Key House panel faces pivotal week on Trump

The House Judiciary Committee, which would consider articles of impeachment against President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Warren goes local in race to build 2020 movement 2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes MORE if that process moves forward, is set for a pivotal week.

Rep. Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerHouse to vote on bill to ensure citizenship for children of overseas service members As impeachment goes public, forget 'conventional wisdom' What this 'impeachment' is really about — and it's not the Constitution MORE (D-N.Y.), the panel’s chairman, has jostled for weeks with the administration to secure more documents and witness testimony — including that of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSpeier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump Gowdy: I '100 percent' still believe public congressional hearings are 'a circus' Comey: Mueller 'didn't succeed in his mission because there was inadequate transparency' MORE — to guide probes into Russian election interference and allegations that Trump obstructed Mueller’s investigation.

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But the efforts have come up largely empty in the face of the administration’s near-blanket refusal to honor those requests, leading to confrontations about holding administration officials for contempt and raising the pressure on Democratic leaders to consider impeachment.

The dynamics leave Nadler squeezed between Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban Speaker Pelosi, it's time to throw American innovators a lifeline Why Americans must tune in to the Trump impeachment hearings MORE (D-Calif.) and other top leaders, who want to continue the investigations without invoking the Article I powers of impeachment, and a restive caucus that’s moving slowly but steadily toward the belief that they have no other choice.

“Obviously people are frustrated that we haven’t moved faster. And, frankly, I'm frustrated because we have been held up by the unprecedented action by the White House to deny our witnesses,” Nadler said Friday in a radio interview on WNYC. “And we can only go so far, until we win in court, to get those witnesses.”

Democrats’ court battles with the Trump administration, Nadler added, should wrap up “hopefully in September, October.”

Yet many Democrats don’t want to wait that long. Fifty lawmakers are already endorsing the immediate launch of an impeachment inquiry — a campaign Pelosi has sought to defuse — and even those supporting party leaders in their investigative approach are reaching the end of their ropes. 

Complicating Nadler’s dilemma, Mueller last week sought to dissuade Democrats from pursuing his appearance before Congress. “The report is my testimony,” Mueller said, vowing not to discuss anything outside the confines of the document.

“I hope and expect this to be the only time that I will speak about this matter,” he said Wednesday during brief remarks at the Department of Justice, marking his first public statement since being tapped as special counsel two years ago.

The remarks have done nothing to assuage impatient Democrats hungry for the opportunity to have Mueller on the witness stand, where they intend to press him on countless questions still lingering around his report, most notably his decision not to bring obstruction of justice charges against the president.

If Mueller is confident the public can glean his findings by reading the 448-page report, Democrats think the better way to broadcast his message is via televised hearings with the author himself.

“He can help parameterize and bring the report to life for the American people,” Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaDemocratic lawmaker: It 'defies logic' for Trump to push Ukraine to investigate Biden Overnight Health Care: CDC links vitamin E oil to vaping illnesses | White House calls Pelosi drug price plan 'unworkable' | Dem offers bill for state-based 'Medicare for All' Justice Democrats official denies that progressives struggle with electability MORE (D-Calif.), a liberal who's backing Pelosi's cautious approach, said by phone. “Many people will watch those hearings. ... Even if it's Bob Mueller sitting there reading the report [and taking questions] — that's fine.”

Nadler has been negotiating with Mueller’s team to get the special counsel to come to Capitol Hill voluntarily. Nadler had previous threatened to subpoena the special counsel to secure that testimony, but has not reiterated that message since Mueller spoke at the Justice Department last week. And many rank-and-file Democrats think Mueller — a former FBI director who has cultivated a by-the-book, law-and-order reputation during his many years in Washington — will ultimately concede to the invitation.

“I think he'll volunteer; I think he cares too much about the process,” Khanna said. “I don't see him defying the congressional request.”

Nadler said Mueller will testify one way or another.

“We will have Mr. Mueller’s testimony. I think it's very important that he testify before the American people, even if he doesn't say anything beyond what he said there,” Nadler said. “The attorney general and the president and others are lying all the time about what was in the report and it's very important that he, to the TV audience and to the American people ... answer questions about it, even if there is no new information. ...

“Most people are not going to read the 448-page report.”

The debate over next steps is sure to bubble up when Congress returns to Washington Monday after their weeklong Memorial Day break. They won’t have much time for debate, however, as the House is expected to cut the week short, taking off Thursday and Friday, to observe the 75th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy during World War II.

Before the Memorial Day recess, Nadler had privately made the case to Pelosi that it was time for Democrats to launch impeachment proceedings against Trump — an entreaty that the Speaker firmly rejected. Speaking to WNYC, Nadler argued that impeachment by the House may still be necessary even though millions of voters will be rendering their verdict on Trump in November 2020.

“Well, impeachment is ... there might still be a point to it. And that point is to say to future presidents, you cannot do this, to vindicate the Constitution, to say there are certain things that cannot be done,” Nadler said. “God willing, we have to defeat Trump. ... His reelection would be a national catastrophe.

Whatever Nadler decides will be his next step, he’ll have to take it this week, said a Democratic source on Capitol Hill. “He needs to close the deal while we have momentum from Mueller’s statement last week.”

Updated at 7:19 a.m.