Democrats Fine-Tune Their Questions for Robert Mueller

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee who will question former special counsel Robert Mueller next week plan to focus on a narrow set of episodes laid out in his report, to direct Americans’ attention to what they see as the most egregious examples of President Donald Trump’s conduct.

Robert Mueller. (AP file photo)

The examples from the Mueller report include Trump’s directions to White House counsel Donald McGahn to have Mueller removed and, later, orders from Trump to McGahn to deny that happened. Democrats also will focus on a series of meetings Trump had with former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski in which the Republican president directed Lewandowski to persuade then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to limit Mueller’s investigation.

Mueller in his report laid out several episodes in which Trump tried to influence his investigation and wrote that he could not exonerate the president of obstruction of justice.

Democratic aides say they believe the McGahn and Lewandowski narratives, explained in detail in the 448-page report, are clear examples of such obstruction and will be easy to understand as lawmakers try to educate the American public on a report that they believe most people have not read. The aides requested anonymity to discuss members’ plans for questioning.

The House Judiciary and Intelligence committees will question Mueller in back-to-back hearings Wednesday, July 24. The testimony had been scheduled for July 17 but was delayed. Time will be extremely limited under an agreement with Mueller, who is a reluctant witness and has said he will stick to the contents of the report.

To highlight what they see as the most damaging parts of the report, lawmakers said Thursday they will have to do something that members of Congress aren’t used to doing: Limit their speeches and cut to the chase.

“Members just need to focus,” said Illinois Rep. Mike Quigley, a Democratic member of the intelligence panel. “Nobody’s watching them. Keep it short, keep focused, listen to each other, work together. Make this as productive as possible.”

Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Democrat on the Judiciary panel, said: “You will find little or no editorializing or speechifying by the members. This is all about allowing special counsel Mueller to speak.”

Lawmakers on the Judiciary panel said they have been working with committee staff on which members will ask what. The staff wants to make sure they ask targeted questions, such as on Trump’s directions to McGahn and Lewandowski.

“It’s going to be fairly scripted,” said Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal, another Democrat on the Judiciary panel. “The main goal is to get Robert Mueller to say what Robert Mueller wrote in the Mueller report. And then get it on national TV, so people can hear him saying it.”

The Judiciary Committee aides said that they want lawmakers to take multiple pieces of information in Mueller’s report and connect the dots for viewers. Besides the episodes with McGahn and Lewandowski, they said lawmakers will focus on the president’s conduct toward his former lawyer Michael Cohen and his former campaign manager Paul Manafort.

The report looks at how Trump praised both men when he perceived they were on his side, contacting Cohen to tell him to “stay strong” and publicly praising Manafort for “refusing to break.” There also were hints that he could pardon each.

Cohen eventually started cooperating with the government, and Trump then publicly called him a “rat” and suggested his family members had committed crimes.

The House intelligence panel, which has fewer members, is expected to focus on the first volume of Mueller’s report, which details multiple contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia. Mueller found that there was not enough evidence to establish a conspiracy between the two.

House intelligence committee aides, who declined to be identified to discuss the confidential preparations, said that lawmakers on that panel are expected to focus on those contacts and on what the report says about WikiLeaks, the website that released Democratic emails stolen by the Russians.

As the Democrats work through the highlights of the report, it could start to feel a bit like a class: Mueller 101.

Raskin, a longtime constitutional law professor, says he plans to use some visual aids, such as posters, to help people understand what Mueller wrote.

“We have different kinds of learners out there,” Raskin said. “And we want people to learn, both in an auditory way but also in a visual way, about these dramatic events that Mueller will be discussing.”

Republicans are preparing are expected to focus on Mueller’s conclusions — that there isn’t enough evidence of a conspiracy and no charges filed on obstruction — than the individual episodes detailed. The top Republican on the Judiciary panel, Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, said his members will ask questions that aim to confirm what is in the report.

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