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House Judiciary Leaders Unite In Call For Mueller Hearing; Unclear If He'd Appear

Special counsel Robert Mueller, center, leaves after a closed meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 21, 2017, at the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
Alex Wong
Getty Images
Special counsel Robert Mueller, center, leaves after a closed meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 21, 2017, at the Capitol in Washington, D.C.

The leaders of the House Judiciary Committee agreed on Monday to call special counsel Robert Mueller to appear for a hearing. The question now is whether Mueller would agree.

Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., the panel's ranking member, opened the bidding with a letter in which he asked the chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., to invite Mueller to testify later this month.

Although the committee expects to hear from Attorney General William Barr, Collins wrote, it must go to the source to learn all it needs to know about the special counsel inquiry.

Wrote Collins:

Attorney General Barr was never a part of this investigation, and instead simply reviewed the special counsel's final report and has provided Congress, so far, with the special counsel's principal conclusions. While he can testify surrounding his decision to provide the committee with principal conclusions, it is special counsel Mueller who is best positioned to testify regarding the underlying facts and material in which you are so interested.

Collins asked Nadler, who leads the Democratic majority that has the power to convene hearings, to invite Mueller to appear during the week of April 22.

Nadler responded on Twitter later in the day with a post that said he agrees Mueller should talk with the judiciary committee, but at the right time.

But first, Nadler wants Mueller's work product — all of it, including the underlying evidence in addition to the findings in his report — and then Nadler wants to hear from Barr. Only then, the chairman said, would members be prepared to question the special counsel himself.

The Justice Department declined to comment on the requests by the members of Congress.

Prospect for historic hearing

If Mueller does appear for a public hearing, it could be a spectacle equal to or greater than that afforded by earlier witnesses such as former FBI James Comey and others in the Russia imbroglio, some of whom brought life in parts of the U.S. to a standstill as Americans were transfixed by their testimony.

Despite one of the highest profile roles in official Washington in recent memory, Mueller is a sphinx. He has barely spoken in public since his appointment in the spring of 2017 and his office has made very few comments in the press.

Mostly the special counsel's office has let its work do the talking, including in criminal charges against more than 30 individuals and, most recently, in a more than 400-page report that was briefly summarized by Barr in a four-page letter for members of Congress last month.

That was where Barr wrote that Mueller's investigation did not establish a conspiracy between President Trump's campaign and the Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Nor, Barr wrote, did Mueller establish that Trump had committed an obstruction-of-justice offense in the way he dealt with investigators, although the nature of that conclusion has raised many questions from Democrats.

That's why Nadler and his colleagues say they're so eager to see Mueller's full findings and discoveries, without relying on the interpretation provided by the attorney general.

Barr has said his office is working on redacting Mueller's report so that sensitive and confidential information can be excised and a copy given to Congress and the public, perhaps sometime within the next two weeks.

Nadler and Democrats say they won't be satisfied with a redacted copy; they want Mueller's full conclusions and his full supporting material. Judiciary committee members have voted to authorize Nadler to subpoena that material if necessary.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Philip Ewing is an election security editor with NPR's Washington Desk. He helps oversee coverage of election security, voting, disinformation, active measures and other issues. Ewing joined the Washington Desk from his previous role as NPR's national security editor, in which he helped direct coverage of the military, intelligence community, counterterrorism, veterans and more. He came to NPR in 2015 from Politico, where he was a Pentagon correspondent and defense editor. Previously, he served as managing editor of Military.com, and before that he covered the U.S. Navy for the Military Times newspapers.