Congress

Judiciary Committee focuses on Mueller report with pundit panel

Former White House counsel Dean says report needs to be discussed because too few read it

Former White House counsel John Dean is sworn in Monday at a House Judiciary hearing titled “Lessons from the Mueller Report: Presidential Obstruction and Other Crimes.” (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Early in a House Judiciary Committee hearing Monday about the special counsel investigation, the former White House counsel to President Richard Nixon defended why the members should hear testimony from four witnesses not involved in the probe.

The committee hearing is adding something that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III could not in his report, “and that’s public education,” John Dean said in response to a comment from the panel’s ranking Republican, Doug Collins of Georgia.

“This report has not been widely read in the U.S.,” Dean said. “It’s not even been widely read in Congress.”

The discussion kicked off what committee Democrats say will be a series of hearings to highlight different portions the Mueller report — including Chairman Jerrold Nadler’s aim to have Mueller himself testify on camera — as they contend with persistent calls to start an impeachment process but remain reluctant to officially launch an inquiry.

Democrats used their time in what appeared to be a coordinated effort to highlight descriptions in the Mueller report about President Donald Trump’s efforts to interfere in the investigation. Member by member, the Democrats read parts of the report and at times asked the American people to do the same.

Rep. Eric Swalwell displayed posters with a timeline of Trump’s actions. His fellow Californian, Rep. Ted Lieu, read Trump’s purported statement when he heard Mueller was appointed — “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m f---ed” — that came from notes handed over to Mueller’s team from the chief of staff of then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

“Returning to the facts of the Mueller report, something my friends on the other side are taking great pains to avoid,” Florida Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch, said at the beginning of his round of questioning.

They focused on specific pages of the report, such as Trump’s direction to then-White House counsel Don McGahn to have Mueller removed as special counsel, or Trump’s effort to try to send a message through a former aide to Sessions to limit the scope of the special counsel probe.

But throughout the more than three-hour hearing, committee Republicans repeatedly criticized the panel, saying it was not focused on Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election but instead acting as a sideshow with commentators who didn't have any more inside information about the Mueller investigation than the lawmakers themselves.

Two former federal prosecutors testified that they and more than 1,000 other law experts looked at the details in the Mueller report and determined Trump would face obstruction of justice charges if he were anyone but the president. Republicans mentioned both are MSNBC contributors.

“Here we come with some folks that are great folks, you’re wonderful on TV, I could catch your testimony on TV,” Collins said.

Rep. Matt Gaetz asked Dean how much he makes from appearing on CNN and compared his testimony to lighting candles and using a Ouija board to try to raise Nixon’s ghost.

“You are functionally here as a prop because they can’t impeach Trump,” the Florida Republican told Dean. “You sit before us with no information about the Mueller report in a hearing entitled, ‘Lessons from the Mueller report.’”

The hearings are part of a broader push from House Democrats on oversight, including an effort to get a full, unredacted version of the Mueller report. The Justice Department agreed to turn over some documents Monday, the eve of a House floor vote to authorize a civil lawsuit to enforce committee subpoenas for documents.

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