Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller returned to Capitol Hill today to rehash the report he submitted to the Justice Department in March. For over three hours, Mueller answered some questions and sidestepped others. But ultimately, he breathed more life into his written report and pointed to evidence showing Trump and his inner circles actively worked to obstruct justice.
What else did Mueller say? Perhaps not much, or perhaps plenty, depending on how you want to view it.
FYI for Mueller’s testimony to the House Judiciary Committee, click here. Stay here and scroll down for my notes, thoughts, fits of frustration, occasional “Aha!” moments, and reports on Cox’s interruptions of MSNBC feed to issue flash flood warnings during the House Intelligence Committee hearing.
9:50 AM PDT: “This is also a story about money, about greed and corruption, about the leadership of a campaign willing to compromise the nation’s interest not only to win, but to make money at the same time.”
– Rep. Adam Schiff (D-California)
In case you missed Part 1: House Judiciary Committee, read it to catch up. House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-California) opened Part 2 by declaring, “[The Mueller Report] is methodical, and it is devastating. It tells the story of a foreign adversary who systematically interfered in a close U.S. presidential election. […] This is also a story about money, about greed and corruption, about the leadership of a campaign willing to compromise the nation’s interest not only to win, but to make money at the same time.”
Schiff added that Trump and his campaign not only failed to report Russian offers of aid, but “invited it, encouraged it, and made full use of it.” And from there, he explained how President Donald Trump’s desire for a Trump Tower Moscow and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s desire to reverse the trend of the U.S. and other western powers joining forces to challenge Putin’s spread of kleptocratic autocracy combined to produce what we now know happened in 2016.
Then House Intelligence Ranking Member Devin Nunes (R-California) joked, “Welcome to the last gasp of the Russian collusion conspiracy theory.” As Mother Jones’ David Corn warned us yesterday, House Republicans long planned to turn these hearings into a full-on conspiracy theory shitshow… And they may have reaped some rewards in duping the usual pundit suspects into labeling the House Judiciary hearing as such.
10:10 AM: So yes, Trump lied
Once more, Mueller insisted he simply intends to restate and emphasize his written report rather than give into House Democratic leaders’ desire for him to speak more clearly and with more details. On that note, Schiff asked Mueller whether Russian operatives reached out to the Trump campaign. Mueller said yes. Schiff then asked whether Trump campaign officials ever reported any of the Russians’ efforts to the FBI. Mueller answered no.
And yet, Mueller had just tried to walk back his admitting to Rep. Ted Lieu (D-California) that Trump would have been charged with obstruction of justice if he weren’t the sitting President. Still, Schiff walked Mueller through his own report to lay out the timeline of Trump’s “business deals” in Russia that led to the obstruction of justice that was explored during the Judiciary hearing.
Schiff asked, “They lied to cover it up?” Mueller seemed to confirm Schiff there, so his prior answer to Lieu still stands. Shortly thereafter, Nunes took over questioning and introduced the nation to newly installed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (via an enlarged portrait of him). And on that note, if you’re not keeping tabs on The Guardian’s Carole Cadwalladr and her intrepid reporting on Putin’s role in Brexit, you’re not seeing the whole story on Putin’s interference here in America.
10:25 AM: That’s what you get for raining down on Vegas
Returning to this side of “the pond,” Rep. Jim Himes (D-Connecticut) jumped into WikiLeaks, Russian hackers’ theft of Hillary Clinton’s emails, and Russian operatives giving Trump campaign operative George Papadopoulos a sneak preview of Clinton’s emails before WikiLeaks released them to the general public. He got Mueller to say failure to report foreign interference in elections constitutes criminal conduct.
Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) also sits on the Intelligence Committee, so he got a second bite at the apple. He asked Mueller about Trump committing crimes, and Mueller responded, “We did not make a determination in regard to culpability.” Ratcliffe proceeded to urge Mueller to declare Trump’s innocence, and Mueller (again) refused to go there.
Rep. Terri Sewell (D-Alabama) then directed Mueller to the June 2016 Trump Tower (New York) meeting involving Donald Trump, Jr., and Russian operatives. Then as Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) was speaking, MSNBC cut out so Cox could issue an Emergency Alert System flash flood warning.
Shortly after Cox restored MSNBC’s feed, Rep. Andre Carson (D-Indiana) returned Mueller to Trump campaign operatives sharing polling data with Russian officials and asked about it: “It creates a national security risk when a presidential campaign chairman shares polling data on the American people with a foreign operative.” As Mueller struggled to answer, Carson interjected, “It shows an infuriating lack of patriotism.”
10:50 AM: “I don’t think it was an intervention. I think it was an invasion.”
– Rep. Jackie Speier (D-California)
Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) asked whether Trump campaign officials helped Russian hackers steal Hillary Clinton’s emails. Again, Mueller refused to go there. Wenstrup then specifically asked whether anyone else in Trump’s campaign knew of Papadopoulos’ interactions with Russian officials, and tried to trip up Mueller on other details that have already been detailed in his report.
Next up, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-California) summarized Russian involvement in the 2016 election this way: “I don’t think it was an intervention. I think it was an invasion.” She then pushed Mueller to state that Russia’s use of the Internet Research Agency to manipulate social media algorithms to Trump’s advantage, and he finally confirmed that.
After noting that the new FBI Director hasn’t even read Mueller’s report, Speier asked Mueller to summarize it on camera. He urged the American people, “Don’t let this problem continue to linger,” yet it seems like the Republicans on these two committees are all too happy to let it linger some more.
11:00 AM: “Problematic”
Rep. Chris Stewart soon declared, “There is another principle we must defend, and that’s the presumption of innocence.” And yet, when the roles were reversed, Republicans didn’t give Hillary Clinton that privilege. And on that note, Stewart continued the Republican strategy of throwing in Clinton’s name and obtuse conspiracy theories to confuse the broader public about what today’s hearings are about.
Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Illinois) then asked about the Justice Department policy of not prosecuting sitting presidents, and whether two-term presidents have carte blanche thanks to five-year statutes of limitation. He then pressed on WikiLeaks, Trump’s own Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling WikiLeaks a “hostile intelligence service,” and Trump’s own praise for WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign. Mueller simply called all of this “problematic”.
Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Arkansas) then jumped into another favorite far-right conspiracy theory involving former FBI agent Lisa Page, and he turned the microphone back to Nunes so he could push conspiracy theories about Clinton, the DNC, and Fusion GPS.
Around 11:15 AM, Schiff called a recess and MSNBC host/former Bush adviser Nicolle Wallace made a far more cogent presentation than most of the people in those hearing rooms (including Mueller himself) thus far today. But then again, this presents the key challenge of today: Why did House Democratic leaders push for these hearings, and why did Mueller hesitate so much to do this? We may have more answers on this now.
11:30 AM: “I’m not going to discuss that.”
– Robert Mueller
Since he sits on both committees, Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-California) also got a second bite of the apple with Mueller. Swalwell asked about Michael Flynn, Michael Cohen, George Papadopoulos, and their many lies to federal agents investigating Trump-Russia. He also noted Rick Gates sharing polling data with Russian officials alongside Papadopoulos, which refutes Republicans’ attempts to isolate Papadopoulos’ crime.
Swalwell finally asked about Donald Trump, Jr., and Mueller may have slightly tipped his hand in saying, “I’m not going to discuss that.” When Swalwell asked why there aren’t more clear answers in his report, Mueller responded, “We don’t know what we don’t know,” and both agreed on the importance of being honest (which Trump and his inner circle have not).
Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-New York) tried to get Mueller to discredit the Steele Dossier, and Mueller refused. Stefanik then pushed to get Mueller to discuss more of the details surrounding FBI officials and the conspiracy theories on the FBI and Hillary Clinton, and he again refused. She then yielded the balance of her time to Nunes, who (of course!) talked about Hillary Clinton some more.
11:40 AM: “So Cohen, President Trump, and the Kremlin were all telling the same lie?”
– Rep. Joaquin Castro
Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) asked about Trump’s orders that Michael Cohen “stick to the party line” when asked by Congress and/or Mueller’s team about their Russia scandal. He got Mueller to admit Cohen and Trump had lied about their discussions on Russia, Trump Tower Moscow, and their communication with the Kremlin.
“So Cohen, President Trump, and the Kremlin were all telling the same lie?,” Castro asked. Mueller tried to deflect, but he may have already let slip the answer Castro was looking for.
Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) spoke of his own history as a CIA officer in a way to try to distinguish himself from his Republican colleagues, but he pushed to get Mueller to reject specific allegations not included in his report before pivoting to present and future Russian interference in American politics. It was a rare moment of potential bipartisan agreement on the Russian threat, but it didn’t last long.
Rep. Denny Heck (D-Washington) then got to the heart of Trump’s side of the Trump-Russia scandal: “There was another key motivation, and that was one to make money.” Heck prodded Mueller through his report to seek clarification on Trump’s pursuit of a Trump Tower Moscow, Manafort’s “consulting work”, Jared Kushner seeking tenants for 666 Fifth Avenue, and the Russian government seeking an end to U.S. sanctions. Heck insisted, “They all used their connections with the Trump organization to profit in seek Russia,” and Mueller again declined to get into specifics there.
11:55 AM: “Why didn’t you subpoena the President?”
– Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-New York)
Ratcliffe got to speak again, but he yielded his remaining time to Nunes, who then pedaled conspiracy theories about Carter Page and Michael Flynn (again). Surely Nunes will be rewarded for amplifying Fox News talking points?
Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vermont) then asked, “Mr. Mueller, did you find that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia?” Mueller responded that there’s no legal definition of “collusion”, but he also confirmed to Welch that just because he doesn’t want to reach any legal conclusions on Trump’s crimes doesn’t mean there isn’t evidence of such.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-New York) then asked, “Why didn’t you subpoena the President?” Mueller then explained prior negotiations, noted the failure of such negotiations, and exasperatingly admitted, “If we subpoenaed the President, he’d fight the subpoena,” and essentially run out the clock on his investigation.
Maloney then asked, “Why wasn’t it vital?,” and, “Did you have sufficient evidence of the President’s intent to obstruct justice?” As Mueller tried to give longer explanations, Maloney pushed instead to extract shorter answers out of him.
12:10 PM: BREAKING NEWS – Rain in Las Vegas!
Oh look, Rep. Val Demings (D-Florida) also sits on both committees. She built upon Maloney’s line of questioning by asking about Trump’s credibility. She asked more about Trump’s answers to his questions, and she finally got him to admit that Trump didn’t really answer his questions.
Rep. Raja Krishamoorthi (D-Illinois) was next, and he got back to Hurd’s earlier line of questioning in getting Mueller to admit he did not investigate many of the other stories about Trump and his ties to Putin and his network of Russian oligarchs because of the narrower scope of Mueller’s investigation. Krishamoorthi essentially got Mueller to admit that the fears of some national security experts about the limited scope and powers of Mueller’s investigation were indeed based in truth.
Nunes closed the Republican side by saying, “You’ve long a long and great career,” which was basically a back-handed compliment meant to highlight Mueller’s age. Just as Schiff moved to close the Democratic side of today’s hearing, Cox again cut the MSNBC feed to issue another Emergency Alert System flash flood warning.
12:25 PM: “They were more than willing to accept the help of a foreign power […] If they were anyone else, they would have been indicted.”
– Rep. Adam Schiff
Around 12:23, Cox restored MSNBC’s feed again. Schiff asked Mueller if Trump will try again to cut his long-desired deals in Russia. Mueller responded, “I won’t speculate on that,” but Schiff again stated, “They were more than willing to accept the help of a foreign power,” and, “If they were anyone else, they would have been indicted.”
Schiff continued, “We must take every action to protect the country while he’s in office,” but declined to give the crystal-clear answer Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) provided in the Judiciary Committee on impeachment, even as Schiff added, “Accepting foreign help is disloyal to our country.”
This right here presents the most frustrating takeaway of today, at least for now: Robert Mueller often refused to provide clearer answers to the questions that are still swirling around his investigation, though the Intelligence Committee Democrats had better luck in extracting some out of him. And yet while a few of the Judiciary Committee Democrats gave crystal-clear answers to questions from American voters on whether Trump will ever be held accountable for his crimes, it remains to be seen whether Democratic leaders will actually do anything about it.
As I and others have been warning for months, Robert Mueller will not save us. At least that became much clearer today. So what will Congress do about it? Now, it’s time for Congress to provide more answers.
3:00 PM: “He plainly stated that President Trump could be indicted once he leaves office. There is now more evidence that the President committed serious crimes.”
– Rep. Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas)
In case you were wondering, at least someone in the Nevada delegation was paying attention. In a statement, Rep. Dina Titus said, “Today Robert Mueller suggested that Donald Trump, while under oath, did not tell the truth to law enforcement.” She continued, “He plainly stated that President Trump could be indicted once he leaves office. There is now more evidence that the President committed serious crimes. While Republicans in Congress refuse to protect our elections and continue to ignore President Trump’s effort to obstruct the investigation into the Russian attack on our democracy, I will continue to follow the facts and demand the truth because no person is above the law.”
While she isn’t officially on the list of Representatives who support impeachment, she did vote in support of Rep. Al Green’s (D-Texas) motion to impeach Trump last Wednesday. Reps. Mark Amodei (R-Carson City), Susie Lee (D-Las Vegas), and Steven Horsford (D-North Las Vegas) all voted against.
Thus far, no other Member of Congress from Nevada has said anything publicly about today’s hearings. As for us, stay tuned, as I’ll eventually collect my remaining thoughts, sift through the fallout, and invite you over to figure it all out with me.