Republicans upbeat, Democrats muted after Mueller testimony

Former special counsel Robert Mueller's testifies before Congress on Wednesday (July 25). PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON - United States President Donald Trump called former special counsel Robert Mueller's testimony before Congress on Wednesday a "disaster" for the Democrats and a big day for Republicans, while Democrat leaders said they would continue to investigate Mr Trump for wrongdoing.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did not rule out impeachment, but signalled that the Democrats did not yet have the "strongest possible case" for it and would have some way to go before they reached that stage.

"The Democrats lost so big today," Mr Trump told reporters in remarks after the nearly seven hours of hearings. "This was a devastating day for the Democrats."

The President also called the probe into the Trump campaign's alleged links with Russian agents a "phony cloud", although Mr Mueller made clear that Russian interference had not been a hoax and the investigation had not been a witch hunt.

While Mr Mueller also explicitly said that the investigation had not exonerated Mr Trump, contrary to the president's repeated claims of being cleared of collusion and obstruction of justice, he did not offer the Democrats any fresh grounds for moving ahead with impeachment proceedings against Mr Trump.

Responding to the point, Mr Trump told reporters: "He didn't have the right to exonerate...he never had the right to exonerate."

He added: "The Democrats had nothing. And now they have less than nothing."

Other Republicans and administration and campaign officials were similarly upbeat.

"I think Democrats hoped that this hearing would be a launching-off point for impeachment. It looked more like the death rattle for impeachment to us," Republican Matt Gaetz of Florida told reporters after the hearing.

Democrat leaders at an evening press conference were more subdued, but tried to play up the more damaging Mueller statements from the hearings.

House Judiciary Committee chair Jerry Nadler said that the Democrats' next step, which would be taken either Thursday or Friday, would be to go to court to enforce a subpoena to get former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify. They would also seek grand jury material related to the Russia probe, he added.

Ms Pelosi called the hearings "historic" and said: "It is a crossing of the threshold in terms of public awareness in terms of what happened and whether it conforms to the law, or not."

She noted that Mr Mueller's investigation had been prohibited from looking into Mr Trump's finances, and that the Democrats would continue to investigate for "grist for the mill to litigate in court".

Democrats who had been hoping for the Mueller hearing to deliver a bombshell must now weigh their options in light of the day's testimony. While 95 Democrats - out of 235 in the House - back impeachment, the party leadership is more reluctant to proceed due to its divisiveness and because it puts Democrats running for re-election in tight races in vulnerable positions.

Asked if the day's hearings had changed the Democrats' minds about impeachment proceedings, Ms Pelosi replied: "Whatever decision we make in that regard will have to be done with our strongest possible hand and we still have some outstanding matters in the courts."

She added: "If we go down that path, we go in the strongest possible way."

Echoing her, House Intelligence Committee chair Adam Schiff, a former federal prosecutor, said: "Before I brought a case to indictment I want to make sure I have the strongest evidence possible. I want to understand my case, I want to be able to make my case."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.