Robert Mueller To Testify In Open Hearings On July 17 Before House Committees

Jun 26, 2019
Originally published on June 26, 2019 2:33 pm

Updated at 11:14 p.m. ET

Robert Mueller has agreed to testify before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees about his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice by President Trump, giving Democrats the star witness they have long wanted to put before the American public.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff announced Tuesday that Mueller agreed to testify publicly after he was subpoenaed. He will be questioned separately by the two committees on July 17, according to a congressional aide.

The two committee chairmen said in a statement, "Americans have demanded to hear directly from the Special Counsel so they can understand what he and his team examined, uncovered, and determined about Russia's attack on our democracy, the Trump campaign's acceptance and use of that help, and President Trump and his associates' obstruction of the investigation into that attack."

Mueller has spoken in public only once about his investigation, making a statement to reporters at the Justice Department in May. In it, he said he hoped it would be his last comment on the subject.

The announcement sets the stage for possible blockbuster hearing broadcasts, live on radio and television.

Democrats have been stymied by the White House in their efforts to secure high-profile public testimony related to the Russia investigation. The president has prevented key witnesses, such as former White House Counsel Don McGahn, from testifying. He also has asserted executive privilege over Mueller's unredacted report to deny Congress the full document.

Jay Sekulow, one of President Trump's private attorneys, tells NPR's Tamara Keith he is "not concerned."

"Bob Mueller has already stated that his report is his testimony; we now expect that his testimony will be what is in his report. It is important to note the irregularities that took place during this investigation will also be discussed during his testimony," Sekulow said.

Trump himself tweeted, "Presidential Harassment!"

The ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, Doug Collins of Georgia, said in a statement that he had encouraged Nadler to subpoena Mueller to "bring to House Democrats the closure that the rest of America has enjoyed for months, and may it enable them to return to the business of legislating."

"While the special counsel found that no Americans conspired with Russia to attempt to interfere in our elections, many have willfully misrepresented that conclusion while Democrats have neglected their responsibility to safeguard future elections from foreign influence. I hope the special counsel's testimony marks an end to the political gamesmanship that Judiciary Democrats have pursued at great cost to taxpayers," Collins said.

Democrats have pinned their hopes on Mueller, who closed up the special counsel's office and resigned from the Justice Department in May, to resuscitate their flagging investigations. They hope his appearance will grab the American public's attention in a way that his office's 448-page report on the investigation did not.

It's unclear, however, how cooperative a witness Mueller will be. The former FBI director is famous for his straight-shooting, by-the-book approach.

In his brief statement in May from the Justice Department podium, he emphasized that the probe did not exonerate the president and that Russia's systematic effort to interfere in the election "deserves the attention of every American."

He also made clear that he does not want to testify before Congress. If his office were to be dragged up to the Hill, he warned, any testimony "would not go beyond our report."

"It contains our findings and analysis, and the reasons for the decisions we made. We chose those words carefully, and the work speaks for itself," Mueller told reporters in May. "The report is my testimony. I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress."

Still, House Democrats are anxious to get Mueller — even against his will — in front of a national TV audience. The calculation may be that any clips of Mueller speaking, even if he sticks to the script of the report, will register with many Americans in a way the special counsel's report did not.

Democratic leadership in the House remains opposed to impeachment at this time. But a growing number of the caucus's rank and file — nearly 80 members — support beginning impeachment proceedings against the president.

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Robert Mueller is coming to Capitol Hill. Mueller has agreed to testify on July 17 after he was issued subpoenas by the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees. Now, to this point, he has only talked once about his 448-page report, and he has said clearly that he's reluctant to talk more about it. Here he is after he announced that the special counsel's office had finished its work.


ROBERT MUELLER: We chose those words carefully, and the work speaks for itself. And the report is my testimony. I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress.

KING: All right. NPR Justice reporter Ryan Lucas is with us in studio.

Hi, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: So Mueller has been clear that the report is his testimony. In these hearings, can we expect to learn anything new?

LUCAS: That's a good question, and the answer to that is it's not entirely clear right now. We'd - we're - it's up to Mueller what he's going to say, and he is really going to define the parameters of what he wants to talk about. Now, as you noted, he has made clear that he doesn't want to do this. He doesn't want to be in the middle of a political fight. The negotiations to get him up onto the Hill to testify publicly took a very long time. Ultimately, as you noted, he's responding to subpoenas.

Now, the Democratic chairmen of the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, Jerry Nadler and Adam Schiff, they say that the American public needs to hear from Mueller himself about what his office discovered about Russia's interference in the 2016 elections, about the president's possible obstruction of justice. Democrats in particular want to go beyond, though, what is just in Mueller's report.

They have questions about prosecutorial decisions that Mueller's team made. They have questions about Attorney General William Barr's handling and presentation of the report. And then there are a bunch of other questions, including counterintelligence questions, that Democrats want to get into.

KING: So there's going to be a lot of interest in these hearings, for sure. They're going to be carried out live on TV and radio almost certainly. What do Democrats want from that, from the attention?

LUCAS: Well, this is a big deal for them. They want the public to see Mueller testifying about what he and his investigators found. This is a big, headline-grabbing set of back-to-back hearings. There will be two hearings. The fact that this is going to be broadcast live on national radio and television is a big get for Democrats. Remember, there's a growing number of Democrats in the House that are pushing for impeachment. This hearing could help them build a public case against Trump. Now, important to note at the same point in time that House leaders do not support impeachment proceedings at this point.

And Democrats in the House have struggled to gain any sort of traction with their investigations into the president so far. The White House has blocked their efforts. So for House Democrats, getting Mueller even against his will in front of a national TV audience is a big deal. Even if Mueller just sticks to the words in his report, Democrats could be thinking here that his testimony will grab the American public's attention in a way that that dense report did not.

KING: Because most people did not read the report, if we're being frank. What do Republicans want to get out of this or want to avoid here?

LUCAS: Well, Republicans welcomed Mueller's coming up to the Hill to testify, as Democrats did. Some of the president's most ardent allies on the Hill are on these two committees. They will be eager to score their own points to defend the president. They will bring up their own views about how - what they call missteps by investigators during the probe, questions that they have about the makeup of Mueller's team, allegations that they've raised about surveillance abuse, alleged surveillance abuse by the FBI and others.

The top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, Doug Collins, said in a statement that he had encouraged Mueller to testify. And he said that he hopes that this hearing will give Democrats closure, as he said Americans have already reached.

KING: Very quickly, has the president responded?

LUCAS: The president tweeted overnight two words - presidential harassment. One of his private attorneys, Jay Sekulow, said on Fox News last night that he doesn't expect anything that Mueller says to be different than what is in the report itself.

KING: NPR Justice reporter Ryan Lucas.

Thanks so much, Ryan.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.