In highly anticipated testimony before the US Congress, the former special counsel Robert Mueller submitted to seven hours of questioning in back-to-back appearances before the House judiciary and intelligence committees.
His testimony comes four months after he concluded the two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and the Trump campaign’s ties to Moscow, the findings of which were detailed in a 448-page report released in April.
Here are the key takeaways:
Trump was not exonerated
Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed “total exoneration” – despite Mueller’s report explicitly stating otherwise.
Mueller shot down the president’s assertion within minutes of the first hearing, when he was asked by the House judiciary committee chairman, Jerry Nadler, if the special counsel had cleared Trump of wrongdoing.
“The finding indicates that the president was not exculpated for the acts that he allegedly committed,” Mueller said. “It is not what the report said.”
Testifying under oath, Mueller also confirmed there had been several attempts by Trump to impede the special counsel investigation, adding: “Obstruction of justice strikes at the core of the government’s effort to find the truth and to hold wrongdoers accountable.”
Mueller acknowledged Trump’s alleged efforts to obstruct the investigation proved unsuccessful – a statement swiftly seized upon by the president, who tweeted during the hearing to falsely suggest again that he was being absolved of obstruction.
Trump claims of ‘no collusion’ are inaccurate
Asked if he found evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow, Mueller said his team avoided the term “collusion” because it had no legal application. Mueller acknowledged there was insufficient evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians, but he said it would not be accurate to suggest there was no evidence of coordination.
In one of the most damning exchanges, the House intelligence committee chair, Adam Schiff, secured confirmation from Mueller on numerous ties between Trump’s campaign and Moscow.
Under oath, Mueller said:
The Russians had led a campaign to swing the 2016 election in Trump’s favor and committed crimes to achieve that goal
The Trump campaign was receptive to help from the Russians
Donald Trump Jr said he would “love” to receive dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government
As a candidate, Trump publicly urged the Russians to hack Clinton’s emails
Trump pursued a lucrative Trump Tower project in Moscow during the campaign
Multiple top Trump campaign and administration officials were convicted of lying to investigators about their contacts with Russians
Threat of Russian interference continues
Mueller warned once again of the “sweeping and systematic” way in which Russia meddled in the 2016 US election.
Asked about the prospect of Moscow interfering in future elections, Mueller issued a stark warning, telling Congress: “They’re doing it as we sit here.”
Why Mueller didn’t subpoena Trump
Mueller said in his report that the written answers he received from Trump during his investigation proved insufficient. So why didn’t he compel the president to testify?
Mueller told lawmakers he felt such a move would result in a protracted legal fight, thus impeding the conclusion of the investigation.
“One of the things we anticipated wanting to accomplish is … having the interview of the president,” Mueller said. “We negotiated with him for a little over a year.
“But when we were almost toward the end of our investigation, we had no success to get the interview of the president; we decided we did not want to exercise the subpoena power because of the necessity of ending the investigations,” Mueller added.
Mueller was also asked if he subpoenaed Donald Jr, who was at the center of the infamous June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in New York. Mueller declined to address the question.
Trump could be charged with a crime after leaving office
Under further questioning from Ken Buck, a Republican from Colorado, Mueller also said Trump could be charged with a crime after he left office.
Republicans focused on discrediting Mueller
Nearly every Republican member of the House judiciary committee used his or her time to either suggest Trump was innocent or accuse Mueller’s team of being politically motivated.
Several Republicans brought up the dossier compiled by the former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele detailing allegations of Trump’s ties to Moscow. They also questioned the role of Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that employed Steele for his work and was first paid by the conservative website Free Beacon and later retained by a law firm working for the Democratic party.
Mueller, who said he was unfamiliar with Fusion GPS, declined to address matters related to the Steele dossier, telling lawmakers they were “the subject of ongoing review” by the justice department.
Representative Louie Gohmert, a Republican from Texas, angrily grilled Mueller on anti-Trump text messages sent by Peter Strzok, a former member of the special counsel’s team. Mueller said he had been unaware of Strzok’s animus toward Trump, and he pointed out that the former FBI agent was immediately reassigned when his anti-Trump messages were uncovered.
Mueller says he did not seek FBI director job
In seeking to cast the former special counsel as having a conflict of interest, Trump has repeatedly claimed that he interviewed Mueller at the White House for the role of FBI director. Trump has said for months that Mueller was considered for the job but was turned down, just before he was appointed as special counsel.
Mueller stated under oath that he was not, in fact, a candidate for FBI director under Trump. Instead, Mueller said he shared with Trump his expertise – having previously served as FBI director – on what the role entailed.
“I was not applying for the job,” Mueller said.
Trump responded on Twitter by insisting Mueller wanted the job and claiming there were witnesses to the interview, including the vice-president, Mike Pence.
During his testimony, Mueller denied he had any conflicts of interest in overseeing the investigation.
Mueller confirms several episodes of possible obstruction
It was clear from the get-go that Mueller would offer few, if any, new details about his investigation and its findings.
In most of his answers, Mueller either referred lawmakers back to his report or tersely stood by its contents. He also declined to address several issues, citing limitations based on continuing investigations or the agreement he reached with the justice department regarding his testimony.
But there were several crucial moments in related to obstruction in his report that Mueller confirmed under oath; taken together, they could provide Democrats with a roadmap to impeachment.
Most notably, Mueller reaffirmed that Trump ordered the former White House counsel Don McGahn to fire the special counsel. McGahn, one of the central witnesses in Mueller’s investigation, refused to carry out Trump’s orders and threatened to resign.