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Quizzing Mueller gives Democrats a fresh chance to hit at Trump

Billy House and Chris Strohm, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

With Donald Trump's impeachment as the prize that some Democrats covet, and others fear, Robert Mueller will finally sit down on Wednesday for five hours of questioning before two House committees.

The reluctant witness won't make it easy. So Democrats on the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees have been strategizing over how to draw out the former special counsel, who has said he has no intention of going beyond the findings in the 448-page report he completed in March.

Intelligence panel Democrats have even conducted mock hearings, with a staff member playing the taciturn former FBI director and lawmakers practicing how to press him for details in the few minutes each will get, while restraining the urge to deliver lectures.

"You will find little or no editorializing or speechifying by members -- I hope," said Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Judiciary Committee Democrat from Maryland who predicted "visual aids" will be provided for a national audience watching the testimony on live television.

Mueller's appearance may be a make-or-break moment for House Democrats to deliver on their promises to investigate Trump and those around him. Their efforts have been frustrated at every turn so far by the White House's refusal to turn over documents or allow testimony by past and current Trump aides and advisers.

Their ultimate goal is also in question. Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York said this month that "articles of impeachment are under consideration" as part of the committee's investigation. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has remained firm in her conviction that impeachment by the House would be futile -- and politically damaging -- unless dramatic new evidence emerges that would lead to the president's removal from office by the Republican-controlled Senate.

 

"Let's listen. Let's see where the facts take us," she said last week. Suggesting the Mueller testimony risks turning into a political circus, Pelosi added, "And let us have this be as dignified as our Constitution would require."

In a division of labor, Democrats on the Judiciary Committee will focus during their panel's three-hour hearing Wednesday morning on Mueller's finding that he couldn't "exonerate" Trump on obstructing justice and the special counsel's seeming hint that Congress ultimately has the constitutional power to make that determination.

According to an official familiar with their plans, Judiciary Democrats will explore specific allegations cited in Mueller's report -- including that Trump ordered then-White House Counsel Don McGahn to have Mueller removed and then to lie about it, that the president ordered former campaign aide Corey Lewandowski to tell Attorney General Jeff Sessions to limit the Russia inquiry to concerns about future elections and that Trump sought to interfere with cooperation by witnesses Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen.

Raskin said he might ask Mueller "why he felt he needed to write letters to protest" Attorney General William Barr's "misstatement of the contents of the report."

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