Democrats begin Mueller hearings with Watergate-era witness

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee began their hearings on special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerKamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump Schiff says Intel panel will hold 'series' of hearings on Mueller report MORE’s report Monday with a blast from the past: John Dean, the former White House counsel under President Nixon who testified before Congress in the Watergate era.

Democrats sought to use the testimony of Dean, a pivotal witness during the Watergate hearings and known critic of President TrumpDonald John TrumpConway defends herself against Hatch Act allegations amid threat of subpoena How to defuse Gulf tensions and avoid war with Iran Trump says 'stubborn child' Fed 'blew it' by not cutting rates MORE, to elucidate key details from the report, while Republicans tried to undercut his credibility.

ADVERTISEMENT

In a steamy hearing room, Democrats read directly from Mueller’s 448-page document and used props to highlight the episodes Mueller examined as potentially obstructive conduct.

Reps. Sheila Jackson LeeSheila Jackson LeeHicks repeatedly blocked by White House from answering Judiciary questions Democrats bristle as Hicks appears for daylong Capitol Hill testimony On Juneteenth, demanding that reparations be more than lip service MORE (D-Texas) and Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira CohenDemocrats seek to ban federal spending at Trump businesses Democrats bristle as Hicks appears for daylong Capitol Hill testimony House hearing marks historic moment for slavery reparations debate MORE (D-Tenn.) cited page numbers as they regurgitated details about Trump’s conduct toward former White House counsel Don McGahn and the president’s efforts to have Mueller removed, which the special counsel examined in his inquiry into potential obstruction of justice.

In many cases, Dean responded by drawing parallels between Trump’s conduct and the cover-up scandal that engulfed the Nixon administration.

“When I read the Mueller report in detail, my first reaction was that McGahn took the high road, acting more like Elliot Richardson and Bill Ruckelshaus, and I thought that was admirable,” Dean said, comparing McGahn to the Nixon-era attorney general and deputy attorney general, respectively, who resigned amid the infamous “Saturday Night Massacre.”

At one point, Dean said, "I would say the Trump administration is in fast competition with what happened in the Nixon administration."

The hearing, which lasted more than four hours and also featured former prosecutors who have described Trump’s conduct as obstruction and one conservative legal expert, represented a deliberate effort by Democrats to move forward with their own investigations in the absence of testimony from Mueller himself and other key witnesses like McGahn.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Mr. McGahn will testify here before long,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerNadler apologized after repeatedly calling Hope Hicks 'Ms. Lewandowski' at hearing Hope Hicks: Trump campaign felt 'relief' after WikiLeaks released damaging info about Hillary Clinton House hearing marks historic moment for slavery reparations debate MORE (D-N.Y.) said in opening remarks.

“Between now and then, we still have an obligation to investigate the deeply troubling evidence outlined by the special counsel — not merely the portions that implicate Russian nationals, as some have suggested, but the entire report, including the volume that lays out some of the president’s troubling behavior,” Nadler said.

The hearing featured some fiery moments from Republicans, who accused Democrats of engaging in political theater, with some noting that Dean’s views could be easily obtained by watching his regular appearances on cable news.

They noted he is a paid contributor for CNN. 

In one memorable exchange, Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanOversight Republicans: 'Hundreds' of migrants in caravans have criminal histories Cummings requests interview with Census official over new allegations on citizenship question House Oversight Republicans release parts of Kobach, Trump officials' testimony on census citizenship question MORE (R-Ohio) read aloud Dean’s tweets and asked him why at one point he asserted Trump was “incapable of accomplishing anything.” The exchange prompted Nadler to admonish Jordan for casting “aspersions” on Dean’s truthfulness as a witness.

Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzGOP lawmaker says some Trump officials contradicting Pompeo on Iran and al Qaeda GOP lawmaker on Iran: Congress should vote on 'what's worthy of spilling American blood and what isn't' Lawmakers spar at testy Mueller hearing MORE (R-Fla.) also sought to land some punches by asking how many presidents Dean has compared to Nixon, while claiming he is “exploiting these accusations for his own economic benefit.” 

Dean, who brushed off the criticisms, repeatedly maintained he was “not here as a fact witness” after Republicans suggested he lacked knowledge about material facts in Mueller’s report.

Democrats were likely hoping the Monday hearing would be a good show for cable, but the three news networks shifted their attention to New York after news of a helicopter crash in Manhattan.

It did catch the attention of the president, however. Trump called Dean a “loser” in remarks to reporters at the White House on Monday, denying any similarities between himself and Nixon.

“John Dean’s been a loser for many years,” Trump told reporters.

“You can’t impeach somebody when there’s never been a thing done wrong,” Trump said. “When you look at past impeachments. ... there’s a big difference, I don’t leave.”

Updated at 2:11 p.m. on Tuesday.