WASHINGTON - With a barrage of morning tweets, President Donald Trump renewed his efforts Wednesday to undermine the credibility of Robert Mueller as the former special counsel appeared before Congress to lay out the findings of his investigation into the sitting president and possible ties between Trump's campaign and Russia.
Before Mueller even took his seat to testify, the president tweeted nine times about Mueller and his investigation, part of a two-year pattern of attacks in which Trump has made baseless claims about Mueller's probe and its findings. And by mid-morning, Trump and his allies were already spinning the moment as a victory for the White House.
The president, in a pair of tweets, quoted Fox News coverage of the hearing, including anchor Chris Wallace saying, "This has been a disaster for the Democrats and a disaster for the reputation of Robert Mueller."
His eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., tweeted repeatedly, mocking Mueller's lack of familiarity with some aspects of the investigation and accusing him of playing favorites.
"Funny, Mueller can't understand the Republicans but he can totally understand the Democrats questions. This is a disaster for dems," Trump Jr. wrote.
And the president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, blasted Mueller's stumbles and calls for questions to be repeated, tweeting the former FBI director was "being destroyed on credibility, knowledge, competence and numerous 'ahs,' pauses and excuses like "beyond my purview."
Trump in recent days had claimed that he would not watch much, if any, of Wednesday's highly anticipated nationally televised hearings. But his morning tweets made clear that he had his mind focused squarely on the proceedings unfolding at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.
"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 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.
Long aware of the power of televised images, 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.
In the hearing's opening minutes, short, direct questioning from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., yielded soundbite-ready answers from Mueller, who stated that he could not clear the president of any wrongdoing. But under further questioning from members of both parties, Mueller's answers were more slow and hesitant.
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. But at least early on, the president's allies seemed happy with the results.
Kellyanne Conway, senior counselor to the president, tweeted "Drop the Mic" over a video clip of Mueller reading from his opening statement that "The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government in its election interference activities."
Tim Murtagh, the campaign's communications director, tweeted, "It was never anything but a witch hunt!"
But despite the cheer, there was concern among some Republicans that the hearing, if not a home run for Democrats, could still produce moments that could wound Trump. In one of them, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., asked Mueller, "Your investigation found that the president took steps to terminate the special counsel, correct?"
The special counsel responded: "Correct."
The president had a light schedule Wednesday morning during Mueller's testimony. Later in the day he was headed to West Virginia for a closed evening fundraiser.