Democrats begin Mueller hearings with Watergate-era witness

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee began their hearings on special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTrump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts House impeachment hearings: The witch hunt continues Speier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump 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 TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Democrats worried by Jeremy Corbyn's UK rise amid anti-Semitism Warren, Buttigieg duke it out in sprint to 2020 MORE, to elucidate key details from the report, while Republicans tried to undercut his credibility.

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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 LeeOvernight Defense: Trump leaves door open to possible troop increase in Middle East | Putin offers immediate extension of key nuclear treaty Lawmakers to watch during Wednesday's impeachment hearing Lawmakers honor JFK on 56th anniversary of his death MORE (D-Texas) and Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira CohenOvernight Defense: Dems unveil impeachment articles against Trump | Saudi military flight students grounded after shooting | Defense bill takes heat from progressives | Pentagon watchdog to probe use of personnel on border Democrats unveil articles of impeachment against Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Dem dilemma on articles of impeachment 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.

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“Mr. McGahn will testify here before long,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerHouse passes bill that would give legal status to thousands of undocumented farmworkers Collins accusing Democrats of 'tearing down a world leader' GOP calls for minority hearing on impeachment, threatens procedural measures 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 JordanHorowitz to appear before second Senate panel next week Top Republican requests House hearing with DOJ inspector general Trump, first lady take part in National Christmas Tree lighting 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) GaetzParties clash as impeachment articles move closer to House vote Rand Paul: 'We need to re-examine' US-Saudi relationship after Florida shooting GOP calls for minority hearing on impeachment, threatens procedural measures 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.