Lawmakers spar at testy Mueller hearing

A House Judiciary Committee hearing turned heated on Thursday as Republicans accused Democrats of wasting time examining special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTop Republican considered Mueller subpoena to box in Democrats Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE’s report on Russian election interference, with one GOP lawmaker labeling the hearing a “farce.”

Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerTrump knocks Mueller after deal struck for him to testify House Democrats request briefing on Epstein, Acosta Nadler apologized after repeatedly calling Hope Hicks 'Ms. Lewandowski' at hearing MORE (D-N.Y.) called the hearing to get expert testimony on the first volume of Mueller’s report, which describes Russia’s “sweeping and systematic” efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and catalogues well over 100 contacts between Moscow and members or associates of the Trump campaign.

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Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzMatt Gaetz hints prosecutor won't press charges against threatening caller for political reasons Hillicon Valley: Twitter says Trump 'go back' tweet didn't violate rules | Unions back protests targeting Amazon 'Prime Day' | Mnuchin voices 'serious concerns' about Facebook crypto project | Congress mobilizes on cyber threats to electric grid House and Senate head for showdown on must-pass defense bill MORE (R-Fla.) gave a sharp rebuke of the hearing during his questioning, suggesting Nadler was wasting time by inviting witnesses without any direct knowledge of the investigation.

Gaetz asked Nadler whether he is going to subpoena Mueller, who has telegraphed a reluctance to testify publicly before Congress despite Democrats’ efforts to bring him in.

“Chairman, are you going to subpoena Robert Mueller?” Gaetz asked.

“I’m not going to answer that at this time,” Nadler replied.

“Do any of the witnesses here have personal knowledge of the truth or falsity of a single material fact in the report?” Gaetz asked the panel of experts. “No witnesses have raised their hands.”

Nadler vehemently pushed back, noting that the White House has blocked material witnesses such as former White House counsel Don McGahn from testifying before the committee, an argument echoed by other Democrats.

On Wednesday, the committee held a closed-door interview with President TrumpDonald John TrumpCould Donald Trump and Boris Johnson be this generation's Reagan-Thatcher? Merkel backs Democratic congresswomen over Trump How China's currency manipulation cheats America on trade MORE’s former longtime aide Hope HicksHope Charlotte HicksJudiciary chair demands Hope Hicks clarify closed-door testimony Court filings show Trump, Cohen contacts amid hush money payments Press: Acosta, latest to walk the plank MORE, who lawmakers said refused to answer questions about her work in the Trump administration on instructions from the White House that she is immune from compelled congressional testimony.

“The person over whom the White House can assert no privilege is Robert Mueller,” Gaetz countered.

Gaetz ridiculed the hearing and said it should have been called “hot takes from the Mueller report.” He went on to instead train his questions on border security, leading to criticism from Democrats who said he was departing from the subject matter of the hearing.

Rep. Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchBipartisan group of lawmakers invites colleagues to tour DC's Holocaust museum GOP senator presses Instagram, Facebook over alleged bias in content recommendations Overnight Defense: Senate rejects effort to restrict Trump on Iran | Democrats at debate vow to shore up NATO | Senate confirms chief of Space Command MORE (D-Fla.) expressed frustration during his questions, accusing the White House of preventing the committee from learning from material witnesses who spoke to the special counsel, like Hicks.

“This administration has tried to assert this blanket immunity that doesn’t exist,” Deutsch said.

“It is obstruction, plain and simple. Yesterday Ms. Hicks could not even answer whether she told the truth to the Mueller team because the president’s lawyers objected to the question,” he continued.

The committee is expected to issue a transcript of Hicks’s closed-door interview sometime later this week, which will offer more details on the scope of the questions and those she did and did not answer.

Lawmakers could ultimately go to court to civilly enforce the subpoenas they have issued for testimony from witnesses. Nadler has said he intends to do so with respect to the subpoena for testimony from McGahn.

Nadler could also challenge the White House’s immunity argument in court.

The House Judiciary and Intelligence committees have pressed forward with hearings on Mueller’s report despite not having yet secured a deal for testimony from Mueller himself.

Thursday’s hearing was the Judiciary Committee’s second focused on the findings of the special counsel’s investigation.

It laid bare the continuing political divide over Mueller’s report. Democrats say its findings — particularly with respect to obstruction of justice — are troubling and warrant further investigation. Republicans, meanwhile, say Trump was vindicated after Mueller did not ultimately charge members of the his campaign with conspiring with Russia, declaring the case closed.

The back-and-forth arguments on Thursday overshadowed some of the testimony from the witnesses, who emphasized the grave threat of foreign interference to future U.S. elections and said the government has not done enough to prevent it.

Nadler has said he will subpoena Mueller to deliver public testimony if he refuses to testify voluntarily, but has not offered any specific timeline.

Meanwhile, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffCourt filings show Trump, Cohen contacts amid hush money payments House passes annual intelligence bill Judge finds Stone violated gag order, blocks him from using social media MORE (D-Calif.) said Wednesday that Mueller will have to testify — either voluntarily or under subpoena — describing his 10-minute statement last month, the only public comments he’s made since his report’s release, as insufficient to answer lawmakers’ questions.

“He is going to have to testify,” Schiff said at the National Press Club. “I also think time and patience are running out on that front.”