Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller III appeared before two House committees for over five hours on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, July 24.
The morning session, before the House Judiciary Committee, lasted for just over three hours, with each Congressional representative on the panel having an opportunity to question Mueller for five minutes on content contained in his 448-page special counsel report.
Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) opened with remarks in defense of President Trump, confirming before Mueller, “The report concluded that no one in the Trump campaign colluded, collaborated, or conspired with the Russians [to influence the outcome of the 2016 election].”
On the question of whether Trump obstructed the Mueller investigation, Collins offered, “The president’s attitude towards the investigation was, understandably, negative. Yet, the president did not use his authority to close the investigation.”
Presumed guilty until proven innocent?
Democrats on the committee, led by Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) made a point to emphasize that, while the Mueller Report did not find sufficient evidence that the Trump campaign conspired with Russian agents, the Mueller report “did not fully exonerate” President Trump on the question of whether Trump obstructed the special counsel’s investigation.
Republicans countered by asking why the president must carry the burden to prove his innocence. Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) asked plainly, “Which principle or policy sets forth a legal standard that an investigated person is not exonerated if their innocence from criminal prosecution is not conclusively determined?”
This is a wordy way to ask: What legal standard requires that an accused person must prove his innocence and conclusively be exonerated from a crime? In all cases, the American legal standard has been for the person accused of a crime to be considered innocent until proven guilty.
Mueller had stated in his parting press conference, on May 29, “We would not reach a position on whether the president committed a crime. That is the office’s final position. We will not comment on any other conclusions of hypotheticals about the president.”
Under Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) rules, a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime. This mean’s that special counsel Robert Mueller III’s investigation into the Trump administration never had any potential to bring a criminal indictment against the president. The investigation could potentially have resulted in criminal charges being brought against members of Trump’s campaign staff. However, Mueller’s team did not uncover evidence sufficient to meet criminal standards against anyone on Trump’s team, either for collusion or for obstruction of justice.
On how the Mueller investigation got started
Republicans have been keen to examine the origins of the special counsel investigation—specifically, the question of why the investigation carried on for nearly two years when it had quickly concluded that the Trump campaign did not collude with Russian interests during the 2016 election.
Mueller made clear in his opening remarks that he would not be able to answer questions or disclose information that could affect active Justice Department investigations. Mueller stated, “I am unable to address questions about the initial opening of the FBI’s Russia investigation, which occurred months before my appointment, or matters related to the so-called Steele dossier.”
“These matters are subject to ongoing review by the [Justice] Department. Any questions on these topics should be directed to to the FBI or the Justice Department,” Mueller concluded.
Rep. Jim Jordan tears into the initial FBI Russia probe
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) raised several pointed questions to Mueller about a key witness named Joseph Mifsud, an international academic who reportedly fed the information to Trump campaign advisor George Papadopoulos that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Mifsud was found to have misled FBI investigators on three occasions.
Specifically, Jordan asked why Mifsud was not charged for making false statements to the FBI, or why the FBI did not continue to question him, while they focused their efforts on charging members of Trump’s inner circle.
When Mueller deflected Jordan’s questions, Jordan had perhaps the strongest moments of the morning session, stating, “The president was falsely accused of conspiracy. The FBI does a 10-month investigation, and James Comey, when we deposed him a year ago, told us at that point they had nothing.”
Jordan continued, “You [referring to Mueller] do a 22-month investigation. At the end of that 22 months, you find no conspiracy, and what do the Democrats want to do? They want to keep investigating. They want to keep going. Maybe a better course of action is to figure out how the false accusations started. Maybe it’s to actually go back and figure out why Joseph Mifsud was lying to the FBI.”
“Here’s the good news. That’s exactly what [Attorney General] Bill Barr is doing. Thank goodness for that. They’re going to find out why we went through this three-year saga and get to the bottom of it,” Jordan concluded.