Washington loves a spectacle, even if Robert S. Mueller III was determined not to make one. On Wednesday, as Mr. Mueller was finally slated to testify in two back-to-back House hearings about his conclusions as special counsel, anticipation coursed through the halls of Capitol Hill.
One thing was certain: Mr. Mueller’s testimony would be the first major opportunity for the public to hear directly from the man who led the federal investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and its potential ties to President Trump’s campaign.
As Washingtonians began their daily routines early Wednesday, members of the news media and expectant onlookers had already snapped awake in anticipation of the hearings. At the White House, news cameras prepared to capture the president’s response to Mr. Mueller’s testimony, while on Capitol Hill, a lengthy line of hopeful observers had snaked its way out of the House office building.
Representative Mary Gay Scanlon, a Pennsylvania Democrat who is the vice chairwoman of the Judiciary Committee, which would be the first to question Mr. Mueller, pored over his report and her notes with her staff in the hours before the hearing.
Ms. Scanlon, a lawyer, had previously said the report had thrown her back to her days as a teenager watching the Watergate hearings and the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon.
The normally frigid marble hallway outside the hearing room teemed with reporters anxiously gulping coffee and texting editors on their phones and laptops, photographers and videographers jostling for just the right spot to catch lawmakers, and spectators in line hoping for a coveted seat in the room. Some of those in line had waited hours and — in the case of a group of interns — even overnight for a spot.
Members of Congress trying to get to a different hearing stared wide-eyed down the hall, pondering how they might navigate through the masses. “I don’t think they’re here for us,” an aide deadpanned to a congressman.
Mueller Is Sworn In
Breaking two years of nearly total silence, Mr. Mueller pledged to tell nothing but the truth in his testimony, and the first of the two contentious, hourslong hearings began. Some Democratic lawmakers on the committee, as pictured above, used their phones to capture the moment from the dais.
In Washington and New York, commuters on their way to work were glued to their phones watching Mr. Mueller’s testimony. A security guard at the Capitol kept one eye on his television set tuned to C-Span as he waved visitors in.
Bars across Washington opened early to provide observers a place to watch — and drink. The Hawk ’N’ Dove, a popular Capitol Hill bar, threw open its doors at 8:30 a.m. and poured its patrons coffee until 10 a.m., when servers switched to beers and mimosas. Transfixed by the four large televisions mounted above the bar, a woman at the end of the long wooden counter propped a thick bound copy of the Mueller report next to her Bellini, and followed carefully along as lawmakers read aloud from specific pages.
Representative Louie Gohmert of Texas, a staunch and rhetorically colorful defender of the president, was one of the Republican lawmakers on the Judiciary Committee to tear into Mr. Mueller’s credibility. “The fact that you ran” the investigation “out two years means you perpetuated injustice,” Mr. Gohmert told Mr. Mueller.
“I take your question,” Mr. Mueller responded.
After nearly an hour and a half, Mr. Mueller took a short respite. The break also provided members of the committee the chance to recalibrate their lines of questioning. Representative Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat who is the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, pictured on the right, conferred with an aide.
Outside the Room
While all of the major broadcast news networks provided wall-to-wall coverage of the hearings, one in particular appeared to pique the interest of Mr. Trump: Fox News. During the hearing, the president tweeted quotes from the network’s live coverage, including from the anchor, Chris Wallace. “This has been a disaster for the Democrats,” Mr. Wallace said in remarks that apparently won Mr. Trump’s endorsement.
The former special counsel had made clear before he set foot on Capitol Hill that he would refuse to answer questions beyond the four corners of his report. He hewed to that promise on Wednesday, and declined to even read directly from the document, instead requiring lawmakers to read aloud passages during their questioning.
The End of Round 1
Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, and one of the president’s most outspoken defenders, emerged from the first hearing triumphant. “If there was anyone out there in the country who was thinking like they should move forward with impeachment, I think that’s done,” he told reporters.
After a short break, Mr. Mueller testified before the House Intelligence Committee, led by Representative Adam Schiff, Democrat of California, pictured on the left. Representative Devin Nunes of California, the top Republican on the panel, on the right, compared evidence that the president colluded with the Russians to “the Loch Ness monster” in his opening statement.
Tourists and locals gathered at the Newseum in downtown Washington to watch the second hearing.
Mueller Bows Out
Nearly seven hours after first being sworn in, Mr. Mueller, flanked by Capitol Police officers, departed Capitol Hill, leaving lawmakers to continue warring over impeachment and presidential oversight on their own.
The President Speaks
Mr. Trump, who relishes his role as television critic and town crier, weighed in on Mr. Mueller’s testimony before leaving in Marine One for a fund-raiser in West Virginia. “Robert Mueller did a poor job,” he said. “Today proved a lot to everybody.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, standing side by side with the chairmen of her investigative committees, called the day “historic.”
“It is a crossing of a threshold in terms of public awareness of what happened and how it conforms to the law or not,” Ms. Pelosi said.
Produced by Marisa Schwartz Taylor.