All the latest updates as former Special Counsel Robert Mueller appears before Congress about the Russia probe.
US Special Counsel Robert Mueller is testifying on Wednesday before two congressional committees about his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump.
Mueller’s appearance before two House panels promises to be the TV event of the year in the US House, where politicians will question him for roughly five hours about the book-length report he released in April.
Democrats hope that by putting Mueller on television and highlighting the parts of the report that they believe describe Trump’s most egregious behaviour, they will be able to ignite new outrage and renew public interest in their investigations into the president.
But Republicans are there too, and expected to defend Trump, who has condemned the probe as a “witch-hunt.”
Mueller’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee began at 8:30am (12:30 GMT) and lasted for three and a half hours. He is scheduled to appear before the House Intelligence Committee in the afternoon.
Here are all the latest updates as of Wednesday, July 24:
House Judiciary hearing takeaways
As expected, the first of back-to-back congressional hearings ended without major surprises.
In his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Mueller stuck with what his office outlined in its 448-page report, which was released in redacted form earlier this year. That report concluded there was no conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia. But Mueller declined to make a judgment on whether Trump obstructed justice, though the report outlined 10 instances in which Trump tried to impede the investigation.
Mueller made clear that he did not exonerate Trump and that the president could still be charged when he leaves the office.
The former special counsel also defended his team and the investigation, despite repeated attempts by Republicans to challenge the probe and, at times, Mueller himself.
Democrats chose to highlight the 10 instances the report cited in which Trump might have obstructed justice.
The hearing focused little on Russian interference, which Mueller in his opening statement, said was “among most serious” challenges to American democracy.
House Judiciary Committee hearing ends
The House Judiciary hearing has ended. It lasted three and a half hours and included questioning by all members on the committee.
According to CBS News, there were 110 one-word answers by Mueller.
The House Intelligence hearing will be held after a short break.
Mueller says he didn’t seek FBI top job under Trump
Mueller again disputed assertions that he had interviewed with President Trump in 2017 to serve as the FBI director a day before he was appointed to oversee the Russia investigation.
“My understanding of it was (I was) not applying for the job, I was asked to give my input on what it would take to do the job,” Mueller told the US House Judiciary Committee. “I interviewed with the president … it was about the job, but not about me applying for the job.”
Trump tweeted on Wednesday that there are “numerous witnesses”, including Vice President Mike Pence, who could say that Mueller applied and was interviewed for the job and was “turned down” for it.
Mueller defends report against Republican attacks
Mueller pushed back against Republican attacks with a forceful defence of his report on the Trump-Russia investigation.
Mueller said he doesn’t think the politicians have reviewed “a report that is a thorough, as fair, as consistent as the report that we have in front of us”.
Trump renews attacks on Mueller probe
With a barrage of morning tweets, Trump renewed his efforts to undermine the credibility of Mueller.
Before Mueller even took his seat to testify, the president tweeted nine times about Mueller and his investigation.
And by mid-morning, Trump and his allies were already spinning the moment as a victory for the White House.
The president, in a pair of tweets, quoted Fox News coverage of the hearing, including anchor Chris Wallace, saying, “This has been a disaster for the Democrats and a disaster for the reputation of Robert Mueller.”
Mueller says Trump can be charged when term ends
Mueller affirmed that a president can be charged with crimes after leaving the office.
He said the Department of Justice (DOJ) guidelines prevented him from considering charges against Trump while he is in office.
Because of the longtime DOJ guidance that a sitting president cannot be indicted, Mueller said, “One of the tools a prosecutor would use is not there.”
Mueller testifies to the House Judiciary Committee about his report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election [Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP]
Trump sons go after Democrats on Mueller hearing
President Trump’s sons and advisers are weighing in on Mueller’s congressional testimony with quips on Twitter targeting Democrats.
Donald Trump Jr called the hearing a “disaster” for Democrats. He said Mueller claims he could not understand the Republicans’ questions, but totally gets the ones from Democrats.
Eric Trump says Republican Jim Jordan’s comments at the hearing were “spot on”. Jordan said Democrats should be investigating what he says are “false accusations” that started the Russia probe.
Former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the hearing shows the Russia probe was run by Democrats wanting to destroy Trump.
Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway tweeted three words: “drop the mic.”
Highlights so far
In case you need to catch up, here are some highlights after more than two hours of Mueller’s testimony before the House Judiciary panel hearing:
- “Obstruction of justice strikes at the core of the government’s effort to find the truth and to hold wrongdoers accountable,” Mueller said.
- “Based on Justice Department policy and principles of fairness, we decided we would not make a determination as to whether the president committed a crime. That was our decision then and remains our decision today,” the former special counsel told the panel.
- Asked whether the report exonerated Trump on the question of obstruction of justice, Mueller said: “That is not what the report said.”
- “The president was not exculpated for the acts that he allegedly committed,” Mueller told members of Congress.
- Asked if Trump wanted Mueller fired for investigating possible obstruction of justice: “That’s what it says in the report, yes. I stand by the report.”
On Attorney General William Barr’s role:
- “I will not comment on the actions of the attorney general or of Congress,” Mueller said.
- “Based on Justice Department policy and principles of fairness, we decided we would not make a determination as to whether the president committed a crime. That was our decision then and remains our decision today,” the former special counsel said.
Nature of the probe
- Mueller disagreed with Republican Representative Ken Buck’s assertion that said the list of incidents that could be obstruction of justice in the report was an attempt to throw “a bunch of stuff against the wall to see what would stick”.
After a short break, the House Judiciary panel resumed its hearing with Mueller.
Mueller disputes Trump claim he wanted FBI job
Mueller disputed Trump’s claim that Mueller was rebuffed in a bid to fill the post of FBI director.
Facing questions from congressional politicians, Mueller said he spoke with Trump about the FBI job before he was named as the special counsel, but “not as a candidate”.
Then-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon has said that while the White House invited Mueller to speak to the president about the FBI and thought about asking him to become director again, Mueller did not come in looking for a job.
Mueller testifies before the House Judiciary Committee during a much-anticipated hearing about Russian interference into the 2016 election, and possible efforts by President Trump to obstruct Mueller’s investigation [Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE]
Trump tweeted on Wednesday that there are “numerous witnesses”, including Vice President Mike Pence, who could say that Mueller applied and interviewed for the job and was “turned down” for it.
Pence spokesperson Alyssa Farah told the Associated Press news agency that the vice president “was present in the Oval Office when Robert Mueller interviewed for the job of FBI Director in May of 2017”.
Mueller on Trump’s desire to fire him
Citing his office’s report, Mueller said that Trump wanted to fire him because he was investigating obstruction of justice.
Asked at a US House hearing whether Trump wanted Mueller fired for investigating possible obstruction of justice by Trump or his associates, Mueller referred to his report on the investigation and replied, “That’s what it says in the report, yes. I stand by the report.”
As expected, Democrats have so far focused on instances laid out in the Mueller report that highlighted potential way Trump obstructed justice. They have repeatedly said they believe Mueller intended for Congress to continue probing those instances.
Republicans, on the other hand, have so far focused on Trump’s presumption of innocence. It also appears Republicans are attempting to discredit the probe, and at times Mueller himself.
Who is sitting next to Mueller?
Who is sitting next to Mueller, seen pointing to specific passages in what appears to be the 448-page report?
That is Mueller’s top aide, Aaron Zebley. The aide was not sworn in before the House Judiciary Committee, and therefore won’t testify. But according to US media, Zebley will likely be sworn in and asked questions during the House Intelligence hearing later on Wednesday. Trump called the Democrats’ decision to allow Zebley to appear “a disgrace”.
Mueller testifies before a House Judiciary Committee hearing [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]
Mueller offers limited answers
As expected – and promised – Mueller has so far offered limited responses to committee members’ questions.
He has responded to many questions with one-word answers, and referred committee members to his 448-page report.
Remember, in his opening remarks, he said he would limit his testimony to the scope of the report. “As I said on May 29, the report is my testimony,” he said.
Mueller says Russia hoped to benefit from Trump
Mueller said the Russians believed they would benefit from Trump winning the 2016 presidential election.
The former special counsel was asked if his investigation found the Russian government perceived a benefit if one of the candidates won.
“Yes,” he said.
“And which candidate would that be?” asked Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat.
“It would be Trump,” Mueller said.
Mueller dismisses Trump’s claims of ‘total exoneration’
In answering questions from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, Mueller said his report did not conclude Trump did not commit obstruction of justice.
Mueller’s report said the investigation did not find sufficient evidence to establish charges of a criminal conspiracy between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia. But it said investigators did not clear Trump of trying to obstruct the probe.
Mueller: Russian interference ‘among most serious’ challenges
As he wrapped up his opening statement, Mueller said that Russian interference in the 2016 election is “among the most serious” challenges to American democracy.
“This deserves the attention of every American,” he added.
A name card for former Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is placed at a table before he testifies [Saul Loeb/AFP]
Mueller: Won’t comment on actions taken by Barr
In his opening statement, Mueller said he would not comment on any actions taken by Attorney General William Barr or Congress.
He stayed in line with what his office laid out in its report. “As I said on May 29, the report is my testimony,” he said.
Mueller sworn in
Mueller has been sworn in. The former special counsel will now give his opening statement.
Nadler: We have a responsibility
In his opening remarks, House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat, said that Congress has a “responsibility to address the evidence” that Mueller uncovered.
“We will follow your example, Director Mueller,” Nadler said. “We will act with integrity. We will follow the facts where they lead. We will consider all appropriate remedies. We will make our recommendation to the House when our work concludes.”
House Judiciary Committee hearing begins
The first of the two back-to-back hearings has started. The hearing will start with committee chairman Jerrold Nadler giving his opening statement.
Former Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller arrives to testify before Congress [Saul Loeb/AFP]
Mueller testimony: What to expect
As Mueller gets ready for his day of testimony, here are six things to know before the highly-anticipated hearings.
Also get a refresher on some of the key findings of the Mueller report.
And a reminder of all the key players. READ MORE
Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation: Who are the key players?
Tuesday, July 23
McConnell won’t watch Mueller testimony
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he doesn’t intend to watch former Special Counsel Robert Mueller give evidence before Congress on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
The Republican told reporters on Tuesday the public already has a “pretty full picture” of Mueller’s report.
McConnell said he doesn’t know “how many times we want to see this movie again.” He said the public has “moved on past” it.
Mueller wants aide with him
Mueller has requested that a longtime associate appears alongside him when he testifies to Congress on Wednesday.
Mueller has asked that Aaron Zebley, his former chief of staff and his top aide on the Russia investigation, accompany him at the witness table during Wednesday’s hearing. That’s according to a person familiar with the negotiations who requested anonymity to discuss the matter.
Republicans are opposed to the request.
Representative Doug Collins, the Judiciary panel’s top Republican, called the move an “apparent stunt” by Democrats. He said it “shows the lengths Democrats will go to protect a one-sided narrative from a thorough examination by committee Republicans.” Trump also criticised the move.
DOJ tells Mueller to keep to report
The Justice Department has told former Special Counsel Robert Mueller not to stray beyond his report on Russian election interference when he testifies to Congress on Wednesday.
The department said in a letter that Mueller should not speak about redacted material from his report – including material pertaining to pending criminal prosecutions, “uncharged third-parties” and “executive privilege,” such as “presidential communications privileges.”
The letter is entirely in line with what Mueller has already said – which is that he doesn’t intend to speak beyond his report’s findings during Wednesday’s congressional hearings. But Democrats are preparing questions to highlight the report’s most damning details.
The department provided the letter on Monday in response to what it said was a request from Mueller about limitations or potential privilege issues affecting his testimony.
SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES