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Partisan divide fuels Mueller hearings on a historic day

Robert Mueller testified Wednesday before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees. While many Republicans cast doubt upon the integrity of Mueller and his investigation, Democrats questioned the former special counsel about his decision not to subpoena President Trump and the influence of Justice Department policy against indicting a sitting president. William Brangham reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Two years of investigations, a 448-page report, and 34 indictments all culminated in a full day of testimony today by former special counsel Robert Mueller.

    And, as William Brangham reports, the partisan war over the Mueller probe was on full display.

  • William Brangham:

    It was a historic day on Capitol Hill, two years in the making. Former special counsel Robert Mueller testified before two House committees about his report on Russia interference in the 2016 election and President Trump's repeated attempts to end it.

    House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler of New York started off trying to rebut President Trump's assertions about Mueller's report:

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.:

    So, the report didn't conclude that he didn't commit obstruction of justice; is that correct?

  • Robert Mueller:

    That's correct.

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.:

    And what about total exoneration? Did you actually totally exonerate the president?

  • Robert Mueller:

    No.

  • Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.:

    Now, in fact, your report expressly states that it doesn't exonerate the president.

  • Robert Mueller:

    It does.

  • William Brangham:

    Democrats zeroed in on a key point, why Mueller didn't determine if Mr. Trump obstructed justice or not.

  • Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla.:

    Director Mueller, you found evidence, as you lay out in your report, that the president wanted to fire you because you were investigating him for obstruction of justice; isn't that correct?

  • Robert Mueller:

    That's what it says in the report, yes.

  • Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md.:

    You found evidence that the president engaged in efforts — and I quote — "to encourage witnesses not to cooperate with the investigation."

    Is that right?

  • Robert Mueller:

    That's correct.

  • Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I.:

    An unsuccessful attempt to obstruct justice is still a crime; is that correct?

  • Robert Mueller:

    That is correct.

  • William Brangham:

    But Mueller said he was limited because of a longstanding Department of Justice memo written by the Office of Legal Counsel. It dictates that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

  • Robert Mueller:

    The OLC opinion, the OLC opinion, Office of Legal counsel, indicates that we cannot indict a sitting president, so one of the tools a prosecutor would use is not there.

  • William Brangham:

    Mueller also agreed that some witnesses misled investigators, which impacted his conclusions.

  • Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla.:

    According to your report, page nine, volume one, witnesses lied to your office and to Congress. Those lies materially impaired the investigation of Russia interference, according to your report and that lies by Trump campaign officials and administration officials impeded your investigation.

  • Robert Mueller:

    I would generally agree with that.

  • William Brangham:

    Multiple former associates of Mr. Trump's campaign and members of his administration were charged for lying to Mueller's team and to Congress.

    The Judiciary Committee had almost four hours to question Mueller. But one topic that was barely touched? Impeachment. No Democrats brought it up. And Mueller declined to say his report was a blueprint for removing the president from office.

  • Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga.:

    Russia meddled in the 2016 election. The president didn't conspire with the Russians. And nothing we hear today will change those facts.

  • William Brangham:

    For their part, the Republicans didn't spend much time addressing whether the president tried to slow or derail Mueller's probe. Instead, they returned to their longstanding criticisms of the investigation, including that it was more political than legal.

  • Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif.:

    And 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. You put it in a paper sack, lit it on fire, dropped it on our porch, rang the doorbell and ran.

  • Robert Mueller:

    I don't think you will review a report that is as thorough, as fair, as consistent as the report that we have in front of us.

  • Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tex.:

    You hired people that didn't like the president.

  • William Brangham:

    Accusations of political partisanship among his legal team roused some of the strongest defenses from Mr. Mueller.

  • Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D.:

    Andrew Weissmann is one of your top attorneys?

  • Robert Mueller:

    Yes.

  • Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D.:

    Andrew Weissmann attended Hillary Clinton's election night party. Did you know that before or after he came onto the team?

  • Robert Mueller:

    I don't know when I found that out.

  • Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D.:

    And you must be aware by now that six of your lawyers donated $12,000 directly to Hillary Clinton. I'm not even talking about the $49,000 they donated to other Democrats, just the donations to the opponent who was the target of your investigation.

  • Robert Mueller:

    Can I speak for a second to the hiring practices?

  • Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D.:

    Sure.

  • Robert Mueller:

    We strove to hire those individuals that could do the job.

  • Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D.:

    OK.

  • Robert Mueller:

    I have been in this business for almost 25 years. And in those 25 years, I have not had occasion once to ask somebody about their political affiliation. It is not done.

    What I care about is the capability of the individual to do the job and do the job quickly and seriously and with integrity.

  • William Brangham:

    Others, like Florida Republican Matt Gaetz, criticized Mueller for his unwillingness to investigate the role played by the notorious Steele dossier, a series of unproven allegations about Donald Trump's dealings in Russia compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele.

  • Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.:

    So, here's my question: Did Russians really tell that to Christopher Steele, or did he just make it up and was he lying to the FBI?

  • Robert Mueller:

    Let me backup a second, if I could, and say, as I said earlier, with regard to Steele, that that's beyond my purview.

  • Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla.:

    No, it is exactly your purview, Director Mueller. And here's why. Only one of two things is possible, right? Either Steele made this whole thing up and there were never any Russians telling him of this vast criminal conspiracy that you didn't find, or Russians lied to Steele.

  • William Brangham:

    After this morning's hearing, Mueller went before the House Intelligence Committee for another round.

  • Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.:

    Welcome, everyone, to the last gasp of the Russia collusion, conspiracy theory.

  • William Brangham:

    In the early days of the Russia investigation, Republicans on this same committee released their own report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. But their report came to a very different conclusion than Mueller's. It determined Russia didn't interfere in the election to help Mr. Trump's campaign.

    But Democrats today again pushed back against that idea and the assertion by the president and other that the investigation was a waste.

  • Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.:

    And when Donald Trump called your investigation a witch-hunt, that was also false, was it not?

  • Robert Mueller:

    I would like to think so, yes.

  • Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.:

    Well, your investigation isn't a witch-hunt, is it?

  • Robert Mueller:

    It is not a witch-hunt.

  • Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.:

    When the president said the Russian interference was a hoax, that was false, wasn't it?

  • Robert Mueller:

    True.

  • Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.:

    When he said publicly, it was false?

  • Robert Mueller:

    He did say publicly that it was false, yes.

  • William Brangham:

    Another question, one that's been on the minds of many since Mueller's report was issued, why wasn't the president interviewed under oath? New York Democrat Sean Patrick Maloney:

  • Rep. Sean Maloney, D-N.Y.:

    Why didn't you subpoena the president?

  • Robert Mueller:

    We negotiated with from — him for a little over a year. The expectation was, if we did subpoena the president, he would fight the subpoena and we'd be in the midst of the investigation for a substantial period of time.

  • William Brangham:

    Representative Will Hurd, Republican of Texas, turned the hearing back to what Robert Mueller has always cited as one of the most serious issues raised by his investigation: the past and future threat of meddling in our elections.

  • Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas:

    Our committee issued a report and insight on saying that Russian active measures are growing with frequency and intensity. Would you agree with that?

  • Robert Mueller:

    Yes. In fact, many more countries are developing the capability to replicate what the Russians have done.

  • Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas:

    In your investigation, did you think this was a single attempt by the Russians to get involved in our election, or did you find evidence to suggest they will try to do this again?

  • Robert Mueller:

    Oh, it wasn't a single attempt. They're doing it as we sit here.

  • William Brangham:

    For the "PBS NewsHour" I'm William Brangham.

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