Top Republican considered Mueller subpoena to box in Democrats

The top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee considered a plan earlier this month that would have put Democrats on the record in their push to get 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 to testify before Congress.

During a closed-door GOP meeting, Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen Collins3,100 to be released from prison under criminal justice reform law House unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Trump praises GOP unity in opposing resolution condemning tweets MORE (R-Ga.) floated the idea of introducing a resolution to subpoena Mueller during Democrats’ first high-profile hearing on the Russia report that featured Watergate star John Dean, multiple sources told The Hill.

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But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyThe Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants History in the House: Congress weathers unprecedented week EU official in Canada says he feels 'at home' there because no one was shouting 'send him back' MORE (R-Calif.) advised against proceeding with the approach, effectively stunting the proposed effort from moving forward, according to three GOP sources familiar with the discussions.

Since then, the House chairmen for the Intelligence and Judiciary committees have announced that Mueller will testify on Capitol Hill. He is slated to give public testimony before both panels on July 17.

Still, a subpoena resolution from a Republican several weeks ago would have undoubtedly caught Judiciary Democrats off-guard, putting them in a tight spot where they would be on record either for or against subpoenaing Mueller, a move Democrats at the time had yet to make amid some divisions.

But the GOP sources say McCarthy worried such a move would backfire.

“I think McCarthy thought it was the wrong move and would play against the effort at large,” according to a GOP source familiar with the matter, who said it “took a member-level meeting to bat down a plainly bad idea.”

Matt Sparks, McCarthy’s communications director, said in a statement: “The interaction described by anonymous and uninformed sources is wholly inaccurate.” Sparks did not respond to a request for comment to clarify whether a resolution was discussed.

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Collins and other top Republicans at the time had a week to decide how to respond to Democrats from when House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerWhy are we permitting federal child abuse at our border? Trump knocks Mueller after deal struck for him to testify House Democrats request briefing on Epstein, Acosta MORE (D-N.Y.) announced the Mueller report hearings to when the first hearing took place.

While planning discussions between members and House leaders often occur ahead of major hearings, the private talks about a possible Mueller subpoena resolution offer a glimpse into the options Republicans considered to counter Democrats, who are leading sprawling investigations into Trump and his administration.

Collins, who has repeatedly said he wants Mueller to testify, downplayed the subpoena resolution plan, telling The Hill “there’s been many considerations.”

A spokesperson for Collins declined to comment on the record about the potential resolution.

Asked last week if he shot down the resolution idea, McCarthy replied: “I don’t know anything about that.”

Three GOP sources said offering a Mueller resolution would have put Republicans on the same side as Democrats — an alignment that would be a bad GOP strategy, particularly because there are a growing number of Democrats voicing support for an impeachment inquiry.

“Secretly, a lot of us want to interview Bob Mueller,” a separate GOP source told The Hill before Tuesday night's announcement. “I think it would be good, but we don’t want to be agreeing with the Democrats on impeachment-related things because then it looks like Republicans and Democrats agree.”

A third Republican source said pulling in Mueller to testify before Congress runs counter to the messaging coming out of the White House: “No collusion, no obstruction. Case closed.” Doing so, the source said, would signal that Republicans don’t have all the information they need.

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 as to whether the president obstructed justice.

Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham Barr10 questions for Robert Mueller Democratic lawmaker calls asylum, refugee programs 'crown jewel' of immigration system Trump says he won't watch Mueller testimony MORE and other Justice Department officials ultimately decided that the evidence in the report was not sufficient to charge the president with a crime.

Democrats, however, say that clearing Trump on obstruction was not Barr’s call to make and that it is their responsibility to conduct oversight and further examine the 10 episodes of possible obstruction of justice Mueller investigated.

Republicans have said they want to press Mueller on the origins of the Russia probe and allegations of impropriety.

As Democrats’ investigations get further underway and more of their members voice support for an impeachment inquiry, Republicans say their best strategy is to oppose Democrats’ oversight efforts.

As one GOP source put it: “From a strategy standpoint, I can’t think of a move [Democrats] would make that we wouldn’t oppose except to move on.”