Mueller Testimony Delayed One Week
Delay of game.
House Democrats have agreed to delay the testimony of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller by one week, ostensibly to allow members of the two committees he will be appearing before more time for questions:
WASHINGTON — House Democrats said late Friday that they would postpone until July 24 two hearings with Robert S. Mueller III, which had been scheduled to take place next week, to allow for expanded questioning of the former special counsel.
The reversal, after a day of negotiations with Mr. Mueller’s associates, came as both Democrats and Republicans were deep in preparations for his testimony before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees. The back-to-back hearings with the enigmatic former F.B.I. director are expected to be a pivotal moment for the House as it investigates possible obstruction of justice and abuse of power by President Trump.
Democrats said they chose to delay at the request of Mr. Mueller, but the new agreement also appeared to be meant to give lawmakers from both parties more time to question the former special counsel in public on his findings.
The sizable Judiciary Committee will now have three hours with Mr. Mueller, up from roughly two, allowing most of the lawmakers on the panel to ask questions. Because the Intelligence Committee is smaller, its hearing was always expected to include time for each member.
“All members — Democrats and Republicans — of both committees will have a meaningful opportunity to question the special counsel in public, and the American people will finally have an opportunity to hear directly from Mr. Mueller about what his investigation uncovered,” Representatives Jerrold Nadler of New York and Adam B. Schiff of California, the chairmen of the judiciary and intelligence panels, said Friday in a statement.
The news was welcomed by members of both parties. After complaining bitterly for much of the week about the earlier time constraints, Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, offered rare words of praise for Mr. Nadler, saying that the arrangement would allow all of his panel’s members to speak. More junior Democrats on the committee had also registered complaints, arguing that it was unfair to leave them out of such a closely watched event.
Still, the new terms publicized Friday evening appeared to have other limitations.
By pushing the hearings back a week, for instance, they will now take place only two days before the House is scheduled to leave Washington for a six-week summer recess. Democrats had initially hoped they would have more time in the capital after the hearings before decamping to their home states to capitalize on any momentum provided by Mr. Mueller’s testimony for their investigations.
And, for now at least, Democrats have agreed to proceed without immediate access to Mr. Mueller’s top deputies that had previously been incorporated into his appearance on Capitol Hill. Both House panels had expected to have a chance to question the deputies, Aaron Zebley and James L. Quarles III, in private after Mr. Mueller’s public testimony.
The Justice Department had objected to such questioning and directed the men not to appear. But the reason for the change was not immediately clear.
In all honesty, it’s unclear exactly how much these two appearances by Mueller are going to reveal about the Russia investigation are actually going to shed light on the investigation beyond what is already in his report. In his first and only public statement, made just prior to his formal resignation at the close of the Russia investigation, Mueller stated that he would prefer to let the report speak for itself, leading many to expect that his testimony is not going to be as revelatory as many are hoping for. Many people have chalked this up to Mueller’s by-the-book personality and his obvious desire not to get caught up in the partisan whirlwind that has developed around the report and the ongoing question of whether or not to begin impeachment proceedings against the President.
Despite this understandable reluctance, though, it’s been clear from the start that Mueller’s public testimony is crucial to bringing attention to what the report was about and to rise above the efforts of Trump, Barr, the Administration, and the President’s propagandists and supporters to distort the report and continue the undermining of the investigation that the President has been engaged in since the beginning. Additionally, there are rather obvious outstanding questions that go beyond the four corners of the report that only Mueller himself can answer.
That being said, I am not sure that the format of these anticipated hearings, where each member gets roughly five minutes to question the witness, is far from ideal. First of all, most of these members don’t really know what questions to ask and instead use their time to pontificate for the voters back him. This will be especially true of Republicans on both committees, who will seek to use their time to undermine Mueller and his investigation and to advance the ridiculous conspiracy theories that have been advanced by the President, his sycophants in Congress, and his propagandists at Fox News and elsewhere in the conservative media. A more ideal situation would be for the questioning to be handled, or largely handled by the staff attorneys for the committees, who are generally speaking more skilled at questioning under these circumstances than individual members. Those of you old enough to remember may recall that this is how the questioning was generally handled during the committee hearings surrounding the Iran/Contra investigation. Barring that, individual members could yield their time to the member(s) who have been litigators themselves and thus better trained to ask the right questions and, more importantly, the right follow-up questions. For better or worse, though, that won’t happen this time. These hearings are as much about individual members getting television time for the constituents back home as they are about finding out the truth, perhaps more.