Will Mueller's testimony help impeachment effort? Pelosi doesn't budge as GOP claims victory

Christal Hayes, Sarah Elbeshbishi and Jason Lalljee
After Mueller's testimony, the Senate rejected three election security measures and warned of extensive hacking efforts in 2016.

WASHINGTON – Former special counsel Robert Mueller's testimony before two congressional panels on Wednesday wasn't enough to change the one mind that matters most when it comes to President Donald Trump's future: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. 

After Mueller's nearly seven hours of testimony before the House Judiciary and Oversight committees, Pelosi reaffirmed her long-held position that the House should not yet launch an impeachment inquiry and instead wait for more information that could bolster such an effort. 

"My position has always been whatever decisions we make in that regard would have to be done with our strongest possible hand and we still have some outstanding matters in the courts," Pelosi said, citing several cases that House Democrats have filed after congressional subpoenas were ignored. 

While Pelosi and Democratic leaders said Mueller's congressional appearance helped paint a picture for the American people, showing them what he uncovered and why it mattered, others on Capitol Hill, including some Democrats, were less ecstatic about Mueller's performance, which President Trump said was "horrible." 

The back-to-back hearings lacked any bombshells or explosive comments that Democrats would likely need if an impeachment inquiry were to be opened. Mueller resisted questions about impeachment, steering clear of even uttering the word. He also declined inquires from conservatives about the origins of the investigation and characterizations that his office was biased. 

More: What we learned from Robert Mueller: Seven hours, zero bombshells and everyone declares victory

'End this witch hunt': Donald Trump lights into Democrats after Mueller testimony

After the hearings, Democrats argued that Mueller's appearance wasn’t about learning new things but about putting the facts before the American people, allowing the public to hear Mueller’s findings from him – although most of the hearings featured lawmakers regurgitating his findings, rather than them being read aloud by Mueller, who declined to read from the report multiple times during the testimony.

"I would have liked if he was more verbose, but I think the fact that he answered yes and true to a number of very devastating comments and questions was fine," said Rep. Ted Lieu, a Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.

He argued Mueller served his purpose by showing "the American people who may not have read the Mueller report what was in it." 

More: Top moments from Robert Mueller's testimony before Congress

Rep. Al Green, a Democrat from Texas who has been behind a number of impeachment pushes in the House, acknowledged Wednesday's hearing did not include a "wow" moment and would likely not be a turning point on impeachment, though, he said, some lawmakers could come out in support of the effort. 

"I think there could be more to come on board but I’m not convinced that it’s necessary for this to happen. It may be that we will realize that we’re running out of time and that we will realize that we have to make a decision," Green said. "I think we’re at the point of decision, and my hope is that we will understand that we have enough evidence to move forward and will do so."

Republicans, meanwhile, claimed victory, saying his performance only helped quash impeachment efforts. Mueller declined to read from the report and resisted made-for-television moments that could have energized such efforts. Instead, Mueller rebuffed lines of questioning and mostly offered answers like "correct," "accurate" or "that occurred" throughout his testimony. 

"What you saw in there is not going to add the needed fuel the Democrats are hoping for to continue the harassment," said Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Republican from Florida who sits on the Judiciary Committee. "Democrats were hoping this would be a launching off point to impeachment. The reality is, this is the death rattle of impeachment."

Many times Mueller asked for questions to be repeated or requested lawmakers to slow down. Rep. Steve Scalise, the House Republican Whip, said: "Mueller looked very frail."

More: In a grueling day of testimony, Robert Mueller often appeared to struggle

Democrats fended off questions over whether Mueller's appearance helped breathe new life into his two-year investigation, which examined Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election to benefit Trump and the president's efforts to thwart the inquiry.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a freshman Democrat from New York who has pushed for ousting Trump from office, argued Mueller's appearance should be part of the equation on impeachment.

"I don’t think it’s up to the special counsel to offer drama. I don’t really think that’s really an appropriate expectation," she said of Mueller's performance. "I think that it is up to us as members of Congress to draw out important truths and I think a lot of members were able to accomplish and do that today."

The hearing held high stakes for House Democrats, who have opened a laundry list of investigations encircling Trump, but have been cautious on opening an impeachment inquiry. 

For months, Pelosi has sought to restrain her caucus amid increasing calls for the body to take on impeaching the president. She has continued to push forward on the current investigations and urging her colleagues to wait and see where those lead. But the clock has continued to tick and as the 2020 presidential election grows closer, it would be harder for Congress to take on an impeachment inquiry that would increasingly be seen as partisan and having an effect on the election. 

After Mueller's testimony, at least one Democrat immediately came out in favor of launching an impeachment inquiry. 

"I believe it is time to begin an impeachment inquiry against President Trump," Rep. Lori Trahan, D-Mass., said. "This is not a decision I came to lightly." 

She cited Mueller's appearance before Congress and the findings in his report that did not exonerate the president, saying, "there is ample evidence that the President broke the law by repeatedly engaging in efforts to obstruct the investigation." 

Trahan joins more than 90 other House Democrats who have said they are in support of either impeaching the president or launching an inquiry, according to a USA TODAY count. 

Contributing: Camille Caldera

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Robert Mueller testimony: Pelosi doesn't budge on impeaching Trump