WASHINGTON — In a long-anticipated appearance on Capitol Hill, former special counsel Robert Mueller will testify in back-to-back House hearings Wednesday about the findings of his yearslong investigation into the Trump campaign and Russian meddling in the presidential election.
Democrats have demanded that Mueller, a former FBI director, appear before the House judiciary and intelligence panels ever since his 448-page report was released April 18.
The Justice Department and Democrats have negotiated the parameters of the former special counsel’s testimony in the weeks since he was subpoenaed June 25.
Mueller’s testimony could lead to an impeachment inquiry even though he said he had found no evidence to support a prosecution of President Donald Trump on charges of criminally conspiring with Russia.
But Mueller emphatically said in the report that he could not exonerate the president on charges of obstruction of justice, and he documented instances in which Trump had tried to stop or impede the probe.
And he pointedly left it to Congress whether to pursue further inquiry and formal charges.
Democrats want Mueller to recite those details for the American public, vast numbers of which are expected to watch his testimony.
Expect the White House also to be watching.
“They have no collusion,” Trump said Tuesday at an event with conservative young people. “They did a report, and there was no obstruction.”
Trump is opposed to Mueller’s testimony and the hearings, which he calls “another bite” at the apple following two years of investigation that has cost more than $30 million.
Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the goal of the hearing is to tell the Mueller story to the American people.
Democrats want to pin Mueller down on the 10 instances in which Trump sought to halt or influence the investigation, fearing that the probe would doom his nascent presidency. They have held mock sessions to target key testimony.
The dense, two-volume report issued after the investigation was written in legal language and appeared to have little political impact outside the Washington Beltway.
It is doubtful that the hearings will produce much news that could heavily sway public opinion, as Mueller has stated that he will not venture beyond what is in the report.
For that reason, many experts say they do not expect the House to initiate impeachment proceedings.
“Almost everyone already knows exactly where they stand on Donald Trump, and they hold these views fiercely,” said Larry Sabato with the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
“Nothing will make his haters like Trump, and nothing will make his lovers dislike Trump. And there won’t be enough revelations left for this hearing to make a conviction at all likely,” Sabato said. “The voters will decide Trump’s fate in November 2020. Period.”
Republicans have criticized Democrats for creating a distraction with the hearing, and plan to chip away at the Mueller team’s motives and methods during the two hearings, which will begin with the Judiciary Committee in the morning and pick up before the Intelligence Committee in the afternoon.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., a Judiciary Committee member and head of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, professed astonishment that House Democrats have held mock hearings, practiced five-minute clips and have set up a social media war room.
“This is your House Democrat majority, spending their time as if they’re putting on a school play,” Meadows said.
The Justice Department has warned Mueller that testimony that drifts outside of what has been publicly released in the report could be protected under “presidential privilege,” which Trump has not waived.
Attorney General William Barr told reporters after the investigation concluded that he had no qualms if the special counsel testified before congressional committees. Barr also said recently that he would also support Mueller if he skipped the hearing entirely.
Mueller agreed to reschedule the hearings from last week to give House lawmakers from both sides of the aisle more time to ask questions.
Appearing with Mueller will be his longtime aide, Aaron Zebley, who helped with the 22-month Russia meddling investigation and the probe into obstruction by the Trump administration.
Zebley will not be sworn in. His role will be to assist Mueller during the long day of questioning.
But Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said late Tuesday that the last-minute addition of Zebley could throw a wrench in the hearing.
Collins threatened to challenge the arrangement to make sure it complies with House rules.