- 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)
Biden Outlines $1.9 Trillion Stimulus Plan
- President-elect Joe Biden unveiled a sweeping $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief stimulus proposal on Thursday.
- Under the plan, $1 trillion would go to direct relief for Americans. This includes a round of $1,400 stimulus checks, an extension and $400 weekly increase to federal unemployment benefits, and a $15 minimum wage.
- The proposal would also allocate $440 billion for aid to local governments and businesses, as well as provide $400 billion to directly fight the coronavirus with more testing and vaccinations, among other efforts.
Biden Outlines Direct Aid in Stimulus Plan
President-elect Joe Biden announced the details of his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief stimulus package while speaking at an event in Wilmington, Delaware on Thursday.
Biden described the package, titled “American Rescue Plan,” as a set of emergency measures to immediately address the country’s economic and healthcare needs. The package will be followed by a second, broader relief package in February, which will aim to address more long-term economic recovery efforts.
Most significantly, $1 trillion — more than half of the funding allocated in the first package — will go to direct relief for Americans. Among other measures, the direct aid provisions in the plan include increasing federal unemployment benefits from $300 a week to $400 a week and extending them from March to September.
Biden’s plan also includes $1,400 stimulus checks to top off the $600 already approved in the December stimulus package. However, eligibility for the direct payments would be expanded to families of non-citizen immigrants as well as families with adult dependents.
Additionally, the proposal includes several other measures targeted at directly helping struggling Americans, such as raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, adding billions in funding for child care, and expanding the child tax credit to poor and middle-class families.
As for the broader economic and pandemic-centered measures, Biden’s package would allocate $440 billion for aid to states, local governments, and businesses. It would also provide $400 billion to directly fight the coronavirus, with a major focus on expanding testing and accelerating vaccine distribution.
Biden has set the dual goals of delivering 100 million vaccines and reopening the majority of K-12 public schools in his first 100 days. To meet that objective, his plan includes $20 billion for a universal vaccination program, $50 billion to expand testing, and $130 billion to help schools reopen safely.
The proposal, overall, meets many of the demands for direct aid that Democrats have pushed for months but have been unable to approve with the Republican-controlled Senate. Now that Democrats hold the presidency and control of both chambers, many members have urged Biden to ask for an even higher price tag.
Biden, for his part, has said he would like to try for a bipartisan majority on his first piece of legislation, but given Republicans months-long resistance to many Democratic asks, that desire is likely a pipe-dream.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNN)
Democrats Ask for Investigation into GOP Members Aiding Rioters
- More than 30 House Democrats signed a letter Wednesday demanding that security officials look into “suspicious behavior and access given to visitors” at the Capitol the day before last week’s insurrection.
- The lawmakers claimed they “witnessed an extremely high number of outside groups” visiting, including guests who “appeared to be associated with the rally at the White House the following day.”
- The letter comes one day after Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-NJ) accused her Republican colleagues of bringing rioters into the Capitol the day before for “reconnaissance.”
- Notably, neither the letter nor Sherill herself directly named any members, and these claims have not yet been verified.
Demands for Investigation
Congressional Democrats are demanding an investigation into whether Republican representatives aided the Capitol rioters who lead last Wednesday’s insurrection.
In a letter signed by 31 members Wednesday, lawmakers asked the acting House and Senate Sergeants at Arms to look into “suspicious behavior and access given to visitors” the day right before the attack.
In that letter, the Democrats say that they as well as some of their staffers “witnessed an extremely high number of outside groups” visiting the Capitol.
They pointed out that was unusual because the building has restricted public access since March as part of pandemic protocols. Since then, tourists have only been allowed to enter the Capitol if they were brought in by a member of Congress.
The members found the tours “so concerning” that they reported them to the Sergeant at Arms the same day.
“The visitors encountered by some of the Members of Congress on this letter appeared to be associated with the rally at the White House the following day,” the letter continued. “Members of the group that attacked the Capitol seemed to have an unusually detailed knowledge of the layout of the Capitol Complex.”
The demands come after Rep. Mikie Sherrill (R-NJ) claimed during a Facebook livestream Tuesday that she saw Republican representatives bringing now-identified rioters into the Capitol the day before the riots for “reconnaissance.” Sherrill also alleged that some of her GOP colleagues “abetted” Trump and “incited this violent crowd.”
Members Under Fire
Neither the letter nor Sherill have directly named any members, and none of these claims have yet been verified. However, over the last few days, a number of Republicans have been condemned for their perceived involvement in inciting the rioters.
In a now-deleted video, right-wing conspiracy theorist and “Stop the Steal” organizer Ali Alexander claimed he had planned the rally that took place before the riot with the help of three House Republicans: Paul Gosar (Az.), Andy Biggs (Az.), and Mo Brooks (Al.). All three men voted to undermine the will of the American people and throw out the electoral votes in Arizona following the insurrection.
Biggs and Brooks have both denied that they have any involvement, but Gosar, who tagged Alexander in a tweet he posted just hours before the attack, has not responded to any requests for comment from several outlets.
“Biden should concede,” Gosar wrote. “I want his concession on my desk tomorrow morning. Don’t make me come over there. #StopTheSteaI2021”
While Brooks has denied any involvement in planning the rally, his remarks to the would-be domestic terrorists at the event have sparked widespread condemnation.
“Today is the day that American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass,” he told the crowd. “Are you willing to do what it takes to fight for America?”
Some House Democrats introduced resolutions to censure Brooks for his comments. Other members have also been pushing to invoke Section 3 of the 14th Amendment, a relic of the post-Civil War era which disqualifies people who “have engaged in insurrection or rebellion” against the U.S. from holding public office.
Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) has also received 47 co-sponsored on her proposed resolution that would start investigations for “removal of the members who attempted to overturn the results of the election and incited a white supremacist attempted coup.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (CNN)
House Impeaches Trump By Largest Bipartisan Margin in History
- The House voted to impeach President Donald Trump on Wednesday for “inciting an insurrection,” making him the first-ever president to be impeached twice.
- Ten Republicans broke party ranks to vote in favor of impeachment, which means this is the most bipartisan impeachment in U.S. history.
- Ahead of the vote, sources close to Senate Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters he believes Trump committed impeachable offenses and that he was pleased Democrats were moving forward with a vote because it will make it easier to “purge” Trump from the party.
- McConnel later said he has not yet decided whether he will vote to convict Trump. Still, he has refused to convene the Senate before Jan. 19, meaning that as of now, there is little chance that the Senate will conduct a trial and oust Trump before his term ends.
House Debates Impeachment
The U.S. House of Representatives voted 232 to 197 to impeach President Donald Trump on Wednesday for “inciting an insurrection,” making him the first-ever president to be impeached twice.
All Democrats voted in favor of the single article. They were also joined by 10 Republicans, which means this is the most bipartisan impeachment in U.S. history.
The decision was debated on the floor after Vice President Pence rejected Democrats’ calls to invoke the 25th amendment and remove Trump from office.
Most notable among the Republican members who voted to impeach was Liz Cheney (R-WY), the number three House Republican who announced her decision Tuesday night.
“There has never been a greater betrayal by a president of the United States of his office and his oath to the Constitution,” she said in a statement.
Questionable Path in Senate
No Republican Senators have publicly said they support removing Trump from office.
On Tuesday, The New York Times reported that sources close to Senate Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said he “has told associates that he believes President Trump committed impeachable offenses and that he is pleased that Democrats are moving to impeach him, believing that it will make it easier to purge him from the party.”
Sources separately told Axios that “there’s a better than 50-50 chance” that McConnell would vote to convict Trump.
McConnell responded to the reports earlier on Wednesday but did not outright dispute many of the claims.
“While the press has been full of speculation, I have not made a final decision on how I will vote and I intend to listen to the legal arguments when they are presented to the Senate,” he said.
As for whether or not other members of the GOP would follow suit, a top Republican close to McConnell also told Axios that “Senate institutional loyalists are fomenting a counterrevolution” to Trump.
Additionally, McConnell’s advisers have said that he has “privately speculated that a dozen Republican senators — and possibly more — could ultimately vote to convict.” Notably, it would most likely require 17 Republicans to join Democrats in order for Trump to be found guilty.
In regards to a timeline, the Senate is in recess and not set to reconvene until Jan. 19, the day before Joe Biden’s inauguration. McConnell has rejected calls to ask that members return before then, meaning that as of right now there is very little chance that the Senate will conduct a trial and oust Trump before he leaves office.