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Mueller says little in hearings: Raja, Quigley quiz former special counsel

Robert Mueller’s terse and halting testimony was not his finest hour, to the sure disappointment of the Democrats.

Mueller Testifies On Investigation Into Election Interference Before House Committees
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 on Wednesday, July 24, 2019 in Washington, D.C.
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

House Intelligence Committee members from Illinois, Democrats Reps. Mike Quigley and Raja Krishnamoorthi, each took stabs Wednesday at trying to extract new information from Special Counsel Robert Mueller relating to President Donald Trump, with some interesting, but limited results.

“This too shall pass,” said Quigley as he started his five-minute round, perhaps trying to sympathize with Mueller who sat for separate hearings from two Democratic-controlled House panels, Intelligence and the House Judiciary Committee.

No Illinois members sit on Judiciary, where an impeachment inquiry, if it were to take place, would start.

Surfacing from the back-to-back sessions was an emphasis by Democrats on Mueller’s agreement that a president could be prosecuted for obstruction of justice after leaving office, but not during, under Justice Department guidelines.

Quigley threw a spotlight on what he saw as the implications of that Justice Department policy: If Trump won a second term in 2020 he could run out the clock on the five-year federal statute of limitations and escape prosecution.

Overall, Democrats found it difficult to pave new ground with Mueller, whose terse and halting answers diminished his worth as a figure who could bring his “Mueller Report” to life for a nation busy with things to do other than read the 448 pages about his Russia probe. Live television and radio, whether on broadcast, cable or live streams, carried the daytime hearings.

It was Mueller’s hour, and it was not his finest, to the sure disappointment of the Democrats.

Mueller, under questioning at the kickoff from House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., asked about Trump’s repeated claims that his report concluded he did nothing wrong.

“The report did not conclude that he did not commit obstruction of justice,” Nadler asked again.

“That is correct,” Mueller said.

Asked by Nadler, “Did you actually totally exonerate the president?” Mueller said “no.” Neither, Mueller agreed, did the report state there was no obstruction, contrary to Trump’s assertions.

When Nadler said, “under DOJ, Department of Justice policy, the president could be prosecuted for obstruction of justice crimes after he leaves office,” Mueller said in reply, “True.”

In the afternoon Intelligence panel hearing, Quigley picked up on the matter of Trump facing charges after his term and what happens if he is re-elected.

Quigley told Mueller, “Earlier today and throughout the day you’ve stated the policy that a seated president cannot be indicted,” adding, “And upon questioning this morning you were asked ... could a president be indicted after their service, correct … And your answer was that they could.”

Quigley said, “The follow up question” is “what if a president serves beyond the statute of limitations?”

Mueller said, “I don’t know the answer to that one.”

Quigley, noting a five-year statute of limitations on federal crimes, said does that mean “that a president who serves a second term is therefore under the policy above the law?”

Replied Mueller, “I’m not sure I would agree with it. ... I’m not sure I would agree with that conclusion. I’m not certain that I can see the possibility that you suggest.”

Quigley then put up slides with several Trump quotes praising WikiLeaks. “This WikiLeaks stuff is unbelievable,” Quigley said.

“Problematic is an understatement,” said Mueller.

Krishnamoorthi’s questions had to do with following the money trail.

“Your report does not address or detail the president’s financial ties or dealings with Russia, correct?” Mueller agreed.

“Similarly, since it was outside your purview, your report does not address the question of whether Russian oligarchs engaged in money laundering through any of the president’s businesses … And, of course, your office did not obtain the president’s tax returns, which could otherwise show foreign financial sources, correct?

Said Mueller, “I’m not going speak to that.”

Krishnamoorthi tried again. “Were the president’s personal finances outside the purview of your investigation?”

Mueller said no, leaving more questions for the House Democrats to pursue, with the difficult debate to be whether answers will best come from standard committee hearings or an impeachment inquiry.