America stopped to watch Robert Mueller lay out the case against President Trump.
The most explosive moment of the much-anticipated congressional hearings came as Special Counsel Mueller was asked: “You could charge the president of the United States with obstruction of justice after he left office?”
“Yes,” he replied.
The hearings started with Democrat Jerry Nadler going straight for the jugular – asking if Mr Mueller’s report exonerated Mr Trump, as the president had so gleefully announced back in May.
Had he exonerated Mr Trump?
Mr Mueller: “No.”
When President Donald Trump fired F.B.I Director James Comey in 2017 it sparked a tidal wave of reactions, including the appointment of the Special Counsel.
Mr Mueller and his team of 40 FBI agents were charged with investigating whether Russia had interfered with the 2016 federal election, whether there was a conspiracy with the Trump campaign to do so, and whether Mr Trump had attempted to obstruct the inquiry. After a 22-month investigation, Mr Mueller delivered his report four months ago.
But the full report was not released immediately – instead came a letter from Attorney General Bob Barr “summarising” the findings. When that moment came President Trump declared: “There was no collusion with Russia, there was no obstruction, none whatsoever. And it was a complete and total exoneration.”
The Mueller prober indicted 37 people – including key Trump campaign figures and 12 Russian agents – but found insuffficient evidence to prove a conspiracy with the campaign.
— Brent Toderian (@BrentToderian) July 24, 2019
Over the course of more than six hours, Mr Mueller testified in front of two separate hearings – the House Judiciary Committee, focusing on the obstruction case, and the House Intelligence Committee, focusing on the interference and conspiracy angles.
Mr Mueller, as he had promised, barely deviated from the contents of his report, despite the best efforts of both parties who had different objectives going into the hearings. The Democrats hoped Mr Mueller would give them the evidence they needed to impeach the President.
The Republicans went in guns blazing, attempting to discredit the investigation and the investigators.
Mike Johnson was one Republican who tried to throw the credibility of both Mr Mueller and several of his agents into disrepute, using alleged political allegiances and the cost of the investigation as a means to discredit.
In the end, Mr Mueller testified that he had “insufficient evidence of the president’s culpability in regards to Russian involvement”.
But he stated clearly that the Russians had organised a sweeping attack on the election process attempting to sway voters towards candidate Trump in 2016.
Democrat Hank Johnson asked Mr Mueller about President Trump’s attempts to have him fired. The Special Counsel confirmed these efforts, but referred back to what was stated in his report – his answer to dozens of questions across the day.
In the last moments, on the topic of how to deal with outside influence on future elections, Mr Mueller concluded with this sentiment: “I hope this is not the new normal, but I fear it is.”