House Democrats are stepping up calls for testimony from special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE — even if it takes a subpoena to obtain it.
Issuing a subpoena to compel testimony from Mueller, who has yet to reach a deal to appear before the House, carries risks for Democrats. It could be viewed as divisive, has the potential to generate negative headlines and is a step most would like to avoid.
But as the spring days slip away with no agreement to hear from the special counsel, frustrated lawmakers are saying they should use whatever means are necessary to hear from Mueller.
“I think he will have to be subpoenaed,” Rep. Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierGOP senator announces bill to block companies from tracking online activity Mueller mystery: Will he ever testify to Congress? The Hill’s Morning Report — Dem ire at Barr intensifies MORE (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told The Hill.
“He’s critical. He basically made the case for obstruction of justice and we need to hear from him,” she said.
“I think we should do whatever we can to get that testimony,” Rep. Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira CohenDems probe DOJ’s handling of civil rights violations by law enforcement Pelosi defends working with Trump on infrastructure plan John Oliver rips Dem lawmaker’s ‘pathetic’ KFC chicken stunt at Barr hearing MORE (D-Tenn.) said when asked whether Mueller should be subpoenaed if he declines to testify publicly. “It’s so important for the American public.”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerDemocrats are running out of stunts to pull from impeachment playbook Trump asks if Nadler will look into Clinton’s ‘deleted and acid washed’ emails Trump tweets conservative commentator’s criticism of FBI director MORE (D-N.Y.) has repeatedly said the committee would subpoena Mueller if necessary but that he hopes it wouldn’t come to that. He declined to comment on reports Tuesday that Mueller did not want all of his testimony to be public.
Nadler’s staff has been negotiating with the special counsel’s office and the Justice Department for weeks over Mueller’s potential testimony. Nadler had initially set a tentative date for May 15 to hear from the special counsel, but it now appears his testimony will slip into at least June.
Mueller, a widely-respected former FBI director, is unlikely to want to be drawn into a political fight. He quietly investigated Russian interference and potential obstruction by President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill’s Morning Report – White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget GOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending Democrats wary of handing Trump a win on infrastructure MORE for two years, speaking only through court filings and his sprawling 448-page report.
Some Democrats lay the blame on Mueller’s failure to reach a deal to appear on the Justice Department and Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrThe Hill’s Morning Report – White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget Barr says he’s working to protect presidency, not Trump Press: Justin Amash breaks ranks with party MORE, who still has control over Mueller’s testimony while he remains a Justice employee.
It’s possible that the Judiciary Committee and Mueller’s team could reach an agreement for the special counsel to deliver part or all of his testimony behind closed doors.
Rep. Madeleine DeanMadeleine DeanCongress won’t get Mueller report until after Barr press conference Dems counter portrait of discord Whitaker takes grilling from House lawmakers MORE (D-Pa.), a member of the Judiciary panel, said Tuesday she had not been privy to the negotiations but said such a deal would likely be in consideration, describing Nadler as being “accommodating” to witnesses.
“I imagine those kinds of considerations for someone this important with the kind of findings that he had, I’m sure that’s on the table,” Dean told The Hill.
Dean also said it would be appropriate for Nadler to subpoena Mueller if he does not agree to a deal to appear.
Some Democrats, however, appear wary of subpoenaing the special counsel for public testimony.
Rep. Hank JohnsonHenry (Hank) C. JohnsonLive coverage: House panel moves forward with Barr contempt vote LGBT lawmakers say nation is ready for gay president Tlaib: Colleagues feeding ‘fear mongering’ in questioning of Muslim-American father of slain children MORE (D-Ga.), a Judiciary member, declined to say whether he supported subpoenaing Mueller and added that he’s open to hearing arguments for Mueller to testify privately.
“If he can demonstrate some compelling reasons why he should be allowed to testify in private, I think we would have to consider that. And I would certainly like to hear — if that is the case — what sort of justification he’d give for wanting to testify in closed door hearings as opposed to open to the public,” Johnson told The Hill.
It’s not entirely clear what the stalemate between Democrats and Mueller centers on.
CNN reported that Mueller’s team has informed the committee that he does not want to be viewed as political and that those fears have held up a deal on him giving public testimony.
The Washington Post subsequently reported that some say the Justice Department has resisted making Mueller’s testimony public.
Barr has publicly stated he would not object to Mueller testifying before Congress. Trump has left the decision up to Barr, though he publicly objected to Mueller testifying on Twitter in early May.
Some have suggested it is more likely that Mueller will testify once he leaves the Justice Department. The timing of his exit is unclear.
Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller, declined to comment Tuesday.
Democrats are particularly anxious to hear from Mueller following the revelation of a letter he sent to Barr in late March criticizing the attorney general’s March 24 memo as failing to “fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of his investigation’s findings.
They’re also likely to grill Mueller on his obstruction inquiry and his decision not to make a judgment on whether Trump obstructed the investigation.
Some Democrats said they empathized with Mueller’s reported concerns, but said his testimony is trial to understanding episodes in which Trump may have sought to obstruct justice.
“He’s led a life of being by the book, rule of law and outside of partisan politics,” said Intelligence member Rep. Peter WelchPeter Francis WelchBernie Sanders is hypocritical on most significant campaign issues Booker takes early lead in 2020 endorsements Divisions emerge over House drug price bills MORE (D-Vt.). “So I understand his reservation; he doesn’t want to get caught up in a partisan fight. But on the other hand, we have got total obstruction on the part of the president.”
Republicans have accused Democrats of using their investigations to relitigate the Mueller probe, after the special counsel did not find evidence to charge the Trump campaign with conspiring with Russia to meddle in the election. Barr and former Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinKlobuchar: ‘Don’t think’ there are reasons to investigate Mueller probe’s origins Democrats are running out of stunts to pull from impeachment playbook Barr dismisses contempt vote as part of ‘political circus’ MORE also judged the evidence to be insufficient to accuse Trump of obstruction, despite Mueller not reaching a judgment one way or another.
Nevertheless, both Democrats and Republicans say they are eager to have Mueller testify, though GOP lawmakers did not jump at the idea of supporting a Democratic subpoena.
“I think it is important that Bob Mueller come and testify. I look forward to him coming,” Rep. Will HurdWilliam Ballard HurdHere are the eight Republicans who voted with Democrats on the Equality Act House approves anti-LGBT discrimination Equality Act Iraq War vet Ortiz Jones sets up rematch against Hurd in Texas MORE (R-Texas), a member of the Intelligence Committee, told The Hill.
If he testifies, some Republicans are expected to question Mueller on the origins of the Russia counterintelligence investigation, which they allege was started by agents biased against Trump.