By Robert A. Vella
Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified this morning before the House Judiciary Committee. He will testify before the House Intelligence Committee this afternoon. The morning session focused on President Trump’s obstructions of justice to inhibit and stop Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and collusion with the Trump campaign. The afternoon session will focus on the interference and collusion.
I will update this post upon the conclusion of today’s testimony. Here are my observations:
House Judiciary Committee testimony
Mueller was obviously reticent about testifying before Congress as was expected. He limited his answers and responses to what his team documented in its official report to the Attorney General. He refused to discuss related and unrelated matters not covered in his report, and the committee members did not press him on those issues. There were no new revelations from his testimony.
Democrats concentrated on the specifics of obstruction and witness tampering such as Trump’s anger at then Attorney General Jeff Sessions who recused himself from the investigation and was subsequently fired, and Trump’s unsuccessful attempts to get White House counsel Don McGahn to effectuate the firing of Mueller and to make false public statements about being ordered to do so. Their strategy was quite apparent, to try to expose Trump’s crimes as a means to garner public support for impeachment.
Republicans concentrated exclusively on trying to discredit Mueller and to raise doubt about his investigation. They spent most of their time grandstanding while Mueller looked on in silence.
However, there were a few interesting moments. Mueller was asked to clarify the difference between proving a prosecutable criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia (which he said insufficient evidence was discovered) and investigating non-prosecutable collusion between Trump and Russia (which he wouldn’t comment on). One Democrat noted that whatever prompted Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort to give Russians confidential Republican polling data was redacted from Mueller’s report. When Debbie Lesko (R-AZ) asserted that Mueller agreed with new Attorney General William Barr’s statements proclaiming that Trump had been exonerated by the Special Counsel’s report, Mueller corrected her mischaracterization by noting that his subsequent memo to Barr in fact did not agree with his assessment. Lesko was so caught off guard that she stammered incomprehensively afterwards.
Mueller avoided all questions about Roger Stone’s conversations with Trump during the election which discussed the hacked Democratic emails later published by WikiLeaks, and he wasn’t asked any questions about the thoroughness of his attempts to acquire evidence of a criminal conspiracy between Trump and Russia. No committee members pressed him on the arbitrary internal Department of Justice policy which prohibits prosecution of a sitting U.S. president.
House Intelligence Committee testimony
Mueller’s testimony before the Intelligence Committee was far more intriguing than that given earlier to the Judiciary Committee. Mueller appeared conflicted over several probing questions which revealed the political constraints he was under. Although he acknowledged that the DOJ can prosecute Donald Trump after his presidency, he wouldn’t address a question regarding the statue of limitations running out on those crimes. He refused to say whether or not he wanted to question and subpoena Donald Trump Jr. regarding collusion/conspiracy with Russia. He avoided all questions relating to his possible investigation of Trump’s personal finances even though it involved business interests in Russia. Mueller said that he didn’t subpoena President Trump because of the time it would require in court, but he admitted that Trump’s written answers were inadequate.
Congressman Denny Heck (D-WA) used his time to observe Trump’s intent to profit from Russia and told Mueller that “greed corrupts.” Congressman Peter Welch (D-VT) reminded Mueller that evidence of conspiracy was documented in his report while acknowledging that the Special Counsel didn’t think it was sufficient to warrant criminal prosecution. In response to another member who warned about Trump setting a precedent for the nation’s acceptance of political corruption, Mueller answered: “I hope this isn’t the new normal, but I fear that it is.”
Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Mueller had a very interesting discussion at the conclusion of his testimony which addressed the national security threats posed by foreign influence, how foreign adversaries can compromise American politicians who engage in corrupt and unethical behavior, and the vital importance of holding such individuals accountable.
Near the end, Republican members fell silent.