Here's what we learned from Robert Mueller's congressional testimony
For the first time since he finished his special counsel investigation, Robert Mueller testified before two House committees Wednesday.
Mueller's testimony was an attempt by lawmakers to get the former FBI Director to elaborate on his report into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Here are some of the biggest takeaways:
Mueller dismisses Trump's claim of 'exoneration' in Congressional testimony
During his morning testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, Mueller dismissed President Donald Trump's claim of "total exoneration," saying it's not what his Russia report said.
Mueller told lawmakers that investigators did not exonerate Trump of obstruction of justice. His 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.
Mueller also shed light on why his team did issue a subpoena to Trump to appear in person before the special counsel. For “a little over a year” they attempted to negotiate with the president to come in person and answer questions. They eventually decided that it would hold up the investigation further and that they should carry on with only the written answers.
"But finally, when we were almost towards the end of our investigation, and we had little success in pushing to get the interview of the president, we decided that we did not want to exercise the subpoena powers because of the necessity of expediting the end the investigation," Mueller said.
He said, "The expectation was if we did subpoena the president, he would fight the subpoena, and we would be in the midst of the investigation for a substantial period of time."
When asked about whether or not the president’s answers were adequate enough, the following exchange occurred.
Rep. Val Demings asked Mueller: "Director Mueller, isn't it fair to say the president's written answers were not only inadequate and incomplete, because he didn't answer many of your questions, but where he did, his answers showed he wasn't always being truthful?"
Mueller responded in four simple words: "I would say generally."
Mueller rebuffed Trump claim he was offered former FBI post
Mueller disputed President Trump's claim that Mueller was rebuffed in a bid to fill the post of FBI director.
Facing questions from congressional lawmakers, Mueller said he spoke with Trump about the FBI job before he was named as special counsel, but "not as a candidate."
Then-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon has said that while the White House invited Mueller to speak to the president about the FBI and thought about asking him to become director again, Mueller did not come in looking for a job.
Trump tweeted Wednesday that there are "numerous witnesses," including Vice President Mike Pence, who could say that Mueller applied and interviewed for the job and was "turned down" for it.
Pence spokesperson Alyssa Farah told the Associated Press that the vice president "was present in the Oval Office when Robert Mueller interviewed for the job of FBI Director in May of 2017."
Mueller provided more context about that conversation, from his point of view, under tough questioning from GOP Rep. Greg Steube:
Mueller: My understanding, I was not applying for the job. I was asked to give my input about what it would take to do the job, which, triggered the interview you are talking about.
Steube: So you don't recall on May 16, 2017 that you interviewed with the president, regarding the FBI Director job?
Mueller: I interviewed with the president and it was about the job but not about me applying for the job.
Steube: So, your statement here today is that you didn't interview to apply for the FBI director job?
Mueller: That's correct.
Mueller says his team never started a process to charge Trump
The former special counsel gave Democrats a flicker of hope when he told Rep. Ted Lieu of California that he did not charge Trump because of a Justice Department legal opinion that says sitting presidents cannot be indicted. That statement cheered Democrats who understood him to be suggesting that he would otherwise have recommended prosecution on the strength of the evidence.
But Mueller later walked back that statement, saying, "We did not reach a determination as to whether the president committed a crime." His team, he said, "never started the process" of evaluating whether to charge the president.
Though Mueller described Russian government's efforts to interfere in American politics as among the most serious challenges to democracy he had encountered in his decades-long career - which included steering the FBI after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks - Republicans focused on his conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Russians currently trying to interfere in elections
Mueller says election interference by Russia in 2016 was not an isolated attempt.
Mueller said the Russians expect to meddle in the 2020 election.
The remark came after Rep. Will Hurd asked Mueller if he thought the interference was a single attempt.
He told a congressional committee: "They're doing it as we sit here."
Here's the exchange:
Hurd: Is this –– in your investigation, did you think that this was a single attempt by the Russians to get involved in our election? Or did you find evidence to suggest they'll try to do this again.
Mueller: It wasn't a single attempt. They're doing it as we sit here. And they expect to do it during the next campaign.
Mueller worries letting foreign entities offer “dirt” is “new normal”
When asked about interferences in future elections by foreign entities and whether he believed that campaigns would take the information or decline to report the offer altogether, Mueller said he feared it would be the new norm following what happened in 2016.
Rep. Peter Welch, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, raised the issue and the following exchange occurred.
"My concern is, have we established a new normal from this past campaign that is going to apply to future campaigns so that any one of us from the U.S. House, any candidate for the Senate, any candidate for the presidency of the United States, aware that if a hostile foreign powers is trying to influence an election has no duty to report that to the FBI or other authorities?" Welch asked.
Mueller responded: "I hope this is not the new normal. But I fear it is."
Welch went on to ask Mueller if he had any advice for Congress on protecting the electoral system.
"I would say the basis — the first line of defense really is the ability of the various agencies who have some piece of this to not only share explanation, but shared expertise, to share targets, to use the full resources that we have, to address this problem," Mueller said.
Wikileaks embrace is a concern
Mueller condemned President Trump's praise for WikiLeaks during the 2016 presidential campaign.
When asked specifically about Wikileaks and its presence in the 2016 election and Trump’s embracing of the site, Mueller said, “Problematic is an understatement in terms of what it displays in terms of giving some hope or some boost to what is and should be illegal activity.”
During that campaign, WikiLeaks released troves of hacked emails from the campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
U.S. intelligence agencies and Mueller's investigation determined Russian government entities were responsible for the hack and furnished the embarrassing correspondence to WikiLeaks in order to support Trump's bid for the presidency.
During his second hearing, Mueller asserted that the Russian interference was “not a hoax,” despite what some were saying.
"The indictments we returned against the Russians — two different ones — were substantial in their scope, using the scope word again. And I think we have underplayed to a certain extent that aspect of our investigation that has and would have long term damage to the United States that we need to move quickly to address.”
CNN and the Associated Press contributed to this report.