Battle lines drawn for Mueller testimony

The sudden announcement that special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSchiff: Trump acquittal in Senate trial would not signal a 'failure' Jeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay MORE will testify publicly before Congress is setting the stage for an explosive mid-July on Capitol Hill.

Lawmakers are eager to grill Mueller for hours during back-to-back House hearings on July 17 about the findings of his 22-month investigation into Russia’s election interference in 2016 and potential obstruction by President TrumpDonald John TrumpSanders apologizes to Biden for supporter's op-ed Jayapal: 'We will end up with another Trump' if the US doesn't elect progressive Democrats: McConnell impeachment trial rules a 'cover up,' 'national disgrace' MORE.

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Democrats want to amplify the contents of Mueller’s 448-page report, which paints a damning picture of Trump’s efforts to gain control of and thwart the probe into his campaign’s contacts with Russia.

Both parties are already drawing their battle lines and laying the groundwork for the contentious hearings.

Democrats are furious at what they say was an effort by Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrParnas attorney asks William Barr to recuse himself from investigation Dems plan marathon prep for Senate trial, wary of Trump trying to 'game' the process Pentagon to place new restrictions, monitoring on foreign military students MORE to misrepresent Mueller’s findings, and they see the hearing as an opportunity to set the record straight and highlight details from a report that most voters have not read.

“I think that given the nature of what he has to say, given the nature of what’s in the report, he will be a very compelling witness,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerMcConnell locks in schedule for start of impeachment trial Pelosi: Trump's impeachment 'cannot be erased' House to vote Wednesday on sending articles of impeachment to Senate MORE (D-N.Y.) told reporters Wednesday.

Republicans, who have generally not been opposed to Mueller testifying, assert that the Russia report vindicates the president of allegations of “collusion” with Moscow. And they argue that Democrats are attempting to relitigate Mueller’s investigation in order to score political points against the president heading into 2020.

Mueller's investigation did not find sufficient evidence to charge members or associates of the Trump campaign with conspiring with the Kremlin to meddle in the election. 

“The same committee that is trying to drag Mueller in is the committee that has jurisdiction over the border, and we have a crisis at the border and they’re focused on impeaching the president,” said House Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseTrump welcomes LSU to the White House: 'Go Tigers' Republicans criticize Pelosi for gifting pens used to sign impeachment articles The Hill's Morning Report - Impeachment trial a week away; debate night MORE (R-La.), referring to the Judiciary panel. “That’s a dereliction of their duty.”

Nadler and Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffWhite House appoints GOP House members to advise Trump's impeachment team Trump knocks authors of 'A Very Stable Genius': 'Two stone cold losers from Amazon WP' Democrats push back on White House impeachment claims, saying Trump believes he is above the law MORE (D-Calif.) announced late Tuesday that Mueller had agreed to testify before their committees after they issued subpoenas to compel his appearance.

The two panels had been negotiating unsuccessfully for his voluntary appearance for several weeks; Mueller laid out his resistance to public testimony during a brief 10-minute statement from the Justice Department last month.

Mueller’s testimony could have wide-reaching implications for the White House. It comes at a time when an increasing number of Democrats are supportive of opening an impeachment inquiry into Trump, and several impeachment backers said Wednesday they hope his public remarks next month will galvanize public support for such an inquiry.

Generally, Trump has expressed ambivalence to Mueller’s testimony but indicated in a tweet last month he was opposed to it.

Trump engaged in a familiar attack on Mueller’s investigation during an interview with Fox News on Wednesday, calling it a “phony witch hunt” and claiming the Russia report showed there was “no obstruction” and “no collusion.”

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Mueller did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice in the probe, saying he was precluded from doing so by a Justice Department opinion that says a sitting president cannot be indicted. Barr ultimately determined the evidence in Mueller’s report to be insufficient to accuse Trump of criminal wrongdoing.

While there has been speculation the White House could attempt to block Mueller from testifying, Trump’s personal attorney Jay SekulowJay Alan SekulowWhite House appoints GOP House members to advise Trump's impeachment team Democrats push back on White House impeachment claims, saying Trump believes he is above the law Trump lawyers urge senators to swiftly acquit Trump in impeachment trial MORE told CNN on Wednesday that there “are no legal moves being made here.”

Mueller’s appearance on Capitol Hill will be met with wall-to-wall media coverage, and cable networks are likely to carry the testimony live as Democrats seek to shine a spotlight on Trump’s actions that Mueller examined as potentially obstructive.

But Mueller’s pledge not to speak beyond what is contained in his report could ultimately leave Democrats unsatisfied when they question him at length.

One question Democrats are certain to ask: Would you have charged Trump with obstruction were he not the president?

It’s an inquiry that those who know Mueller say he is unlikely to answer.

“The reality is, people may be frustrated with him that he is so circumspect,” said Glenn Kirschner, a legal analyst and former federal prosecutor who worked with Mueller.

As special counsel, Mueller remained painstakingly quiet throughout the duration of his investigation. But he is now slated to testify in back-to-back hearings before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees.

That appearance will be followed by a closed-door interview with Mueller’s staff, where the discussion will likely delve into sensitive information from Mueller’s probe.

Judiciary members are likely to focus more on the obstruction inquiry, while Intelligence lawmakers say they are most interested in learning about the national security implications of the dozens of contacts between the Trump campaign and Kremlin-linked figures.

“One of the biggest questions is, from a counterintelligence standpoint: What were the relationships? What were the ties that should cause us to be concerned about certain Trump administration officials?” said Rep. Raja KrishnamoorthiSubramanian (Raja) Raja KrishnamoorthiTrump suggests LBJ is in hell: 'He's probably looking down — or looking up' Overnight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Turf war derails push on surprise medical bills | Bill would tax e-cigarettes to pay for anti-vaping campaign | .5M ad blitz backs vulnerable Dems on drug prices Lawmakers introduce bill taxing e-cigarettes to pay for anti-vaping campaigns MORE (D-Ill.). “And quite frankly, I think the biggest question — or one of them — is going to be how do you prevent this from happening again?”

Democrats say that it won’t necessarily strike a blow if Mueller does not go beyond what is contained in his report, arguing that his public testimony will do plenty to inform the public of its contents.

“So, I’m 99 percent certain that Mueller is not going to utter a word that is different from the report,” Rep. Jim HimesJames (Jim) Andres HimesTwitter users invoke Merrick Garland after McConnell, Graham comments on impeachment trial Pelosi faces tough choices on impeachment managers This week: Impeachment inquiry moves to Judiciary Committee MORE (D-Conn.), a member of the Intelligence panel, said Tuesday. “But since I think 99 out of 100 Americans haven’t read the report, I think there’s value in sort of him talking about what he wrote.”

Mueller is certain to avoid questions that could disclose grand jury material — which is subject to federal secrecy rules — or compromise ongoing investigations, a dozen of which the special counsel handed off to prosecutors in other districts. The Russia report has been redacted to conceal these details, as well as classified information and details on uncharged third parties.

Some lawmakers were more frank in insisting that Mueller must answer their questions, noting he has a legal obligation to appear under the subpoena.

“I respect him more than anyone can imagine, but it’s really not his call to decide,” said Rep. Mike QuigleyMichael (Mike) Bruce QuigleyTransgender detainees need protection — a letter from lawmakers doesn't provide it Lawmakers to call on ICE to release all transgender detainees House votes to impeach Trump MORE (D-Ill.), a member of the Intelligence Committee.

“He’s under subpoena, he has to answer the questions. If we’ve learned anything about the special counsel, it’s he bends over backwards to follow the rules,” Quigley said.

Juliegrace Brufke contributed.

Updated on Thursday at 11:39 a.m.