House Republicans Have Varied Objectives During Mueller Testimony

‘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…’

Mueller

Robert Mueller / IMAGE: screenshot via CSPAN

(David Lightman, McClatchy Washington Bureau) 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 almost certainly bring up the evidence of FBI misconduct in handling the Russia collusion allegations—including recent findings from the ongoing Justice Department investigation into whether the Hillary Clinton campaign may have colluded with intelligence officials to push the now-debunked narrative.

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.

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The 17 GOP Judiciary Committee members are aware it’ll be tempting to get into political debates. But Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., 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, R-Texas, who serves on both the and Judiciary and Intelligence committees.

Meanwhile, 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, R-Texas, who serves 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, R-Ohio, also a committee member, has emphasized another crucial point: “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, R-Ariz., 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 a last-gasp opportunity to extend their ongoing fishing expedition 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, D-NY, 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. A previous report by the Department of Justice’s inspector general found evidence of misconduct.

However, past inquiries led to more questions than answers regarding the role that the FBI played in promoting the debunked Steele Dossier that was commissioned by key Democratic groups including the Clinton campaign.

The Mueller Report “failed to show the positive side of the administration’s efforts adequately as it relates to the Russian collusion conspiracy,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-NC, chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus.

Of particular concern is how the Obama-led Justice Department used the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act spy on Trump aide Carter Page and possibly other members of his campaign staff using the Steele Dossier as a false pretense for obtaining government warrants.

“There’s questions that can be asked there,” Collins said.

DOJ officials investigating the conspiracy reportedly interviewed the author of the dossier, British-spy-turned-U.S.-intelligence-asset Christopher Steele, on a recent trip to England.

(Rick Childress of McClatchy’s Washington bureau contributed to this report.)

(c)2019 McClatchy Washington Bureau. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.