House Dems to fo­cus on ob­struc­tion with Mueller

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - NATION & WORLD - By Mary Clare Jalonick

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

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 ques­tion­ing 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 laid out sev­eral episodes in which Trump tried to in­flu­ence his in­ves­ti­ga­tion and wrote that he could not ex­on­er­ate the pres­i­dent on 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 haven’t read.

The aides re­quested anonymity to freely dis­cuss mem­bers’ plans for ques­tion­ing.

The House Ju­di­ciary and in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tees will ques­tion Mueller in back-to-back hear­ings. The tes­ti­mony had been orig­i­nally sched­uled for July 17, but was de­layed un­der a new deal struck with Mueller ear­lier this month that would give him more time to pre­pare and give mem­bers more time for ques­tion­ing.

Still, time will be lim­ited, with an ex­pected three hours for the Ju­di­ciary com­mit­tee and two for the smaller in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee.

In addition to the time re­straints, Mueller is a re­luc­tant wit­ness. He had said he would pre­fer not to come at all, and has in­sisted he will stick only to the con­tents of the re­port.

So, to ef­fec­tively high­light what they see as the most dam­ag­ing parts of the re­port, Demo­cratic law­mak­ers said they will have to do some­thing that mem­bers of Congress aren’t used to do­ing: limit the long 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 Com­mit­tee, pre­dicted: “You will find lit­tle or no ed­i­to­ri­al­iz­ing or speechi­fy­ing by the mem­bers. This is all about al­low­ing spe­cial coun­sel Mueller to speak.”

Democrats on the com­mit­tee said they have been work­ing with com­mit­tee staff on which mem­bers will ask what. The staff wants to make sure that 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 also will fo­cus on the pres­i­dent’s con­duct to­ward his former lawyer Michael Co­hen and his former cam­paign man­ager Paul Manafort, both of whom faced fed­eral charges as part of Mueller’s probe and are now in prison.

CAROLYN KASTER/AP

Former spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller will tes­tify Wed­nes­day be­fore two House com­mit­tees.

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