Refresh for updates, including Trump tweets Well, that was fast. Former special counsel Robert Mueller got right to the point in countering President Donald Trump’s oft-repeated mantra about “no obstruction.”
Under questioning from House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler, kicking off today’s hearing, Mueller confirmed that his report did not, in fact, exonerate Trump with regard to obstruction of justice. (The collusion aspects of the investigation will be addressed later today).
In the first round of questions this morning, Nadler, the Democratic congressman from New York, said, “Director Mueller, the President has repeatedly claimed that your report found there was no obstruction and that it completely and totally exonerated him. But that is not what your report said, is it?”
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Said Mueller, “Correct, that is not what the report said.”
With that, today’s much anticipated hearing got straight to what Democrats hope will be one of the most memorable take-aways of Mueller’s testimony: That the Mueller Report does not, in fact, support the president’s “no collusion, no obstruction” catchphrase.
In fact, Trump repeated the claim in a tweet just this morning (along with revivals of his longstanding bugaboos – Hillary’s emails, “Lisa Page and her Psycho lover,” Fusion GPS, among other subjects.
The Nadler-Mueller exchange got today’s events off to a fairly news-heavy start after a morning of preview coverage on the cable news programs. MSNBC’s early morning pre-hearing coverage was handled by the channel’s usual Morning Joe program, with Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski and Willie Geist leading the usual panel of contributors, including Claire McCaskill, John Heilemann, among others, with the Joe team handing off lead coverage to MSNBC’s Brian Williams and Nicolle Wallace once the 8:30 am ET hearing began.
Over on CNN, Jake Tapper and Wolf Blitzer moderated a nine-person (themselves included) panel that included Preet Bharara, Laura Coates, and Jeffrey Toobin, with Tapper at one point listing elements the Democrats no doubt hope to get across during today’s obstruction section of the hearing: that Trump at one point told White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller and to lie about doing so; that Trump ordered campaign Corey Lewandowski to tell Attorney General Jeff Sessions to restrict the Russia investigation, and that Session could be fired for not doing so; and, to suggest Trump’s alleged witness tampering, to make clear to campaign Paul Manafort and and attorney Michael Cohen to not cooperate with investigations and even threatened Cohen’s family to keep the long-time fixer in line.
On Fox News, the Fox & Friends gang included an interview segment with guest Matthew Whitaker, the former acting attorney general under Trump, during which Whitaker referred to Aaron Zebley, Mueller’s long-time aide who just recently was granted permission by the Judiciary Committee to set next to Mueller for provide counsel, as a “security blanket” and “a wingman.”
Whitaker predicted that Congressional Democrats will use the hearing today in a way “consistent with how they always demean and take down the president.” Republicans, he said, would hope to focus on the origins of the Mueller investigation, specifically with regards to the Steele Dossier.
That particular goal of the hearing, though, was pretty much dashed with Mueller’s opening statement, during which he said he will not answer questions about the opening of the FBI’s Russia investigation and “matters related to the so-called ‘Steele Dossier.'”
“These matters,” Mueller said, “are the subject of ongoing review by the Department. Any questions on these topics should therefore be directed to the FBI or the Justice Department.”
Following his opening statement, Mueller fielded questions from Nadler, including the following:
Nadler: “So the report did not conclude that [Trump] did not commit obstruction of justice? Is that correct?”
Mueller: “That is correct.”
Nadler: “And what about total exoneration? Did you actually totally exonerate the President?”
Nadler: “Now, in fact your report expressly states it does not exonerate the President?”
Mueller: “It does.”
Later, Rep. Ted Lieu elicited another Mueller comment likely to find its way into presidential campaigns many, many times before 2020 by asking whether the reason Mueller did not indict Trump is because “you cannot indict a sitting president, correct?”
Responded Mueller, “That is correct.”
Trump, who has claimed he either wouldn’t watch the hearing or just catch bits of it, used Fox News’ Chris Wallace for another morning tweet:
Also apparently relying on Fox News, Trump tweeted a mischaracterization of Mueller’s testimony:
Check back later for Deadline updates…
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