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Democrats to press Mueller for "much clearer narrative" of Trump's conduct in hearing next week

Trump on plans for Mueller testimony

Democratic staffers for the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees say that lawmakers intend to press former special counsel Robert Mueller to tell a "much clearer narrative" to the American people about the president's conduct, laid out in the findings of Mueller's final report about Russian meddling in the 2016 election and any ties between the Trump campaign and Russian government. 

"As we know from his press conference, that not everybody is reading the book but people will watch the movie," staff members said of the upcoming hearing next Wednesday. 

In a background briefing held on Capitol Hill in advance of next week's hearing, Democratic staff for the Judiciary Committee said that the report "lays out the dots" but "they don't connect any of the dots, at least through the most significant instances that we're so interested in." Mueller's testimony was delayed a week as lawmakers continued to hash out details of the former FBI Director's testimony. 

According to the Democratic committee staff, lawmakers plan to focus on five different instances they think would incur criminal charges for obstruction of justice if any other individual besides the president had carried out these actions: 

  • Mr. Trump's repeated directions to former White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller;
  • Mr. Trump's direction to McGahn to deny he had been ordered to fire the special counsel;
  • Mr. Trump's direction to Cory Lewandowski to deliver a message to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to limit the investigation to exclude the president and only focus on future elections;
  • Mr. Trump's message to Lewandowski to tell Sessions he would be fired if he didn't meet with Lewandowski
  • Witness tampering with regard to former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen

"We want every American to understand that you have a president who has committed the most serious kinds of offenses possible," staffers said. 

Staffers expect Mueller to "lean into" the factual findings and legal conclusions, but they worry that it's easy to get lost in such findings.

They said lawmakers will "respect" the fact that Mueller has been very clear about not wanting to give his personal opinion on whether Mr. Trump broke the law and understand Mueller feels he has to stay within the four corners of the report, but they think his language is strong enough in the report that they can connect it to the ultimate conclusion on obstruction. 

In light of that assessment, staffers say they don't expect a "big, dramatic new revelation." Mueller has appeared before the committee many times in his 50 years of public service, and they know he doesn't volunteer more information than necessary. 

"We're taking that into account as we prepare how to best elicit answers from him," staffers said. 

As for the Intelligence Committee, lawmakers want to focus on the evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election, the Trump campaign's contacts, communications and links to Russia during the election. 

"What Volume One actually shows is that Russia did engage in a shocking attack on…our democracy. But even more so that instead of going to law enforcement, the Trump campaign…after learning about it, the Trump campaign instead welcomed it," Intel staffers said. 

While the Judiciary Committee will spend three hours for questioning and the Intelligence Committee will have two hours, neither committee expects Mueller to give lengthy, extensive answers to lawmakers' probes. They anticipate "yes" or "no" answers or very short sentences. But they believe that their hearings will nonetheless help Americans better understand the report. 

Emily Tillett contributed reporting

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