Pro-impeachment Democrats say Mueller testimony could be 'turning point'

Pro-impeachment Democrats say Mueller testimony could be 'turning point'
© Aaron Schwartz - Greg Nash

Democrats leading the charge to impeach President TrumpDonald John TrumpRepublicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial Bombshell Afghanistan report bolsters calls for end to 'forever wars' Lawmakers dismiss Chinese retaliatory threat to US tech MORE say 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 highly anticipated testimony before Congress could mark a turning point in the push to open an impeachment inquiry.

Mueller has maintained that he will strictly adhere to the information laid out in a redacted version of his 448-page report that examined Russia’s election interference and 10 episodes of possible obstruction of justice by Trump.

But even if he sticks to the details laid out in the report during his testimony next month, Democrats say his appearance will be a powerful opportunity to have Mueller publicly read the text or recall his findings for the public to see.

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Rep. Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalPelosi reaches deal with progressives to avert showdown over drug price bill Overnight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Progressives hope to avoid drug-pricing showdown with Pelosi | 'Medicare for All' backers get high-profile hearing | Dems take victory lap after eliminating drug protections in trade deal Progressives hopeful for deal with Pelosi to avert showdown on drug prices MORE (D-Wash.), a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus who has called for an impeachment inquiry, said she expects Mueller’s testimony to be a “turning point” for Democrats who have yet to make up their minds on impeachment.

“I think it is going to be very important because all of the cameras will be trained on Robert Mueller — even if he does nothing more than read what was in the report, which is very compelling,” Jayapal told The Hill.

Other Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee argue that Mueller’s appearance will underscore details of the report released in April, saying they hope there will be reverberations felt in both the lower chamber and among the American public more broadly.

“I think his testimony will be pivotal. I don’t care if it goes beyond the scope of the report because the report has so much damning information in it,” said freshman Rep. Madeleine DeanMadeleine DeanImpeachment inquiry enters critical new phase Democrat unveils bill requiring banks to identify suspicious activity related to guns Democratic lawmakers call on Judiciary Committee to advance 'revenge porn' law MORE (D-Pa.), a member of the Judiciary Committee who also has called for an impeachment inquiry.

“Certainly helps,” said Rep. 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.), another Judiciary member who has come out for impeachment, describing Mueller as the “best evidence.”

The chairs of the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees announced in a joint statement late Tuesday that Mueller will testify on July 17 after the panels subpoenaed him.

While the exact format of Mueller’s interview is still unclear, his appearance is expected to be a major spectacle, rivaling other major congressional testimonies in recent years.

For Democrats, it will be an opportunity to highlight compelling parts of his report, which was nearly two years in the making though not read cover-to-cover by most Americans.

The testimony is also likely to mark a crucial moment for Democrats in the House, who have scheduled the hearing for shortly before the chamber breaks for the monthlong August recess.

If the Mueller hearing fails to influence public opinion, momentum for ongoing congressional investigations could collapse.

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And even as more members join the calls for an impeachment inquiry, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump trade deal likely to sow division in Democratic presidential field Trump supporters at Pa. rally 'upset' after Democrats introduce impeachment articles California GOP candidate arrested on stalking charges MORE (D-Calif.) has warned against taking any steps toward impeachment before the public is more forcefully supportive of the idea. Doing so, she has said, would be a “gift” to Republicans.

“I respect everybody’s timing on when they think there should be an inquiry,” Pelosi said last week. “[But] I don’t think you should have an inquiry unless you’re ready to impeach.”

It is not clear how Mueller’s testimony might impact her stance on impeachment, and some Democrats are predicting it will not.

“This narrative in the press that there is some number of Democrats that cause her to move — she knows what she is doing. She listens to her caucus, but at the end of the day, this is a big Pelosi legacy decision and she is going to draw on her decades of experience,” said Rep. Jim HimesJames (Jim) Andres HimesPelosi faces tough choices on impeachment managers This week: Impeachment inquiry moves to Judiciary Committee Juan Williams: Trump has nothing left but smears MORE (D-Conn.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee who has recently come out in favor of an impeachment inquiry.

Himes, who said Mueller’s testimony could “move sentiment,” cautioned that it would be a mistake to both overblow expectations with the hearing or to get caught in the trap of trying to get Mueller to answer questions outside his report.

“He’s going to get asked 1,000 times whether if he had been a regular prosecutor whether he would have made a prosecution decision. He is not going to answer that question,” Himes said.

While Mueller said he did not find sufficient evidence to conclude there was a conspiracy between members of the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential race, the special counsel did not offer a determination either way as to whether the president obstructed justice.

“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said last month during his only public remarks on the probe since being tapped as special counsel in 2017.

Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrHillicon Valley: Apple, Facebook defend encryption during Senate grilling | Tech legal shield makes it into trade deal | Impeachment controversy over phone records heats up | TikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings Giuliani: Trump asked me to brief Justice Department, GOP lawmakers on Ukraine trip Apple, Facebook defend encryption during Senate grilling MORE and other Justice Department officials ultimately decided that the evidence in the report was not sufficient to charge the president with a crime, a determination that Trump and his GOP allies have celebrated as total exoneration.

Trump has repeatedly stated that there was no “collusion, no obstruction,” while attacking any ongoing investigations examining his conduct as “disgraceful.”

“At what point does it end? It’s a disgrace,” the president told reporters Wednesday.

Democrats, however, have seized on Mueller’s statement, stating that it is their responsibility — not Barr’s — to decide whether the president obstructed justice.

“[Barr] really misled the public about what was in there so as a result there was a lot of confusion,” Jayapal said.

Mueller in his rare public appearance last month spoke for approximately eight minutes about the findings in his report, remarks that came amid growing Democratic calls for him to testify before Congress.

While Mueller expressed his hope that his appearance in May would be the “only time” he would speak about the probe — saying any testimony from his office “would not go beyond our report” — his remarks fueled interest among Democrats for him to formally testify.

Some Democrats said that while Mueller’s appearance on Capitol Hill could offer a different view of the probe than the one Barr presented when first describing the findings of the investigation to Congress, they emphasized the need to wait on the public response.

“I think it’s going to be really important to gauge how the public will respond,” said Rep. Karen BassKaren Ruth BassThe US treats asylum seekers so poorly Lawmakers visit African migrants at US-Mexico border Preventative measures are needed in child welfare policy, data shows MORE (D-Calif.), who leads the Congressional Black Caucus.

“When people hear Mueller’s words, we’ll see if that makes a difference,” she said.

--This report was updated on June 27 at 8:06 a.m.