Rep. Devin Nunes is raising concerns that Democrats are conspiring with former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to create a “narrative” about his 22-month investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections that paints President Donald Trump and his associates in a bad light.
Nunes, the top Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that will interview Mueller on July 24, did not provide any evidence to support his claim.
“I fear what’s going on right now is that Mueller is working with a lot of his staff who are back channeling to the Democrats, and so it is very possible that Mueller is going to have a few little soundbites that are going to give the Democrats exactly what they want,” Nunes told Fox News’ Sean Hannity Monday night.
Mueller was originally scheduled to testify separately before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees on Wednesday. But after junior members on the panel complained that the time-limited format would prohibit some of them from asking questions, the hearings were pushed to the following week and expanded to three hours each instead of two.
“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,” Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York and Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff of California said in a joint statement on Friday about the change to the hearing's format.
Nunes had a different interpretation of the delay, telling Hannity, again without any evidence, that perhaps Democrats felt they needed more time with Mueller to create a public “narrative.”
“There's got to be a reason for it,” he said.
Nunes’ office did not respond to a request for information to substantiate or support this claims.
It is common practice for congressional committees to be in touch witnesses to their investigations in order to negotiate hearing dates, caps on time for members to ask questions of the witness, and parameters on what members plan to ask and what the witness is willing to answer.
Spokesmen for Nadler and Schiff declined to comment on Nunes’ assertion.
Republicans raised similar concerns over contacts between Democratic House Intelligence Committee staff and former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen ahead of Cohen’s appearances before the committee in February. Schiff’s staff met with Cohen for roughly 10 hours so he could review his prior testimony before the committee, which he later said contained lies he told at the direction of the president.
At the time, Patrick Boland, a spokesman for Schiff, described those pre-hearing meetings with Cohen as “appropriate” and standard procedure.
Former Republican House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis told The Hill in March that both parties have been meeting with witnesses ahead of hearings for at least three decades.
“Democrats screamed when Republicans did it, and now Republicans are obviously doing the same thing,” Davis said at the time.
Mueller has indicated he does not want to testify publicly before Congress about his investigation. He agreed to come to Capitol Hill only after House Democrats subpoenaed him in June.
“The report is my testimony,” the former special counsel said of his two-part report that established Russia interfered extensively in the 2016 U.S. election process but left up to the Justice Department to determine whether Trump criminally obstructed the special counsel probe.
Mueller uncovered “evidence of numerous links” between 2016 Trump campaign officials and individuals with or claiming ties to the Russian government, according to the redacted version of his final report released by the Justice Department in April.
But he declined to charge any of those campaign officials under conspiracy, coordination, or campaign finance laws for their contacts with Russians, either because the evidence didn’t reach a prosecutable threshold or because the officials in question did not realize they were committing possible crimes.
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