YouTube video

Former FBI Agent Coleen Rowley talks about Mueller’s past incompetence and describes how the hearing is the movie following the book and amounted to “Much Ado About Nothing.”

Story Transcript

ROBERT MUELLER Our report contains our findings and analysis and the reasons for the decisions we made. I do not intend to summarize or describe the results of our work in a different way in the course of my testimony today. As I said on May 29th, the report is my testimony and I will stay within that text.

MARC STEINER Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. Good to have you all with us.

So just what have we learned after more than seven hours of two congressional committees having hearings with the former Special Counsel, Robert Mueller? The sparks did fly from some committee members with pretty predictable questions from either side, while Mueller strongly demurred as he said he would from the very beginning and only as he said stick to the text. Did anything new or revealing come through on the issues of exoneration, collusion, obstruction of justice, and the alleged Russian interference with the 2016 election? Did this put the Democrats any closer to impeachment hearings? It seems both Democrats and Republicans will walk away screaming victory at these hearings, so what did we really learn?

Well, we’re joined by Coleen Rowley who is a former FBI Agent and congressional candidate. Because of her whistle-blowing work and work on the 9/11 attacks, she was a Time magazine’s “Woman of the Year” in 2002 and now joins us here at The Real News. Welcome, Coleen. Good to have you with us.


MARC STEINER So I mean, as someone who follows these things, who spent a long time looking at this and writing numerous articles, what did we learn new? What did these seven hours of hearings— I’m sure you were just glued; you couldn’t get away— what did they say to you? [laughs]

COLEEN ROWLEY Well, it was excruciating to really sit there for seven hours. And I think what we did learn is that Robert Mueller knows how to say “I won’t answer” in six or seven different ways. He kept saying “it’s not within my purview,” “I can’t speak to that,” “it’s not my jurisdiction.” He said, “I stand on the report” a lot of times, “I can’t get into that.” So he did find a few ways not to answer the question and that is really boring after seven hours of listening to that. I actually learned one thing because I worked under Robert Mueller for about three years at the end of my career after 9/11. And of course, I had written a memo that Mueller himself had covered up after 9/11 this failure to act on and share intelligence, that that was really one of the big problems that had led to 9/11, which was all being covered up afterwards and essentially by Robert Mueller, who was leading a mission to put immigrants in New York City that had nothing to do with terrorism into detention and claim that we are making progress.

And so, what was frustrating was to see that the Congress people of both parties kept putting him on this pedestal as a pillar of integrity. You know, he served in Vietnam and won medals, and very few of them actually criticized him for a lot of things— things I’ve written about— which is mainly just pure lack of competence. He actually targeted the wrong anthrax killer and the government had to pay $5 million to this poor innocent guy. On top of the fact that after 9/11 when there was questions about the FBI violating civil liberties, he would give talks to the ACLU and other groups and tell them that no, we’re doing everything by the book. And, you know, he would get applause for saying we are going to uphold civil liberties. At the same time he gave those speeches, he knew that the CIA was torturing. He knew that the NSA had turned, illegally turned on massive surveillance of Americans. And so, you know, he’s real good at this looking like he’s the pillar of integrity, but if you look at his track record, he’s part of this system and that was frustrating to watch.

I think the one thing I’ve learned is that time has taken a toll on him and he’s at nearly 75-years-old. He’s a lot more befuddled. He was not, he couldn’t even—He was stuttering and halting in his responses. In one case, he didn’t know what was in his report. He had to look at pages and he misquoted what was in his report. He at one time denied it was in his report and it was. I don’t think he wrote the report. I think he really was probably a figurehead simply because of this notion that he’s got this integrity for being twelve years as the FBI Director, but I don’t think he did. And that’s probably why Aaron Zebley was seated next to him. I’ll imagine that he wanted someone as a comfort when he couldn’t answer questions. That he could say, Aaron, what’s the answer to this?

MARC STEINER So yeah. It did come across that way. It’s interesting that the Democrats are the ones who actually kept lauding his service, not the Republicans during these hearings. And I think that we can talk a bit about that in a minute, but let’s go to some of the issues here. One of the issues has to do with obstruction of justice on the part of the president. Congressman Ted Lieu questioned Mueller about this when it first happened. In the first congressional hearing, people who wanted to see Trump indicted were all a flutter because of what was said, but let’s watch this for a moment.

CONGRESSMAN TED LIEU (D-CA) So to recap what we’ve heard. We have heard today that the president ordered former White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire you. The president ordered Don McGahn to then cover that up and create a false paper trail. And now we’ve heard the president ordered Corey Lewandowski to tell Jeff Sessions to limit your investigation so that he— you stop investigating the president. I believe a reasonable person looking at these facts could conclude that all three elements of the crime of obstruction of justice have been met. I’d like to ask you the reason, again, that you did not indict Donald Trump is because of OLC [Office of Legal Counsel] opinion stating that you cannot indict a sitting president, correct?

ROBERT MUELLER That is correct.

CONGRESSMAN TED LIEU (D-CA) The fact that the orders by the President were not carried out, that is not a defense to obstruction of justice because the statute itself is quite broad. It says that as long as you endeavor or attempt to obstruct justice, that would also constitute a crime.

ROBERT MUELLER I’m not going to get into that at this juncture.

MARC STEINER So then, in the afternoon, this correction came from Mueller himself because I think he was made aware of what it sounded like he said and this is what he had to say.

ROBERT MUELLER I want to go back to one thing that was said this morning by Mr. Lieu who said and I quote, “you didn’t charge the President because of the OLC opinion.” That is not the correct way to say it. As we say in the report and as I said at the opening, we did not reach a determination as to whether the president committed a crime.

MARC STEINER So what does that say to us?

COLEEN ROWLEY Well, you know, that may be a distinction without a difference in some ways. People are not even going to understand that distinction, which is why the Democrats kept pressing on it, but in essence by saying that Barr had said that there was not enough evidence to indict, okay? And there was another big mistake made in the hearing today, which is that many of the Congress people kept saying you have to have “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” I heard that at least three or four times, but from different congress people, and Mueller never corrected that. You know, as a lifelong prosecutor, I cannot believe he could not correct a major, major error. You do not have to have proof beyond a reasonable doubt to indict someone or to arrest someone. You only have to have probable cause, which is actually a very low, you know, a relatively low standard.

Now to convict them, you have to have proof beyond a reasonable doubt. And so he could have indicted. If he wanted to, he could have. You know, he’s—So the issue becomes why didn’t he indict? It wasn’t because of needing this overwhelming— if he’s written these things that he claims are obstruction. There’s other reasons. And one of the reasons that he landed on is that there’s an Office of Legal Counsel opinion that a sitting president cannot be indicted and the Democrats used that as the reason why he didn’t do this. But in fact, it had to be more than that because he told Barr. You know, it’s on the record that in his report it’s written that way. And they tried to kind of like trick him into saying this. He then corrected it.


COLEEN ROWLEY But he—There’s another wrinkle here because later on, one of the congresspersons asked him, what if Trump is reelected and goes into a second term? It would run over the five-year statute of limitations. And so in essence, then he could never be indicted even after he’s no longer president because the time would have run out. And so, there’s a bunch of wrinkles here on this whole thing about the Office of Legal Counsel I think. And the other one question that he couldn’t answer is, why didn’t you ask the Office of Legal Counsel? Why didn’t you go to them for an opinion? And he couldn’t answer that either.

MARC STEINER Well, just to conclude this one part about obstruction, this is what Miller had to say in his opening statement.

ROBERT MUELLER We investigated a series of actions by the President towards the investigation. Based on Justice Department policy and principles of fairness, we decided we would not make a determination as to whether the president committed a crime. That was our decision then, and it remains our decision today.

MARC STEINER So again, I mean, it depends on which side you land on this. You could read that anyway you wanted to.

COLEEN ROWLEY Yeah. In a way, Mueller is having his cake and eating it too because he’s saying we didn’t want to, you know, impugn him without giving him a chance in court. And because he can’t be tried in court, we didn’t want to cast aspersions on him because he has no chance to fight it. So he’s taking that moral high ground, but yet, guess what? His report by listing these incidents of obstruction and then his answers today, he actually is casting aspersions. The Republicans did a pretty good job on that issue. There were two or three Republicans who asked this difference about exoneration and I know we’ll probably get into that later, but I think they did a pretty good job of saying that doesn’t the Department of Justice never exonerate someone? That’s not their job.

MARC STEINER So since you raise that, let’s go to that. I mean, we have here Republican Congressman Michael Turner really pushing the exoneration issue, which many Republicans have. This is what he had to say. Let’s, kind of, dive beneath this after we watch it.

CONGRESSMAN MIKE TURNER (R-OH) Mr. Mueller, I want to focus on one word in your report. It’s the second to the last word in the report. It’s “exonerate.” The report states, “Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it does not exonerate him.” Mr. Mueller, would you agree with me that the Attorney General does not have the power to exonerate?

ROBERT MUELLER I’m going to pass on that.


ROBERT MUELLER Because it embroils us in a legal discussion and I’m not prepared to do a legal discussion in that arena.

CONGRESSMAN MIKE TURNER (R-OH) If your report is to the Attorney General and the Attorney General doesn’t have the power to exonerate, and he does not — and he knows that you do not have that power, you don’t have to tell him that you’re not exonerating the president. He knows this already. So then that kind of changes the context of the report.

ROBERT MUELLER I know. And we included it in the report for exactly that reason. He may not know it and he should know it.

CONGRESSMAN MIKE TURNER (R-OH) I think you put that in there for exactly what I’m going to discuss next and that is— So The Washington Post yesterday, when speaking of your report, the article said, “Trump could not be exonerated of trying to obstruct the investigation itself.” Now, this is my concern, Mr. Mueller. This is the headline on all of the news channels while you were testifying today, “Mueller: Trump was not exonerated.” Now Mr. Mueller, what you know is that this can’t say “Mueller Exonerated Trump” because you don’t have the power or authority to exonerate Trump. You had no more power to declare him exonerated than you have the power to declare him Anderson Cooper. The statement about exoneration is misleading, and it’s meaningless, and it colors this investigation. One word out of the entire portion of your report, and it’s a meaningless word that has no legal meaning.

MARC STEINER So. And if you look at that earlier, earlier the Democrats were pushing the collusion issue and Mueller was actually saying that he—You know, Trump tweeted that Mueller was trying to get the FBI job. Mueller said he wasn’t. And then they were going through all these other machinations about how they were trying to stop him from doing the investigation, which you could conclude was, kind of, trying to stop him from doing his investigation. So where do you think this leaves the American people in terms of what they heard?

COLEEN ROWLEY Confused, I suppose. And I think the partisan sides will continue to believe what they want to believe. The big question is whether the Democrat leadership will push impeachment and that’s the real big question. The time has almost run out for that anyways and there did not seem to be much of a, you know, much of a majority. There certainly was not a majority opinion that they wanted to push this. So that’s the big thing. I think people who are watching this are going to be confused, a little bit confused. I will tell you on the sense of exoneration, that as the Freedom of Information person for years in our FBI, there were some really sad cases. Because in many cases, the person does not know that they’re under investigation by the FBI.

And as long as the public not doesn’t know, and if you don’t find enough evidence to charge someone— no harm, no foul. It’s all, you know, not known and the person’s reputation doesn’t suffer. But there were some cases where it became known that the FBI was investigating. And yes, people would say now, you know what? You didn’t charge me; I’m exonerated. The only way that they could really do this was to file a Freedom of Information and then try to get the actual documents. And then argue that look, I was innocent all along. But the FBI would never come out. And the only times they would do this, going back to the wrong anthrax subject that Mueller and Comey both had wrong, who was Steven Hatfill. The only time you could really maybe prove exoneration would be filing a civil lawsuit against the FBI for being innocently targeted. And there were from time to time some of those.


COLEEN ROWLEY But you know what? The policy, absolutely no power to exonerate. The Republican was completely correct. Barr would not have that power and certainly Mueller, so then why does he write this? And his answer was less than honest I think.

MARC STEINER Well, that’s—I wish we had time to really explore “less than honest” [laughs] in some real detail. But I want to throw this tweet up by Trump before we run on time and try to get to a couple more issues depending on how much time we have left. But this particular Trump tweet where he says, “So Democrats and others can illegally fabricate a crime, try pinning it on a very innocent President, and when he fights back against this illegal and treasonous attack on our Country, they call It Obstruction? Wrong! Why didn’t Robert Mueller investigate the investigators?” So he pushes this line—I mean, this is from a man who wasn’t watching it, but I guess he was watching it. So I mean, you know, that’s why when I watch this whole thing, and watch the commentary on some of the Democratic— on more progressive media, and then watching it on Fox, and looking at which C-SPAN was saying, I go back to what I was saying earlier, which is that this is really hard for people to parse through this. And people can ask their question, what are we watching? Where does this take us— impeachment? Did we learn anything? You know, that seems to me to be the problem with this.

COLEEN ROWLEY You know, obstruction—The Republicans went through the three elements for obstruction and they actually have some, they have some arguments that it doesn’t even begin to meet the criteria for obstruction. There’s three or four different statutes, but none of them fit exactly. You know, Mueller, like many attorneys, uses creative legal theories to bend these statutes. But besides that, the common person would normally have a notion that you can’t obstruct a crime unless— most people would think— unless you committed the crime. So if you committed the crime, and then you lie about it or you intimidate the, you know—I worked organized crime in New York City, and so John Gotti absolutely would tamper with witnesses and everything else, but he committed the crimes.

And so, there’s another part of this like the Martha Stewart case or the Nixon case where you could be obstructing an investigation, but it’s to protect a family member or a friend or a close associate. Now in this case, it’s actually another whole level because Mueller doesn’t find that a crime has even occurred. That’s the problem here. The initial crime of colluding with the Russians, he found no Americans even committed that crime. And so when you find that there’s no crime at all, it’s really hard to imagine how you can obstruct. I know they threw a slide up that said, “to prevent personal embarrassment.” But that, if it’s merely to prevent embarrassment from having been charged, or publicly castigated for having committed a crime, and now you’re fighting back on this, but you’re innocent—

You know, let’s take the example of this poor guy that was accused of being the anthrax killer and he fights back on it. Now, you can say he’s obstructing the investigation. There is no prosecutor who would ever prosecute a case like this. It is so, you know, again it’s such a far-fetched example. And I can tell you from personal experience, even when you had parents or family members that were obstructing an investigation by hiding a fugitive like their own kid or something like that, those would be very rarely prosecuted because they were just not good cases.

MARC STEINER So one of the things, as we conclude here, Russian interference was a big part of why this became a case in the first place, why people started talking about this. Let’s take a quick look at this one piece here with Adam Schiff and Mueller talking about Russian interference. And then very quickly in the limited time we have, your response to what this showed us or didn’t show us.

CONGRESSMAN ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA) The campaign welcomed the Russian help, did they not?

ROBERT MUELLER I think we report, in the report, indications that that occurred. Yes.

CONGRESSMAN ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA) Apart from the Russians wanting to help Trump win, several individuals associated with the Trump campaign were also trying to make money during the campaign and transition, is that correct?

ROBERT MUELLER That is true.

CONGRESSMAN ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA) Paul Manafort was trying to make money or achieve debt forgiveness from a Russian oligarch?

ROBERT MUELLER Generally, that is accurate.

CONGRESSMAN ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA) Michael Flynn was trying to make money from Turkey?


CONGRESSMAN ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA) Donald Trump was trying to make millions from a real estate deal in Moscow?

ROBERT MUELLER To the extent you’re talking about the hotel in Moscow?



CONGRESSMAN ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA) When your investigation looked into these matters, numerous Trump associates lied to your team, the grand jury, and to Congress?

ROBERT MUELLER A number of persons that we interviewed in our investigation, it turns out, did lie.

CONGRESSMAN ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA) And when Donald Trump called your investigation a “witch hunt,” that was also false, was it not?

ROBERT MUELLER I’d like to think so. Yes.

MARC STEINER So again, I go back to my original point, Coleen. What have we learned new?

COLEEN ROWLEY You know, I think again this was the movie from the book [MARC laughs] and I don’t know that we’ve learned anything. This Russiagate narrative has a lot of things going for it with public momentum. The question is, did the Democrats after seven hours of Robert Mueller saying he couldn’t answer—


COLEEN ROWLEY Does that push it over the top for them to go to the next step? I’m pretty doubtful based on what we know right now, but the actual evidence of this, again, doesn’t matter. And it doesn’t matter because demonizing Russia, demonizing WikiLeaks, which is now called a “hostile intelligence agency.” That’s what— instead of being a publisher or a journalist. Robert Mueller actually agrees with Pompeo that it’s a hostile foreign intelligence agency or whatever he’s claiming, and they’re indicted. Those two elements have bipartisan agreement. And the only element that doesn’t of these three is whether Trump or not is part of this. Now the Republicans are trying to get Trump out of it, but they don’t mind those other two. In fact, they’re for the other two and that’s a problem.

MARC STEINER [laughs] Right.

COLEEN ROWLEY That’s the problem right now with the public and it’s emotional. It’s not fact-based. You know, Aaron Mate is one of the best writers about this because he deals with facts and this is not what the public wants to hear. They just want to hear this emotional stuff. You know, Schiff beating his chest on these things, and “it’s not patriotic,” etc. It kind of hearkens back to the McCarthyism where they used a foreign country as this demon in order to try to score political points domestically. And that is simply wrong.

MARC STEINER And this has simply been a good conversation. Coleen Rowley, I want to thank you for your time and I look forward to talking to you again. Thank you so much.


MARC STEINER And I’m Marc Steiner here at The Real News Network. Thank you all so much for joining us. Let us know what you think. Take care.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Coleen Rowley is a retired FBI agent and former legal council for the FBI. She testified about the 9/11 lapses to the senate judiciary committee. She is known as a whistleblower due to her testimony to two congressional committees that led to an investigation of two FBI 9/11 failures.