Democrats ramp up campaign to get Mueller to testify

House Democrats are ramping up their campaign to get Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE to testify despite the special counsel’s stated aim to avoid such an appearance on Capitol Hill.

Democrats negotiating for Mueller to come before several committees hope to avoid the antagonistic step of issuing a subpoena to compel his testimony, but they’re not ruling it out.

Plenty of unanswered questions remain about Mueller’s sweeping investigation, and Democrats want to hear from the special counsel.

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“I understand his reluctance,” Rep. Cedric RichmondCedric Levon RichmondStates plead for cybersecurity funds as hacking threat surges Democrats lobby Biden on VP choice Bottom line MORE (D-La.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, said Thursday by phone. “But I think the stakes are so high that he has an obligation to [testify].”

Richmond said he wants Mueller to parse the details of the Justice Department guidelines barring the agency from indicting a sitting president. Mueller cited those rules Wednesday in asserting that bringing charges against President TrumpDonald John TrumpMulvaney: 'We've overreacted a little bit' to coronavirus Former CBS News president: Most major cable news outlets 'unrelentingly liberal' in 'fear and loathing' of Trump An old man like me should be made more vulnerable to death by COVID-19 MORE was “not an option.”

“There are a million questions you can ask, and that's why you have testimony,” said Richmond, who also wants to know if others in Trump’s inner circle committed indictable offenses. “I don't care if it's private — I'm not saying it has to be public testimony — but there are questions I think people need an answer to.”

A Mueller hearing would be a circus, and it’s one the former FBI chief wants to avoid.

On Wednesday, he said he hopes his report will serve in place of his testimony, and he warned he would not expand upon it in public.

“I hope and expect this to be the only time that I will speak to you about this matter," Mueller said during his quick remarks at the Justice Department.

That seems unlikely to slide with Democrats, who think they should get a chance to speak to Mueller after the high-profile two-year investigation.

“I have the greatest respect for the special counsel, but he doesn't get to decide whether or not he testifies before the American people, and he doesn't get to decide which questions he can talk about,”  Rep. Mike QuigleyMichael (Mike) Bruce QuigleyDemocrats call for probe into ouster of State Dept. watchdog Bipartisan lawmakers call for global 'wet markets' ban amid coronavirus crisis EPA defends suspension of pollution monitoring in letter to Congress MORE (D-Ill.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN on Thursday.

“We will bring Mueller up,” Rep. Donna ShalalaDonna Edna ShalalaTreasury has not disbursed B in airline support: oversight panel We can't afford to let local news die The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Hurd says China engaged in global disinformation campaign; US unemployment highest since Great Depression MORE (D-Fla.) said Wednesday during a town hall with constituents in her district. “He says he doesn't want to testify — doesn't make any difference. We're going to bring him up, because he's got to explain his report.”

Democratic leaders in the House also say they want to hear from Mueller.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBottom line This week: Surveillance fight sets early test for House's proxy voting Women suffering steeper job losses in COVID-19 economy MORE (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that it would be “useful” to have him testify, though she is deferring questions about the negotiations — and subpoenas — to the Judiciary Committee.

Citing his years as a defense attorney in Chicago, Quigley said it was common protocol for lawyers to clarify their legal briefs before judges. “I couldn't just write a report or a brief, I had to come before them and answer questions. There is nuance, there is argument, there are a lot of other questions,” he said.

Democrats also see some use in the spectacle of a Mueller hearing, which would generate headlines and heavy cable news coverage.

More people would see Mueller, they reason, than will read his 448-page report.

“His report lists 10 [cases of] obstruction of justice,” said Shalala, “and the American people need to hear him say it, because no one's going to read 400 pages.”

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerThe House impeachment inquiry loses another round — and yes, that's still going on Democrats call on DHS to allow free calls at ICE detention centers Warren announces slate of endorsements including Wendy Davis and Cornyn challenger Hegar MORE (D-N.Y.)  has remained vague on his next moves. Nadler for weeks has threatened to subpoena Mueller if he declines to appear voluntarily. But during a press conference on Wednesday, he sidestepped a question on whether he would do so, responding that Mueller “told us a lot of what we need to hear today.”

Nadler is leading the ongoing negotiations with Mueller’s team to bring the special counsel before the Judiciary Committee, as he’s done since Mueller’s report was released in March. But some Democrats are growing impatient with a process that’s so far borne no fruit.

“No one knows what’s taking so long, but if he can’t close the deal I imagine leadership will step in and try to make it happen,” said a Democratic source, who spoke anonymously to discuss a sensitive matter. “I feel like Nadler needs to watch the Alec Baldwin monologue from ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’ for inspiration on how to close."

A Judiciary spokesman would not comment further on the committee’s plans. 

The House Intelligence Committee, led by Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffGrenell says intelligence community working to declassify Flynn-Kislyak transcripts Democrats call for probe into ouster of State Dept. watchdog GOP lawmakers say they don't want to put Steve King back on committees MORE (D-Calif.), has separately requested Mueller's testimony, at least parts of which would likely occur behind closed doors. Schiff last week said he has “every expectation” that Mueller would appear, and that Democrats would “insist” that much of his testimony be public. Schiff has said nothing publicly about the possibility of subpoenaing the special counsel, but said in a Wednesday statement that lawmakers “look forward” to his testimony before Congress.

Democrats were broadly celebrating Mueller’s public comments, which they saw as suggesting that only Justice Department guidelines prevented a charge from being brought against Trump. Mueller also said that the “Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing,” a clear reference to impeachment.

Pelosi has sought to avoid an impeachment push for fear it could hurt Democrats in next year’s elections, and her job may become tougher after Mueller’s remarks.

The Speaker has put an emphasis on continued investigations of the White House, a process that could include hearing from Mueller.

Despite his clear reluctance to do so, some Democrats are confident that Mueller will ultimately appear before Congress — and that they won’t need a subpoena.  

“Just knowing who he is and what he believes in, I just don't think it would be necessary if we really want him,” said Richmond.

Morgan Chalfant, Cristina Marcos and Scott Wong contributed reporting.