The bitter legacy of the 2016 campaign and allegations that Trump cooperated with Russia’s election meddling effort and obstructed justice to cover it up have cast a shadow over the President’s entire White House term and led to his mantra “No collusion.”
“We have to … let Mueller present those facts to the American people, and then see where we go from there, because the administration must be held accountable,” Nadler said on “Fox News Sunday.”
‘Watch the miniseries’
But Mueller’s reluctance to seek the spotlight, a politically astute effort by Attorney General William Barr to manage his revelations and the complicated nature of the charges robbed the report of some of its impact.
“People don’t always necessarily read the books, they don’t always necessarily read the reports — they will watch the movie, they will watch the miniseries,” said Bradley Moss, a national security lawyer.
“They will watch a two or three hour televised hearing, they will watch the soundbites,” Moss said on CNN’s “Right Now” Friday.
A prolonged court battle is unfolding to challenge the White House’s refusal to provide evidence and testimony. Democrats could eventually prevail in those cases but each month that passes erodes the political potency of the Russia controversy and eases the President’s exposure.
That’s why they hope Mueller could prove to be a political game changer.
At the very least, Democrats plan to paint of picture of a criminal, ethically-bereft presidency born from a willingness to profit from a foreign power’s meddling in US democracy.
While it appears impossible for Democrats to remove Trump from office given GOP control of the Senate, they hope the hearing will bolster their 2020 case that he is too corrupt and unpatriotic to deserve a second term.
Democratic lawmakers plan to cross examine him on parts of the report that are most damning to Trump, especially actions which they believe amount to chargeable instances of obstruction.
Mueller did not conclude that Trump committed a crime in his report, telling reporters in May that there was “insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy” between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
“If we had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that,” Mueller said. That statement may provide the starting point for many of the questions from Democrats.
‘A smorgasboard of obstruction’
Democrats will also hone in on the second part of the Mueller report regarding obstruction. There are five areas of the Mueller report where they think the President obstructed justice, including his efforts to fire the special counsel and to tamper with witnesses like his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Another opening for Democrats lies in Mueller’s admission that Justice Department guidance on the issue of prosecuting a sitting commander-in-chief meant that “charging the President with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.”
Democrats will likely try to get Mueller to say whether Trump’s actions, especially in the obstruction part of the investigation, would have been charged if he was a private citizen.
The lawmakers will require discipline in their questioning and need to avoid personal histrionics in a setting in which they habitually botch cross examinations through grandstanding and lack the methodical approach of prosecutors.
They will also press Mueller on the contacts with Russia and WikiLeaks detailed in the report. Some lawmakers might also wish to probe his views of Barr, after the then-special counsel wrote two letters to his boss complaining that his summary of the report did not accurately reflect his conclusions and caused public confusion.
Barr’s critics warned that his intervention was a politically motivated attempt to set a misleading public narrative about the report and to shield the President.
Republican members will run interference and are likely to try to turn the hearing into a circus in a bid to convince voters it’s just a typical partisan Washington mess.
They are also likely to challenge Mueller on the conduct of his team — that Trump has complained is biased and to question the rationale for the opening of the FBI Russia investigation.
And Collins predicted the hearing would have little political impact overall.
“I have told some people before it’s like going back and finding a book on the shelf that looks new, and then all of a sudden you begin to read it and you find out, wait, I already read this before.”