Former special counsel Robert Mueller appeared flustered while answering questions from congressmen and congresswomen on July 24, repeatedly asking for questions to be repeated and reversing his answers multiple times.
Mueller was answering queries for hours on Wednesday about the report his team submitted on Russian interference in the 2016 election. The special counsel did not establish collusion between the campaign of President Donald Trump and Russian actors and could also not recommend prosecution of Trump on obstruction of justice.
The former special counsel was asked by one congressman, Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), about a detail in his report and Mueller ended up reversing his answer.
Mueller initially replied “no” when Collins asserted that collusion and conspiracy were “essentially synonymous terms,” leading Collins to point Mueller to the report his team submitted. After a lengthy back-and-forth, Mueller admitted the report said the terms were “largely synonymous.”
Collins said he was trying to speak slowly but admitted he tends to speak too fast.
But Mueller also struggled in hearing other representatives, who appeared to speak more clearly.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), up after Collins, asked about Russian interference in the election. Mueller responded, “Could you repeat that, Ma’am?”
Mueller referred to Trump as “Trimp” in answering Lofgren at one point.
Mueller asked multiple other members of Congress to repeat questions and seemed to lack basic knowledge about the background of his team’s probe into Trump and Russia, noting that he was “not familiar” with Fusion GPS.
This is delicate to say, but Mueller, whom I deeply respect, has not publicly testified before Congress in at least six years. And he does not appear as sharp as he was then.
— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) July 24, 2019
Unfortunately for our democracy, Robert Mueller is not at the top of his game today. He just isn’t. Something is off.
— Michael Avenatti (@MichaelAvenatti) July 24, 2019
Even staunch Democrats said that Mueller seemed to be struggling.
“This is delicate to say, but Mueller, whom I deeply respect, has not publicly testified before Congress in at least six years. And he does not appear as sharp as he was then,” wrote David Axelrod, former advisor to President Barack Obama.
Former Stormy Daniels lawyer Michael Avenatti added: “Unfortunately for our democracy, Robert Mueller is not at the top of his game today. He just isn’t. Something is off.”
Some reporters defended Mueller, asserting lawmakers were trying to stump him and that it was difficult to keep track of which parts of the report they were referring to.
At times, it appears Mueller could use a searchable database of his report as committee members refer him to obscure references in the text. pic.twitter.com/9bOGy00DWa
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) July 24, 2019
Fair point, but Mueller is still struggling to answer questions even after questions are repeated and he’s had a chance to look up relevant portions of report. https://t.co/ioXiyZPEa3
— Brit Hume (@brithume) July 24, 2019
“At times, it appears Mueller could use a searchable database of his report as committee members refer him to obscure references in the text,” wrote Mark Knoller of CBS.
“This is painful. Yes, Mueller is slow to react. But members are loaded for bear, talking/reading too fast, not putting selected text clearly in front of him. Slow down and be clear,” wrote Byron York of the Washington Examiner.
Fox News political analyst Brit Hume responded, saying: “Fair point, but Mueller is still struggling to answer questions even after questions are repeated and he’s had a chance to look up relevant portions of report.”
“True,” York answered. He later wrote that Mueller appeared “confused.”
Fox News’ Chris Wallace on Democrats’ Robert Mueller hearing: “This has been a disaster for the Democrats and a disaster for the reputation of Robert Mueller.” pic.twitter.com/wPhTDzH0HT
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) July 24, 2019
Chris Wallace of Fox said during a break in the hearing that it “has been a disaster for the Democrats and a disaster for the reputation of Robert Mueller.” President Donald Trump shared the quote.
Wallace also said that the former FBI director “has seemed very uncertain with his brief. He doesn’t seem to know things that are in the report.”
“I think it does raise questions about the degree to which he actually was in charge and control of this [investigation],” he said.