Jul 21, 2019

Mueller's day on the Hill

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Former special counsel Robert Mueller will make his much-hyped appearance on Capitol Hill Wednesday, but neither party expects to learn anything new from Mueller's 5-plus hours of public testimony, according to conversations with more than a dozen members of Congress and staffers involved in the hearing preparations.

The bottom line: Each party sees the hearings as a political opportunity — whether it be Democrats trying to stoke support for impeachment or Republicans seeking to sow distrust in the Justice Department's Russia investigation.

What to expect: The House Intelligence Committee will focus on Volume 1: Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, while the House Judiciary Committee will focus on Volume 2: possible instances of obstruction of justice by President Trump.

Democratic members on the committees, who have been thirsting for months to have Mueller testify publicly, told Axios they see the hearing as an opportunity for Mueller to educate the American public on the most damaging aspects of his report.

  • "The success will be in the TV ratings," Rep. Ro Khanna, who will not be questioning Mueller, said. "The more Americans that watch, the more successful it is."
  • "Most Americans haven't had a chance to read a 400-page report," House Intel Chairman Adam Schiff told Axios. "This will be the first time they hear from the man who did the investigation himself, not filtered through the misrepresentations of [Attorney General] Bill Barr or anybody else."
  • "My fantasy is when I get my five minutes, I'm just going to have him read certain excerpts from his report. And I think that will be very powerful," said Rep. Jackie Speier, a member of the Intel committee.

Why it matters: Roughly 90 Democrats publicly support impeaching Trump, and some lawmakers think that once Mueller opens his mouth, the percentage of Americans who support impeachment will spike.

The other side: GOP committee aides and key members —including Reps. Andy Biggs and Jim Jordan, both members of the Judiciary committee — told Axios that Republicans' biggest goal is pinpointing when Mueller knew there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, and why he didn't let the public know sooner that the president wasn't a Manchurian candidate. (Mueller's report didn't establish a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia.)

  • Republicans plan to question Mueller on the origins and integrity of his investigation. And they'll grill him about the anti-Trump sentiments of some FBI agents, specifically Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, and why some texts on their work phones weren't preserved. (Note: The Justice Department's inspector general report found that their political biases did not compromise the FBI's work.)
  • One Republican committee aide said they'll also ask Mueller to identify who wrote the report, and how much of it was written by Andrew Weismann, a top prosecutor on Mueller's team who the aide called "a Clinton guy." (Weismann attended Hillary Clinton's election night party in 2016.)

"Republicans have been prepping for this hearing for weeks," said a GOP source familiar with the preparation, adding that some lawmakers have "spent more time on this than they have on anything else."

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