I am watching all of it and offering some key takeaways throughout the hearings, which I will add here as they happen in real time. (Mueller will testify before the House Judiciary Committee this morning and the House Intelligence Committee this afternoon.) They’re below.
1. Trump’s tweets show how anxious he actually is
Is that the tweet of a man who is entirely unworried about what the former special counsel will say — and what it might mean for his political future? Yeah, I don’t think so either.
2. Mueller has already disappointed Republicans
Mueller’s affirmation that he would not answer any questions about the genesis of the probe and/or the Steele dossier takes a major line of questioning off the table for Republicans.
3. … and Democrats
In that same opening statement, Mueller said he would not address any questions involving Attorney General William Barr or the actions of Congress. That’s a big blow for Democrats, who very much wanted to explore differences in public statements about the special counsel investigation between Mueller and Barr, particularly as it related to how Barr characterized the findings of the report on obstruction.
It’s not entirely clear if Democrats on the committee will have any success in even nibbling at the edges of the Barr-Mueller divisions and discrepancies, but what is obvious is that the former special counsel has zero interest in engaging on it.
4. Mueller has been shaky so far
Mueller also seemed to struggle to hear and/or understand questions from member of both sides as well as to find various references members were making to the Mueller report, asking for questions to be repeated. Democrats viewed the hearing as a chance for the public to hear what the President did (and didn’t do) from a straight-out-of-central-casting prosecutor. Mueller isn’t coming across like that so far.
5. Mueller directly contradicts Trump on FBI job
On Wednesday morning, Trump tweeted this: “It has been reported that Robert Mueller is saying that he did not apply and interview for the job of FBI Director (and get turned down) the day before he was wrongfully appointed Special Counsel. Hope he doesn’t say that under oath in that we have numerous witnesses to the interview, including the Vice President of the United States!”
Except … under questioning from Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert, Mueller directly contradicted Trump’s version of events. As Gohmert was attacking Mueller’s alleged conflicts of interest, he cited Mueller meeting with Trump the day before he was appointed as special counsel as a job interview for the open FBI spot. “Not as a candidate,” for the job, Mueller said.
So someone is lying here. Worth noting: Mueller’s testimony is under oath. Trump’s tweet is, uh, not.
6. This is actually two different hearings
When Democrats ask questions of Mueller, they mostly follow this blueprint: a) praise Mueller for his service b) ask Mueller to draw conclusions from his report c) when Mueller declines to do so, read a portion of the report d) say that Trump clearly obstructed the investigation and e) thank Mueller for his service.
When Republicans ask question of Mueller, they mostly follow this blueprint: a) yell at Mueller b) ask him questions about Christopher Steele that — per point No. 2 above — he has already said he will not go into and c) conclude that Mueller unfairly persecuted Trump and his inner circle.
The whiplash is stark. And means — stop me if you’ve heard this before — that people will likely hear what they want to hear coming out of this hearing.
7. Mueller says that he didn’t consider indicting Trump on obstruction because of Justice guidelines. Except…
In an exchange with California Rep. Ted Lieu (D), Mueller said, unequivocally, that the reason that he did not even consider indicting the President on obstruction charges was because of guidance from the Office of Legal Counsel (within the Justice Department) that a sitting President cannot be indicted.
When questioned about this seeming contradiction by Arizona Rep. Debbie Lesko (R), Mueller said only that he “would have to look at it closer.” Uh, yeah.
Mueller later clarified — during his appearance before the House Intelligence Committee — that he had misspoken to Lieu when asked about the role the OLC opinion played in his decision not to consider charging Trump. “We did not reach a determination as to whether the President committed a crime,” Mueller said.
8. Mueller came to life when his underlings were attacked
In a rare break from a low-key performance in front of the Judiciary committee, Mueller pushed back hard against Florida Rep. Greg Steube’s (R-Florida) attacks on the political affiliations (and donations) of the lawyers who worked for him in the special counsel’s office.
Mueller said that at no time in his 25 years of doing just this sort of thing had he “had occasion once to ask somebody about their political affiliation. It is not done.” That is a clapback at not just Steube but also Trump, who has been fixated for much of the last two years, on donations made to Hillary Clinton by some members of the special counsel’s office.