Robert S. Mueller III warned lawmakers on Wednesday that Russia was again trying to sabotage American democracy before next year’s presidential election, defended his investigation’s conclusions about Moscow’s sweeping interference campaign in 2016 and publicly rejected President Trump’s criticism that he had conducted a “witch hunt.”
The partisan war over Mr. Mueller’s inquiry reached a heated climax during nearly seven hours of his long-awaited testimony before two congressional committees. Lawmakers hunted for viral sound bites and tried to score political points, but Mr. Mueller consistently refused to accommodate them, returning over and over in a sometimes halting delivery to his damning and voluminous report.
Mr. Mueller remained a spectral presence in Washington over the past two years as the president and his allies subjected the special counsel and his team of lawyers to withering attacks. Speaking in detail for the first time about his conclusions produced occasionally dramatic moments in which he ventured beyond his report to offer insights about Mr. Trump’s behavior.
When asked whether Mr. Trump “wasn’t always being truthful” in his written answers to the special counsel’s questions, Mr. Mueller responded, “I would say generally.” He called Mr. Trump’s praise of WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign “problematic” and said it “gave a boost to what is and should be illegal activity.”
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He said that he and his team chose not to subpoena Mr. Trump out of concern that a battle over a presidential interview might needlessly prolong the investigation, and said that Mr. Trump could be charged with obstruction of justice after he leaves office.
Mr. Mueller also acknowledged that his investigators had explicitly declined to exonerate the president’s efforts to impede the inquiry. “The finding indicates that the president was not exculpated for the acts that he allegedly committed,” Mr. Mueller said.