Democrats are trying to keep the public’s focus on special counsel Robert Mueller‘s Russia report.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said Monday that his panel will hold a series of hearings on “the alleged crimes and other misconduct” in Mueller’s report, starting with a hearing June 10 on whether U.S. President Donald Trump committed obstruction of justice. The hearing will feature John Dean, who was White House counsel for President Richard Nixon, and former U.S. attorneys.
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The hearings will serve as a stand-in of sorts for Mueller himself, who made clear in public comments last week that he does not want to appear before Congress and would not elaborate on the contents of his report if he were forced to testify. Democrats have suggested they will compel Mueller’s appearance if necessary, but it’s unclear when — or if — that will happen. Negotiations over Mueller’s testimony are ongoing.
In the meantime, Democrats are searching for ways to keep the spotlight fixed on Mueller’s investigation — a challenge compounded by the White House’s refusal to comply with request for documents and testimony related to the report, which has stymied their investigations.
Mueller investigated whether Trump tried to obstruct his probe, but the report reached no conclusion on whether the president acted illegally. Nadler said in a statement that Mueller “has now left Congress to pick up where he left off.”
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Mueller said as much in his brief comments last week. The special counsel reiterated that, bound by Justice Department policy, charging a sitting president with a crime was “not an option.” But he also stressed he could not exonerate Trump. Instead, he said, “The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system” — a clear nod to the oversight powers of Congress.
More than 40 House Democrats have called on Nadler to open an impeachment inquiry, which would make it easier for them to compel document production and testimony. But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has so far rejected that option, preferring a slower, more methodical approach to investigating the president.
Republicans criticized the decision to hold hearings, with North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows calling the move “another openly desperate move to resuscitate a dead collusion conspiracy.”
Mueller’s report did not establish a criminal conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign to sway the outcome of the 2016 presidential election in Trump’s favour. But Democrats have said they will continue to investigate some of Trump’s Russian contacts.
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“Thank goodness the Democrats are calling ‘Watergate Star’ John Dean to testify,” Meadows tweeted sarcastically.
Dean ultimately co-operated with prosecutors and helped bring down Nixon’s presidency, though he served a prison term for obstruction of justice.