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House Democrats weigh next steps after Mueller announcement

Special counsel spoke publicly for the first time Wednesday, but did not take questions

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is seen on a monitor in the Russell Building on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, making a statement at the Department of Justice on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Kelly O'Donnell of NBC News listens in the background. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III is seen on a monitor in the Russell Building on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, making a statement at the Department of Justice on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Kelly O'Donnell of NBC News listens in the background. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 3:33 p.m. | Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s announcement Wednesday that he would not disclose more information about the Russia probe prompted Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee to urge more action from Congress.

But exactly what Congress will do remains unclear, underscoring the heavy political risks involved in any action — or inaction — lawmakers take ahead of the 2020 elections.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, in a news release, was vague. The New York Democrat didn’t say what next steps his panel should take and didn’t appear ready to force Mueller to testify through a subpoena.

“Given that Special Counsel Mueller was unable to pursue criminal charges against the President, it falls to Congress to respond to the crimes, lies and other wrongdoing of President Trump — and we will do so,” he said. “No one, not even the President of the United States, is above the law.”

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Speaking later in New York, Nadler declined to answer directly a question about whether he would subpoena Mueller to testify anyway. Any Mueller testimony would create powerful television images that could reach more Americans with the details of the special counsel report. House Majority Whip Steny H. Hoyer said Mueller “needs” to testify.

“Mr. Mueller told us a lot of what we need to hear today,” Nadler said when asked about the possibility of a subpoena.

Nadler and other Democrats suspected Mueller might have more to say about whether President Donald Trump obstructed his probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election or how Attorney General William Barr characterized the report’s details. Nadler had been in negotiations with Mueller to testify before the panel.

But Mueller made clear Wednesday he wouldn’t be adding those details even if he testifies.

“There has been discussion about an appearance before Congress. Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report,” Mueller said in his first public appearance since being named special counsel. “It contains our findings and analysis and the reasons for the decisions we made.”

[‘Case closed!’ Trump declares, even as Mueller fires warning shot on obstruction]

Nadler didn’t advocate impeachment, a move Speaker Nancy Pelosi has resisted. But he also didn’t dismiss it.

“At this point, all options are on the table and nothing should be ruled out,” he said.

Pelosi avoided mentioning impeachment in a written statement Wednesday.

“The Congress will continue to investigate and legislate to protect our elections and secure our democracy,” the California Democrat said. “The American people must have the truth.”

But some House Democrats on the Judiciary panel, including Reps. David Cicilline of Rhode Island and Steve Cohen of Tennessee, urged the formal step of opening an impeachment inquiry. Others, such as Florida’s Ted Deutch of Florida and Pennsylvania’s Madeleine Dean, said Congress must act but, like Nadler, did not detail how.

“The opening of this inquiry will allow the Committee to collect evidence, compel the attendance of witnesses, and decide how to proceed,” Cicilline tweeted just after Mueller’s press conference.

[Are Democrats using quest for unredacted Mueller report as shield against impeachment?]

The number of House Democrats who support opening an impeachment inquiry grew last week, and Mueller’s announcement could add to that number. Pelosi hasn’t ruled it out, but has sent strong signals that she wants to avoid the divisive move and let the voters decide in 2020 whether to punish Trump for his alleged misdeeds.

For some Democrats, Mueller was saying that Congress must act. Mueller reiterated Wednesday a part of the report that said that if the special counsel’s office “had confidence the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.”

And Mueller also said that an internal Justice Department policy, one that said a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime, also says that “the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting President of wrongdoing.”

Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on House Judiciary, said Mueller confirmed what the report said months ago and it’s time to move on from the investigation to focus on immigration and intellectual property.

“While I had hoped he would come before the committee and answer questions from lawmakers, Robert Mueller has led an extraordinary life of public service and is entitled to his life as a private citizen once again,” Collins said.

Trump took to Twitter after Mueller’s announcement to say that “nothing changes” from the report. “There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent. The case is closed! Thank you,” the president said.

But Cicilline and other Democrats were not ready to give up the issue, and said it is now time for Congress to do its job.

“We’ve had this report for nearly six weeks. It clearly sets forth facts describing 10 instances where the President may well have obstructed justice,” Cicilline said in a statement. “As the Special Counsel reminded us today, the Constitution gives Congress the sole power to hold a President accountable for high crimes and misdemeanors.”

The House Judiciary Committee is still attempting to get an unredacted version of the Mueller report, along with the underlying investigative materials. The panel voted this month to hold Barr in contempt for not complying with a committee subpoena for that information — a move that would allow them to file a lawsuit to enforce it — but the full House has not yet voted on that contempt resolution.

Mueller said Wednesday he did not believe it “appropriate” to speak further about the investigation or to comment on actions taken by the DOJ or Congress.

“We chose those words carefully, and the report speaks for itself,” he said.


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