US president Donald Trump panned the appearance of Robert Mueller before Congress on Wednesday, retweeting critics of the special counsel's testimony to his 61 million followers throughout the three-hour House judiciary committee hearing.
"I would like to thank the Democrats for holding this morning's hearing," Mr Trump wrote after Mr Mueller's appearance in front of the judiciary committee and as Mr Mueller prepared to testify in front of the House intelligence committee, led by Democrat Adam Schiff of California.
“Now, after 3 hours, Robert Mueller has to subject himself to #ShiftySchiff – an Embarrassment to our Country!” Mr Trump tweeted.
Earlier, the president gave his online stamp of approval to a series of tweets critical of Mr Mueller's appearance. "This has been a disaster for the Democrats and a disaster for the reputation of Robert Mueller," Mr Trump tweeted about 90 minutes after the hearing began, attributing the comment to Chris Wallace, host of Fox News Sunday.
A few minutes later, Mr Trump retweeted Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a conservative organisation: "No collusion. No obstruction, No impeachment. Shut the coup cabal down!"
The series of posts suggested that Mr Trump was glued to the television as Mr Mueller was grilled by lawmakers. And they appeared to confirm that the president was relieved by Mr Mueller’s halting performance. That was certainly the message from some of the president’s top aides, who also began tweeting about Mr Mueller.
In response to a tweet quoting Mr Mueller as saying that his investigation did not establish that the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government, Kellyanne Conway, the president's adviser, wrote three words: "Drop the Mic!"
Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary, said in a statement to reporters: "The last three hours have been an epic embarrassment for the Democrats. Expect more of the same in the second half."
Mr Trump started shouting on Twitter before 7am Washington time, venting about what he called the “Greatest Witch Hunt in U.S. history” even as Mr Mueller was headed to Capitol Hill. By 8.10am, the president had posted seven more times, delivering a kind of Twitter greatest hits – punctuated by capital letters and exclamation points – in which he portrayed himself as the innocent victim of an illegal crusade by Mr Mueller, Democrats and the country’s intelligence community.
He said that his accusers were part of an "illegal and treasonous attack on our Country." He complained again about the "18 angry Democrats" he asserted were on the Mueller team and asked why the special counsel did not investigate "Lyin' & Leakin' James Comey, " the former FBI director whom Mr Trump fired, and others.
The president attacked Mr Mueller’s credibility, repeating his unsubstantiated claim that the special counsel was “highly conflicted”. He then said: “NO COLLUSION! NO OBSTRUCTION!” and “KEEP AMERICA GREAT!”
On Tuesday, Mr Trump had shrugged off the impending testimony, telling reporters that he would not watch the hearings on Wednesday, then admitting that “maybe I’ll see a little bit of it”.
But the president’s early morning online activities betrayed his real intentions, indicating once again that Mr Trump appeared consumed by the investigation that had dominated much of his presidency.
Mr Trump’s tweets have been a central part of the campaign by the White House and the president’s Republican allies to condemn Mr Mueller’s investigation and call into question the credibility of the special counsel, the FBI and several of the intelligence agencies.
The effort was designed as a shield against just the kind of moment Mr Trump found himself in Wednesday, watching along with the rest of the country as Democrats broadcast the investigation’s findings of wrongdoing. Mr Trump’s lawyers and advisers made the bet that the president’s attacks would reduce the impact of whatever Mr Mueller might ultimately say, first in his written report and later in his highly anticipated public appearance.
From the moment the hearings began on Wednesday, the president’s allies in Congress made clear that they intended to take up his mantle, slamming Mr Mueller and Democrats for wasting time and money. But Trump had no intention of letting others defend him while he remained silent. In one of his early morning tweets, the president complained about Mr Mueller’s last-minute request to have one of his top lawyers accompany him during the testimony. Mr Trump cast the request in a conspiratorial light, referring to claims by Republicans of misdeeds in the case of Hillary Clinton’s personal email server.
His focus on Mrs Clinton’s emails was a continuation of a tweet on Tuesday night. “What’s this all about?” Mr Trump wrote. “His lawyer represented the ‘basement server guy’ who got off free in the Crooked Hillary case. This should NOT be allowed. Rigged Witch Hunt!”
Wednesday morning, Mr Trump appeared to threaten Mr Mueller with prosecution for lying to Congress if the special counsel claimed during his testimony that he did not apply for the job of FBI director the day before he was appointed to lead the Russia inquiry.
"Hope he doesn't say that under oath in that we have numerous witnesses to the interview, including the Vice President of the United States, " Mr Trump said on Twitter. – New York Times