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Key Takeaways From Mueller’s Congressional Testimonies

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  • Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified before Congress about the findings of his two-year-long investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and potential efforts by President Donald Trump to obstruct that investigation.
  • Mueller largely stuck to the language of his report, as he had promised he would do earlier if asked to testify.
  • Here are several key takeaways from Mueller’s testimonies.

Mueller Testifies Before Congress

Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller gave his highly anticipated testimonies before two House committees Wednesday, speaking for nearly seven hours.

Mueller’s first testimony was before the Judiciary Committee, where the questions mostly focused obstruction of justice and the whether or not a sitting president can be indicted.

His second testimony was before the Intelligence Committee, where questions focused more on Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The former special counsel, for his part, kept his responses short and fairly limited. He gave many yes or no answers, often referring the questioner back to the report, or saying he was not able to talk about the matter legally.

According to CNN, Mueller declined to answer a question or deferred a total of 206 times throughout both hearings.

Following the initial release of the report, Mueller had said before that he did not want to testify before Congress and if he did, he would stick to the report.

His ability to give answers was also further complicated by the Justice Department, which told him he could not answer a wide range of questions. 

Most notably, the Department informed Mueller that he was not allowed to answer questions about people who have not been charged with illegal activities, which made it complicated o talk about Trump and his family.

Now that we have Mueller’s testimonies regarding the findings of his investigation, let’s look at some of the key takeaways from the hearings.

Obstruction of Justice & Exoneration

Mueller started his day on Capitol Hill fielding questions from the House Judiciary Committee.

The Chairman of that Committee, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) pressed Mueller on his conclusions as to whether or not President Donald Trump committed obstruction of justice.

“The report did not conclude that he did not commit obstruction of justice, is that correct?” asked Nadler. Mueller responded saying Nadler was correct.

What about total exoneration? Did you actually totally exonerate the president?” Nadler continued.

“No,” Mueller replied. 

“Your investigation actually found, quote, ‘multiple acts by the president that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations, including the Russian interference and obstruction investigations.’ Is that correct?” Nadler asked, to which Mueller responded that it was.

Another notable line of questioning about obstruction and indictments came from Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA). 

‘Sessions was being instructed to tell the special counsel to end the existing investigation into the president and his campaign,’” Lieu read from Mueller’s report. “That’s in the report, correct?” Mueller concurred.

“That would be evidence of an obstructive act because it would naturally obstruct their investigation, correct?” Lieu continued.

“Correct,” Mueller responded.

Questions of Indictment

Lieu later continued to discuss the Department of Justice rule that a sitting president cannot be indicted, which is based off a memo from the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC).

“I believe any reasonable person looking at these facts could conclude that all three elements of the crime of obstruction of justice have been met,” he said. “And I’d like to ask you the reason, again, that you did not indict Donald Trump is because of OLC opinion stating that you cannot indict a sitting president, correct?”

“That is correct,” Mueller answered. He later walked that statement back during his opening statements in front of the Intelligence Committee.

“I wanted to go back to one thing that was said this morning by Mr. Lieu,” he said in his opening statement. “It was said, and I quote, ‘you didn’t charge the president because of the OLC opinion.’ That is not the correct way to say it. As we say in the report and as I said in the opening, we did not reach a determination as to whether the president committed a crime.” 

There was a lot of media focus on that exchange and Mueller’s clarification, but the question Lieu asked Mueller before is also fascinating. In answering Lieu’s question, Mueller confirmed that Trump asked then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to end the investigation.

He also seemed to agree with Lieu’s analysis that that would be evidence of an obstructive act.

Rep. Cedric Richmond (D) struck a similar tone in a question he posed to Mueller. “So it’s fair to say the president tried to protect himself by asking staff to falsify records relevant to an ongoing investigation?” he asked.

“I would say that is generally a summary,” the special counsel responded.

Regarding the question of whether or not a president could theoretically be indicted once they leave office.

Another one of the most notable moments during Mueller’s testimony in the Judiciary Committee came from this line of questioning from Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO).

Buck asked Mueller if he had found “sufficient evidence to convict President Trump or anyone else with obstruction of justice.” 

Mueller responded that his team “did not make that calculation,” because the OLC opinion “indicates that we cannot indict a sitting president. So one of the tools that a prosecutor would use is not there.” 

Later, Buck asked, “could you charge the president with a crime after he left office?”

“Yes,” Mueller responded.

Trump’s Answers to Mueller’s Questions

Mueller’s testimony at the Intelligence Committee hearing focused more on the portion of his report concerning Russian intervention in the 2016 election.

One of the most talked-about sound bites from that hearing came during questioning from Rep. Val Demings (D-FL). Demings asked a series of questions about Trump’s answers to Mueller’s questions during the investigation.

Mueller never interviewed Trump in person, but Trump gave written answers to Mueller’s questions.

“According to the report there were follow-up questions because of the president’s incomplete answers about the Moscow project,” Demings asked. “Did the president answer your follow up questions either in writing or orally?” 

“No,” Mueller said.

“He did not,” she continued. “In fact, there were many questions that you asked the president that he simply didn’t answer, isn’t that correct?” Mueller responded that it was true.

“And there were many answers that contradicted other evidence you had gathered during the investigation, isn’t that correct Director Mueller?” she asked. 

“Yes,” the special counsel answered.

“Director Mueller, isn’t it fair to say that the president’s written answers were not only inadequate and incomplete because he didn’t answer many of your questions, but where he did his answers show that he wasn’t always being truthful?” Demings asked shortly after, 

“There — I would say generally,” he responded.

WikiLeaks & Russia

Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) asked the special counsel a series of questions about WikiLeaks.

He asked Mueller if he would agree with an assessment made by Mike Pompeo when he was the director of the CIA that WikiLeaks is a “hostile intelligence service,”  to which Mueller responded, “Absolutely.”

Quigley then read some statements Trump has made in the past about WikiLeaks.

“‘This just came out… WikiLeaks. I love WikiLeaks,’ Donald Trump, October 10, 2016, ‘This WikiLeaks stuff is unbelievable. It tells you the inner heart, you gotta read it,’ Donald Trump, October 12, 2016. ‘This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove,’ Donald Trump, October 31, 2016. ‘Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks,’ Donald Trump, November 4, 2016. Do any of those quotes disturb you, Mr. Director?” he asked.

“Well, problematic is an understatement in terms of what it displays, in terms of some, I don’t know, hope or some boost to what is and should be illegal activity,” Mueller responded.

Finally, Mueller also had a now-viral sound-bite about Russian interference in the election during questioning from Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), who asked, “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’ll try to do this again?”

“It wasn’t a single attempt,” Mueller responded. “The doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it during the next campaign.” 

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Time) (Fox News)

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Intense White House Meeting Prompts “Meltdown” Accusations

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  • Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders walked out of a meeting with President Trump about Syria on Wednesday, with Pelosi later saying Trump had a “meltdown.”
  • Trump hit back by tweeting a picture of Pelosi at the meeting, saying she was the one who had a meltdown.
  • The post backfired when the image went viral and Pelosi made it her cover photo.
  • Both liberals and conservatives applauded her and mocked Trump for sharing a picture of Pelosi where she looked powerful, while some argued that she disrespected the president.

Democrats Walk Out

President Donald Trump and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) threw “meltdown” accusations at one another after Democratic leaders walked out of a meeting with the President Wednesday.

Pelosi along with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-NY) left in the middle of a meeting at the White House about Turkey and Syria after things got heated with the president.

Check out our previous coverage about the situation in Syria.

In a press conference at the White House, Pelosi said she believed Trump was upset about a resolution the House had passed earlier that day, formally condemning Trump’s decision to remove U.S. troops from Northern Syria.

She noted that the resolution had massive bipartisan support and passed with 354 votes in favor and 60 against.

“I think that vote – the size of the vote, more than 2-1 of the Republicans voted to oppose what the president did – probably got to the president. Because he was shaken up by it,” the speaker said. “And that’s why we couldn’t continue in the meeting because he was just not relating to the reality of it.” 

“What we witnessed on the part of the president was a meltdown. Sad to say,” she added later. 

Schumer chimed in as well, telling reporters that Trump was “insulting, particularly to the speaker.”

“She kept her cool completely, but he called her a third-rate politician,” he continued. “He said that there are communists involved and you guys might like that. I mean, this was not a dialogue, it was sort of a diatribe. A nasty diatribe, not focused on the facts.” 

Pelosi later said she thought Trump called her a “third-grade politician.” 

Hoyer also spoke to the way the president acted.

“We were offended deeply by his treatment of the Speaker of the House of Representatives,” he said, adding that there were “very offensive accusations being made by the President of the United States.”

“I have served with six Presidents. I have been in many, many, many meetings like this. Never have I seen a president treat so disrespectfully a co-equal branch of the government of the United States,” he continued.

Pelosi addressed the situation again later while speaking at the Capitol.

“I think now we have to pray for his health, because this was a very serious meltdown on the part of the president,” she said. 

Trump Responds

In a tweet, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said that Trump had been “measured & decisive.”

She also accused Pelosi of having “no intention of participating” in the meeting, adding, “Dem ‘leadership’ chose to storm out & whine to cameras, everyone else stayed to work on behalf of our country.”

Trump himself responded, tweeting a picture of Pelosi at the meeting with the caption, “Nervous Nancy’s unhinged meltdown!”

If Trump’s plan was to make it look like Pelosi was the one having a meltdown, it seems like that plan largely backfired. Soon after he posted that picture, Pelosi made it her Twitter cover photo.

“Thanks for the new cover photo @realDonaldTrump!”  her deputy chief of staff tweeted, sharing a screenshot of her profile.

After that, Trump appeared to try to double down in another tweet.

“Nancy Pelosi needs help fast! There is either something wrong with her ‘upstairs,’ or she just plain doesn’t like our great Country,” the president wrote. “She had a total meltdown in the White House today. It was very sad to watch. Pray for her, she is a very sick person!”

Response on Twitter

Trump’s later comment did not seem to add too much to the conversation, because, by that point, the photo had already gone viral, with #PelosiOwnsTrump, #SpeakerPelosi, and #PelosiMeltdown trending on Twitter.

A lot of Democrats and prominent liberal voices responded by applauding Pelosi, and saying Trump had inadvertently shown a picture where she came off very strong.

“Only Trump would tweet this perfect picture of his weakness & humiliation,” MSNBC‘s Lawrence O’Donnell tweeted.

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) and 2020 candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) also praised the speaker.

Notably, a number of conservative voices also chimed in to commend Pelosi.

“What is this thing everywhere where tough women who don’t put up with shit are ‘unhinged’?! Nancy looks like a bad bitch in control of a room entirely filled with men!”  wrote conservative commentator Meghan McCain.

Other conservatives like Republican strategist Ana Navarro-Cárdenas and conservative commentator and analyst Bill Kristol also appeared to express support for Pelosi.

However, plenty of others defended Trump.

See what others are saying: (Vox) (Newsweek) (The Washington Post)

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Internet Slams Bill O’Reilly for Doubting Story of Mom With 4 Jobs

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  • During Tuesday’s Democratic Debate, Beto O’Rourke said he had met a woman in Las Vegas who works four jobs and is raising a child with disabilities. 
  • Disgraced former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly was live-tweeting the debate and said he did not believe this story. 
  • People on the internet were quick to criticize O’Reilly for appearing out of touch with society.
  • O’Rourke also responded himself, showing a picture of him with the woman and her daughter to prove he did not make the anecdote up.

O’Reilly Live-tweets Debate

Disgraced former Fox News host Bill O’Reilly is facing backlash after accusing Beto O’Rourke of lying during the presidential debate on Tuesday. 

During the debate, the former Texas representative was asked about wealth taxes as a solution to wealth inequality. In his response, he told a story.

“I think of a woman that I met in Las Vegas, Nevada. She’s working four jobs, raising her child with disabilities, and any American with disabilities knows just how hard it is to make it and get by in this country already,” O’Rourke said. 

“Some of those jobs working for some of these corporations, she wants to know how we are going to help her,” he added, “how we’re going to make sure that her child has the care that she needs, that we strengthen protections for those with disabilities, that she just has to work one job because it pays a living wage.” 

This story caught O’Reilly’s attention. The news personality, who was let go from Fox News in 2017 after reports showed had settled multiple sexual harassment claims at the company, including one for $32 million, said he did not believe the anecdote. 

Twitter Responds to O’Reilly

O’Reilly’s tweet got a lot of backlash from those who thought it sounded out of touch. He ended up trending on Twitter as a result. Many brought up his settlements when responding to the message. 

O’Rourke’s Team Responds:

O’Rourke’s team also responded to O’Reilly. The campaign’s Digital Director, Rob Flaherty, shared a photo of O’Rourke with the woman in the story. 

“I was there. Her name was Gina.  Her daughter is named Summer,” he wrote. Here’s their picture. Asshole.”

O’Rourke shared the same photo himself.

“The problem with our economy is she has to live in her car—while a disgraced TV host like you makes millions,” the candidate said.

O’Reilly continued to live-tweet the rest of the debate. He also tweeted again about it on Wednesday morning. He has not yet acknowledged his tweet and the controversy it stirred.

See what others are saying: (NBC News) (The Hill) (Huffington Post)

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#DeleteFacebook Trends After Reports of Zuckerberg Meetings With Conservatives

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  • #DeleteFacebook trended on Twitter after Politico reported that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had been hosting informal and off-the-record dinners with prominent conservatives like Tucker Carlson, Sen. Lindsey Graham, and Ben Shapiro.
  • Facebook has recently received backlash from the left for allegedly appeasing the Trump administration, especially after the company announced a few weeks ago that anything politicians post will be exempt from the platform’s rules, including hate speech and false information.
  • 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren responded to the new rule by running her own false ads saying Zuckerberg endorsed Trump in the 2020 election.

Politico Report

#DeleteFacebook trended on Twitter Monday after Politico reported that multiple sources confirmed Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg had been hosting informal and off-the-record dinners with conservative pundits, journalists, and at least one lawmaker.

According to a source, the conversations at those dinners centered around “free expression, unfair treatment of conservatives, the appeals process for real or perceived unfair treatment, fact checking, partnerships, and privacy.”

A person familiar with the gatherings told Politico some of the people who attended the dinners included conservatives who have been critical of Facebook in the past, like Fox News Host Tucker Carlson, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and conservative radio talk host Hugh Hewitt.

The list also included conservative journalists like Townhall editor and Fox News contributor Guy Benson, Washington Examiner chief political correspondent and Fox News contributor Byron York, as well as conservative commentators like Ben Shapiro, among other prominent conservative voices.

A spokesperson for Graham confirmed to Politico that he had spoken with Zuckerberg, but all the others either refused to comment or did not respond.

According to Politico, the gatherings started back in July and were all held at one of Zuckerberg’s homes in California as part of “Zuckerberg’s broader effort to cultivate friends on the right amid outrage by President Donald Trump and his allies over alleged ‘bias’ against conservatives at Facebook and other major social media companies.”

#DeleteFacebook Trends on Twitter

A number of people took to Twitter to respond to the report.

Some condemned Facebook, like actress Yvette Nicole Brown, who wrote, “I stopped actively posting on @Facebook in 2016 after it was revealed that it helped elect the orange fecal smear. Now #DeleteFacebook seems like the best course of action.”

Others posted screenshots of themselves deleting Facebook.

“Zuckerburg has allowed lies to spread on his platform and it was the last straw for me,” one user wrote. “His greed is clear so I have no need for his service.” 

On the other side, some criticized the trending hashtag as hypocritical and intolerant.

“The Left is pushing the hashtag #DeleteFacebook, because Mark Zuckerberg had meetings with conservative politicians, and commentators… in an effort to make the platform less biased,” co-founder of Students for Trump Ryan Fournier wrote. “The Left give the most lip service on tolerance, yet they turn out to be the most intolerant.”

That sentiment was also echoed by conservative commentator Graham Allen.

Zuckerberg himself respond in a Facebook post. 

“To be clear, I have dinners with lots of people across the spectrum on lots of different issues all the time,” he wrote. “Meeting new people and hearing from a wide range of viewpoints is part of learning. If you haven’t tried it, I suggest you do!”

Source: Mark Zuckerberg

Partisan Debate

Facebook’s alleged efforts to work with conservatives come as the company faces mounting criticism from the Trump administration and others on the right who say Facebook is biased against conservatives.

After the 2016 election, Facebook changed its policies to try and limit the spread of false information and foreign-bought ads.

But conservatives have pushed Facebook to minimize and correct bias within those policies after a report in 2016 alleged that Facebook employees may have suppressed stories from right-leaning publications in the “Trending Topics” section.

Part of those efforts included Facebook launching a yearlong “conservative bias audit” in 2018, which was led by former Republican Senator Jon Kyl and a team from his law firm. That effort resulted in Facebook changing some advertising policies.

Other conservatives have also criticized Facebook for how it defines hate speech. President Trump himself said back in June that the U.S. should sue Facebook and Google because of bias against conservatives.

However, many have pointed out, a lot of claims that Facebook censors conservatives have been largely unsubstantiated, with those who accuse Facebook of liberal bias providing little evidence.

In fact, just this past May, conservative publications like Fox, Breitbart, and Shapiro’s Daily Wire were some of the top publishers on Facebook, according to data from Newswhip.

Those factors have pushed people on the left to condemn Facebook and Zuckerberg for caving to appease the Trump administration.

“The discussion in Silicon Valley is that Zuckerberg is very concerned about the Justice Department, under Bill Barr, bringing an enforcement action to break up the company,” an anonymous cybersecurity researcher and former government official based in Silicon Valley told Politico.

“So the fear is that Zuckerberg is trying to appease the Trump administration by not cracking down on right-wing propaganda.”

Pelosi Video

This idea that Facebook and Zuckerberg are trying to cater to Trump and his administration is not new.

Facebook sparked controversy in May after the company refused to remove a video of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) which had been slowed down to make her appear drunk or otherwise impaired.

Several Democrats responded to the incident in a letter to Facebook in June, where they asked Facebook what they were doing to address “the spreading of political disinformation by real accounts.”

“We are concerned that there may be a potential conflict of interest between Facebook’s bottom line and immediately addressing political disinformation on your platform,” they added.

Facebook’s vice president of U.S. public policy responded in another letter three weeks.

There, he said Facebook was working to reduce misinformation by “removing fake accounts, disrupting the financial incentives behind propagating false and misleading information,” and letting users know “when they are reading or sharing information (excluding satire and opinion) that has been disputed or debunked.”

“Leading up to 2020 we know that combating misinformation is one of the most important things we can do,” he added later.

Warren Ads

Just a few weeks ago, Facebook again came under fire when it announced that anything politicians post will be exempt from the platform’s rules, and that it will not remove or label posts by politicians that violate community guidelines, even if it contains fake information or hate speech.

That policy change was met with a lot of outrage, but some people have been pretty creative with it.

Last week, 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) ran an ad on Facebook falsely claiming that Zuckerberg endorsed Trump in 2020.

“You’re probably shocked, and you might be thinking, ‘how could this possibly be true?’” the ad said. “Well, it’s not. (Sorry.) But what Zuckerberg *has* done is given Donald Trump free rein to lie on his platform — and then to pay Facebook gobs of money to push out their lies to American voters.”

Warren also took to Twitter to address the ads and go after Facebook.

“Facebook holds incredible power to affect elections and our national debate. They’ve decided to let political figures lie to you—even about Facebook itself—while their executives and their investors get even richer off the ads containing these lies,” she wrote in one tweet.

“Once again, we’re seeing Facebook throw its hands up to battling misinformation in the political discourse, because when profit comes up against protecting democracy, Facebook chooses profit,” she continued in another post.

Warren also condemned Facebook for airing a Trump campaign ad NBC and CNN refused to run because it made false statements about former Vice President Joe Biden.

In a rare occurrence, Facebook responded to Warren on Twitter, saying that they also ran pro-impeachment and anti-impeachment ads that aired nationally.

“FCC doesn’t want broadcast companies censoring candidates’ speech. We agree it’s better to let voters—not companies—decide,” it added.

See what others are saying: (Politico) (Newsweek) (TIME)

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