Key Democrats Weigh Grilling Reluctant Mueller to Revive Probes

Alyza Sebenius and Ben Brody

(Bloomberg) -- Days before former Special Counsel Robert Mueller is scheduled to testify before two House committees, top Democrats see the event as their best chance to revive stymied inquiries into President Donald Trump.

“We hope it won’t end up being a dud,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Mueller was scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary Committee and Intelligence Committee on July 17, but the event was postponed for a week. Mueller was subpoenaed by Democrats to discuss his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice by Trump.

On Wednesday, committees will need to weigh whether to question Mueller about the complete investigation or the contents of the report that was released to the public.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said he’s expecting a “reticent witness.”

“We understand the stakes. At the same time, I have to say I am very realistic in my expectations,” Schiff said late Sunday at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado. “He is clearly deeply reluctant to testify.”

On May 29, Mueller said, “Any testimony from this office would not go beyond this report.” Still, Nadler said it was important for the American people to hear directly from Mueller.

Nadler said that to try to get around Mueller’s expected reticence, Democratic committee members would point him to specific passages in the report, which runs to almost 450 pages, asking him to characterize whether behavior described would constitute a crime such as obstruction of justice and whether the president engaged in that conduct.

Mueller, who was constrained by Justice Department policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted, has stopped short of exonerating Trump on obstruction charges. Nadler said the testimony could help spread Mueller’s findings.

“People don’t read a 448-page report,” Nadler said. As a debate over impeaching the president rages among House Democrats, Nadler continued to call only for uncovering more information on the administration . Even so, Mueller’s appearance could put Congress “in a position to begin holding the president accountable.”

Schiff acknowledged that the Democrats could find themselves tussling with their own witness.

“He has made it clear that he doesn’t want to go beyond the report, and I want to make it clear that is a choice Bob Mueller is making,” Schiff said. “That is not required by law, it is not required by regulation.”

“We will have to decide how much time we want to spend fighting with him to discuss things outside the report when there is an awful lot of material within the report that the American people are not familiar with which they really need to be,” Schiff said. Democrats want Mueller to convey the report in a more accessible way to people who haven’t had a chance to read it.

“It’s a pretty dry, prosecutorial work product,” Schiff said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “We want Bob Mueller to bring it to life, to talk about what’s in that report.”

Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the Judiciary panel, said on “Sunday Morning Futures” on Fox News that Democrats must show with the hearings that they haven’t been wasting time and money and just targeting a president they dislike.

Asked whether Republicans will ask Mueller about the origins of the probe and suggestions of bias against Trump, Collins said, “that’s going to be part of our complete strategy.”

“This is a not a vacuum that the Democrats have completely to say the president was doing something wrong,” Collins said. “The Mueller report is a one-sided report that has not been questioned from the other side. This is our chance to do that.”

Nadler dismissed that line of questioning as an “irrelevancy” with little basis in fact.

Within the report, Schiff said he views the broader pattern of behavior documented by Mueller as significant. “What is most powerful is not an isolated fact here or an isolated fact there, but how the facts look together,” he said.

Schiff said he would like to know whether Mueller believes Trump should be indicted after he leaves office.

“He is not going to answer that question,” said Schiff, a former federal prosecutor. “But nonetheless, there are other ways of asking that question.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Alyza Sebenius in Washington at asebenius@bloomberg.net;Ben Brody in Washington at btenerellabr@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Alex Wayne at awayne3@bloomberg.net, Ros Krasny, Kevin Miller

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.