Several Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday attempted to downplay the 10 instances of possible obstruction involving President Donald Trump outlined in special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report.
Lawmakers argued that Trump had completely cooperated with Mueller’s nearly two-year long investigation, noting that Mueller was never fired.
In response to questioning from Democrats on the committee, however, Mueller made it clear that Trump’s maneuvering did, in fact, interfere with his investigation.
Rep. Val Demings (D-FL) asked Mueller directly whether Trump’s actions — or inaction — as well as those of his associates had impeded the investigation. “I would generally agree with that,” he responded.
Mueller also noted that there had been “a spectrum of witnesses in terms of those who are not telling the full truth” that had made things difficult for him.
Republicans on the committee, by contrast, took a defensive tone, suggesting the president had in fact done nothing to undermine Mueller’s probe.
Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-AZ) asked Mueller whether his investigation had been stopped by the president or curtailed in any way. “There’s been a lot of talk today about firing the special counsel and curtailing the investigation,” she said. “Were you ever fired as special counsel, Mr. Mueller? … [Or] were you allowed to complete your investigation unencumbered?”
Mueller, who resigned this spring following the conclusion of his investigation, confirmed that he had not been fired.
Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA) took a similar approach. “Nothing ever happened to stop or impede your special counsel’s investigation,” he claimed. “Nobody was fired by the president, nothing was curtailed, and the investigation continued unencumbered to 22 long months.”
Rep. Martha Roby (R-AL) took that defense a step further, falsely claiming that Trump had never even tried to have Mueller removed. “The president never said, ‘Fire Mueller,’ or ‘End the investigation’,” she claimed.
In fact, Mueller’s report documented multiple instances in which Trump ordered aides or advisers to get rid of the special counsel or take over his investigation.
Throughout June and July 2017, Trump tried several times to interfere with Mueller’s work, instructing then-White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller as well as asking former campaign adviser Cory Lewandowski — who was not a White House or administration staffer — to pressure then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to severely limit the scope of the special counsel’s investigation.
Trump also attempted to have Sessions un-recuse himself — Sessions had recused himself earlier in 2017 due to his own conflicts of interest in the Russia probe — and take over Mueller’s probe.
None of those attempts succeeded. McGahn, for his part, threatened to resign if Trump forced him to push Mueller out, after which the president backed down.
The Trump administration has frequently attempted to give the impression that it cooperated fully with the investigation. It did not.
Mueller’s report not only lays out multiple instances when Trump tried to stop or impede his investigation and others, it also made clear that Trump failed to answer material questions sent to him from Mueller’s office, despite numerous requests for sworn testimony. The responses that the president ultimately returned to the special counsel were deemed less than adequate.
“The written responses, we informed counsel, ‘demonstrate the inadequacy of the written format, as we have had no opportunity to ask follow-up questions that would ensure complete answers and potentially refresh your client’s recollection or clarify the extent or nature of his lack of recollection,” Mueller wrote, adding that Trump had given insufficient answers on “more than 30 occasions.”