Robert Mueller has said he won’t say anything beyond what’s in his report when he testifies before the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees on Wednesday. But that still gives House members plenty to work with when they question the former special counsel.
House Democrats on the Judiciary Committee plan on highlighting five key incidents in the obstruction section of Mueller’s report, members and aides say, including President Donald Trump directing his then-White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller and telling his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to threaten to fire former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
These moments are designed to emphasize Trump’s greatest vulnerabilities in the report, which states: “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.”
“I don’t think he’s going to change the world when he comes in, but I do think it’s going to be very important because the Trump Administration was so deliberate in attempting to dissuade people from reading the report,” Democratic Rep. Karen Bass of California, a member of the Judiciary Committee, told TIME. “Hopefully there will be renewed interest after Mueller testifies. All of our focus will be on obstruction of justice.”
Trump told reporters on July 22 that he is “not going to be watching” Mueller’s testimony, before conceding, “Maybe I’ll see a little bit of it.”
While Trump has been a prolific tweeter about Mueller’s investigation and may tweet about the testimony as he watches, his personal attorney Jay Sekulow tells TIME that his legal team isn’t preparing any sort of official response to the testimony ahead of time. “We will respond as appropriate based on what takes place,” Sekulow says.
Here are the five episodes from Mueller’s report that Democrats on the Judiciary Committee plan to focus on, and how Trump has responded to them in the past.
Trump told McGahn to fire Mueller
What the report says: In June 2017, Trump called McGahn and ordered him to fire Mueller. The report states: “In interviews with this Office, McGahn recalled that the President called him at home twice and on both occasions directed him to call [Deputy Attorney General Rod] Rosenstein and say that Mueller had conflicts that precluded him from serving as Special Counsel.”
McGahn refused to make the call, and was prepared to resign rather than carry out Trump’s request. “McGahn considered the President’s request to be an inflection point and he wanted to hit the brakes,” the report says. But Trump then did not follow up with McGahn on whether or not he had made the call, and the issue was dropped.
What Trump said: Trump disputed McGahn’s account, saying he never directed him to fire Mueller.
As has been incorrectly reported by the Fake News Media, I never told then White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller, even though I had the legal right to do so. If I wanted to fire Mueller, I didn’t need McGahn to do it, I could have done it myself. Nevertheless,....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 25, 2019
....Mueller was NOT fired and was respectfully allowed to finish his work on what I, and many others, say was an illegal investigation (there was no crime), headed by a Trump hater who was highly conflicted, and a group of 18 VERY ANGRY Democrats. DRAIN THE SWAMP!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 25, 2019
Trump told McGahn to deny media reports that he tried to fire Mueller
What the report says: In January 2018, the New York Times reported on the incident that had occurred the previous summer, when Trump ordered McGahn to fire Mueller. Trump demanded that McGahn publicly deny the account, but, the report says, “Each time he was approached, McGahn responded that he would not refute the press accounts because they were accurate in reporting on the President’s effort to have the Special Counsel removed.”
What Trump said: Trump has repeatedly claimed that McGahn lied to investigators during his many hours of interviews. “I don’t care what [McGahn] says, it doesn’t matter,” Trump said in a June 2019 interview with ABC. When asked why McGahn would lie under oath, the President responded, “Because he wanted to make himself look like a good lawyer.” The White House has also ordered McGahn to defy a subpoena to testify before the House Judiciary Committee.
Trump told Lewandowski to tell Sessions to curtail the investigation
What the report says: In June 2017, Trump met with Lewandowski and told him to deliver a message to Sessions telling the Attorney General to give a speech telling Mueller to limit the scope of his investigation to future election interference only. The report includes Lewandowski’s notes from the meeting on what Trump directed him to tell Sessions to say: “I know that I recused myself from certain things having to do with specific areas. But our POTUS … is being treated very unfairly. He shouldn’t have a Special Prosecutor/Counsel b/c he hasn’t done anything wrong… I am going to meet with the Special Prosecutor to explain this is very unfair and let the Special Prosecutor move forward with investigating election meddling for future elections so that nothing can happen in future elections.”
Lewandowski did not end up meeting with Sessions to deliver the note.
What Lewandowski said: In an interview with Fox News in April 2019, Lewandowski did not deny that Trump had told him to deliver that message to Sessions, but he downplayed the importance of the conduct the report describes. “I never delivered any document to Jeff Sessions,” Lewandowski said. “Never did I ask him to interfere with the Mueller investigation.”
Trump told Lewandowski to threaten to fire Sessions
What the report says: In July 2017, Trump met with Lewandowski again, and this time told him to threaten to fire Sessions if Sessions didn’t carry out his request. “The President raised his previous request and asked if Lewandowski had talked to Sessions,” the report says. “Lewandowski told the President that the message would be delivered soon. Lewandowski recalled that the President told him that if Sessions did not meet with him, Lewandowski should tell Sessions he was fired.”
What Lewandowski said: In the same Fox News interview, Lewandowski continued, “Never did I ask him to do anything other than what was completely legal, which was to continue to do his job.”
Possible incidents of witness tampering
What the report says: The report notes instances of Trump possibly engaging in witness tampering with witnesses including his former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his former lawyer Michael Cohen.
“With regard to Flynn, the President sent private and public messages to Flynn encouraging him to stay strong and conveying that the President still cared about him before he began to cooperate with the government,” the report says.
“With respect to Manafort, there is evidence that the President’s actions had the potential to influence Manafort’s decision whether to cooperate with the government,” the report says. “The President and his personal counsel made repeated statements suggesting that a pardon was a possibility for Manafort, while also making it clear that the President did not want Manafort to ‘flip’ and cooperate with the government.”
Shortly before Cohen was set to testify before Congress in 2019, Trump insinuated in an interview with Fox News and a tweet that Cohen’s father-in-law might be in legal jeopardy. Cohen then postponed his testimony. “The evidence concerning this sequence of events could support an inference that the President used inducements in the form of positive messages to get Cohen not to cooperate, and then turned to attacks and intimidation to deter the provision of information or undermine Cohen’s credibility once Cohen began cooperating,” the report says.
What Trump said: After Cohen postponed his testimony citing “ongoing threats against his family from President Trump,” Trump denied the allegations, responding, “He’s only been threatened by the truth.”
-With reporting by Alana Abramson/Washington