Rarely does a congressional hearing have a longer, more dramatic buildup than former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s appearances Wednesday before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees — and the American public via television cameras.
The main question: Will his testimony change anything?
The former FBI director started as special counsel in May 2017 and his nearly two-year investigation fueled 26 months of news, commentary, speculation and anticipation — and then the question of what Democrats would do about it.
A redacted version of Mueller’s report was made public in April, in which he declined to decide whether Trump should be prosecuted for obstruction of justice but did not rule out that the president committed a crime. And he briefly spoke publicly in May but did not provide any more detail than what is in the report.
On Wednesday, Mueller is again unlikely to disclose any new information, having said in a rare press statement that “the report is my testimony.”
But House Democrats have pointed to his testimony as an integral part of their probe into President Donald Trump and whether it evolves officially into an impeachment inquiry.
“Since most Americans, in their busy lives, haven’t had the opportunity to read that report — and it’s a pretty dry, prosecutorial work product — we want Bob Mueller to bring it to life, to talk about what’s in that report,” Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff of California said Sunday on CBS.
The action starts at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday in the Judiciary Committee focused on whether Trump obstructed justice, followed by additional testimony at noon before the Intelligence Committee about Russian interference.
Here are four things to watch for as Mueller testifies.
Each member of the Judiciary and Intelligence committees will get just five minutes to ask questions, so Democrats have strategized about how to make the most of that time.
“We just want to give him the opportunity to speak, so you will find little or no editorializing or speechifying by the members,” said Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Judiciary member. “I think we understand the seriousness of this.”
That could involve a lot of visual aids. “We have different kinds of learners out there, and we want people to learn both in an auditory way but also in a visual way about these dramatic events that Mueller will be discussing,” Raskin added.
And Democrats will look to find a big moment by highlighting some of the most condemning parts of the 448-page Mueller report. The episodes in the report painted the picture of a president bent on stopping investigations, preventing the release of damaging information and influencing potential witnesses.
“We hope it won’t end up being a dud, and we’re going to ask specific questions about, ‘Look at page 344, paragraph two, please read it. Does that describe obstruction of justice and did you — did you find that the president did that?’ for example,” Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler said on “Fox News Sunday.”
A growing number of members in the Democratic Caucus want to open an impeachment inquiry against Trump, and Mueller’s testimony could be an inflection point that allows more to back such an effort.
That number was 89 before the vote to dispense with an impeachment resolution last week from Texas Democrat Al Green, according to CQ Roll Call’s running count.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leadership have opposed impeachment proceedings, but have also pointed to Mueller’s testimony as one of the reasons why there hasn’t been an official decision whether to pursue it or not.
“Let us listen, let us see where the facts will take us, and let us have this be as dignified as our Constitution would require ,and then we will see what happens after that,” Pelosi told reporters last week. “We go where the facts will lead us.”
Nadler has not publicly backed an impeachment inquiry, but has said that his investigation would continue beyond Mueller presenting the facts from the report to the American people.
“I believe that when people hear what was in the Mueller report, then … we’ll be in a position to begin holding the president accountable and to make this less of a lawless administration,” Nadler said on Fox News.
President ‘not watching’
Trump has said he won’t watch Mueller testify. He also addressed the House vote last week on tabling Green’s impeachment articles.
“As far as I’m concerned, they already took their impeachment vote, and the impeachment vote was so lopsided. It was a massive victory,” Trump said on Friday. “At some point, they have to stop playing games because they’re just playing games. No, I won’t be watching Mueller.”
But that doesn’t mean Mueller won’t be on his mind. On Monday, Trump reiterated that he won’t be watching the testimony and tweeted out more criticism of Democrats having Mueller testify at all.
“Highly conflicted Robert Mueller should not be given another bite at the apple,” the president tweeted Monday. “In the end it will be bad for him and the phony Democrats in Congress who have done nothing but waste time on this ridiculous Witch Hunt. Result of the Mueller Report, NO COLLUSION, NO OBSTRUCTION!”
The reviews for Mueller’s performance on Twitter and television will be too numerous to count, but they could also shape how the public ultimately views the day’s dramatic events.
Outside observers have plenty of advice for Democrats about how to make the most of their five minutes each — including former FBI Director James B. Comey, whose firing prompted the special counsel investigation.
Comey, in a post on Lawfare, said that if he were on the dais, he “would ask short questions drawn from the report’s executive summaries.”
“Did you find substantial evidence that the president had committed obstruction of justice crimes?” Comey wrote. “For example, did you find that the president directed the White House counsel to call the acting attorney general and tell him the special counsel must be removed? (p. 4)”
Republicans for the Rule of Law, a group created to advocate keeping politics out of law enforcement, sent a list of 10 recommended questions to members of the Judiciary and Intelligence committees.
“In Appendix C, p. C-2, you described the president’s written answers to your questions as ‘inadequate,’” one question states. “In what ways do you believe the president’s answers were ‘inadequate?’ Did the president’s ‘inadequate’ responses delay or impede your investigation in any way? How?”
Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.