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Monday September 16th, 2019 5:01PM

The Latest: Mueller says Trump-Russia probe not a witch hunt

By The Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on former special counsel Robert Mueller's congressional testimony on the Russia probe (all times local):

1:25 p.m.

Former special counsel Robert Mueller says his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election was "not a witch hunt."

Mueller is testifying Wednesday afternoon before the House intelligence committee on his 448-page report. He spent hours testifying before the House Judiciary Committee.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly referred to the Russia investigation as a witch hunt, including Wednesday morning when he tweeted the hearings were part of the "Greatest Witch Hunt in U.S. history."

Mueller was responding to a question from intelligence committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat.

Mueller is not expected to go beyond the report during questioning. In the earlier hearing, he replied to questions with short phrases, often saying he will refer to the report.

Mueller stated Wednesday that his investigation did not "exonerate" Trump.

___

1:20 p.m.

The top Republican on the House intelligence committee says a hearing with former special counsel Robert Mueller is "political theater" and a "Hail Mary" attempt by Democrats to convince Americans that President Donald Trump conspired with Russia to win election.

California Rep. Devin Nunes said there were "red flags" as the Justice Department started investigating Russian contacts with Trump's campaign in 2016. Republicans have argued that the department conspired against Trump as that probe began.

Mueller, who later took over the investigation, said in his report released in April that there was no evidence that Trump's campaign conspired with Russia. But it detailed many contacts between the two.

Mueller is testifying in Congress for the first time on the findings of his investigation.

Nunes called the Mueller hearing the "last gasp of the Russia collusion conspiracy."

___

1 p.m.

The White House is calling former special counsel Robert Mueller's congressional testimony "an epic embarrassment for the Democrats."

Press secretary Stephanie Grisham issued a statement as Mueller prepared for a second round of testimony on Capitol Hill about his investigation into Russian election interference and obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump.

Grisham's statement says: "The last three hours have been an epic embarrassment for the Democrats. Expect more of the same in the second half."

Mueller stated Wednesday that his investigation did not "exonerate" Trump. Mueller also faced repeated questions from Republicans seeking to undermine his credibility.

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12:55 p.m.

The House intelligence committee chairman says the report by the office of former special counsel Robert Mueller is "methodical and devastating."

Adam Schiff's prepared remarks come at the start of a second congressional hearing Wednesday where Mueller is testifying about his investigation into Russian election interference and obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump.

Mueller spent more than three hours testifying before the House Judiciary Committee earlier Wednesday.

Schiff, a Democrat from California, says the report also tells the story of "disloyalty to country, about greed and about lies."

Schiff says what is at stake is "our next election, and the one after that, for generations to come."

Mueller is not expected go to beyond the report during questioning. In the earlier hearing, he replied to questions with short phrases, often saying he will refer to the report.

___

12:10 p.m.

Former special counsel Robert Mueller is pushing back on questions from Republicans about his prosecutors' connections to Hillary Clinton, saying political affiliations played no part in his hiring decisions.

Mueller is testifying before Congress about his investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election and possible ties to the Trump campaign.

North Dakota Republican Rep. Kelly Armstrong questioned Mueller about one of his prosecutors attending Clinton's election night party, and another who represented Clinton in a lawsuit.

Mueller strongly defended his team. He said he found some of the best prosecutors in the country to work for him.

The former FBI director said in 25 years in law enforcement, he has never asked anyone who worked for him about their political affiliation. Mueller said he only cares about the "capability of the individual to do the job and do the job with integrity."

___

11:35 a.m.

Former special counsel Robert Mueller told the House judiciary and intelligence committees that he would decline to quote from his report on the Trump-Russia investigation during his testimony before both panels on Wednesday.

That's according to a person involved with the negotiations who spoke about the confidential talks only on condition of anonymity.

Mueller's refusal to read his own words has proved somewhat challenging for Democrats, who called him in with the idea that he could explain his findings to the American people.

He is making his first major public appearance on the findings of his office's probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and President Donald Trump's response to the investigation.

Mueller has replied to questions with short phrases, often saying he will refer to the report.

So Democrats are filling in the gaps by reading from the report themselves, methodically going through episodes that Mueller reviewed for obstruction of justice. The report said Trump couldn't be exonerated on that point. It also said investigators did not find sufficient evidence to establish charges of criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia.

—By Mary Clare Jalonick.

___

11:15 a.m.

Robert Mueller is pushing back against Republican attacks with a forceful defense of his report on the Trump-Russia investigation.

Mueller testified Wednesday in Congress that he doesn't think the lawmakers have reviewed "a report that is a thorough, as fair, as consistent as the report that we have in front of us."

The former special counsel is making his first major public appearance on the findings of his office's probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and President Donald Trump's response to the investigation.

The report says investigators could not exonerate Trump on obstruction of justice. It also said they did not find sufficient evidence to establish charges of criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Mueller has been a reluctant witness before the House Judiciary Committee, delivering single-word answers to many questions. But in response to Republican Rep. Tom McClintock of California, he gave a full-sentence defense of his 448-page report.

___

11 a.m.

Former special counsel Robert Mueller is affirming that a president can be charged with crimes after leaving office.

He says Justice Department guidelines prevented him from considering charges against President Donald Trump while he is in office.

Because of the longtime Justice Department guidance that a sitting president cannot be indicted, Mueller says "one of the tools a prosecutor would use is not there."

Mueller has said his investigators could not exonerate Trump on obstruction of justice. His report said they did not find sufficient evidence to establish charges of criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Mueller is testifying Wednesday before the House Judiciary Committee about his Russia investigation.

___

10:45 a.m.

President Donald Trump's sons and advisers are weighing in on former special counsel Robert Mueller's congressional testimony with quips on Twitter targeting Democrats.

Donald Trump Jr. is calling the hearing a "disaster" for Democrats. He says Mueller claims he can't understand the Republicans' questions, but totally gets the ones from Democrats.

Eric Trump says GOP Rep. Jim Jordan's comments at the hearing were "spot on." Jordan says Democrats should be investigating what he says are "false accusations" that started the Russia probe.

Former White House press secretary Sarah Sanders says the hearing shows the Russia probe was run by Democrats wanting to destroy Trump.

Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway tweeted three words: "drop the mic."

That's a phrase people say after they think they've gotten the upper hand on something.

___

9:55 a.m.

Former special counsel Robert Mueller is disputing President Donald Trump's claim that Mueller was rebuffed in a bid to fill the post of FBI director.

Facing questions from congressional lawmakers, Mueller said he spoke with Trump about the FBI job before he was named as special counsel, but "not as a candidate."

Then-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon has said that while the White House invited Mueller to speak to the president about the FBI and thought about asking him to become director again, Mueller did not come in looking for a job.

Trump tweeted Wednesday that there are "numerous witnesses," including Vice President Mike Pence, who could say that Mueller applied and interviewed for the job and was "turned down" for it.

Pence spokesperson Alyssa Farah told the Associated Press that the vice president "was present in the Oval Office when Robert Mueller interviewed for the job of FBI Director in May of 2017."

Mueller is testifying before Congress for the first time on his Trump-Russia investigation.

___

9:20 a.m.

Robert Mueller is testifying before Congress that the Russians believed they would benefit from Donald Trump winning the 2016 presidential election.

The former special counsel was asked Wednesday if his investigation found the Russian government perceived a benefit if one of the candidates won.

"Yes," he said.

And which candidate would that be? asked Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat.

"It would be Trump," Mueller said.

Mueller is testifying before Congress for the first time on his Trump-Russia investigation.

___

9 a.m.

Special counsel Robert Mueller is dismissing President Donald Trump's claim of "total exoneration," saying it's not what his Russia report said.

Mueller told lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that investigators did not exonerate Trump of obstruction of justice.

He made the statement in response to questions from the committee's chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat.

Mueller's report said the investigation did not find sufficient evidence to establish charges of a criminal conspiracy between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia. But it said investigators did not clear Trump of trying to obstruct the probe.

A redacted version of the 448-page report compiled by Mueller's team was released by the Justice Department in April.

___

8:55 a.m.

Former special counsel Robert Mueller says he will be unable to answer questions he knows are of public interest.

That includes details of the origins of the FBI's Russia investigation. Republicans have suggested that it was a political vendetta started by law enforcement officers who did not like President Donald Trump.

Mueller is testifying before Congress Wednesday for the first time on his Trump-Russia investigation.

Mueller also said he would not be able to discuss matters related to the so-called "Steele Dossier," a once-confidential campaign memo written by a former British spy that had a detailed narrative of how the Russian government supposedly collaborated with the Trump campaign.

Mueller's investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government in its election interference efforts.

___

8:50 a.m.

Former special counsel Robert Mueller says Russia's efforts to interfere in U.S. elections is "among the most serious" challenges to American democracy.

Mueller made the statement in his opening remarks before the House Judiciary Committee. He'll appear before the intelligence committee later in the day.

Mueller has expressed his reluctance to testify and said he won't go beyond what's in his 448-page report released in April.

Mueller's report said the investigation did not find sufficient evidence to establish charges of a criminal conspiracy between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia. But it said investigators did not clear President Donald Trump of trying to obstruct the probe.

___

8:45 a.m.

The top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee has defended President Donald Trump as the committee opened its hearing with former special counsel Robert Mueller.

Georgia Rep. Doug Collins says "the president knew he was innocent" and did not shut down Mueller's probe, even though he had the authority to do so.

Mueller's report released in April said that he could not exonerate the president on obstruction of justice. It also said there was not enough evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy between Trump's campaign and Russia.

Collins said Russia meddled in the 2016 election but "the president did not conspire with Russians." He said "nothing we hear today will change those facts."

Collins said Republicans will also question the origins of Mueller's investigation.

___

8:37 a.m.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler says his committee has "a responsibility to address" the evidence that former special counsel Robert Mueller has uncovered in his Trump-Russia investigation.

Opening a three-hour hearing with Mueller, Nadler said there are themes to the hearing: "responsibility, integrity, and accountability."

Nadler laid out the examples from Mueller's report that committee members intend to focus on while questioning the reluctant former special counsel.

Mueller wrote in the document that he could not exonerate President Donald Trump on obstruction of justice.

He noted Trump's directions to then-White House counsel Donald McGahn to have Mueller removed and, once that was made public, orders from Trump to McGahn to deny it happened.

Nadler said "not even the president is above the law."

___

8:35 a.m.

Former special counsel Robert Mueller is appearing before Congress for the first time to discuss the Russia investigation.

Mueller is testifying Wednesday morning before the House Judiciary Committee. He'll appear before the intelligence committee later in the day.

The nation has heard the special counsel speak only once — for nine minutes in May — since his appointment more than two years ago.

Mueller has expressed his reluctance to testify and said he won't go beyond what's in his 448-page report released in April.

Mueller's report said the investigation did not find sufficient evidence to establish charges of a criminal conspiracy between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia. But it said investigators did not clear President Donald Trump of trying to obstruct the probe.

__

8:05 a.m.

Former special counsel Robert Mueller (MUHL'-ur) has arrived on Capitol Hill to testify before two House panels about his Russia investigation.

Mueller was flanked by police officers in the Rayburn House Office Building as he headed toward a hearing room Wednesday morning. Senior Mueller aide Aaron Zebley also was in the hearing room.

Mueller is testifying before the House Judiciary Committee and the House intelligence committee.

Mueller's investigation shadowed Donald Trump's presidency for nearly two years and officially concluded in March, when he submitted his 448-page report.

The nation has heard the former special counsel speak only once, for nine minutes in May, since his 2017 appointment.

Mueller has expressed his reluctance to testify and said he won't go beyond what's in his report.

Trump has called Mueller's investigation a "witch hunt."

___

12:05 a.m.

The former special counsel in the Trump-Russia probe, Robert Mueller, will finally face congressional interrogators on Wednesday, testifying in televised hearings.

Democrats hope Mueller's testimony will weaken President Donald Trump's reelection prospects in ways that Mueller's book-length report did not. Republicans are ready to defend Trump and turn their fire on Mueller and his team instead.

The back-to-back Capitol Hill appearances in the morning and at noon are Mueller's first since wrapping his two-year Russia probe last spring. The hearings carry the extraordinary spectacle of a prosecutor discussing in public a criminal investigation he conducted into a sitting U.S. president.

Mueller is known for his taciturn nature, and he has warned lawmakers that he will not stray beyond what's already been revealed in his report.

___

For more of AP's coverage of the Trump investigation: https://apnews.com/TrumpInvestigations

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