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 winner and the losers of Mueller’s appearance before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees.
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.
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.
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.