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Rep. Adam Schiff recalls ‘painful’ Robert Mueller collusion testimony

Rep. Adam Schiff recalls Robert Mueller’s testimony during the Russian “collusion” inquiry as being “painful” in a new interview — dodging on whether cognitive decline should have disqualified the former FBI director from leading the investigation.

In his new book and an interview this week, Schiff (D-Calif.) revealed he would not have wanted Mueller to testify if he knew how “painful” it was going to be, saying Congress had to stick to shorter questions for the beleaguered special counsel.  

“I did understand immediately why his staff had been so protective and why they were so reluctant to have him testify,” he told NPR. “And I immediately told our members, ‘We need to cut down our questions. We can’t ask for narrative answers. We need to be very precise in what we ask. We need to have the page reference of the report ready.’”

“And it was very painful. Honestly, it was painful. And if I had known, I would not have pushed for his testimony.” 

Schiff blamed a “protective instinct among the people around” the former FBI director as a reason for not knowing how poorly the hearing would go. 

Robert Mueller.
According to Rep. Adam Schiff, Congress had to stick to shorter questions for Robert Mueller.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

“It was difficult for them to convey,” he said. “Now we did get some inkling as we negotiated over the format of the hearing that we were better off with shorter periods of questioning. So there were signs.”

When pressed on whether he believes Mueller was experiencing cognitive decline at the time, the California congressmen refused to give a direct answer, and later said, “I can’t answer that” when asked if Mueller should have led the Russia inquiry if he was suffering from cognitive decline.  

Rep. Adam Schiff.
Rep. Adam Schiff admitted he “would not have pushed for [Mueller’s] testimony” if he had known it would be so “painful.”
Stefani Reynolds/CNP

In July 2019, Mueller testified before two House committees, including the House Intelligence Committee of which Schiff is chairman, regarding his report that claimed the Russian government tried to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, but finding no evidence that former President Donald Trump was involved.

Robert Mueller.
Rep. Adam Schiff recalls a “protective instinct among the people around” Robert Mueller.
Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

At the time of his testimony, concern over his cognitive decline surfaced after some pointed out it appeared he didn’t know key facts about the investigation, prompting his team to deny such rumors. 

Rep. Adam Schiff.
When pressed on whether he believes Robert Mueller was experiencing cognitive decline at the time, Rep. Adam Schiff refused to give a direct answer.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

“It was a painful reminder that age catches up to all of us,” one unnamed House Democrat who questioned Mueller said, according to the Washington Examiner. “Here you have this Vietnam hero and this post-Sept. 11 FBI director. You could tell he was having a hard time hearing, and it was like, ‘Ugh! This is not how I want him to be remembered.'”

Trump has repeatedly slammed the inquiry and Mueller’s testimony as being parts of a “witch hunt,” which led to several of his associates becoming legally ensnared over unrelated charges. 

Schiff’s retrospective hesitance on Mueller’s testimony is not the first, as in January 2020, Washington Post reporter Carol Leonnig claimed it was very difficult for his close family and friends to watch his testimony, saying “they know that something happened. He’s a different person.”

In “A Very Stable Genius,” which Leonnig co-authored with Phil Rucker, the two noted that even former Attorney General Bill Bar was concerned about Mueller’s health after hearing his shaky voice and seeing his hands shake as he held a piece of paper.