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Analysis Of Robert Mueller's Congressional Testimony


Former special counsel Robert Mueller is speaking before the House Judiciary Committee right now.


ROBERT MUELLER: During the course of our investigation, we charged more than 30 defendants with committing federal crimes, including 12 officers of the Russian military. Seven defendants have been convicted or pled guilty. Certain of the charges we brought remain pending today. And for those matters, I stress that the indictments contain allegations. And every defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

KING: NPR's Ryan Lucas has been following the testimony. Hey, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: All right. So give us an up-sum. Mueller talked for about five minutes. What did he say?

LUCAS: Well, he reemphasized that he was going to stick to the script. And the script is his 448-page report from his 22-month investigation. He reiterated what's in it. Some of that we heard at the top - the number of people that they indicted, the sort of guilty pleas or convictions that they secured during the course of the investigation. He also talked about the fact that there are going to be certain limits as to what he can talk about today. One of those topics - says he's not going to discuss ongoing investigations. One of those that people may remember, of course, is into Trump's longtime, kind of informal adviser Roger Stone, who was indicted as part of the Mueller investigation. His trial's scheduled for November. Mueller's not going to talk about that.

He also is going to respect the DOJ's assertion of privileges, he said, which means he's not going to be talking about the deliberations of investigators over certain discussions that they had during the investigation, decisions that they made. And he says that he's also not going to be able to talk about certain areas of public interest, such as the origins of the FBI's Russia investigation, which is something that Republicans are very eager to hear more about. And, of course, also, discussions about - well, rather, allegations that Republicans have made of political bias among his investigators.

KING: Chairman Jerry Nadler asked a couple initial questions, including this one in which he asked Mueller to clarify what he concluded about the president. Let's listen.


MUELLER: Well, the finding indicates that the president was not - that the president was not exculpated for the acts that he allegedly committed.

JERRY NADLER: In fact, you were talking about incidents, quote, "in which the president sought to use his official power outside of usual channels," unquote, to exert undue influence over your investigations. Is that right?

MUELLER: That's correct.

KING: OK. Lot of legalese, right? What does this mean in simple language?

LUCAS: Well, basically, what Nadler is trying to do with his questioning, particularly at the top, is read off certain things to counteract - counter what the president has said - no collusion, no obstruction. So what he's trying to do is to get Mueller to say clearly that, no, the investigation did not exonerate the president. It did not say there was no obstruction of justice - and also to get to the point that he didn't say that there was no collusion. What he said was the evidence did not establish a conspiracy between the Russians and the Trump campaign, which is an important difference.

KING: OK. Laura Rosenberger is also with us. She directs the Alliance for Securing Democracy and worked on Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign. Hi, Laura.


KING: So you've been listening in this morning. Has anything surprised you?

ROSENBERGER: Nothing has really surprised me. In fact, one of the things that I very much expected and we absolutely saw was former special counsel Mueller reiterating that the initial mandate for his investigation was to ensure a full and thorough investigation of the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. His finding that that interference was sweeping and systematic and his assessment that Russian efforts to interfere in that election is among the most serious challenges that we face in our democracy and something that should concern every American.

KING: What else do you want to hear on election security today?

ROSENBERGER: Well, I think it's really important for the American people to understand the full scope of the interference efforts. I think, sometimes, this gets boiled down to what unfortunately has occasionally been characterized as a few Facebook ads. But what we know from special counsel Mueller's report and from his various indictments that have come down charging a number of Russian officials is that those efforts included not only social media manipulation but actually the organization of rallies among Americans, trying to pit one another against each other on opposite sides of streets, same time of day, maybe with the intent of provoking violence. It includes, of course, the hacks on the Democratic National Committee, the DCCC, as well as on certain campaign officials, including John Podesta's emails. It includes the probing and potential compromise of state and local election systems in a number of different states, as well as election system vendors.

And we separately know that there was an indictment by the FBI, by the Department of Justice of a Russian agent - an undeclared Russian agent, Maria Butina, who was trying to make contacts with political officials. And we know, as if the list needs to go on longer, that in the run-up to the 2018 midterms, there was an indictment by the Department of Justice of the Russian Internet Research Agency, which was running the social media manipulation, for ongoing activities targeting that election. So I want to hear this enumerated to the American people because I think it's incredibly important for people to understand why this is just such a threat to our security.

KING: All right. Well, we'll have a few hours of this today. NPR's Ryan Lucas, let's get back to you. Let me ask you about Mueller's tone. He's a little stumbly. What are you - what is your impression of how he's sort of delivering his remarks now? Is he nervous? Is he being careful?

LUCAS: Well, I'm not going to pretend that I can get inside Robert Mueller's head. We've all struggled to try to understand what's going on in his head over the course of this investigation. And, sometimes, we were right. Sometimes, we were wrong. I think that, you know, Robert Mueller is 74 years old. He hasn't been a witness in Congress for several years now. This is a massive, sprawling investigation. There's a lot to remember. And also, there are a lot of eyes on him right now. This is a high-pressure situation. He's made clear that he doesn't actually want to be here. He doesn't think that this is necessary, that the report speaks for itself. He's going to stick to the report. We'll see what all he has to say.

KING: NPR's Ryan Lucas and Laura Rosenberger of the Alliance for Securing Democracy. Thanks, you guys both, so much.


LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.
Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.