On Wednesday, Robert Mueller will at last answer questions before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, where he is sure to encounter Democrats eager to hear about President Trump’s wrongdoing and Republicans eager to downplay it. Below, running updates on the former special counsel’s appearance:
3:36 p.m.: Trump managed to stay quite for the entire hearing, but now…
3:30 p.m.: Adam Schiff basically gets Mueller to say that Trump lies a lot
3:15 p.m.: This seems important
3:03 p.m.: We’ve got a definitive answer on this question now
2:47 p.m.: Mueller proffers a warning
2:33 p.m.: The Intercept on a bizarre episode from earlier in the day involving Boris Johnson
Nunes, presenting the counter-narrative of a deep state plot offered by Papadopolous, implied that Joseph Mifsud might, in fact, have been working for a Western intelligence agency to frame the Trump campaign, rather than Russia. “Mifsud has extensive contacts with Western governments and the FBI,” Nunes claimed. “For example, there is a recent photo of him standing next to Boris Johnson, the new prime minister of Great Britain,” Nunes added, as his staff displayed an image taken from Facebook of Mifsud posing beside Johnson at a fundraiser for the British Conservative in 2017.
“What we’re trying to figure out here, Mr. Mueller, is if our NATO allies or Boris Johnson have been compromised,” Nunes said.
In fact, as regular readers of The Intercept already know, that photograph was not recent, and does not in any way suggest that Boris Johnson, who was the British foreign minister at the time, had any sort of meeting with Mifsud. The photograph appears to have been taken on October 19, 2017 at a Conservative Party fundraiser in Reading, outside London. That was 11 days before court documents revealing Papadopolous’s guilty plea, for lying to the FBI, were unsealed, and the previously obscure Mifsud became the focus of international attention.
2:25 p.m.: A small sample of the kind of conspiracy theories most Republicans are choosing to focus on today
2:14 p.m.: Video of Mueller from eight years ago shows he was once a much more assured presence
2:07 p.m.: A rare bit of commentary from Mueller
1:58 p.m.: Dems are fawning over the former special counsel
Benjamin Hart: Dem Rep. Jackie Speier says to Mueller: “You are the greatest patriot in this room today.”
Jonathan Chait: The ass-kissing by Ds is grating
Margaret: Ugh, yes.
Jonathan Chait: Mueller: “Actually I am thinking of moving to Canada”
Ed Kilgore:Haha. I mean, if they spiced it up by adding “It’s a crying shame that draft-dodgers like Trump are casting doubt on your integrity,” that might make sense. Or “You prove, Mr. Mueller, that not all Republicans are despicable chicken hawks.”
1:48 p.m.: Democratic Congresswoman Terri Sewell wins “outfit of the day” award
1:38 p.m.: To what extent does Mueller’s effectiveness as a witness actually matter?
Benjamin Hart: I’m seeing a lot of liberals on Twitter complaining that reporters are focusing on Mueller’s halting responses and out-to-sea manner at the expense of what he’s actually saying. To what extent does his presentation matter?
Ed Kilgore: If the original idea among Democrats is that Mueller would rivet the nation by bringing his finding into sharp relief, then damn skippy it’s relevant.
Jonathan Chait: A little hard to say the impact without knowing how tv covers this (and obviously without it being over)
Ed Kilgore: There’s a reason Democrats dragged him into the Capitol to testify on things in the report, knowing he was not going to go beyond it. So there was something they were looking for that they didn’t get, right?
Ezekiel Kweku: I think an aggressive/forceful performance that was substantively the same as what we’re getting now would have a better chance at making a splash on cable news.
Ed Kilgore: Yes, and I think that’s what Dems were hoping for. Otherwise why bother?
1:23 p.m.: Democrats get a soundbite from Mueller, who sounds more ready to swat down falsehoods
Adam Schiff: When Trump called your investigation a witch hunt, was that false?
Mueller: “I’d like to think so, yes.”
Schiff: Your investigation was not a witch hunt, correct?”
Mueller: “It is not a witch hunt.”
1.20 p.m.: Maybe he just needed lunch?
1:13 p.m.: Mueller walks back seemingly dramatic answer to Congressman Ted Lieu — a big moment from the morning hearings
In opening statements, Mueller says of answer that appeared to indicate he would have charged Trump if he hadn’t been president: “That is not the correct way to say it. We did not reach a determination as to whether the president committed a crime.”
1:07 p.m.: Intelligencer staffers on Devin Nunes’s big moment
Ed Kilgore: Did Nunes miss the memo that “collusion” isn’t an actual legal term?
Margaret Hartmann: Which is it, are Dems colluding with the evil Russians or do we not care about collusion because the Russians are our pals?
Benjamin Hart: Nunes says “it’s time for the curtain to close on the Russia conspiracy theory.”
Margaret Hartmann: “It’s time for the curtain to close on the Russia conspiracy theory … and that’s why I’d like to welcome my good friend, JFK JR!”
1:03 p.m.: We’re back, with Devin Nunes spitting fire
12:35 p.m.: Was Mueller’s admission to Lieu a “bombshell,” or not?
In the break between Mueller’s hearings, his exchange with Rep. Ted Lieu is emerging as one of the most important moments of the first half of Wednesday’s dual hearings. First, the clip:
Now, the confusion: What’s not clear to many is what Mueller meant. Is it that he would have indicted Trump were it not for the Justice Department opinion that a sitting president cannot be indicted? Or did he simply mean, as he’s long said, that the DOJ opinion precluded him from even considering an indictment. If it’s the latter, it’s not significant. If it’s the former, it’s a “bombshell,” at least according to Preet Bharara.
12:04 p.m.: “Painful” is a not-uncommon descriptor of these hearings
11:54 a.m.: Mueller saved perhaps his strongest words for questions about his team’s political allegiances
11:45 a.m.: The New York Times’ Charlie Savage notes some Mueller pushback on hiring practices:
Mueller has looked shaky at some points today, but his exchange at the end there with Steube was sharp. Steube tried to get him to agree that a president could fire a special counsel without any reason, which would override the protections against arbitrary firing in the Justice Department regulations, which say a special counsel can only be fired for a good reason. Mueller corrected him: “Hold on. You said without any reason. I know special counsel can be fired. I’m not sure it’s for whatever reason.” (In fact, a president probably can’t directly fire a special counsel at all — but rather would have to order the attorney general to fire him, and could remove an attorney general who refuses to do so.)
11:35 a.m.: This has become a very familiar refrain over three hours
11:29 a.m.: NBC on Mueller’s very limited pushback during this hearing
Mueller did push back a bit against an attack by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., but not nearly as forcefully as he could have. And he didn’t marshal any facts in his defense.
McClintock suggested the public can’t trust whether the Mueller team correctly characterized witness testimony and accused Mueller’s team of creating a political report. He also stated there was no connection between the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency (the Russian troll farm) and the Russian government, which is a laughable claim.
Mueller responded tersely, saying at one point, “I don’t necessarily credit what you’re saying occurred.” And: “I would again dispute your characterization of what occurred in that proceeding.”
McClintock: “It’s starting to look like, having desperately tried and failed to make a legal case against the president, you made a political case instead.”
Mueller: “I don’t think you have reviewed a report that is as thorough, as fair, as consistent as the report that we have in front of us.”
That is the most detailed sentence he has uttered in defense of his report.
11:24 a.m.: Video of perhaps the most important exchange of the hearing
11:12 a.m.: Important exchange between Congressman Ted Lieu and Mueller
Lieu: “The reason, again, that you did not indict Donald Trump is because of OLC opinion that you cannot indict a sitting president, correct?”
Mueller: “That is correct.”
11:03 a.m. Thanks to Mueller’s seeming unfamiliarity with his own report, this may be an emerging Republican talking point
10:55 a.m. Some Washington Post reporting on the issue of Mueller not interviewing to be the FBI director, as Trump has claimed
Aides to Vice President Pence confirmed Trump’s account earlier Wednesday that Pence was present during a 2017 meeting in which Trump says Mueller sought to return to the job of FBI director.
Alyssa Farah, a spokeswoman for Pence, confirmed in an email that Pence was present for the meeting in the Oval Office “when Robert Mueller interviewed for the job of FBI Director in May of 2017.”
During his testimony Wednesday, Mueller confirmed that he met with Trump about the position of FBI director but “not as a candidate.”
Former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon told investigators that the purpose of the meeting was not a job interview but to have Mueller “offer a perspective on the institution of the FBI,” according to the special counsel’s report.
10:48 a.m.: Intelligencer staffers on an important exchange between Mueller and GOP Rep. Ken Buck
Ed: So Buck, of all people, finally made the point that findings of obstruction could be relevant to a post-presidential indictment of Trump.
Josh: Buck has a good point: If you can conclude that there is insufficient evidence to implicate the president in one crime, and decline to make that conclusion about another crime, does that not have implications about your view of the president’s behavior?
I think the way you square the circle is just because you don’t conclude you lack sufficient evidence, that doesn’t mean you conclude you have it. You could be unsure.
Ed: Mueller added the point that the investigation of obstruction was germane to charges against other people.
Jon: That was the most effective exhcnage from the Democrats POV of the whole hearing so far. Got Mueller to all but call Trump guilty, perhas because – with a Republican questioning him – he was not on guard against doing so
Josh: Mueller also seems sharper after the break. Buck screwed up, his question was unclear. He asked whether Trump could be indicted after office.
Eric: Seemed to me like Mueller thought he was affirming “a president could in theory be indicted for actions after leaving office” rather than “this specific president could be charged for what he’s done.”
Josh: I think Mueller only meant to say it would not be barred by the OLC memo
Eric: But Buck worded it in a way that enabled Mueller to appear to affirm the latter.
10:40 a.m.: An excellent sound bite for Democrats here
10:31 a.m.: Matt Gaetz gets his change to regurgitate right-wing talking points
10:23 a.m.: Dems trying to build momentum on obstruction
10:18 a.m.: An important dynamic to keep in mind throughout these hearings
10:09 a.m.: Intelligencer staffers on Mueller’s reserve
Eric Levitz: Mueller’s tight-lipped reserve works better as a foil for Republicans riling themselves up with demagogic accusations (which Mueller then appears to evade), than it does for Democrats looking to set him up to confirm/punctuate the points they wish to highlight
Ed Kilgore: “Works better” is definitely a comparative term. It’s not “working” very well in either case.
Meanwhile, CNN is saying the “headline” is the “breaking news” that Mueller says he didn’t exonerate Trump. They apparently buy the theory that people will now get it.
Jonathan Chait: Yeah, that is one spin. The opposite spin would be that he didn’t actually get to the bottom of all the crimes and misconduct.
I think the clear likelihood is that he imposed his no-charging, no-saying-he-could-have-charged construct on the probe, and that put them in a difficult, even impossible position that Republicans have tried to expose.
10:02 a.m.: Democrats expected Mueller to be reticent, but they must be frustrated with just how reticent
9:58 a.m.: You’d be dead by now
9:53 a.m.: Watch Louie Gohmert go full Gohmert
9:48 a.m.: An exchange between Intelligencer staffers that sums everything up
Ed Kilgore: What did Mueller say when given a chance to answer Goehmert?
Eric Levitz: “I take your question.”
Ed Kilgore: What the hell does that mean?
Eric Levitz: That Mueller isn’t interested in saying anything beyond “Yes, that’s in the report” or “can your repeat that.” It would be helpful to the public if he explained why belief in one’s innocence is not incompatible with corrupt intent. Alas.
9:42 a.m.: As Louie Gohmert shouts at Mueller, he’s hesitant to push back on much of anything
9:34 a.m.: Mueller again declines to join Republicans’ fishing expedition
9:26. a.m.: Intelligencer staffers on how this is all going
Eric Levitz: So far, seems like Mueller’s reticence but GOP lawmakers’ shameless demagogy is nullifying whatever clarity this was supposed to provide the public.
Ed Kilgore: The emerging GOP line is that the entire obstruction of justice investigation was illegitimate. Earlier they argued that there couldn’t be obstruction without an underlying crime (not true), now it’s that having determined the president couldn’t be charged, there was no reason to investigate or report on “findings.”
Margaret Hartmann: Do you think Republicans were aiming to make Mueller look old and befuddled, or is it an unexpected bonus?
Ed: I’d say the latter.
Ben: If impeachment means listening to more halting Mueller answers, I’m even more against it than I was. I think this performance will pour a lot of cold water on the idea.
Eric: So a win for Pelosi.
9:19 a.m.: Mueller’s performance not getting great reviews so far
9:13 a.m.: Mueller’s halting, unsure answers are not helping Democrats
9:09 a.m.: The scene at the hearing
9:01 a.m.: Nadler goes with effective yes-or-no questioning
8:56 a.m.: Mueller says he won’t talk about the only thing Republicans want to talk about
8:51 a.m.: A key point from Mueller that serves as a refutation of President Trump and many Republicans
8:45 a.m.: Mueller’s opening statement
8:41 a.m.: The first Republican lawmaker to speak strikes a theme we’ll be hearing a lot of today
8:35 a.m.: We’re off to a boisterous start
8:19 a.m.: This is a problem at every congressional hearing, no matter the party
8:10 a.m.: Minutes before Mueller’s appearance, President Trump appears very calm