Winners and losers from Robert Mueller’s testimony

Former special counsel Robert Mueller sat for six hours of testimony on Wednesday, his first time answering questions about his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Mueller insisted on remaining within the confines of his 448-page report issued earlier this year that did not establish a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and neither exonerated nor implicated the president on obstruction of justice.

Still, his testimony provided some moments of spectacle and illuminated certain facts that could prove damaging to President Trump moving forward.


Here are the winners and losers of Mueller’s appearance before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees.


President Trump

The president insisted in the days leading up to Mueller’s testimony that he would hardly devote any time to watching the proceedings, but he made clear Wednesday that he paid attention and approved of what he saw.

“This was a very big day for our country,” Trump told reporters at the White House after Mueller’s testimony had concluded. “This was a very big day for the Republican Party … could say it was a very big day for me.”

Media commentary as the hearings played out largely focused on Mueller’s lack of crisp, forceful answers and the absence of a trademark moment for Democrats seeking to bolster the case for impeachment. 

“These hearings were a disaster for Democrats,” Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement. “This entire spectacle has always been about the Democrats trying to undo the legitimate result of the 2016 election and today they again failed miserably.”

There is some danger for Trump moving forward, as Mueller confirmed that the president could be indicted after leaving office.

The former special counsel also directly refuted Trump’s assertion that the investigation amounted to a “total exoneration,” called the president’s past comments about WikiLeaks beyond “problematic,” and agreed it would be “generally” fair to say the president wasn’t always truthful in his written responses to investigators.

But on the whole, it was a good day for the president.

Attorney General William Barr

Barr’s status is safe as a popular figure among conservatives after Wednesday’s hearings, and he figures to take on a more prominent role in the aftermath of Mueller’s appearance.

The attorney general got into hot water during a hearing earlier this year in which he was asked about his handling of Mueller’s report, specifically how he went about releasing its core findings.

Wednesday’s hearing could have been a moment to highlight frictions between Barr and Mueller. Instead, no real differences emerged between the two men.


Mueller faced questions from Republicans about his differences with Barr and whether the special counsel’s office was responsible for leaking disagreements between the parties.

Attention among many in the GOP will now shift to Barr as the Department of Justice conducts an investigation into the origins of the Russia probe. Democrats have been highly critical of him for that investigation and are likely to keep pressure on the administration for more information about it. 

The subject was front of mind for many Republicans on Wednesday, but Mueller repeatedly avoided questions about the Steele dossier and the origins of his investigation, noting it was outside his purview and that another investigation at Justice was underway.

Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas)

The Texas Republican was one of just a few lawmakers who was able to question Mueller as a member of both the Judiciary and Intelligence committees, and he made the most of it. 

Ratcliffe got plenty of screen time over the course of the afternoon. He was one of the first Republicans to question Mueller, and his colleagues yielded their time to him on multiple occasions so he could press the former special counsel further.

A former prosecutor, Ratcliffe claimed in his first round of questioning that Mueller violated Justice Department principles by writing that his investigation did not exonerate Trump.

“Respectfully, director, it was not the special counsel’s job to conclusively determine Donald Trump’s innocence or to exonerate him because the bedrock principle of our justice system is presumption of innocence. It exists for everyone,” Ratcliffe said, raising his voice.

The exchange caught the eye of the president, who retweeted a clip of the moment.

Ratcliffe had been floated for attorney general prior to Barr’s nomination and could be under consideration for an intelligence or national security post in the administration.



Democratic leaders worked for weeks to secure testimony from Mueller, but in the end Wednesday’s hearings failed to deliver much of a signature moment for the party to use going forward.

The party struggled to land major blows as Mueller avoided elaborating beyond the contents of his 448-page report and declined to engage with Democrats on questions about impeachment or other steps to hold the president accountable.

The caucus remains divided over how to move forward on the impeachment question, and Mueller’s testimony is unlikely to sway many minds.

Some Democratic strategists felt Mueller’s performance itself fell flat, as he repeatedly evaded questions and at times struggled to hear lawmakers.

“He has been an exemplary public servant, as people [on] both sides attested, but he clearly was struggling today and that was painful,” former Obama adviser David Axelrod tweeted.

The day was not a total disaster for Democrats.

Having Mueller appear on camera for a broadcast spectacle viewed by millions will benefit the party, as many Americans likely did not read the special counsel’s written report.

Mueller also verbally refuted Trump’s assertion that the report was a “total exoneration,” confirmed that the president can be indicted after leaving office and offered his first public pushback against the characterization of the probe as a “witch hunt.”

Still, it’s unclear where the party goes next in its efforts to hold Trump accountable.

“Whether we decide to impeach the president or we do not, we must take any action necessary to protect the country while he is in office,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said in concluding the panel’s hearing.


Robert Mueller

Mueller has been a subject of public fascination for the past two years, and his performance on Wednesday was divisive.

Democrats and Republicans alike appeared taken aback by the frequency with which Mueller had difficulty hearing questions and stumbled over his answers.

At one point, the 74-year-old misremembered that it was former President Reagan and not former President George H.W. Bush who appointed him as U.S. attorney.

But the former special counsel picked his spots to deliver sharper, more direct responses to lawmakers, such as when he forcefully defended the integrity of his team amid questions about political bias.

He also earned bipartisan plaudits from the committee members, including from some of his sharpest critics over the course of the investigation.

“I want to thank you for doing something you didn’t have to do. You came here upon your own free will and we appreciate your time today,” said Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), ranking member of the Intelligence Committee.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)

Pelosi has worked for months to balance support for ongoing investigations into the Trump administration while keeping calls within her caucus for impeachment proceedings at bay.

Wednesday might not have been a great day for her party, but it likely eases pressure on Pelosi to move forward on impeachment. The Speaker has repeatedly stressed impeachment is too divisive a road to go down without bipartisan buy-in.

Pelosi appeared unbothered by the skepticism over Mueller’s performance, telling reporters during a news conference on Wednesday evening that Democrats would continue to exercise their oversight powers and see through their lawsuits against the president.

“I do believe that what we saw today was a very strong manifestation — in fact some would even say indictment — of this administration’s cone of silence and their cover-up,” she said. “This is about the oath we take to protect and defend the Constitution.”

Tags Adam Schiff Brad Parscale David Axelrod Devin Nunes Donald Trump John Ratcliffe Mueller investigation Mueller report Mueller testimony Nancy Pelosi Robert Mueller William Barr
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