John Ratcliffe, a Republican on the House judiciary committee, is using his five minutes of questions to … not ask many questions.
Ratcliffe is emphasizing the presumption of innocence in the US justice system, arguing that that presumption extends to sitting presidents. And he is accusing the special counsel of violating every principle set forth for prosecutors.
His rant left little to no opportunity for Mueller to respond.
Mueller confirms his report did not exonerate Trump
Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the House judiciary committee, asked Mueller to confirm that his report did not exonerate the president, despite Trump’s repeated claims.
“Did you actually totally exonerate the president?” Nadler asked. “No, Mueller replied.”
See the full exchange below.
Collins hammers ‘no collusion’ claim
Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House judiciary committee, is hammering Mueller on the distinction between the terms collusion and conspiracy.
“I’m reading your report, sir,” Collins said sternly as he noted the use of the term collusion in Mueller’s report, which the congressman said was equated to conspiracy.
The distinction may seem trivial, but it matters a great deal to Trump, who has started a mantra of “no collusion” to dismiss Mueller’s investigation. But the special counsel said in his opening statement that his report did not touch on collusion because it was “not a legal term.”
Nadler emphasizes Trump’s refusal to be interviewed
Jerry Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the House judiciary committee, used his five minutes of questions to emphasize the president’s refusal to be interviewed.
Mueller confirmed that his office went back and forth with Trump’s team for months over an interview that never took place.
The special counsel used his opening statement to outline what his report did not cover – and by extension, what his testimony would not include.
“We did not address ‘collusion,’ which is not a legal term,” Mueller said. “Rather, we focused on whether the evidence was sufficient to charge any member of the campaign with taking part in a criminal conspiracy. It was not.”
He also said he would respect the Department of Justice’s requests limiting his testimony. “[T]he Justice Department has asserted privileges concerning investigative information and decisions, ongoing matters within the Justice Department, and deliberations within our office,” Mueller said. “These are Justice Department privileges that I will respect.”
He added, “I therefore will not be able to answer questions about certain areas that I know are of public interest. For example, I am unable to address questions about the opening of the FBI’s Russia investigation, which occurred months before my appointment, or matters related to the so-called ‘Steele Dossier.”
Mueller is sworn in and makes opening statement
Mueller has been sworn in and has made his opening statement, which he has used in part to note that his report does not touch on the matter of “collusion” because that is not a legal term.
Mueller notes that his appearance is “unusual” given his role as a prosecutor in this criminal case. And he emphasized that his testimony may be “limited” given that some details may affect “ongoing matters.”
He also noted he would not be able to address the opening of the investigation or the Steele dossier, surely disappointing Republicans who appeared to be trying to discredit the probe by arguing it was launched due to anti-Trump bias.
He then introduced his deputy, Aaron Zebley, who will be helping him answer questions. But reporting indicates that Zebley will not be answering any questions himself. And Mueller took pains to emphasize that members of the special counsel’s office were of the “highest integrity,” despite the president’s attacks upon them.
Top judiciary committee Republican reiterates Trump’s ‘no collusion’ claim
Representative Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House judiciary committee, used his opening statement to emphasize Trump’s claims of “no collusion.”
“In fact, the report concludes no one in the president’s campaign colluded, collaborated or conspired with Russians,” Collins said. “The president watched the public narrative surrounding the investigation assume his guilt while he knew the extent of his innocence.”
Well, in fact, Mueller concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence of collusion to bring conspiracy charges, which is certainly different from the “no collusion” claims of the president.
Collins also said he looked forward to hearing about Mueller’s “review of the origins of this investigation,” indicating Republicans may try to argue that the probe was launched in bad faith.
House judiciary committee chairman kicks off back-to-back Mueller hearings
Jerry Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the House judiciary committee, has kicked off his panel’s hearing with Mueller by applauding the special counsel’s work and exemplary record of service.
“For 22 months, you never commented in public about your work—even when you were subjected to repeated and grossly unfair personal attacks. Instead, your indictments spoke for you, and in astonishing detail,” the New York congressman said. “Although Department policy barred you from indicting the President for this conduct, you made clear that he is not exonerated. 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.”
We’re minutes away from the first hearing of Mueller’s appearance on Capitol Hill. The Guardian is streaming it live here.
The first hearing, before the House judiciary committee, is expected to focus on the second volume of Mueller’s report, which focuses on potential obstruction of justice.
Democrats are expected to push Mueller on whether he believes Trump would have been charged with obstruction of justice if he we not a sitting president. And Republicans are likely to emphasize that Mueller chose not to charge Trump with obstruction, even though the special counsel emphasized that he was not clearing him of that charge.
House Democrats are urging Mueller to ignore attempts by the Department of Justice and Attorney General William Barr to constrict what the special counsel tells the House committees this morning.
My colleague Jon Swaine reports:
Mueller was warned in a letter from the justice department late on Monday that his testimony on Capitol Hill ‘must remain within the boundaries’ of his investigation report, which was released to the public in April.
But Jerrold Nadler, the chairman of the House judiciary committee, said on Tuesday that Donald Trump and [Barr] had ‘repeatedly lied’ about Mueller’s findings and that Mueller should feel free to set the record straight.
‘He does not have to comply with that letter. He doesn’t work for them. And that letter asks things that are beyond the power of the agency to ask even if he still worked for them,’ Nadler told CNN.
But even if Mueller does strictly stick to the letter of his report, the hearing could still be “damning and explosive,” as Representative David Cicilline told Sabrina Siddiqui. That sentiment reflects many Democrats’ belief that the details of the report reflect so negatively upon Trump that they should be enough to begin impeachment proceedings, which dozens of House Democrats already back.
Trump on Mueller’s investigation: But her emails!
Trump is still tweeting incessantly about Mueller’s investigation, despite previously saying that he didn’t plan to watch the special counsel’s testimony.
And the president’s first question: why didn’t you investigate Hillary Clinton about her email server? (Of course, Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state was investigated and ended in 2016 without criminal charges.)
Trump also repeated his claim that Mueller asked him to become FBI director director, but there’s no evidence Mueller, who served as FBI director for 12 years, wanted the job again.
But Trump’s claims give some indication of how Republicans may handle Mueller’s testimony this morning. In addition to highlighting that the special counsel concluded there wasn’t enough evidence of collusion to bring conspiracy charges, House Republicans will likely try to deflect from the section of Mueller’s report dealing with potential obstruction of justice.
In his report, Mueller detailed 11 instances of potential obstruction of justice. The special counsel chose not to charge Trump with obstruction, at least partly because there is great legal debate around indicting a sitting president. He appeared to leave the decision of what to do with the obstruction evidence up to Congress — which brings us to today.
Mueller arrives on Capitol Hill
The special counsel has arrived on Capitol Hill, where he will testify first to the House Judiciary Committee in Room 2141 of the Rayburn House Office Building.
People have been camped out at the House overnight to get a seat for the hearing. A CNN reporter wrote on Twitter that the line to get in to the small room was led by congressional intern Maddie Moore, who specifically asked Capitol Hill security in advance whether she could stay overnight.
Mueller to testify before Congress
Good morning, live blog readers – and happy Mueller day!
Special counsel Robert Mueller will be testifying before Congress beginning at 8.30am Washington time. He will speak first to the House judiciary committee and then to the House intelligence committee starting at noon. The Guardian will be streaming the testimony, and I’ll put that link in the blog when it’s live.
Here is some of the last-minute drama surrounding the already dramatic proceedings:
- Mueller’s last-minute decision to have his deputy, Aaron Zebley, appear alongside him has angered many Republicans – including Donald Trump. Our commander-in-chief was up early this morning complaining that Zebley’s appearance was “specifically NOT agreed to” and that Mueller should have focused on investigating “Crooked Hillary Clinton” or “Lyin’ & Leakin’ James Comey”.
- But Mueller reportedly only wants Zebley to appear with him to help him with some of the details from the Russia investigation, which seems pretty reasonable given that the inquiry stretched on for two years and resulted in a 448-page report.
- Mueller will give a short opening statement, which was rather unusually not leaked to the press in advance. The special counsel ran a famously leak-proof investigation, which seems to be carrying over to his testimony.
- Mueller has said his testimony will stick to the facts of his report. But Democrats think he could shift public opinion simply by reiterating the known facts of his investigation, given that only 3 percent of Americans have read the full report.
We’ll cover more of what to expect from Mueller’s testimony here in the blog before the special counsel is sworn in. Stay tuned.