Mueller testifies: I didn’t exonerate Trump

 

Former special counsel Robert Mueller has confirmed US President Donald Trump's claim of "total exoneration" is false and reiterated that it's not what his Russia report said.

Mr Mueller is appearing before two congressional committees about his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and possible obstruction of justice by Mr Trump.

The nation has heard Mr Mueller, who was cleared by the Justice Department's ethics experts to lead the Russia investigation, speak only once - for nine minutes in May - about the probe since his appointment more than two years ago.

Mr Mueller had previously expressed his reluctance to testify before he today provided 110 one-word answers and deflected dozens of questions during the first hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

Mr Mueller told politicians that investigators did not exonerate Mr Trump of obstruction of justice. He made the statement in response to questions from the committee's chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat.

"The President has repeatedly claimed that your report found there was no obstruction and that it completely and totally exonerated him. But that is not what your report said, is it?" Mr Nadler asked.

"Correct, that is not what the report said," Mr Mueller replied.

Mr Mueller's report said the investigation did not find sufficient evidence to establish charges of a criminal conspiracy between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia.

But it said investigators did not clear Mr Trump of trying to obstruct the probe.

 

Donald Trump and Robert Mueller. Picture: Supplied
Donald Trump and Robert Mueller. Picture: Supplied

"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," Mr Mueller said in his opening remarks.

But when asked at the start of the hearing if his 448-page report completely cleared the president of wrongdoing, Mr Mueller said "no."

"The president was not exculpated for the acts he allegedly committed," Mr Mueller said.

Under questioning from Representative Ken Buck, a Republican from Colorado, Mr Mueller said it was not possible to indict a sitting president.

"One of the tools that a prosecutor would use is not there," Mr Mueller said of his team's considerations of the president's potential obstruction of justice.

"You cannot bring a charge against a sitting president."

Former special counsel Robert Mueller is sworn in to testify to the House Judiciary Committee. Picture: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite.
Former special counsel Robert Mueller is sworn in to testify to the House Judiciary Committee. Picture: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite.

Mr Mueller was citing a longstanding Justice Department policy outlined by the Office of Legal Counsel. The official policy reads: "The indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting President would unconstitutionally undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions."

 

 

 

In response to questioning, Mr Mueller said it was "true" that Mr Trump could be prosecuted for obstruction of justice after he leaves office - although didn't stipulate whether or not he believed that should happen.

The White House dismissed Mr Mueller's first testimony and described it as an "epic embarrassment."

"The last three hours have been an epic embarrassment for the Democrats," press secretary Stephanie Grisham said. "Expect more of the same in the second half."

In the afternoon hearing, Rep. Mike Quigley, an Illinois Democrat, ran through a series of slides showing quotes from Mr Trump about WikiLeaks.

"If we could put up slide 6: 'This just came out. Wikileaks. I love WikiLeaks.' Donald Trump. October 10, 2016. 'This WikiLeaks stuff is unbelievable. You have to read it.' October 12, 2016. 'This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove.' Donald Trump October 31, 2016. 'Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks.' Would any of those quotes disturb you, Mr. Director?" Mr Quigley asked.

"How do you react to those?"

Mr Mueller responded: "It's problematic is an understatement to say the least - in terms of what it displays in terms of giving some hope or some boost to what is and should be illegal activity."

 

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said the US President is not above the law. Picture: AP
Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said the US President is not above the law. Picture: AP

 

PROTESTOR DISRUPTS HEARING

Before Mr Mueller even took his seat to testify, the president tweeted nine times about the special counsel's investigation and by midmorning, Mr Trump and his allies were already claiming the moment as a victory for the White House.

The president, in a pair of tweets, quoted Fox News coverage of the hearing, including anchor Chris Wallace saying, "This has been a disaster for the Democrats and a disaster for the reputation of Robert Mueller."

His eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., tweeted repeatedly, mocking Mr Mueller's lack of familiarity with some aspects of the investigation and accusing him of playing favourites.

"Funny, Mueller can't understand the Republicans but he can totally understand the Democrats questions. This is a disaster for dems," Mr Trump Jr. wrote. The president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, blasted Mr Mueller's stumbles and calls for questions to be repeated, tweeting the former FBI director was "being destroyed on credibility, knowledge, competence and numerous 'ahs,' pauses and excuses like "beyond my purview".

 

 

Mr Trump in recent days had claimed that he would not watch much, if any, of the highly anticipated nationally televised hearings. But his morning tweets indicated he was following the proceedings closely.

"So Democrats and others can illegally fabricate a crime, try pinning it on a very innocent President, and when he fights back against this illegal and treasonous attack on our Country, they call It Obstruction?" Mr Trump wrote in one tweet. "Wrong! Why didn't Robert Mueller investigate the investigators?"

Earlier, as Mr Mueller prepared to testify at the witness table, a protester entered the hearing room and lashed out at the committee before he was forcibly removed by Capitol police.

"Kushner and Manafort downloaded encrypted apps on the date of the Trump Tower meeting," he repeatedly screamed.

A protester shouts at former special counsel Robert Mueller as he arrived to testify to the House Judiciary Committee. Picture: AP
A protester shouts at former special counsel Robert Mueller as he arrived to testify to the House Judiciary Committee. Picture: AP

The unidentified man was referring to Mr Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Both met with a Russian lawyer who promised dirt on Hillary Clinton at Trump Tower in June 2016.

A redacted version of the Russia report compiled by Mr Mueller's team was released by the Justice Department in April.

 

megan.palin@news.com.au | @Megan_Palin



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