WASHINGTON – Former special counsel Robert Mueller III and two House panels struck a deal Friday to reschedule his congressional testimony for July 24, an agreement that gives lawmakers more time to question the reluctant witness about his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice by President Trump.
Mueller had been scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees on July 17 in a much-anticipated public appearance since he gave a short statement following the conclusion of his nearly two-year investigation. The former FBI director is perhaps the one person lawmakers and the nation have been wanting to hear from most.
Instead, Mueller will testify a week later, the two committees announced late Friday, for an “extended period of time.”
“This will allow the American public to gain further insight into the special counsel’s investigation and the evidence uncovered regarding Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and President Donald Trump’s possible obstruction of justice and abuse of power,” said Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., in a joint statement.
Mueller will testify for three hours before the Judiciary panel and then give testimony to the Intelligence Committee for two hours. There will be no closed-door hearing.
Mueller’s long-awaited testimony will come as more than 80 House Democrats have called for opening impeachment proceedings against Trump, arguing that he has ignored the Constitution that he took an oath to defend while repeatedly refusing to cooperate with congressional investigations.
But the new date for the hearing could prove problematic for the impeachment campaign. Many lawmakers who want to begin an inquiry had hoped Mueller’s appearance would spark a fresh wave of members endorsing impeachment, but the House leaves for its six-week-long break two days after the hearing, giving proponents little time to rally support. Instead, the timing benefits House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who has resisted launching proceedings.
Trump, speaking to reporters outside the White House on Friday, disparaged Congress’s push to get Mueller to testify. There’s nothing Mueller “can say,” Trump said. “He’s written a report. It said no collusion, and it said, effectively, no obstruction. They want to go it again and again and again because they want to hurt the president before the election.”
The Mueller report said investigators found insufficient evidence to show a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the 2016 election and reached no conclusion about whether Trump obstructed justice – despite laying out episodes of the president apparently seeking to stymie the investigation. Mueller’s team wrote that it was bound by Justice Department policy that forbids the indictment of a sitting president from deciding or alleging – even privately – that Trump had committed a crime.
Mueller spoke to the public briefly in May, saying that he could neither clear nor accuse Trump of obstructing justice, leaving room for Congress to make that call and fueling impeachment demands among some Democrats. The remarks were his first public comments on the case since he concluded his investigation. Mueller said that if his office “had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.” He noted that the Constitution “requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.”
The negotiations over Mueller’s appearance were influenced by several concerns, said a Democratic aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private talks. House Judiciary Committee members wanted their public hearing to be long enough to accommodate all 41 members, which was not going to happen in a two-hour session, one aide said.
Many members of the Judiciary Committee were concerned that two hours was insufficient time to discuss even half of the 10 areas of potential obstruction of justice by Trump identified in the Mueller report.
Democrats want to highlight each of those 10 episodes in their hearing, well aware that most of the public has not read the report. The time crunch, however, has made their job difficult, forcing Democrats to prioritize episodes on which they would like to focus.
Mueller and his aides, Aaron Zebley and James Quarles, wanted to accommodate the desire of the Justice Department that they not testify and that there be no closed-door session for the Judiciary Committee, the aide said. “They were worried that things would be discussed there that shouldn’t be discussed,” said the aide. The negotiations took place between committee staff and Mueller’s aides and their lawyers. The Justice Department was not a part of the talks, the aide said.
The Intelligence Committee on Thursday received five hours of testimony from a member of Mueller’s team, and the panel is negotiating with the Justice Department regarding the appearance of other members of Mueller’s leadership staff in a closed session, said a committee official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private talks.
Over the nearly two-year investigation, the special counsel charged 34 people, including 26 Russian nationals, and secured guilty pleas from seven, including several high-level Trump campaign and administration officials. The investigation concluded in March, and the following month, the Justice Department released the report documenting the work of the special counsel’s office.
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The Washington Post’s Colby Itkowitz contributed to this report.