President Donald Trump on Wednesday reacted to testimony from former special counsel Robert Mueller by calling Mueller’s nearly two-year investigation a witch hunt and claiming Mueller did not have the power to “exonerate” anyone.
Trump has repeatedly claimed that Mueller’s final report, made public in April, completely exonerated him of any wrongdoing.
“He didn’t have the right to exonerate,” Trump said Wednesday. “You know, it’s very interesting. People mentioned exoneration. That was something where he totally folded. Because he never had the right to exonerate. It was covered very well by Congressman Turner and put to a conclusion.”
Trump was referring to a moment earlier in the day, during a House Intelligence Committee hearing, when Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH) pressed Mueller on some of the language in his report.
Mueller has stated on several occasions, as well as in his report, that while he was not able to conclude Trump committed any crimes, his report also did not exonerate the president.
“The statement about exoneration is misleading, and it’s meaningless,” Turner claimed on Wednesday. “It colors this investigation — one word out of the entire portion of your report. And it’s a meaningless word that has no legal meaning, and it has colored your entire report.”
Earlier in the exchange, Mueller declined to engage with Turner on the matter, saying it “embroils us in a legal discussion” and that he was “not prepared to deal with a legal discussion in that arena.”
Both Turner’s and Trump’s comments on Wednesday fly in the face of the president’s past rhetoric on the Russia investigation. The president has frequently assailed his critics, who point to at least 10 instances of possible obstruction involving Trump outlined in Mueller’s report, claiming the special counsel in fact exonerated him of any wrongdoing.
“No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!” he tweeted immediately after Attorney General William Barr sent Congress his summary of Mueller’s final conclusions on March 24. (Barr’s summary has since been widely criticized as misleading, and Mueller himself expressed concerns about Barr’s characterization of the report in a letter to the attorney general around the same time.)
No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 24, 2019
So sad that the Democrats are putting wonderful Hope Hicks through hell, for 3 years now, after total exoneration by Robert Mueller & the Mueller Report. They were unhappy with result so they want a Do Over. Very unfair & costly to her. Will it ever end? Why aren’t they…….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 19, 2019
In June, upset that Democrats were pursuing lines of inquiry stemming from Mueller’s report — including subpoenaing former Trump campaign associates to testify before Congress — he tweeted, “So sad that the Democrats are putting wonderful Hope Hicks through hell, for 3 years now, after total exoneration by Robert Mueller & the Mueller Report.
“They were unhappy with result so they want a Do Over,” he added, “Very unfair & costly to her. Will it ever end?”
Republican officials have repeatedly joined the White House in claims that Mueller’s report exonerated the president. In a CNN interview on March 31, White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said the report “completely exonerates the president.” Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel also tweeted earlier this week that “the Mueller Report totally exonerated the President.”
Counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, by contrast, has taken issue with Mueller’s use of the term “exonerate,” as Turner did Wednesday, telling ABC News in April, “The word ‘exoneration’ was unnecessary in the Mueller report and I would say inappropriate. …You either prosecute or you don’t. You either bring an indictment or you don’t.”