WASHINGTON (CBS/AP) — It was an historic day on Capitol Hill as former Special Counsel Robert Mueller answered questions for the first time about Russian interference in the 2016 election. The hearings began with the House Judiciary and two Pennsylvania congresswomen from our area had their chance to fire off their own questions. However, following the hearings, President Donald Trump called it a “devastating day” for the Democrats.
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Mueller testified before two committees on Wednesday for more than six hours on his 448-page report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“So the report did not conclude that he did not commit obstruction of justice, is that correct?” asked House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y.
“That is correct,” Mueller responded.
“And what about total exoneration? Did you actually totally exonerate the president?” Nadler followed up.
“No,” Mueller said.
In his 448-page report, Mueller outlined 10 potential acts of obstruction of justice by Trump but declined to state whether the president broke the law. Mueller, using mostly yes and no answers, refused to read specifics from his report, only referencing back to his findings.
“The report is my testimony and I will stay within that text,” Mueller said.
Republicans accused Mueller of overstepping his bounds.
“It was not the Special Counsel’s job to conclusively determine Donald Trump’s innocence or to exonerate him because the bedrock principle of our justice system is a presumption of innocence,” said Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas.
Nadler and other Democrats tried to show any other person besides the president would have been charged with a crime. Pennsylvania Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon questioned Mueller about his findings as it related to Wikileaks during the 2016 campaign, as Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Pa., centered her questions around Attorney General William Barr’s synopsis of the report.READ MORE: WATCH LIVE: Philadelphia Officials To Provide COVID-19 Update
It was hardly the commanding performance many expected from Mueller, a former FBI director with a towering reputation in Washington. On numerous occasions, he asked that questions be repeated, and at one point he seemed to reach for the word “conspiracy” as he sought to answer whether his team found evidence of “collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia. A Democrat helpfully filled in the blank.
At another time, when Democrat Steve Cohen cited the Trump quote, “I’m f-cked,” from a specific page of Mueller’s report and asked whether former Attorney General Jeff Sessions had been the source, the former special counsel demurred.
“I’m not certain,” he quietly told the panel. The caffeinated crowd in the hearing room hushed.
Nadler interjected, “Director, please speak into the microphone.”
With another reminder and a break, Mueller later grew more resolute on other questions, at one point firmly criticizing Trump for praising WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign. But frequently during his testimony Wednesday the former special counsel, a pad of paper and binders of him and a former aide at his side, seemed to waver on details of his two-year investigation and the resulting report that launched questions about Trump’s fitness for office.
At some points, he delivered terse, one-word answers. He repeatedly referred back to the wording in his report . And he at times appeared stilted and halting in his answers.
Mueller’s probe generated more than 2,000 subpoenas and hundreds of warrants and witness interviews, creating a sweeping investigative record that could trip up any witness. And lawmakers are fond of asking complex, sometimes nonsensical questions during their five minutes of questioning. Certainly, Democrats had no trouble hearing Mueller say what would become their top takeaways, including his statement early on that his report did not “exonerate” Trump of obstruction.
All sides had reason to know generally what to expect. The committee’s Democrats had telegraphed that they were going to focus on five examples of Trump’s obstruction described in the report. And Mueller made clear that he intended to give no answers that went beyond what’s in the report. He also had advised Democrats beforehand that he wasn’t going to read from his report, according to a person involved with the negotiations who spoke about the confidential talks only on condition of anonymity. He stuck to that vow, denying Trump’s harshest critics footage that could advance prospects for Trump’s impeachment and the party’s bid to unseat him in 2020.
“If it’s in the report, I support it,” he repeated throughout the day.
Trump took a victory lap after the hearings, calling Republicans on the committees “warriors.”
“I’ve been going through it for three years, three years, all nonsense. This was a very big day for our country, this was a very big day for the Republican Party, and you can say it was a great day for me, but I don’t even like to say that,” the president said.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said the Democratic investigations will continue.
CBS3’s Natasha Brown contributed to this report.MORE NEWS: CDC, FDA Recommend US Pause Use Of Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 Vaccine Over Blood Clot Concerns
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)