WASHINGTON – Former special counsel Robert Mueller is offering to postpone his congressional testimony by one week to give lawmakers more time to question him about his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump.
Mueller is scheduled to appear before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees on July 17 in a much-anticipated public appearance since he gave a short statement following the conclusion of his nearly two-year investigation. Mueller is perhaps the one person lawmakers and the nation have been wanting to hear from the most.
His offer to appear instead on July 24 is being considered by the congressional panels, according to multiple officials familiar with the discussions who spoke on the condition of anonymity Friday to discuss sensitive talks.
The possible delay came as House Democrats on the Judiciary panel pressed their leaders for more time to question the special counsel. Under the current agreement, Mueller would appear for two hours each before the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees. But due to five-minute questioning rules, only the most senior dozen or so Democrats and Republicans on Judiciary would get to ask questions, upsetting more junior members.
Those members asked the committee this week to try to get Mueller to commit to more time.
The Mueller report said investigators found insufficient evidence to show a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the election and reached no conclusion about whether Trump obstructed justice – despite laying out episodes of the president apparently seeking to stymie the investigation. Mueller’s team wrote that it was bound by Justice Department policy that forbids the indictment of a sitting president from deciding or alleging – even privately – that Trump had committed a crime.
Mueller spoke to the public briefly in May, saying that he could neither clear nor accuse Trump of obstructing justice, leaving room for Congress to make that call and fueling impeachment demands among some Democrats. The remarks were his first public comments on the case since he concluded his investigation. Mueller said that if his office “had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” and he noted that the Constitution “requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.”
Many members of the Judiciary Committee are concerned that two hours is insufficient time to discuss even half of the 10 areas of potential obstruction of justice by Trump identified in the Mueller report.
Democrats want to highlight each of those 10 episodes in their hearing, well aware that most of the public has not read the report. The time crunch, however, has made their job difficult, forcing Democrats to prioritize which episodes they would like to focus on.
Trump, speaking to reporters outside the White House Friday, disparaged Congress’s push to get Mueller to testify. There’s nothing Mueller “can say, he’s written a report, it said, no collusion and it said effectively, no obstruction. They want to go it again and again and again because they want to hurt the president before the election.”
Over the nearly two-year investigation, the special counsel charged 34 people, including 26 Russian nationals, and secured guilty pleas from seven, including several high-level Trump campaign and administration officials. The investigation concluded in March, and the following month the Justice Department released the office’s report documenting its work.
Mueller’s long-awaited testimony will come as more than 80 House Democrats have called for opening impeachment proceedings against Trump, arguing that he has ignored the Constitution that he took an oath to defend while repeatedly refusing to cooperate with congressional investigations.
Impeachment proponents hope Mueller’s testimony will increase public support for ousting the president. At the very least, his testimony is certain to provide the headline-grabbing, made-for-cable-television testimony that Democrats have been seeking since the 448-page redacted report was released April 18.
The negotiations come as a closed-door session with Mueller and his deputies was suddenly canceled. Under the original plan, after the open hearing with Mueller, House Democrats had proposed to question Mueller and his top lieutenants in private for an hour. But on Wednesday, lawmakers were told that the session was off.
Republicans have argued that the closed-door questioning was never agreed to. Democrats believed it was agreed to and that Mueller’s team may have backed out under pressure from the Justice Department not to participate.
The Washington Post’s Colby Itkowitz contributed to this story.