House Republicans expect to keep things simple when former Special Counsel Robert Mueller testifies Wednesday.
They’re unlikely to pontificate or make fiery speeches. They’ll aim to defend President Trump with logic and fact. And they will probably bring up a favorite conservative topic: Allegations of possible FBI misconduct in handling the Russia collusion allegations.
That’s the strategy House Judiciary Committee Republicans have discussed when Mueller appears before their panel for three hours Wednesday. He’s also slated to testify before the House Intelligence Committee later the same day.
The 17 GOP Judiciary Committee members are aware it’ll be tempting to get into political debates. But Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the committee’s top Republican, told McClatchy in an interview that “The vast majority of our members are attorneys. They’ve done depositions before. They know to keep it crisp.”
He noted that “this is not a hearing in which it would be a good idea for the members to give a statement and pontificate for a long period of time and then not get an answer out of someone.”
The hearings will zero in on Mueller’s 448-page April report and his May 29 statement about the findings, his only public utterance to date.
“You can ask Mueller 10 times in 10 different languages whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, but we already know the answer to that question,” tweeted Rep. John Ratcliffe, a Texas Republican and Judiciary and Intelligence Committee member. Intelligence Committee Democrats are expected to extensively quiz Mueller on any possible Trump campaign ties to Russia.
Judiciary Committee Democrats are expected to concentrate on discerning whether Trump possibly obstructed justice.
“If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime we would have said so,” Mueller said in May. “We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime.”
But he noted that the Constitution requires “a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing,” interpreted as hinting to Congress that it could look into allegations raised in the report.
The Judiciary Committee has experience dealing with Mueller, who appeared before the panel many times during his tenure as FBI director.
“For those of us who have actually questioned Bob Mueller before he is one of the best at answering only what he wants to answer and stonewalling the rest,” Collins said.
Such answers, though, could frustrate some Republicans who have long been critical of Mueller himself. Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Texas Republican on the judiciary panel, has detailed his concerns in his 48-page “Robert Mueller: Unmasked” report.
“Judging by Mueller’s history, it doesn’t matter who he has to threaten, harass, prosecute or bankrupt to get someone to be willing to allege something—anything—about our current president, it certainly appears Mueller will do what it takes to bring down his target, ethically, or unethically, based on my findings,” Gohmert said. His report discusses controversies from Mueller’s years as FBI director.
Gohmert told McClatchy last week that while he would not say exactly what he plans to ask Mueller, the former special counsel “has got a lot of explaining to do, and his report doesn’t do it for him. I really do expect to get answers for the damage he’s done to this country.”
Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican and committee member, has been making another point that’s popular with his party: “The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian in government in its election interference activities,” Jordan said.
Nor was there evidence of any crime, said Rep. Debbie Lesko, an Arizona Republican and committee member, at an earlier committee hearing that did not involve Mueller.
“[I] have read through the Mueller report several times now, and what popped up to me was the thing about corrupt intent, that there was no underlying crime, no corrupt intent,” she said.
To Democrats, the Mueller testimony is another chapter of an ongoing saga with no apparent end. The judiciary and intelligence committees have been looking into different allegations involving Trump and his allies.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, summarized the general theme his party’s questioners will pursue.
The committee, he said, “has a Constitutional obligation to investigate allegations of misconduct. We have been doing that through pursuing the unredacted Mueller Report and key related witnesses and documents. There is no substitute for primary evidence as the committee makes its decisions.”
One line of Republican questioning is likely to center on the origins of the government investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Conservatives allege possible FBI misconduct.
“It failed to show the positive side of the administration’s efforts adequately as it relates to the Russian collusion conspiracy,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, a North Carolina Republican and chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus, of the Mueller report. (He is not a member of the Judiciary or Intelligence Committees.)
Conservatives have long been concerned about how the government used the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to keep an eye on Trump aide Carter Page.
The justification for the surveillance involved an unsubstantiated dossier provided by someone working for Democrats.
“There’s questions that can be asked there,” Collins said.