Mueller signals he won't answer wide swath of questions

Former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTrump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts House impeachment hearings: The witch hunt continues Speier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump MORE signaled Wednesday that he would refuse to answer a wide swath of questions from lawmakers and would limit his congressional testimony to the four corners of his report.

In opening remarks Wednesday, Mueller said explicitly he would not answer questions about the so-called Steele dossier containing unverified allegations of Trump’s ties to Russia — a matter of interest among Republicans — nor would he describe the results of his work “in a different way” than he did on May 29.

Mueller said he would abide by the Justice Department’s instructions that he limit his testimony to the report and also reiterated his statement from late May that “the report is my testimony.”

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“The Justice Department has asserted privileges concerning investigative information and decisions, ongoing matters within the Justice Department and deliberations within our office. These are Justice Department privileges that I will respect,” Mueller said, pointing to a letter from the Justice Department released Monday.

“I therefore will not be able to answer questions about certain areas that I know are of public interest,” Mueller said. “For example, I am unable to address questions about the opening of the FBI’s Russia investigation, which occurred months before my appointment, or matters related to the so-called Steele Dossier.”

Mueller noted that the FBI's actions in the early stages of the investigation are subject to an ongoing review by the Justice Department inspector general. He told lawmakers to direct those inquiries at the Justice Department or FBI.

Still, his statement did not stop Republicans such as Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzThree legal scholars say Trump should be impeached; one thinks otherwise George Conway calls out Melania Trump after she criticizes impeachment witness: 'You're amplifying what was a nothingburger reference' Impeachment witness apologizes for mentioning Barron Trump in hearing MORE (Fla.) from lobbing inquiries about the dossier or other matters related to the FBI's original Russia investigation. 

In many exchanges, Mueller declined to answer questions. 

Democrats, on the other hand, largely used their time to bring Mueller through passages from his report and ask him to affirm or expand on them.

Mueller delivered his opening statement to a captivated audience Wednesday morning. He began speaking around roughly 8:45 a.m. after being introduced and sworn in by Judiciary Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerGOP lawmaker: 'Amazing' Democrats would ask if Founding Fathers would back Trump impeachment Trump asks if Democrats 'love our country' amid ongoing impeachment hearing Impeachment puts spotlight on Georgia Republican eyeing Senate MORE (D-N.Y.).

In his opening statement, Mueller emphasized the seriousness of Russia’s attempts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.

“Over the course of my career, I’ve seen a number of challenges to our democracy. The Russian government’s effort to interfere in our election is among the most serious. As I said on May 29, this deserves the attention of every American,” Mueller said.

Mueller outlined his office’s findings, taking a moment to emphasize that he did not investigate “collusion” — an apparent swipe at President TrumpDonald John TrumpStates slashed 4,400 environmental agency jobs in past decade: study Biden hammers Trump over video of world leaders mocking him Iran building hidden arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles in Iraq: report MORE and his allies, who have claimed Mueller’s 448-page report vindicated Trump of allegations of “collusion” with Russia.

Members of the media and lawmakers have used the word “collusion” in exchange with conspiracy or coordination to describe the Mueller investigation. The former special counsel noted Wednesday that investigators instead probed whether there was any "criminal conspiracy" on the part of the Trump campaign.

“The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” Mueller said. “We did not address ‘collusion,’ which is not a legal term. Rather, we focused on whether the evidence was sufficient to charge any member of the campaign with taking part in a criminal conspiracy. It was not.”

Mueller later told Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsThree legal scholars say Trump should be impeached; one thinks otherwise GOP lawmaker: 'Amazing' Democrats would ask if Founding Fathers would back Trump impeachment The Hill's 12:30 Report: Impeachment fight shifts to House Judiciary MORE (R-Ga.) that the word "collusion" should not be used synonymously with conspiracy.

—Updated at 10:42 a.m.