(Reuters) – Former U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified on Wednesday to the U.S. House of Representatives about his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and any possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump.
Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller testifies before a House Intelligence Committee hearing on the Office of Special Counsel’s investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 24, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
Rather than answer some questioners, Mueller often referred them to his report on the investigation or declined to answer. At one point, he had to correct himself after saying he would have sought to indict Trump if not for a Justice Department policy against charging a sitting president, saying his investigation did not determine whether the president had committed a crime.
Below are highlights from Mueller’s testimony to the first hearing before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, followed by later testimony to the House intelligence panel.
“During the course of our investigation, we charged more than 30 defendants with committing federal crimes, including 12 officers of the Russian military. Seven defendants have been convicted or pled guilty.”
“First, our investigation found that the Russian government interfered in our election in sweeping and systematic fashion.
“Second, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government in its election interference activities. We did not address ‘collusion,’ which is not a legal term. 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.
“Third, our investigation of efforts to obstruct the investigation and lie to investigators was of critical importance. Finally … we investigated a series of actions by the president toward the investigation. 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 it remains our decision today.”
“I do not intend to summarize or describe the results of our work in a different way in the course of my testimony today. As I said on May 29: The report is my testimony.”
INDICTING A PRESIDENT
Democratic Representative Ted Lieu asked if the reason Mueller did not indict Trump was the Justice Department’s long-standing policy against charging a sitting president. Mueller replied: “That is correct,” but in his appearance before the House Intelligence Committee later, he corrected himself.
“We did not reach a determination as to whether the president committed a crime,” he said.
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.”
Asked if Trump wanted Mueller fired for investigating possible obstruction of justice: “That’s what it says in the report, yes.”
Asked if the president could be prosecuted for obstruction of justice after he leaves office, Mueller said: “True.”
Democratic Representative Val Demings mentioned people who were charged with lying to Mueller’s investigators and asked if there were lying witnesses who had not been indicted.
“I think there’s probably a spectrum of witnesses in terms of those who are not telling the full truth and those who are outright liars,” he said.
When she asked if lies by Trump campaign and administration officials had hindered his work, Mueller said: “I would generally agree with that.”
ON THE STEELE DOSSIER
In his opening statement, Mueller said he could not discuss the opening of the FBI’s investigation into Russia or the so-called Steele dossier.
“This is under investigation elsewhere in the Justice Department and consequently it is not within my purview … others are investigating,” he later told lawmakers.
The dossier by Christopher Steele, a former British spy, was made public in 2017 and alleged that Moscow attempted to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that there was potential collusion between Russia and Trump’s campaign, along with other unverified and salacious claims about the president. Trump has described it as “bogus.”
NATURE OF THE INVESTIGATION
Republican Representative Ken Buck said Mueller’s list of incidents that could be obstruction of justice was an attempt to
throw “a bunch of stuff against the wall to see what would stick.”
“I would not agree to that characterization at all,” Mueller responded.
Democratic Representative Hakeem Jeffries said that in ordering Don McGahn, then the White House counsel, to fire Mueller and then lie about it, Trump had “committed an obstructive act,” connected it to an official proceeding and “did so with corrupt intent,” which constituted obstruction of justice.
Mueller responded: “Let me just say … I don’t subscribe necessarily to the way you analyze that. I’m not saying it’s out of the ballpark. But I’m not supportive of that analytical charge.”
ABOUT THE MAKEUP OF HIS STAFF
“We strove to hire those individuals that could do the job,” Mueller said. “What I care about is the capability of the individual to do the job and do the job quickly and seriously and with integrity.”
APPROACH BY RUSSIA
Democratic Representative Terri Sewell brought up a 2016 meeting Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and campaign officials had with a Russian lawyer they had been told could furnish information about Democratic presidential opponent Hillary Clinton. She asked Mueller whether a campaign should notify the FBI after being approached by a foreign government.
“I would think that is something they would and should do,” he said.
Asked about Trump’s comments on WikiLeaks, including “I love WikiLeaks,” after it released emails stolen from the Clinton campaign, Mueller said: “‘Problematic’ is an understatement in terms of what it displays in terms of giving some … hope or some boost to what is or should be illegal activity.”
As for communication between Donald Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks, Mueller said, “Disturbing and also subject to investigation.”
Trump gave investigators answers to written questions but Mueller said a face-to-face interview would have been preferred. After a year of negotiations, he said he chose not to subpoena Trump because the administration’s anticipated court battle would have caused a substantial delay.
Mueller was asked if Trump’s written answers were inadequate, incomplete and “showed that he wasn’t always being truthful.” He replied: “There, uh, I would say, uh, generally.”
Editing by Susan Heavey, Bill Trott, Jonathan Oatis and Peter Cooney