On Wednesday, Robert Mueller testified before Congress. The reviews were less than stellar.
He appeared old and confused. He was frustratingly vague in his answers and unwilling to go beyond the conclusions of his final report.
But what should resonate above all is not the style of Mueller’s testimony, but the substance. Mueller laid out a tale of lawbreaking and presidential wrongdoing that is remarkable in its scope.
Mueller confirmed that his nearly two-year investigation did not exculpate the president, that it did not exonerate Trump on obstruction of justice. In fact, as Mueller put it in his report, the investigation found that the president committed “multiple acts . . . capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations.” And in his testimony, he confirmed that Trump can be prosecuted after he leaves office.
The president sought, on multiple occasions, to fire Mueller. He tried to get former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to un-recuse himself after Mueller was appointed — calling him at home, at one point, to request that he do so. When that failed, he instructed his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to tell Sessions to limit the investigation. Lewandowski refused.
Trump did all this, according to Mueller’s report, “to prevent further investigative scrutiny of the president and his campaign conduct.”
The president actively tried to prevent witnesses from cooperating with Mueller’s investigation and dangled the possibility of a pardon for his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort. Both efforts could be considered witness tampering, which is a felony.
The president also asked his staff to falsify records relevant to the investigation. And Mueller confirmed, in his testimony, that his inquiry was impeded by lies from both “Trump campaign officials and administration officials.”
Hope Hicks, the president’s former communications director, repeatedly urged the president to “be fully transparent” about the infamous Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Manafort, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Russian officials, but that the president each time said no. In addition, Trump directed Hicks to say that the meeting was about “Russian adoption,” which he knew was not true.
On Russian interference, while Mueller was unable to bring a conspiracy charge against Trump campaign officials, he made clear that his investigation did turn up evidence of a conspiracy. Indeed, the conclusions drawn about the ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials are incredibly damning.
There was a “systematic effort by Russia to influence” the 2016 presidential election — and on behalf of Donald Trump, because they believed they would benefit from Trump winning the election.
Trump campaign officials “welcomed” that influence, because they believed it would help them win the election. Trump publicly called on the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s e-mails and praised Wikileaks for releasing information that had been stolen by Russia. Afterward, the Trump campaign built a “messaging strategy” around these stolen documents.
Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman, briefed Konstantin Kilimnik, an official with ties to Russian intelligence, about the state of the campaign — sharing internal polling data and campaign strategy for winning key battleground states, such as Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania. Manafort also offered to give a similar private briefing to a Russian oligarch with ties to Vladimir Putin.
Mueller confirmed that “several individuals associated with the Trump campaign were also trying to make money during the campaign and transition” based on foreign connections, and that included the president. He also found that five Trump campaign officials lied about their contacts with Russian officials.
Finally, Trump refused to be interviewed by Mueller and his staff and failed to answer many of the written questions posed to him. The answers he did provide were, according to Mueller, “generally” not truthful.
What emerges from Mueller’s testimony and report is a breathtaking tale of public malfeasance and criminal behavior. It’s a tale of a candidate and campaign intent on welcoming the assistance of a foreign government — and attempting to profit from it. It’s a tale of a president who repeatedly and brazenly sought to interfere in, or shut down, a criminal investigation — one that had the potential to implicate him in criminal acts.
Robert Mueller may not have put on the best, most telegenic performance when he testified on Wednesday. But what his report and testimony make clear is that the president of the United States has repeatedly violated the public trust, broken the law, and should be impeached and removed from office.