that Fusion GPS was the source of all the information she provided to the Russian government. After all, why would a Russian who acted as an operative for the Russian government lie?
Gaetz later suggested that Christopher Steele’s dossier was either “part of the Russian disinformation operation” or complete fiction invented by Steele. He also hammered Mueller for not charging Steele with lying to the FBI, despite presenting no evidence at all that Steele did lie.
Rep. Jim Jordan, in trying to pursue the same line of questioning, accidentally stated that the FBI investigation was not opened based on Steele’s research, but because Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese professor with ties to Russia, told Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos that Russia had stolen thousands of emails associated with Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
Mueller Says His Report Did Not Address Collusion and Did Not Exonerate Trump of Obstruction
“Over the course of my career, I have seen a number of challenges to our democracy. The Russian government’s effort to interfere in our election is among the most serious,” Mueller said in his opening statement. The former special counsel is also careful to say that the cornerstone of Trump’s self-defense is incorrect. “We did not address ‘collusion,’ which is not a legal term,” he says.
“The Russian government interfered in our election in a sweeping and systematic fashion.”
— Bloomberg Quicktake (@Quicktake) July 24, 2019
Under questioning from Nadler, Mueller clarifies that his report did not say there was no collusion. “Right, that is not what the report said,” he said.
On the question of obstruction, Nadler asked: “Did you actually totally exonerate the president?”
Mueller replies flatly: “No.”
— CNN News Central (@NewsCentralCNN) July 24, 2019
Mueller also agrees with Nadler that the president could not be indicted for obstruction while in office, according to guidance from the Department of Justice, but could be indicted after he leaves office.
Asked by Collins, the ranking Republican, if it is true that his report did not find evidence that the president conspired with the Russians, Mueller hedges, saying, “We found insufficient evidence of the president’s culpability.”
Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA): "Is it true the evidence gathered did not establish the president was involved in the underlying crime related to Russian election interference, as stated in Volume 1, p. 7?"
Mueller: "We found insufficient evidence of the president's culpability." pic.twitter.com/Ge3gNnuE5U
— CBS Evening News (@CBSEveningNews) July 24, 2019
Opening Statements Set Partisan Tone
House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat, began the hearing by saying that Mueller’s report suggests that President Donald Trump broke the law by attempting to obstruct the investigation.
Mueller hearing chart pic.twitter.com/3TfxKHGAXK
— Howard Mortman (@HowardMortman) July 24, 2019
“Any other person who acted in this way would have been charged with crimes,” Nadler said. “And in this nation, not even the president is above the law.”
Nadler also noted that Mueller secured felony criminal convictions against Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman, deputy campaign chairman, first national security adviser, and personal lawyer.
“Any other person who acted this way would have been charged with crimes. And in this nation, not even the President is above the law,” Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler says in opening statement during Mueller testimony https://t.co/CemGOA8oRr pic.twitter.com/6nVrk1ccsl
— CNN News Central (@NewsCentralCNN) July 24, 2019
In his opening statement, Rep. Doug Collins, the ranking Republican on the committee, acted largely as the president’s lawyer, arguing that Mueller did not charge anyone associated with Trump’c campaign, including the candidate himself, with conspiring in the Russian attack. “Russia meddled in the 2016 election,”he said. “The president did not conspire with Russians. Nothing we hear today will change those facts.”
“Russia meddled in the 2016 election, the President did not conspire with the Russians, and nothing we hear today will change those facts,” GOP @RepDougCollins says in his opening statement for Robert Mueller’s congressional hearing. https://t.co/Fbt9xo0Dbg pic.twitter.com/T5MFCSWH2I
— CNN News Central (@NewsCentralCNN) July 24, 2019