Hoyer calls Mueller's reticence 'unacceptable'

House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHouse revives agenda after impeachment storm House poised to hand impeachment articles to Senate House to vote on Iran war powers bills sought by progressives MORE (D-Md.) said Wednesday that former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSchiff: Trump acquittal in Senate trial would not signal a 'failure' Jeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay MORE's reticence in testifying before Congress is "unacceptable," warning it will limit Congress's own investigations into alleged wrongdoing by President TrumpDonald John TrumpSanders apologizes to Biden for supporter's op-ed Jayapal: 'We will end up with another Trump' if the US doesn't elect progressive Democrats: McConnell impeachment trial rules a 'cover up,' 'national disgrace' MORE and members of his inner circle. 

"Mueller has a responsibility to answer questions truthfully and fully posed to him by members of [Congress]," Hoyer said during a press briefing in his Capitol office. 

"A direction by the White House not to answer beyond this four corners — or Mueller's own expression not to talk about anything outside of the four corners of his report — is not an appropriate position to take."

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Hoyer's comments came near the end of Mueller's nearly 3 1/2 hour testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, where the former FBI director made clear in his opening statement that his sentiments would not deviate from the contours of his 448-page report, which was released in April. 

“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.

After their 22-month investigation, Mueller's team found clear evidence that the Russian government interfered with the 2016 election with the intent of helping Trump win, and that members of Trump's campaign were eager to accept the foreign help. The investigators also identified 10 instances when Trump may have obstructed justice, though they declined to bring charges, citing a decades-old Justice Department directive barring indictments of sitting presidents.

During the Judiciary hearing, lawmakers in both parties were eager to have Mueller draw out elements of the report that backed their arguments heading into the event.

Republicans, defending Trump, focused on questions about the origins of the Justice Department's investigation, which they've deemed a partisan "witch hunt." Democrats, hoping to hold Trump accountable for alleged crimes, wanted Mueller to clarify his May remarks that "the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting President of wrongdoing." Democrats wanted him to say he was alluding to impeachment. 

Mueller declined to respond, to those and a host of other pointed questions from lawmakers in both parties.

Hoyer noted that Democratic leaders have launched a series of committee investigations into the Trump administration, some of them related directly to Russia's election meddling and Trump's efforts to obstruct Mueller's probe. Hoyer said Mueller's reluctance to answer questions directly will impede those investigations, and suggested it will set a dangerous precedent for witnesses appearing before Congress in the future. 

"If you're subpoenaed to testify before the House of Representatives or the United States Senate, or any of its committees, you take an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so that the House, and Senate and Congress can do its ... constitutional responsibility with all the information it needs to accomplish that objective," Hoyer said. 

"To say you're not going to give certain information if it's not in your report, I think, is an unacceptable position."