WASHINGTON — One of the lines Democrats are seizing on from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony came from Colorado Rep. Ken Buck, the new chairman of state’s Republican Party.
Buck spent most of his allotted five minutes criticizing Mueller during a hearing in the U.S. House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. He started by praising Mueller’s service as a U.S. Marine in Vietnam and as a U.S. attorney. Given that biography, “it puzzles me why you handled your duties in this case the way you did,” Buck told Mueller.
He went on to tell the former special counsel that “the report contradicts what you taught young attorneys at the Department of Justice, including to ensure that every defendant is treated fairly.”
But he asked one question that generated national news headlines and was seen as a victory for Trump’s opponents.
“Could you charge the president with a crime after he left office?” Buck asked. Mueller has said that existing Justice Department guidance prohibits the indictment of a sitting president.
Mueller responded to Buck that “yes,” a president could be charged after leaving office.
Colorado Democratic Party Chairwoman Morgan Carroll on Wednesday afternoon sent out a photo of herself sending a “thank you” note to Buck.
“I would like to personally thank Ken Buck for confirming with Robert Mueller that President Trump could indeed be indicted and criminally charged with obstruction of justice after he is out of office,” she said in a statement. “Given that the investigation resulted in nearly 200 criminal charges already filed, it’s good for voters to know that Donald Trump soon could face legal consequences for his corruption after they vote him out of office in 2020.”
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.
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, kicked off questioning Wednesday morning by pressing Mueller on President Trump’s claims that he had been cleared by the report’s findings.
Mueller confirmed that his investigation did not “completely and totally exonerate” Trump of obstructing justice.
“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!”
House Democrats said it was important for the public to hear Mueller confirm portions of his report.
Colorado Democratic Rep. Joe Neguse, another member of the Judiciary Committee, told reporters after that hearing that Mueller’s testimony was “incredibly helpful in terms of providing the American public with clarity as to what the special counsel’s investigation entailed.”
Neguse added, “He confirmed the contents of his report and the contents of his report reveal significant evidence of criminality and criminal conduct by the president.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who also sits on the Judiciary Committee, said, “The critical thing is that the American people saw overwhelming and devastating evidence of obstruction of justice relayed in fine detail both by the committee and by the witness and it’s irrefutable.” Raskin called Mueller’s testimony “a great victory for the truth and for the possibility of justice in the country.”
Some of the Republicans questioning Mueller attacked the integrity of his investigation and accused Democrats of using the hearings as political theater.
Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) accused Mueller’s team of having “infamous and widely publicized bias,” and defended the president’s frustrations during the long-running investigation.
“Mr. Mueller, there’s one primary reason why you were called here today,” Johnson said. “Our colleagues on the other side of the aisle just want political cover. They desperately wanted you today to tell them they should impeach the president.”
Mueller again 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.