As it ended, Trump tweeted, "TRUTH IS A FORCE OF NATURE!" Then he strode out of the White House and took a victory lap in front the reporters and cameras assembled on the South Lawn. "It's over," Trump declared. He blasted "the phony cloud" created by the investigation and said, "there was no defense to this ridiculous hoax, this witch hunt."
The investigation had cast a two-year shadow over the White House, unnerving aides, stalling staffing and triggering hundreds of angry tweets from the president, many of which involved phrases like "No collusion," ''No obstruction" and "Witch hunt."
For all of that, the president had insisted earlier in the week, "I'm not going to be watching — probably — maybe I'll see a little bit of it." As it turned out, that statement wouldn't have survived the fact checks to which so many of Trump's claims are subjected. The television-conscious president referenced Fox News' coverage of the hearings in several of his tweets and revealed that he was watching closely enough to deliver a detailed review of Mueller's presentation.
"The performance was obviously not very good. He had a lot of problems," Trump said, pointing to Mueller's lack of familiarity with some aspects of the investigation and accusing him of playing favorites. "This was a devastating day for Democrats."
Even as the testimony was still under way, Republicans were claiming it as a win. Rudy Giuliani, the president's lawyer, blasted Mueller's frequent stumbles and calls for questions to be repeated, tweeting that the former FBI director was "being destroyed on credibility, knowledge, competence and numerous 'ahs,' pauses and excuses like 'beyond my purview.'"
Mueller's nationally televised appearance on Capitol Hill was long anticipated as a potential pivot point for the presidency, one that could galvanize more House Democrats toward impeachment or help dispel the investigatory cloud that has shadowed the White House. Ever mindful of the need to spin powerful televised images, Trump and his fellow Republicans unleashed a barrage of tweets and statements that continued a pattern of attacks in which Trump has made baseless claims about Mueller's probe and its findings.
"So Democrats and others can illegally fabricate a crime, try pinning it on a very innocent President, and when he fights back against this illegal and treasonous attack on our Country, they call It Obstruction?" Trump wrote in one early tweet. "Wrong! Why didn't Robert Mueller investigate the investigators?"
In fact, the Mueller report did not declare there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Nor did the special counsel's report exonerate Trump on the question of whether he obstructed justice.
Trump also revived a baseless charge that Mueller was "highly conflicted." Mueller, a longtime Republican, was cleared by the Justice Department's ethics experts to lead the Russia investigation. Trump over the last week had been speculating with confidants about how the hearings would go. And while he expressed no worry that Mueller would reveal anything damaging, Trump was irritated that the former special counsel was being given the national stage, according to two Republicans close to the White House. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.
Wary of Americans being captivated by finally hearing Mueller speak at length, Trump seethed to one adviser that he was annoyed Democrats would be given a tool to ramp up their investigations — and that cable networks would have new footage of Mueller to play on loop.
Though the probe did not result in charges of criminal conspiracy or obstruction, there has been growing concern among those close to the president that Mueller's appearance could push undecided or reluctant Democrats toward impeachment. By the day's end, Trump weighed in on that prospect too.
"Impeachment's over!" Trump tweeted just before Air Force One landed in West Virginia, where the president was attending a closed fundraiser.
Lemire reported from New York.
Follow Lemire on Twitter at http://twitter.com/@JonLemire and Superville at http://twitter.com/@dsupervilleap
For more of AP's coverage of the Trump investigation: https://apnews.com/TrumpInvestigations