House Democrats are facing a daunting challenge this week — goading Robert Mueller into offering testimony that could irreparably damage Donald Trump’s presidency.
In the three months since the conclusion of the former special counsel’s investigation, Democrats have struggled to use Mueller’s 448-page report to stoke a public outcry against the president's conduct, despite evidence that Trump sought to thwart the probe.
And on Wednesday, they’ll be up against a witness who didn’t want to testify in the first place — he had to be subpoenaed — and one who, over more than a decade of regular Capitol Hill testimony, has mastered the art of the dodge. For those reasons, Democrats are already downplaying expectations for the blockbuster hearings.
Still, when Mueller testifies for three hours before the House Judiciary Committee and two hours before the House Intelligence Committee, Democrats are expected to press Mueller to state that he might have charged Trump with obstruction of justice were he not the occupant of the Oval Office.
For the Democrats who want to see Trump impeached, that's the whole ballgame — and a moment that could see Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) re-think her opposition to launching a formal impeachment inquiry.
To achieve that, Democrats are aiming to bring the Mueller report off of the pages and onto Americans’ TV screens in an easily digestible format. It’s been their goal all along — but Wednesday will be their best chance to put it into practice.
“Many Americans, in their busy lives, have not had the opportunity to read the report. It’s a pretty dry, prosecutorial product,” Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said Sunday on CBS’ Face the Nation. “We want Bob Mueller to bring it to life.”
Democrats have said for months that even if Mueller simply reads aloud the words he wrote in his report, he'll debunk Trump's “no collusion, no obstruction” mantra and help Americans begin to process a report most haven’t.
Republicans, meanwhile, intend to use their time to discredit Mueller's work, arguing that he relied on a biased team of investigators who took over an active FBI investigation of Russian interference that was tainted by anti-Trump officials. Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said GOP members of the panel essentially plan to cross-examine Mueller to question his findings.
He called Mueller’s work a “one-sided report that has not been questioned by the other side,” adding: “This is our chance to do that.”
The Judiciary Committee will zero in on volume two of Mueller’s report, which lays out evidence that, in some instances, Trump’s actions may have met all of the elements necessary to charge an obstruction of justice offense.
According to aides, Democrats will focus on five of the roughly dozen episodes of potential obstruction — most notably, Trump’s direction to former White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller, and his subsequent order that McGahn deny that Trump ever sought to remove the special counsel. They’ll also highlight Trump’s alleged witness-tampering efforts for his former confidants Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen.
“If anyone else had been accused of what the report finds the president had done, they would’ve been indicted,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said on Fox News Sunday, adding, “The report presents very substantial evidence that the president is guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Many House Democrats — and, indeed, the progressive base that has been pushing for Trump’s impeachment — are convinced that Mueller vocalizing his lengthy, dense findings will jolt complacent Americans and remake the calculus on seeking the president's ouster. And in public remarks when he formally concluded his probe, Mueller said a sitting president can only be held accountable through “a process other than the criminal justice system” due to Justice Department guidelines prohibiting the indictment of a sitting president. Many Democrats viewed that statement alone as an impeachment referral.
But the nearly 100 House Democrats advocating for impeachment proceedings know that if they slink into their six-week summer next week recess without any explosive developments from Mueller, their last best chance at gathering momentum may have slipped away.