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Mueller Testimony: “The President Was Not Exculpated”

OtherMueller Testimony: “The President Was Not Exculpated”

Within minutes of beginning his testimony before Congress on Wednesday, Robert Mueller, the former special counsel, directly contradicted one of President Donald Trump’s primary claims regarding the Mueller investigation. Speaking in lawyerly terms, Mueller said that his report had not exonerated the President on allegations of obstruction of justice.

“The President was not exculpated for the acts that he allegedly committed,” Mueller said.

In a series of exchanges with the House Judiciary Committee chairman, Jerry Nadler, and other Democrats, Mueller also confirmed the basic outlines of his report. He said that the Russians engaged in sweeping interference in the 2016 election. And he noted that Trump’s campaign manager shared campaign strategy with a suspected Russian operative. Nadler repeatedly pressed Mueller, however, about his findings on obstruction.

“The President has repeatedly claimed that your report found there was no obstruction, and that it completely and totally exonerated him,” Nadler said. “But that is not what your report said, is it?”

“Correct, that is not what the report said,” Mueller replied.

After several other questions, Nadler again asked Mueller the same question. “So the report did not conclude that he did not commit obstruction of justice,” Nadler said. “Is that correct?”

“That is correct,” Mueller said.

Nadler then asked, “And what about total exoneration? Did you actually totally exonerate the President?”

“No,” Mueller replied.

The hearing then quickly devolved into partisan lines of questioning. Republicans accused Mueller of unfairly smearing the President. Democrats tried to elicit more confirmations from Mueller of the most damaging elements of the report.

Mueller, who is seventy-four, struggled to answer some rapid-fire questions from members of Congress. He asked members to repeat their questions or to give him the citations for the section of the report they were citing. He stammered at times. Under attack from Republicans, he largely declined to defend himself.

More dramatic moments could unfold on Wednesday, but congressional hearings are often summarized by single moments. (Think of President Nixon’s White House counsel, John Dean, describing a “cancer” growing on the Presidency.)

In the first minutes of Mueller’s testimony, Democrats had achieved a basic aim: contradicting Trump’s claims of innocence.

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