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Mueller's House Judiciary Committee hearing: Key moments and takeaways

Former special counsel Robert Mueller speaks before the

Former special counsel Robert Mueller speaks before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. Credit: Bloomberg / Andrew Harrer

The Mueller report was adapted for TV Wednesday. Will it change the political landscape for President Donald Trump?

Judging by the first of former special counsel Robert Mueller's hearings — before the House Judiciary Committee, focused on his investigation of possible obstruction of justice by the president — the answer is no.

Democrats and Republicans dug in — and there were no bombshells, as Mueller stuck to the findings of his 448-page report. But there were key takeaways and moments, and even some humor, to be found amid the details.

1) President Trump was not cleared

Mueller's probe lasted 22 months, charged more than 30 defendants and has produced seven convictions or guilty pleas so far.

The former FBI director emphasized, as he has before, that "the Russian government interfered in our election in sweeping and systematic fashion" — but "the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government in its election interference activities."

It also probed Trump's actions. "Based on Justice Department policy and principles of fairness, we decided we would not make a determination as to whether the president committed a crime," Mueller said in his opening statement.

Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan) and Mueller had this key exchange:

NADLER: So the report did not conclude that he did not commit obstruction of justice. (Pause, as Mueller thought about it.) Is that correct?

MUELLER: That is correct.

NADLER: And what about total exoneration? Did you actually totally exonerate the president?

MUELLER: No.

Mueller reiterated that a sitting president cannot be indicted under an opinion from the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel.

2) Chabot calls hearing Democrats' 'last best hope'

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) said Mueller did not say in his report that Trump deserves to be impeached — so Democrats were forced to change their strategy.

"Now they allege that there's plenty of evidence in your report to impeach the president, but the American people just didn't read it," Chabot said. "And this hearing today is their last best hope to build up some sort of groundswell across America to impeach President Trump."

3) Deutch: 'That shouldn't happen in America'

Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) gamely took a shot at what he termed his most important question for Mueller: "Director Mueller, why did the president of the United States want you fired?"

"Um. I can't answer that question," he replied.

Deutch went on to say Mueller found evidence, as seen in his report, "that the president wanted to fire you because you were investigating him for obstruction of justice. Isn't that correct?"

"That's what it says in the report, yes. And I go, I stand behind the report," Mueller said.

"Director Mueller, that shouldn't happen in America," Deutch said. "No president should be able to escape investigation by abusing his power. But that's what you testified to in your report. The president ordered you fired."

4) Wait, what?

Mueller said something surprising during California Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu's round of questioning.

Lieu made the case that "all three elements of the crime of obstruction of justice have been met. And I'd like to ask you, the reason again that you did not indict Donald Trump is because of OLC opinion stating that you cannot indict a sitting president, correct?"

"That is correct," Mueller replied.

Arizona Republican Rep. Debbie Lesko picked up on that, concluding it conflicted with what Mueller said previously.

Mueller later clarified himself before the House Intelligence Committee, his second hearing of the day.

"What I wanted to clarify is the fact that we did not make any determination with regard to culpability in any way," he said.

5) Ratcliffe: Mueller used 'inverted burden of proof'

Rep. John Ratcliffe, a Texas Republican, criticized what Mueller did on Trump, saying that everyone, including sitting presidents, is entitled to a presumption of innocence. He said Mueller "applied this inverted burden of proof that I can’t find" to write the report.

The problem, Ratcliffe said, was Mueller made no decision.

"You wrote 180 pages, 180 pages, about decisions that weren't reached, about potential crimes that weren't charged, or decided. And respectfully, respectfully, by doing that, you managed to violate every principle and the most sacred of traditions about prosecutors not offering extra-prosecutorial analysis about potential crimes that aren't charged," he said.

Mueller did not respond to his attack.

6) Collins: 'You did a lot of work, correct?'

The man in the spotlight was a dry witness who gave to-the-point answers, when he wasn't deflecting with responses referring back to the report (or saying things like "Outside my purview").

But there were rare moments of humor or emotion. Here's some dialogue involving the panel's ranking member, Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.):

COLLINS: And you can confirm you are no longer special counsel, correct?

MUELLER: I am no longer special counsel. (He smiled.)

COLLINS: At any time with the investigation was your investigation curtailed or stopped, or hindered?

MUELLER: No.

An understated funny moment followed when Collins said "You did a lot of work, correct?"

"Yes, that I agree to," Mueller replied, smiling some more.

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