As Mueller appears before Congress, Pa. Rep. Dean says ‘I will not shrink back’ from holding Trump accountable

    WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 24: Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller testifies before the House Intelligence Committee about his report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election in the Rayburn House Office Building July 24, 2019 in Washington, DC. Mueller testified earlier in the day before the House Judiciary Committee in back-to-back hearings on Capitol Hill. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

    WASHINGTON — Former special counsel Robert Mueller told lawmakers Wednesday that his investigation did not “completely and totally exonerate” President Trump of obstructing justice, contrary to what the president has claimed. 

    In the first of two back-to-back appearances before U.S. House committees, Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, kicked off questioning Wednesday morning by pressing Mueller on Trump’s claims. 

    “The report did not conclude that he did not commit obstruction of justice,” Nadler said. Mueller replied, “That is correct.” 

    Nadler continued, “And what about total exoneration? Did you actually totally exonerate the president?” Mueller responded, “No.” 

    The report, Nadler went on, “expressly states that it does not exonerate the president.” Mueller said, “It does.” 

    Just before the hearing kicked off, Trump made his latest declaration on Twitter that the report found “NO COLLUSION, NO OBSTRUCTION!” 

    Little new information was revealed during Wednesday’s hearings, as the famously scripted Mueller largely stuck to the findings of his report, and repeatedly refused to answer lawmakers’ speculative questions. But Democrats and Republicans alike on the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees sought to use the closely watched hearings to gain political leverage — Democrats by asking Mueller to confirm portions of his 448-page report into Russian election interference, and Republicans by attacking Democrats’ motives and the integrity of Mueller’s team. 

    “For people who have read the Mueller report or followed these issues, this hearing was not surprising,” Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calf., a member of the Judiciary Committee, told reporters after the hearing. “For people who did not, this should have blown their minds, because they saw for the first time Robert Mueller saying yes to multiple instances of obstruction of justice by Donald Trump.” 

    U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-4th District, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, said in prepared remarks that there was lingering public confusion over Mueller’s report because of early comments by U.S. Attorney General William Barr and Trump “took full advantage of that confusion.

    “Let us be clear, your report did not exonerate the president,” Dean said. “It provided substantial evidence of obstruction of justice, leaving Congress to do its duty. And I will not shrink back from that duty.”

    Republicans questioning Mueller, meanwhile, attacked the integrity of his team and his investigation, and accused Democrats of using the hearings as political theater. 

    U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-14th District, reached back to the Clinton era for his line of questioning, saying Mueller ignored advice from then Attorney General Janet Reno, that a comprehensive report would damage the reputations of those, including Trump, who might never be charged.

    “Your report does everything AG Reno warned against. You compiled a summary of nearly 450 pages of the very worst information you gathered against the target of your investigation, the President of the United States, knowing you were not recommending charges,

    Mueller, however, declined to discuss impeachment.

    Trump said earlier this week that he “probably” wasn’t going to be watching Mueller testify, but his Twitter feed Wednesday morning was packed with clips and comments from the House hearings. “I would like to thank the Democrats for holding this morning’s hearing,” he tweeted after Mueller’s first appearance. 

    An award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years' experience in the news business, John L. Micek is The Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. Before joining The Capital-Star, Micek spent six years as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped shape and lead a multiple-award-winning Opinion section for one of Pennsylvania's most-visited news websites. Prior to that, he spent 13 years covering Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His career has also included stints covering Congress, Chicago City Hall and more municipal meetings than he could ever count, Micek contributes regular analysis and commentary to a host of broadcast outlets, including CTV-News in Canada and talkRadio in London, U.K., as well as "Face the State" on CBS-21 in Harrisburg, Pa.; "Pennsylvania Newsmakers" on WGAL-8 in Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Cable Network. His weekly column on American politics is syndicated nationwide to more than 800 newspapers by Cagle Syndicate.

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