The House Judiciary Committee kicked off a series ofon the Mueller report with former Nixon White House counsel John Dean and former U.S. attorneys testifying Monday to offer their insights on President Trump's "most overt acts of obstruction."
Dean is best known for his bombshell testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities during the Watergate scandal, which paved the way for Nixon's dramatic resignation from office.
Dean testified that there were "exhaustive" and "remarkable" parallels between special counsel Robert Mueller's report and the findings compiled in the wake of the Watergate scandal. He said "events in both 1972 and 2016 resulted in obstruction of the investigations."
Dean said he had served as an "active participant" in the Watergate cover-up, contrasting his role to that of ex-White House counsel Don McGahn, who Dean said "was a critical observer" of obstruction attempts in the White House.
The nearly two-year long probe into Mr. Trump's alleged ties to Moscow came to an official close late last month after Mueller announced his resignation from the Department of Justice and the closure of the special counsel's office. The Judiciary Committee has already held two public hearings about the special counsel's report, and another on Democrats' ongoing concerns over possible abuse of executive authority.
Committee chair Rep. Jerry Nadler said the hearings would further allow Congress to "examine the findings laid out in Mueller's report so that we can work to protect the rule of law and protect future elections through consideration of legislative and other remedies."
Nadler added in a statement that "given the threat posed by the President's alleged misconduct, our first hearing will focus on President Trump's most overt acts of obstruction. In the coming weeks, other hearings will focus on other important aspects of the Mueller report."
Highlights from the hearing below:
Nadler says committee has "responsibility" to hold hearings
Committee chairman Jerry Nadler said his panel has an obligation to investigate "who stood to benefit from the attack" on the U.S. election system "and the extent to which the Trump campaign welcomed it."
He added that the committee has a responsibility to do this work, to follow the facts where they lead...and to craft legislation to make certain no president, Democrat or Republican can ever act in this way ever again." Nadler also noted the political divides the Russia probe has since created in Washington, saying that both parties should at least proceed with a common understanding that the U.S. was attacked.
"We were attacked by a foreign adversary. President Trump's campaign took full advantage of the attack when it came. The descriptions of obstruction of justice in Volume II go to the heart of our legal system. If we can agree on this common set of facts as our starting place, and agree to follow the facts and the law where they take us, I believe we can make a great deal of progress in this hearing today," he said.
Nadler's Republican colleague Doug Collins of Georgia meanwhile argued that "if we were attacked, then the priorities should be to go on the battlefields and not to the sideshow. He said Congress needs to worry about firming up the U.S. election process instead of rehashing the Russia investigation into the president. Collins went so far as to call Dean the "Godfather" of interference suggesting Russia had photos of Dean for inspiration on meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Trump tweets on Dean appearance
At the outset of Monday's hearing, Mr. Trump remarked on Dean's testimony before Congress, saying he was in disbelief they would bring in the "disgraced" counsel. "No Collusion - No Obstruction! Democrats just want a do-over which they'll never get!" Mr. Trump added, a common refrain in his criticism of Democrats' ongoing attempts to investigate his administration.
Dean says McGahn should testify before Congress
Dean said in his opening statement that McGahn should testify before Congress, saying he had an obligation to do so as a "key witness in understanding the Mueller report" and under his ethical obligation as an attorney.
McGahn had declined to appear before the committee despite a subpoena, claiming executive privilege at the direction of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel.
"McGahn represented the Office of the Presidency, not Donald Trump personally," Dean argued. "In short, McGahn's loyalty is to his client, the Office of the Presidency, not the occupant. He had only a limited attorney-client privilege when interacting with the president and advisors and the privilege belongs to the office in any event."
Dean added that McGahn's assertion of executive privilege was waived "regarding the material plainly set forth in the Mueller report."
"In addition, it has long been the rule there is no executive privilege attached to criminal or fraudulent activity. Accordingly, I sincerely hope that Mr. McGahn will voluntarily appear and testify."
He later testified that the OLC opinion claiming "privilege pushes the outer limit further than i have ever seen it pushed." He said that while the OLC even cites Dean in a memo "in both those instances the witnesses did still appear."
Former U.S. attorney calls lack of obstruction charge into question
Joyce White Vance, the former U.S. attorney in the Northern District of Alabama, testified that "no one is above the law," including Mr. Trump. Vance waswho signed an open letter saying Mr. Trump would face "multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice" if he were a private citizen.
"If anyone other than a president of the United States committed this conduct he would b e under indictment for multiple acts of obstruction of justice," said Vance. "If you or I committed this same conduct we would have been charged by now."
Former attorney Barbara McQuade also appeared to support that claim, testifying that the "conduct described in the report constitutes multiple crimes of obstruction of justice. It's supported by evidence of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt."
Ex-federal prosecutor: Trump was "threatened" by Mueller
Former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Barbara McQuade suggested in her testimony that the president was "threatened" by the special counsel exposing more potential crimes over the course of the investigation which compelled him to want to fire Mueller from the probe. While there were "no findings of a conspiracy" McQuade noted, Mr. Trump "didn't know that would be the outcome" at the time.
"There are things other than the crime the investigator is looking at that could motivate him to end the investigations and under the law they are equally prohibited," she added.