The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing next week on the Mueller report — but the report’s author will not attend.
The panel announced Monday that it will convene on June 10 for a hearing titled “Lessons from the Mueller Report: Presidential Obstruction and Other Crimes.”
Former U.S. attorneys and legal experts are expected to attend, as is John W. Dean III, the former White House counsel under President Richard M. Nixon who accused Nixon of being directly involved in the Watergate coverup and later served four months in prison for obstruction of justice.
This seems to comport with the suggestion that fights over process (who must appear, which redacted portions of the report must be revealed) have unnecessarily swamped the House, to the detriment of the much-needed task of educating the public as to what is in the special counsel’s report.
One would hope, however, that former White House counsel Donald McGahn is subpoenaed to provide a firsthand account of the president’s persistent directives to fire Robert S. Mueller III.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said, “These hearings will allow us to examine the findings laid out in Mueller’s report so that we can work to protect the rule of law and protect future elections through consideration of legislative and other remedies.” He added, “Given the threat posed by the President’s alleged misconduct, our first hearing will focus on President Trump’s most overt acts of obstruction. In the coming weeks, other hearings will focus on other important aspects of the Mueller report.”
Former prosecutor Mimi Rocah told me, “This is a good and smart first step to get the public’s focus back onto the devastating facts and evidence in the Mueller Report.” She explained, “Having non-partisan former prosecutors explain how Trump’s conduct constitutes obstruction of justice in ways that Mueller felt he could not makes total sense.” She added, “I will be curious to see what role (and how useful) John Dean’s testimony is.”
Perhaps he can review the first article of impeachment of Richard M. Nixon (which contains obstruction charges), show that the evidence here is far more extensive than what prosecutors had on Nixon and, finally, explain that the Watergate prosecutors did what Mueller in essence did — referred the matter to Congress.
Nadler’s “first” hearing, we can surmise, may focus on four categories of obstruction that Mueller lays out in his report, which found “substantial evidence” of all three elements needed to prove obstruction of justice. These would consist of Trump’s orders to fire Mueller, Trump’s efforts to curtail Mueller’s investigation, Trump’s order that McGahn deny he was told to fire Mueller and Trump’s effort to encourage Paul Manafort not to testify against him. These would be the “most overt acts of obstruction.”
House Democrats should keep in mind three considerations.
First, 95 percent of Americans (probably more) haven’t read the report. They do not know what Mueller was asked to find, what he found or why he did not accuse Trump of criminal conduct. These basics, plus an explanation of the seriousness of obstruction of justice, must be explained and highlighted. Succinct slides and/or charts would be helpful. If nothing else, we’ve learned that unless it is on TV, neither Trump nor his defenders will acknowledge its importance. Moreover, it wouldn’t hurt to have empty chairs with the name cards of those who won’t appear to explain their conduct, such as Attorney General William P. Barr who.
Second, the hearings minus Mueller could still be extremely consequential. The systematic reviews of the report’s findings should be sufficient to generate interest. However, the stature of the witnesses is important. The prosecutors who will be called to explain all of this must not be perceived as partisans; ideally, prosecutors who have served in administrations of both parties should appear.
“The bottom line is that the committee needs witnesses — preferably witnesses from the Mueller report who can speak to the testimony they gave the special counsel,” said former Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller. “But while subpoenas for those witnesses are litigated, it’s smart to bring in other experts who can speak in televised hearings to the presidential crimes the report exposed.”
Third, to tell a coherent story, the presentation must be coherent. I would suggest allowing the panelists to make extensive opening statements, each covering a different aspect of the report (e.g., what is obstruction, and why is it serious?). When it comes to questioning, committee counsel (as was proposed for Barr) should conduct questions in 30-minute blocks. (Republicans can use their time however they want.)
The hearing will be as much storytelling as fact-finding. The committee and the country actually have the facts in the Mueller report; now the House has to help Americans find those facts and appreciate their importance.