Mueller warns US Congress he 'will not' answer all questions and won't say whether Trump committed a crime

Former special counsel says he won’t answer questions about key topics related to his report, stressing that report speaks for itself

Republican Jim Sensenbrenner, who notes that he is a veteran of the Clinton impeachment hearings, presses Mr. Mueller on why he did not refer any of his findings to the House of Representatives for possible impeachment.

Mr. Mueller said that was not his role.

"We have studiously kept in the center of our investigation our mandate. The mandate does not go to other ways of addressing conduct. Our mandate goes to developing the report," Mr. Mueller said.

During the Clinton impeachment, independent counsel Ken Starr referred a report to Congress outlining possible impeachable conduct.

As independent counsel, Mr. Starr was operating under a different legal framework than Mr. Mueller, but Mr. Sensenbrenner noted that nothing would have stopped Mr. Mueller from doing the same.

-Byron Tau

Mueller reiterated the findings of his report that his investigation did not exonerate President Donald Trump on Wednesday.

Appearing in front of the House Judiciary Committee, Mueller is publicly facing questions for the first time about his office’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

In the first round of questions, House Judiciary chairman Jerrod Nadler asked whether the investigation “totally” exonerated the President – something Trump as repeatedly claimed – replied, “No.”

This is the first time Mueller publicly answers questions about the investigation. Mueller previously gave a statement to the press in May when he closed the special counsel’s office, but he did not take questions. Mueller said during the same press conference that if he was called to testify, he would not offer any information beyond the confines of the report. “The report is my testimony,” Mueller said.

On Tuesday, Mueller requested that Deputy Special Counsel Aaron Zebley, who was “responsible for the day-to-day oversight” of the special counsel’s office, be allowed to appear alongside him. Zebley served as Mueller’s chief of staff at the FBI, worked in private practice with him at WilmerHale. The announcement was met with swift criticism from Trump, who tweeted that he was a “Never Trumper attorney.”

The discrepancy between the topics Republicans and Democrats plan on broaching is indicative of the partisan tenor that is likely to dominate the hearings. House Democrats have been preparing to ask questions about Trump’s moves to interfere with the Mueller investigation through former White House Counsel Don McGahn and former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Congressional Democrats are also preparing to ask Mueller about the President’s alleged attempts at tampering with witnesses, including Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen.

Meanwhile, Republicans prepared questions about Peter Strzok, the former FBI employee who texted anti-Trump text messages, and Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence officer whose opposition research dossier was a mixed bag. The Mueller report validated some of its claims, debunked one about Michael Cohen, and did not prove others. Republicans have criticized the DOJ’s citation of the Steele dossier in justifying a surveillance warrant in 2016 for Carter Page, who had already left his position as a campaign adviser. Steele was reportedly interviewed in June as a part of the DOJ inspector general’s inquiry into the origins of the investigation into the Trump campaign.

The President continues to characterize the special counsel’s investigation as a “witch hunt” while maintaining that Mueller found “no collusion, no obstruction.” (The report says, “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”) Trump said Monday he may or may not watch Mueller’s live testimony. “I’m not going to be watching. Probably. Maybe I’ll see a little bit of it. I’m not going to be watching Mueller,” Trump said.

Here’s what to know about Robert Mueller’s testimony before Congress.
What did Mueller tell Congress?

In his opening statement, Mueller reiterated the findings of the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and said his team investigated actions by Trump 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,” he said. “That was our decision then and it remains our decision today.”

Mueller also stressed that as a prosecutor, he was limited in what he could share in a public testimony because his comments could affect several ongoing legal matters.

“It is unusual for a prosecutor to testify about a criminal investigation, and given my role as a prosecutor, there are reasons why my testimony will necessarily be limited,” he said. “And consistent with longstanding Justice Department policy, it would be inappropriate for me to comment in any way that could affect an ongoing matter.
Nadler praises Mueller’s integrity in opening statement

House Judiciary chairman Jerrold Nadler praised Mueller’s “remarkable integrity,” from his service in the Marine Corps to his tenure as FBI director. Nadler also praised the former special counsel for refraining from public comment during the 22-month investigation despite “repeated and grossly unfair personal attacks.” Nadler emphasized that the investigation resulted in the convictions of Trump’s former campaign chairman, deputy campaign manager, national security adviser and his personal lawyer, among others.
How did Republicans respond to Mueller’s testimony?

In his opening statement, Rep. Doug Collins – the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee – argued that “the President’s attitude towards the investigation was understandably negative…but he did not shut down the investigation. the President knew he was innocent…nothing we hear today will change those facts.”

Collins also indicated that he was concerned with the role of the Steele dossier, a controversial report was reportedly involved in the initial decision to launch the Russia investigation, and noted that the DOJ inspector general is running its own investigation into that.
What time and where is Mueller testifying?

Mueller’s testimony is starting on Wednesday, July 24, at 8:30 a.m., a week after he was originally set to testify. He is appearing before the House Judiciary Committee and Intelligence Committees in the Rayburn House Office Building.
Who will be questioning Mueller?

The House Intelligence Committee is focusing its questions on Volume I of Mueller’s report, which details the investigation into contacts between Russia and Trump’s 2016 campaign, and associated evidence. The House Judiciary Committee is focusing on Volume II, which describes the investigation into obstruction of justice, and associated materials. Judiciary Committee chair New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler and its other members are focusing their questions on the special counsel’s look into obstruction.

Only three House lawmakers are members of both committees: Democratic Reps. Val Demings of Florida and Eric Swalwell of California, and GOP Rep. John Ratcliffe of Texas.

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