Mueller hearings to highlight 'shocking evidence of criminal misconduct' by Trump, Democrats say

The former special counsel is set to appear before the Judiciary and Intelligence committees Wednesday.
Image: Special counsel Robert Mueller speaks at the Department of Justice
Then-special counsel Robert Mueller speaks at the Department of Justice on May 29, 2019, in Washington about the Russia investigation.Carolyn Kaster / AP

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By Alex Moe

WASHINGTON — Democrats on the House committees set to hear testimony next week from former special counsel Robert Mueller believe the hearings will help Americans understand "the gravity of the president's misconduct," staff members told reporters.

"It is not that that there will be a big, dramatic new revelation necessarily, we're not expecting that," a Democratic staffer on the Judiciary Committee said Thursday in a briefing ahead of the hearings. "What's important is there is truly shocking evidence of criminal misconduct by the president — not once but again and again and again — that would result in any other American being criminally charged in a multiple count indictment."

The committees are anticipating that "not everybody is reading the book (Mueller's report) but people will watch the movie," an aide said.

Mueller is expected to appear publicly Wednesday for three hours before the Judiciary Committee followed by roughly two hours before the House Intelligence Committee.

During his public statement in May after the report was complete, he said, "The report is my testimony. I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress."

Trump said Friday that he wouldn't be watching the hearings.

But both committees want to dig into Mueller's evidence, not necessarily the conclusions — or lack thereof — laid out in his report. Democratic staffers believe the former special counsel will "lean into" the factual findings that his team made.

"Our focus is really going to be to have the special counsel talk about what the evidence is that he found, less about what the legal conclusion was, because some of the actual evidence is very concerning and has not received the attention it's due," an Intelligence Committee staffer said.

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Mueller's report did not establish that the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its interference in the 2016 election.

On obstruction of justice, Mueller left it to Attorney General William Barr to choose whether to bring obstruction charges against the president; Barr declined to do so, he told Congress, based on the evidence presented and Department of Justice guidelines around prosecuting a sitting president.

The Mueller report makes it clear that Trump was not exonerated but it simply found insufficient criminal evidence to prosecute.

The Judiciary Committee hopes to show that if any other American had engaged in the same conduct as Trump did as detailed in the 400-plus page Mueller report, they would be charged for obstruction of justice.

Democratic lawmakers plan to highlight at least five instances they believe clearly show Trump committed a crime, the staffers said.

Democrats on the Judiciary Committee will highlight these actions by Trump as detailed in the report: Repeatedly directing his then-White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller; telling McGahn to deny that he had been ordered to fire Mueller; asking former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to deliver a message to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to limit the investigation to exclude the president; telling Lewandowski to let Sessions know that he's fired if he doesn't meet with Lewandowski; and potential witness tampering with Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen.

"Mr. McGahn is very much on our mind as you'll also see at the hearing," a staffer said.

Democrats on the Intelligence Committee, for their part, believe the public has a "slanted" view of the Mueller report and plan to highlight interactions involving the Trump campaign and Russia and WikiLeaks, including that the report indicates that Trump himself knew that Wikileaks possessed emails damaging to Hillary Clinton before they were released to the public and then touted Wikileaks during the campaign.

Republicans stress that the Mueller report found no evidence of collusion or obstruction and hope Democrats will move on after hearings next week.

"I hope the special counsel's testimony marks an end to the political gamesmanship that Judiciary Democrats have pursued at great cost to taxpayers," Judiciary ranking member Doug Collins, R-Ga., said in a statement. "May this testimony 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."

Mueller was originally set to testify last Wednesday but was delayed a week to accommodate additional time for more committee members to ask questions, a move praised by both Democrats and Republicans.

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are still working out how to best utilize the three hours so that all 41 members are able to ask questions.

"We have never prepared for one the way that we have prepared for this," one staffer said about the highly anticipated hearing, noting that Mueller likes to give short answers to questions so the committees are taking that into account as they prepare.

Neither Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler nor Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff have spoken to Mueller ahead of the hearings next week, staffers said.

There are still ongoing discussions with the House Intelligence Committee and the Department of Justice to allow some of Mueller's deputies to appear in a closed classified session so they can discuss some information that cannot be revealed publicly, such as portions of the redacted report or underlying evidence.

"This just seems to be another effort by the attorney general to limit the amount of information coming out of the special counsel's office in order to protect the president," an Democratic Intelligence staffer said.

A growing number of Democrats — nearly 90 in the House — are pushing for starting an impeachment inquiry into Trump, which the House Judiciary Committee would hold jurisdiction over, but staffers point out that hearings and fact-finding investigations are usually conducted before considering articles of impeachment.

"This is the first obviously substantive hearing where Mr. Mueller is going to be able to give a firsthand account of what witnesses told him. The next phase, obviously, is to get the actual witnesses," a Judiciary staffer said.