Democrats questioning Mueller expected to focus on obstruction
WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee who will question former special counsel Robert Mueller next week plan to focus on a narrow set of episodes laid out in his report, an effort to direct Americans’ attention to what they see as the most egregious examples of President Donald Trump’s conduct.
The examples from the Mueller report include Trump’s directions to White House counsel Donald McGahn to have Mueller removed and, later, orders from Trump to McGahn to deny that happened. Democrats also will focus questioning on a series of meetings Trump had with former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski in which the Republican president directed Lewandowski to persuade then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to limit Mueller’s investigation.
Mueller laid out several episodes in which Trump tried to influence his investigation and wrote that he could not exonerate the president on obstruction of justice. Democratic aides say they believe the McGahn and Lewandowski narratives, explained in detail in the 448-page report, are clear examples of such obstruction and will be easy to understand as lawmakers try to educate the American public on a report they believe most people haven’t read. The aides requested anonymity.
The House Judiciary and intelligence committees will question Mueller in back-to-back hearings Wednesday. The testimony had been scheduled for July 17 but was delayed under a new deal struck with Mueller last week that would give him more time to prepare and give members more time for questioning. Still, time will be extremely limited, with an expected three hours for the Judiciary committee and two for the smaller intelligence committee. Some members on the Judiciary panel could have less than the regular five minutes for questioning.
Besides the time restraints, Mueller is a reluctant witness. He had said he would prefer not to come at all and has insisted he will stick only to the contents of the report.
So, to effectively highlight what they see as the most damaging parts of the report, Democratic lawmakers said they will have to do something that members of Congress aren’t used to doing: limit the long speeches and cut to the chase.
“Members just need to focus,” said Illinois Rep. Mike Quigley, a Democratic member of the intelligence panel. “Nobody’s watching them. Keep it short, keep focused, listen to each other, work together. Make this as productive as possible.”
Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Democrat on the Judiciary committee, predicted: “You will find little or no editorializing or speechifying by the members. This is all about allowing special counsel Mueller to speak.”
Democrats on the committee said they have been working with committee staff on which members will ask what. The staff wants to make sure they ask targeted questions, such as on Trump’s directions to McGahn and Lewandowski.
“It’s going to be fairly scripted,” said Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, another Democrat on the Judiciary panel. “The main goal is to get Robert Mueller to say what Robert Mueller wrote in the Mueller report. And then get it on national TV, so people can hear him saying it.”
The Judiciary Committee aides said that they want lawmakers to take multiple pieces of information in Mueller’s report and connect the dots for viewers. Besides the episodes with McGahn and Lewandowski, they said lawmakers also will focus on the president’s conduct toward his former lawyer Michael Cohen and his former campaign manager Paul Manafort, both of whom faced federal charges as part of Mueller’s probe and are now in prison. The report looks at how Trump praised both men when he perceived they were on his side, contacting Cohen to tell him to “stay strong” and publicly praising Manafort for “refusing to break.” There also were subtle hints that he could pardon each.