90 Miles From Tyranny : 8 Takeaways From Mueller’s 2 Appearances Before Congress

Thursday, July 25, 2019

8 Takeaways From Mueller’s 2 Appearances Before Congress



Former special counsel Robert Mueller on Wednesday defended his investigation of President Donald Trump and Russia before two House committees.

“It is not a witch hunt,” Mueller said at one point in his sworn testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

He was referring to his probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election that resulted in a 448-page, partially censored reportreleased in May to the public.

But many of Mueller’s responses were some version of “I can’t speak to that,” “That’s out of my purview,” or “I can’t answer that.”

He also asked constantly for lawmakers to repeat their questions.

Democrats on the Judiciary Committee tried to drive home the report’s conclusion that Trump wasn’t “exonerated” for obstruction of justice.

Democrats on the intelligence panel stressed that Russian election meddling was aimed at helping Trump.

But neither of these points is new. The special counsel’s report concluded that neither Trump, nor his campaign, nor any Americans conspired with Russians to influence the presidential election, but also laid out 10 matters of presidential conduct regarding the investigation that could be construed as obstruction of justice.

Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., asked: “When the president said the Russian interference was a hoax, that was false, wasn’t it?”

“True,” Mueller said.

Trump repeatedly has called political enemies’ allegations that his campaign conspired with Moscow “a hoax,” but sometimes conflates that with the Russian interference itself.

Here are eight key takeaways from Mueller’s testimony before both committees.

1. ‘Cannot’ Cite DOJ on Exoneration

With regard to obstruction of justice, the Mueller report states: “Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him”

Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, asked Mueller, a former FBI director, when the Department of Justice ever had had the role of “exonerating” an individual.

“Which DOJ policy or principle set forth a legal standard that an investigated person is not exonerated if their innocence of criminal conduct is not conclusively determined?” Ratcliffe asked. “Where does that language come from, Director? Where is the DOJ policy that says that?”

Mueller appeared not to be clear about the question.

“Let me make it easier,” Ratcliffe, a former U.S. attorney, said. “Can you give me an example other than Donald Trump where the Justice Department determined that an investigated person was not exonerated, because their innocence was not determined?”

Mueller responded: “I cannot, but this is a unique situation.”

Ratcliffe followed up by talking about the “bedrock principle” in American law of innocence until proven guilty.

“You can’t find it because, I’ll tell you why, it doesn’t exist,” Ratcliffe said, adding:

The special counsel’s job, nowhere does it say that you were to conclusively determine Donald Trump’s innocence or that the special counsel report should determine whether or not to exonerate him.


It’s not in any of the documents. It’s not in your appointment order. It’s not in the special counsel regulations. It’s not in the OLC [Office of Legal Counsel] opinion. It’s not in the Justice [Department] manual. It’s not in the principles of prosecution. Nowhere do those words appear together, because, respectfully, 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. It exists for everyone. Everyone is entitled to it, including sitting presidents. Because there is presumption of innocence, prosecutors never, ever need to conclusively determine it. 
“Donald Trump is not above the law, but he damn sure shouldn’t be below the law,” Ratcliffe said.

“You wrote 180 pages about decisions that weren’t reached,” Ratcliffe said, referring to the second volume of the Mueller report, devoted to evidence of obstruction of justice.

Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., pushed the point in his opening question after Mueller was sworn in, saying the report specifically did not exonerate Trump of obstruction of justice.

“Did you actually ‘totally exonerate’ the president?” Nadler asked at the beginning of the hearing, quoting Trump.

“No,” Mueller responded, adding: “The finding indicates that the president was not exculpated for the acts that he allegedly committed.”

Regarding obstruction, ranking Judiciary member Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., asked: “At any time in the investigation, was your investigation curtailed or stopped or hindered?”

Mueller responded: “No.”

Later, to drive the point of a lack of obstruction further, Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., asked: “Were you ever fired as special counsel, Mr. Mueller?”

Mueller began by saying, “Not that I … ” then answered more directly: “No.”

Later that afternoon during the intelligence committee hearing, Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, asked about exoneration.

Mueller initially said, “I’m going to pass on that.”

When pressed on the question, Mueller said, “Because it embroils us in a legal discussion and I’m not prepared to do a legal discussion in that arena.”

Turner noted that the headline from Mueller’s morning testimony was that he did not exonerate Trump.

“You have no more power to declare Trump exonerated than you do to declare him Anderson Cooper,” Turner said, referring to the CNN personality.

2. Indicting a President

Nadler, the Judiciary chairman, asserted: “Any other person who acted in this way would have been charged with crimes, and in this nation, not even the president is above the law.”

Other Democrats said much the same during the day.

At first, during the morning hearing before the Judiciary Committee, it appeared that Mueller was contradicting Attorney General William Barr.

That impression was left hanging for well over an hour before he clarified the issue at the outset of the Intelligence hearing.

The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel has issued two legal opinions, most recently in 2000, stating that a sitting president cannot be indicted. The second one reaffirmed a 1973 opinion at the height of the Watergate scandal.

Barr has stated on multiple occasions that those official opinions were not the sole reason that Mueller decided against seeking a grand jury indictment of Trump for obstruction of justice. Barr and then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein later decided the evidence was insufficient to make a case.

During the Judiciary hearing, Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., asked: “Could you charge the president with a crime after he left office?”

Mueller: “Yes.”

Buck: “You believe that you could charge the president of the United States with obstruction of justice after he left office?”

Mueller: “Yes.”

Later in the hearing, Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., followed up, citing the Office of Legal Counsel opinions to determine whether Trump’s being president is the only reason he wasn’t indicted.

“The reason, again, that you did not indict Donald Trump is because of [an] OLC opinion stating that you cannot indict a sitting president. Correct?”

Mueller: “That is correct.”

It wasn’t clear whether Mueller was talking about indicting Trump, or speaking about legal theory behind indicting any president under existing Justice Department policy.

Mueller tried to clarify this at the beginning of the later intelligence panel hearing, referring to what he had told Lieu.

“That is not the correct way to say it,” Mueller said in wrapping up his opening remarks. “We did not reach a determination as to whether the president committed a crime.”

3. ‘Collusion’ and ‘Conspiracy’

The first part of the Mueller report concluded there was no conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, which meddled in the 2016 presidential campaign.

“Collusion is not a specific offense or a term of art in federal criminal law. Conspiracy is,” Collins, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, said. “In the colloquial context, collusion and conspiracy are essentially synonymous terms, correct?”

Mueller’s initial answer was “No.”

Collins then referred to page 180 in Volume 1 of the Mueller report, which states the two words are “largely synonymous.”

“Now, you said you chose your words carefully. Are you contradicting your report right now?” Collins asked.

“Not when I read it,” Mueller responded.

“So, you would change your answer to yes, then?” Collins asked.

“No,” Mueller said, seeming somewhat unclear.

“I’m reading your report, sir,” Collins said. “It is a yes or no answer. Page 180, Volume 1. This is from your report.”

Mueller: “Correct. And I leave it with the report.”

During the Intelligence hearing in the afternoon, Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., asked about evidence of collusion with Russia.

Mueller, criticized on social media and by cable news pundits for seeming a little off his game, had some trouble answering.

“We don’t use the word collusion. We use one of the other terms that fills in when collusion is not used,” he said haltingly.

Welch jumped in: “The term is conspiracy?”

Mueller: “That’s exactly right.”

“You help me, I’ll help you,” Welch said, prompting laughter in the chamber.

4. Allusions to Impeachment


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1 comment:

  1. He has that look on his face like, "Where's the pudding cup?"

    ReplyDelete