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Utah Rep. Chris Stewart grills Robert Mueller on alleged leaks

Most of Utah's delegation quiet on hearings

SALT LAKE CITY — The single member of Utah's congressional delegation who had an opportunity to question former special counsel Robert Mueller during testimony Wednesday used his time to raise issues of alleged leaks during the 22-month probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

In a move reminiscent of a debate gaffe by then-2012 presidential contender Mitt Romney, Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, referenced "a binder" of information to support a line of questioning he was pursuing during the U.S. House Intelligence Committee hearing.

"I'm holding here in my hand a binder of 25 examples of leaks that occurred from the special counsel's office from those who associated with your work dating back to as early as a few weeks after ... the beginning of your work and continuing up to a few months ago," Stewart said. "All of these, all of them have one thing in common. They were designed to weaken or embarrass the president."

A protester shouts at former special counsel Robert Mueller as he arrived to testify to the House Judiciary Committee about his investigation into President Donald Trump and Russian interference in the 2016 election, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesd
A protester shouts at former special counsel Robert Mueller as he arrived to testify to the House Judiciary Committee about his investigation into President Donald Trump and Russian interference in the 2016 election, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 24, 2019.
J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

Stewart's office did not respond to a Deseret News request for copies of the documents referenced during his questioning of Mueller.

During the hearing, Stewart offered a few details of the alleged leaks, including one claiming that someone from Mueller's team tipped CNN about an FBI raid of presidential adviser Roger Stone's home in January. Mueller declined to speak about specifics of that incident and later went on to refute Stewart's claims of leaks originating from the special counsel's office.

"From the outset we've undertaken to make certain that we minimized the possibility of leaks, and I think we were successful over the two years that we were in operation," Mueller said.

Stewart's binder reference brought back memories of comments by Romney in the second debate with President Barack Obama. Romney was making a point about pay equity and said when he was governor of Massachusetts he asked his staff to find more qualified women applicants for cabinet positions.

"I went to a number of women's groups and said, 'Can you help us find folks?'" Romney said. "And they brought us whole binders full of women."

The comment became an instant internet meme and was wielded by Romney detractors as evidence of insensitivity to gender equity issues.

Mueller, a 74-year-old Vietnam veteran and former FBI director, appeared before both the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees and responded to questions in testimony that stretched for nearly seven hours. Little new information was forthcoming and nearly the entirety of Mueller's comments stuck to the content of the 448-page report publicly released, with some redactions, in April.

Utah Republican Congressman Rob Bishop summed up his feelings about the hearings in an emailed one-liner.

Former special counsel Robert Mueller is sworn in by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., to testify before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, July 24, 20
Former special counsel Robert Mueller is sworn in by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., to testify before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, July 24, 2019, in Washington.
Alex Brandon, Associated Press

"The book was better than the movie," Bishop said.

Fox commentator and former Utah Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz chided Democrats via Twitter early in Mueller's first committee appearance Wednesday morning.

"Shame on the Democrats for allowing this hearing to continue.'With all due respect,' as (Texas Republican Congressman John Ratcliffe) said. Dir. Mueller does not have the capacity to continue. Stop embarrassing the man for your petty politics. He did not want to testify," Chaffetz wrote.

Evan McMullin, a former CIA officer and independent 2016 presidential candidate from Utah, took a shot at President Donald Trump in his own tweet about the hearings on Wednesday.

"We know today what we've known for years: Moscow executed a sweeping, illegal campaign to elect Trump, who welcomed the help and then obstructed resulting investigations," McMullin wrote. "We cannot allow this to be the new normal in our politics and expect to be free. There must be consequences."

Chase Thomas, executive director of left-leaning political advocacy group Alliance for a Better Utah, noted the lack of new information from Mueller's testimony Wednesday and underscored the need for better protections from outside interference in the U.S. election process.

“As expected, Mueller’s testimony didn’t come with any explosive or new revelations," Thomas said in a statement. "Rather, it once again clearly highlighted the key findings of his report on the unprecedented attack upon our democratic process by hostile foreign actors. Learning from these attacks and preventing them from happening in future elections should be of bipartisan and immediate concern for our elected officials and the rest of Congress.”

A representative of Utah-based conservative think-tank Sutherland Institute was not available for comment Wednesday.

The offices of Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, declined to comment on Mueller's testimony. Deseret News requests for comment from Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, were not responded to.