WATCH LIVE: Mueller takes center stage at Russia probe hearings

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WASHINGTON (AP) – The Latest on former special counsel Robert Mueller’s congressional testimony on the Russia probe (all times local):

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12:20 p.m.

Former special counsel Robert Mueller is pushing back on questions from Republicans about his prosecutors’ connections to Hillary Clinton, saying political affiliations played no part in his hiring decisions.

Mueller is testifying before Congress about his investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and possible ties to the Trump campaign.

North Dakota Republican Rep. Kelly Armstrong questioned Mueller about one of his prosecutors attending Clinton’s election night party, and another who represented Clinton in a lawsuit.

Mueller strongly defended his team. He said he found some of the best prosecutors in the country to work for him.

The former FBI director said in 25 years in law enforcement, he has never asked anyone who worked for him about their political affiliation. Mueller said he only cares about the “capability of the individual to do the job and do the job with integrity.”


9 a.m.

Special counsel Robert Mueller is dismissing President Donald Trump’s claim of “total exoneration,” saying it’s not what his Russia report said.

Mueller told lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that investigators did not exonerate Trump of obstruction of justice.

He made the statement in response to questions from the committee’s chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat.

Mueller’s report said the investigation did not find sufficient evidence to establish charges of a criminal conspiracy between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia. But it said investigators did not clear Trump of trying to obstruct the probe.

A redacted version of the 448-page report compiled by Mueller’s team was released by the Justice Department in April.

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8:55 a.m.

Former special counsel Robert Mueller says he will be unable to answer questions he knows are of public interest.

That includes details of the origins of the FBI’s Russia investigation. Republicans have suggested that it was a political vendetta started by law enforcement officers who did not like President Donald Trump.

Mueller is testifying before Congress Wednesday for the first time on his Trump-Russia investigation.

Mueller also said he would not be able to discuss matters related to the so-called “Steele Dossier,” a once-confidential campaign memo written by a former British spy that had a detailed narrative of how the Russian government supposedly collaborated with the Trump campaign.

Mueller’s investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government in its election interference efforts.

8:50 a.m.

Former special counsel Robert Mueller says Russia’s efforts to interfere in U.S. elections is “among the most serious” challenges to American democracy.

Mueller made the statement in his opening remarks before the House Judiciary Committee. He’ll appear before the intelligence committee later in the day.

Mueller has expressed his reluctance to testify and said he won’t go beyond what’s in his 448-page report released in April.

Mueller’s report said the investigation did not find sufficient evidence to establish charges of a criminal conspiracy between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia. But it said investigators did not clear President Donald Trump of trying to obstruct the probe.

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8:45 a.m.

The top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee has defended President Donald Trump as the committee opened its hearing with former special counsel Robert Mueller.

Georgia Rep. Doug Collins says “the president knew he was innocent” and did not shut down Mueller’s probe, even though he had the authority to do so.

Mueller’s report released in April said that he could not exonerate the president on obstruction of justice. It also said there was not enough evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and Russia.

Collins said Russia meddled in the 2016 election but “the president did not conspire with Russians.” He said “nothing we hear today will change those facts.”

Collins said Republicans will also question the origins of Mueller’s investigation.

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8:37 a.m.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler says his committee has “a responsibility to address” the evidence that former special counsel Robert Mueller has uncovered in his Trump-Russia investigation.

Opening a three-hour hearing with Mueller, Nadler said there are themes to the hearing: “responsibility, integrity, and accountability.”

Nadler laid out the examples from Mueller’s report that committee members intend to focus on while questioning the reluctant former special counsel.

Mueller wrote in the document that he could not exonerate President Donald Trump on obstruction of justice.

He noted Trump’s directions to then-White House counsel Donald McGahn to have Mueller removed and, once that was made public, orders from Trump to McGahn to deny it happened.

Nadler said “not even the president is above the law.”

8:05 a.m.

Former special counsel Robert Mueller (MUHL’-ur) has arrived on Capitol Hill to testify before two House panels about his Russia investigation.

Mueller was flanked by police officers in the Rayburn House Office Building as he headed toward a hearing room Wednesday morning. Senior Mueller aide Aaron Zebley also was in the hearing room.

Mueller is testifying before the House Judiciary Committee and the House intelligence committee.

Mueller’s investigation shadowed Donald Trump’s presidency for nearly two years and officially concluded in March, when he submitted his 448-page report.

The nation has heard the former special counsel speak only once, for nine minutes in May, since his 2017 appointment.

Mueller has expressed his reluctance to testify and said he won’t go beyond what’s in his report.

Trump has called Mueller’s investigation a “witch hunt.”