Robert Mueller testifies
Former special counsel Robert Mueller broke new ground, perhaps for the first time, when he criticized Trump for embracing WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign, and touting the hacked Democratic emails they released before the election.
Asked to react to Trump’s behavior, Mueller said:
“Problematic is an understatement, in terms of what it displays, in terms of giving some hope or some boost to what is and should be illegal activity.”
What he's talking about: The “illegal activity” likely refers to the hacking of Democratic emails by Russian intelligence officers. They hacked the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, then funneled the stolen emails to WikiLeaks, according to the Mueller report. WikiLeaks later published many of the emails.
Trump touted the new leaks at nearly every stop on the campaign trail in the final weeks of the race, sometimes reading directly from emails at his rallies and seizing on thinly sourced conspiracy theories.
Democrats have condemned Trump for doing that, saying he was openly embracing Russian meddling. For the first time, Mueller agreed with that assessment when he said Trump’s actions were “problematic.”
To be clear, it is not a crime to read aloud from news stories or hacked emails that are posted online. The crimes were committed by the Russians who hacked the emails. But by embracing WikiLeaks, candidate Trump aligned with Russia’s goals of disrupting the campaign and weakening Clinton’s chances of winning.
Almost all of the Democratic candidates running for the 2020 campaign have pledged that they won’t use any hacked materials during the campaign to attack their opponents. Trump has not made this promise and has publicly suggested that he’s more than willing to accept help from foreign governments in 2020.
President Trump just tweeted an 8-second clip from the first hearing in which Rep. Doug Collins questions Robert Mueller.
The clip is watermarked PBS NewsHour and comes from RNC Research. It shows this exchange:
Collins: At any time in the investigation was your investigation curtailed or stopped or hindered?
While Department of Justice policy counsels against indicting a sitting president, a president can be indicted once out of office. But every crime carries a statute of limitations — a time limit, starting from the day a person commits a crime, within which criminal charges must be brought.
For most federal crimes, the statute of limitations is five years. So if Trump leaves office in January 2021, a five-year statute of limitations would prohibit criminal charges for any conduct occurring before January 2016; if he leaves office in January 2025, then the statute of limitations would bar charges on anything he did before January 2020.
There is, however, an important exception: In some instances, federal law permits "tolling" of the statute of limitations — essentially a pause on the countdown clock. Tolling happens, for example, when a defendant is a fugitive or during the pendency of a request from the United States to a foreign country for evidence.
While the issue has never been decided in court, prosecutors likely would argue that the statute of limitations should be tolled while the President is in office. Prosecutors might make the unusual argument that being president is, for legal purposes, the same as being a fugitive: In both cases, the subject cannot be charged and apprehended, through no fault of the prosecution. Essentially, prosecutors might argue, the President — by virtue of his position — hides from the law, in plain sight.
On the other hand, a defendant likely would argue that the statute of limitations is not tolled if, in effect, the Justice Department prevents itself from charging. The prohibition on indicting a sitting president is not imposed on the Justice Department by the Constitution, statute or judicial decision; it is a prudential limit that the Justice Department has imposed on itself. Such a self-limitation, a defendant would argue, does not toll the statute of limitations.
Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley just asked former special counsel Robert Mueller what happens if a president — who can not be indicted while seated, but could be once they leave office — serves longer than the statute of limitations.
Mueller said he wasn't sure what would happen.
Here's part of their exchange:
Quigley: "Thank you for being here. Earlier today, and throughout the day, have you stated the policy that a seated president cannot be indicted, correct?"
Quigley: And upon questioning this morning, you were asked that could a president be indicted after their service, correct?
Quigley: The follow-up question that should be concerning is, what if a president serves beyond the statute of limitations?
Mueller: I don't know the answer to that one.
Why this matters: Several times today, Mueller has testified that a US president could be charged after he or she leaves office. He has not, however, said if Trump should be prosecuted after he leaves office.
President Trump started making phone calls early this morning — agitated by the idea that Robert Mueller would be appearing on Capitol Hill for his testimony soon.
But sources say his demeanor has now changed from one of irritation to one of triumph.
Trump was pleased with the way Republicans from the House Judiciary Committee aggressively questioned and lectured Mueller.
Mark Meadows, one of his key allies on Capitol Hill who sat in on the hearing this morning, appeared at the White House moments ago.
Trump is now in the West Wing, but is still keeping a close eye on Mueller's second hearing before the House Intelligence Committee.
Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley just read off several quotes that President Trump has said about WikiLeaks, including "This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove" and "Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks."
Some context: The quotes were all Trump's reaction to leaked information on Hillary Clinton's campaign.
Quigley asked former special counsel Robert Mueller to react to those lines.
"Problematic is an understatement in terms of what it displays in terms of giving some hope or some boost to what is and should be illegal activity," Mueller said.
Former special counsel Robert Mueller said Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election was "not a hoax."
His remarks on Russian interference came during a line of questioning by Rep. Jackie Speier, who described it as "an invasion" as well as "sinister and scheming."
Asked if he would agree that it was not a hoax and that the Russians were engaged in trying to impact the US election, Mueller said, "Absolutely, it was not a hoax."
"The indictments we returned against the Russians — two different ones — were substantial in their scope, using the scope word again. And I think we have underplayed to a certain extent that aspect of our investigation that has and would have long term damage to the United States that we need to move quickly to address.”
Asked by Democratic Rep. Jim Himes which candidate Russian hacking was designed to benefit, Mueller answered Trump — but he added “there were instances where Hillary Clinton was subject to much the same behavior.”
Here's the full exchange:
Himes: "Director, who did the Russian social media campaign ultimately intend to benefit, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump?"
Mueller: "Donald Trump."
Himes: "The second operation —"
Mueller: "Let me say Donald Trump. There were instances where Hillary Clinton was subject to much the same behavior."
Rep. Jim Himes, a Democrat from Connecticut, asked Mueller, "We have an election coming up in 2020, director. If a campaign receives an offer of dirt from a foreign individual or government, generally speaking, should that campaign report those contacts?
"Should be. Can be, depending on the circumstances, a crime," Mueller responded.