Members to have little time to question Mueller

Drama is building ahead of former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE’s much-anticipated testimony on Capitol Hill. 

Democrats are working to solidify their strategy to effectively question Mueller in the limited time they have.

Democrats say their plans are still in flux and that they’re still negotiating with Mueller and his team over the logistics of the appearance. 

As of Thursday, Mueller’s testimony was set to be capped at roughly two hours per committee.

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Under the current agreement, all 22 members of the House Intelligence Committee will get a question, as will 22 members of the 41-person House Judiciary Committee. Those questions will be evenly divided among Democrats and Republicans, leaving a number of members without a question.

But given the two hours of time per committee, lawmakers will have just a few minutes to ask their questions.

Adding a layer of complication are murmurs the Justice Department is seeking to block or limit the private testimony of two of Mueller’s deputies, something that could shake up the agreement.

Democrats on the Judiciary panel said Thursday they are eager to nail down a strategy and format that effectively elucidates key details from Mueller’s sprawling 448-page report in the limited time frame. 

“We’ve got to be strategic, we’ve got to understand why we want to talk to him in the first place and that’s to get answers to some unanswered questions,” said Rep. Val DemingsValdez (Val) Venita DemingsCritics hit Florida governor over lack of 'sweeping' coronavirus response Biden says he has 'short list' of potential women for VP pick Juan Williams: Biden's promises on women are a big deal MORE (D-Fla.), who is a member of both panels questioning Mueller. “Wednesday will be here before we know it and we need to make sure that we utilize that time in the most effective and most efficient way.” 

Democratic Judiciary members held a closed-door meeting Wednesday evening to discuss strategy. Members emerged saying little about their talks or their frustrations about the crunched schedule for questioning Mueller.

“Lots of suggestions and hybrid approaches have been put forward and I know they’re considering all of them,” Rep. Madeleine DeanMadeleine DeanBloomberg builds momentum on Capitol Hill with new endorsements Democrats blast consumer bureau over student loan oversight agreement with DeVos Democratic congresswomen wear white to Trump's address in honor of suffrage movement MORE (D-Pa.) said Thursday. “What I hope we do is coherently ask questions that elicit Mueller’s voice, not ours.” 

Republicans, meanwhile, used a committee markup Thursday to blast Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerHouse Judiciary Committee postpones hearing with Barr amid coronavirus outbreak House Democrats plead with key committee chairman to allow remote voting amid coronavirus pandemic Pelosi rejects calls to shutter Capitol: 'We are the captains of this ship' MORE (D-N.Y.) over the negotiations for Mueller’s testimony. They accused him of ceding time to lawmakers on the Intelligence panel and allowing Mueller to dictate the terms. Several Republicans voiced outrage that they would not be able to ask questions of Mueller, whose investigation several of them have criticized.

“This committee got rolled, let’s admit it,” said Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsGeorgia makes it easier to get mail-in ballots after delaying primary Overnight Energy: House stimulus aims to stem airline pollution | Environmental measures become sticking point in Senate talks | Progressives propose T 'green stimulus' House bill would ban stock trading by members of Congress MORE (Ga.), the committee’s top Republican. “I guess [Intelligence Committee] Chairman [Adam] Schiff gets to dictate terms and the witness gets to dictate terms.” 

Rep. Matt GaetzMatthew (Matt) GaetzHarris knocks Gaetz for taking issue with money for Howard in relief package Critics hit Florida governor over lack of 'sweeping' coronavirus response Gaetz accuses Burr of 'screwing all Americans' with stock sale MORE (R-Fla.) at one point asked if Nadler would be willing to negotiate with Republicans on changing the five-minute questioning format to three minutes by unanimous consent so that more members could have the opportunity to question Mueller. Nadler noted that members could yield their time to others on a voluntary basis, before saying he is open to reasonable suggestions regarding the format. 

Democrats have also acknowledged frustrations over the time restrictions, but they did not take issue with Nadler over the setup. 

“Yes. I don’t know how that is going to be resolved,” Rep. Ted LieuTed W. LieuClay Aiken podcast looks for political balance Rep. Gosar defends calling coronavirus 'Wuhan virus' after criticism Carson on coronavirus: Task force is not 'sugarcoating' messaging MORE (D-Calif.) said when asked by The Hill if there are frustrations among members about the limited questioning time. “The chair will know that.” 

Other members who aren’t likely to question the former special counsel said they are happy that the committee will broadly be able to hear from Mueller, with some noting that they will have the subsequent opportunity to question Mueller’s deputies behind closed doors.

“My focus is not on frustration,” Rep. Lou CorreaJose (Lou) Luis CorreaActivists, analysts demand Congress consider immigrants in coronavirus package Hillicon Valley: HHS hit by cyberattack amid coronavirus outbreak | Senators urge FCC to shore up internet access for students | Sanders ramps up Facebook ad spending | Dems ask DHS to delay Real ID deadline House Dems ask DHS to delay Real ID deadline MORE (D-Calif.) said. “I want to hear from Mueller — what Mueller meant with his report … It’s important to get him out there in front of the cameras so the world can know.”

Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben Raskin20 House Dems call on Trump to issue two-week, nationwide shelter-in-place order Senators urge Congress to include election funds in coronavirus stimulus Vote at home saves our democracy and saves lives MORE (D-Md.) said he believes there will be a lot of “deliberation and reflection” by committee members in coming days over how to question Mueller. 

“I’m more likely not to get to ask questions than I am to get to ask questions, but I’m not uptight about it just because I think we are basically going to script this, we’re going to offer the special counsel the opportunity to restate some principal conclusions and findings that are in the report in his own words and his own voice,” Raskin said. 

Democrats largely avoided discussing the ongoing format negotiations during the markup Thursday. Nadler declined to address why he agreed on such a format when asked to do so by Rep. Martha RobyMartha Dubina RobyThe 14 other key races to watch on Super Tuesday Collins Senate bid sets off game of musical chairs for GOP Global health is the last bastion of bipartisan foreign policy MORE (R-Ala.). 

Nadler said it was “beyond the scope” of the markup, which was scheduled to debate a resolution authorizing subpoenas for Trump officials and immigration documents and other bills. 

“I thought that was a non sequitur,” Dean said after the markup. “I don’t know why they were making those arguments or speaking on behalf of equal members of the committee. We don’t really need the Republicans to tell us how we are feeling.” 

Nadler’s staff has held the private negotiations regarding testimony from Mueller and his deputies close to the chest, leaving even members and their staff in the dark.

The current setup, which the committee acknowledges is fluid, allows for Democrats and Republicans to separately have about an hour of questioning beginning at 9 a.m. The length of opening statements may also impact the duration of the interview. 

Thirteen Democrats and six Republicans will not have the opportunity to question Mueller under the current plan. In most cases, the newer members in Congress and on the committee will be excluded.  

If Mueller’s deputies, Aaron Zebley and James Quarles, do not come for a closed-door interview, those members also will not get to question anyone on the special counsel’s team about the investigation.

Dean said Thursday that the committee has been told the Justice Department is trying to block or limit the former officials’ testimony on Wednesday. The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment by press time. 

The Intelligence Committee hearing is slated to begin at 12 p.m. 

While there are three members who sit on both committees — two Democrats and one Republican — it is unclear whether they will have two separate opportunities to ask questions, or if they will have one session to press Mueller.

Broadly, Democrats say they’re leaving it up to Nadler to decide on the ultimate format for the hearing but noted many members have offered suggestions. It’s unclear when the committee will solidify its plans. 

Amid the uncertainty, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiMeadows resigns from Congress, heads to White House Pelosi floats undoing SALT deduction cap in next coronavirus bill Overnight Health Care: More states order residents to stay at home | Trump looks to sell public on coronavirus response | Judges block Ohio, Texas abortion bans | Dems eye infrastructure in next relief bill MORE (D-Calif.) said Thursday that she won't intervene in the mechanics of the hearings, even if lower-ranking lawmakers on the committee come to her with concerns.

“We're very pleased that the ... former special counsel will be coming, but I have confidence in our committee chairs [Nadler and Schiff]. ... They'll handle it very well,” she said. “I wish we had more time, but I'm glad we have the time that we have. But I don't see a role [for me].”

“As far as ... distribution of timing in committees, I'll leave that up to the chairmen,” she added.