Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee aired complaints Thursday that testimony from Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III would be limited to two hours next week — meaning some members from both parties won’t get an opportunity to ask questions.
Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the committee’s top Republican, was among the members who described a format that would have Mueller leave to appear before the House Intelligence Committee, a smaller panel where all members are expected to have time to ask questions.
Combined with the five-minute limit for each questioner, that means only about 11 Judiciary Committee members from each party are expected to have a chance ask questions. The committee is comprised of 24 Democratic members and 17 Republican members.
“Next week, a hearing on one of the largest, most talked about investigations in two years, and this committee got rolled,” Collins said. “Intel Committee gets to ask all their questions, this committee does not.”
The arrangement could violate a House rule that states how “each committee shall apply the five-minute rule during the questioning of witnesses in a hearing until such time as each member of the committee who so desires has had an opportunity to question each witness.”
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., announced last month that Mueller would appear before both committees pursuant to a subpoena. It came after weeks of negotiations with the ex-FBI director for a televised appearance.
Mueller made a surprise on-camera announcement in May at the Justice Department with a clear message that he did not want to testify and that he “would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress.”
Democratic members did not speak about missing the chance to ask questions of Mueller during their comments at a Thursday markup, instead sticking to the topic of a resolution to authorize subpoenas related to the committee’s probes into the Trump administration.
But committee Republicans made it a major point, saying that the Judiciary Committee is giving up control on a witness who is under its jurisdiction.
“I just wanted to say I’m really disappointed that when Mueller comes in I’m not going to get to question him,” said Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pa., a lawyer and former judge. “I was looking forward to it. I read the report. I read the unredacted report. I think I’m qualified to ask questions.”
Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., pointed out how other hearings about the Mueller report stretched past two hours, “but we are going to spend two hours and nothing longer talking to the guy who wrote the report.”
The committee is divided between the haves and have-nots, Republicans said. Rep. Greg Steube, R-Fla., dubbed those who would have time to ask questions the “Famous 11.” Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., said: “If you’re not part of the 11, what are you? You’re being treated unfairly.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., is among the members who said they wanted to negotiate a change to the rules before Mueller’s Wednesday appearance to give more committee members a chance at the big hearing — and he invited Democrats who would be left out to join him in the effort.
Nadler said he would entertain all reasonable proposals that would allow more members to ask questions of Mueller. Nadler said the issue was important but didn’t comment further, saying he didn’t want to distract from the important topic of the subpoenas.
“This line of discussion, frankly, is beyond the scope of this markup and I’m not going to comment further,” Nadler told Republicans.
Rep. Ben Cline, R-Va., said at town hall meetings last weekend that his constituents asked what he was going to ask Mueller. And now the format would mean he won’t get a chance.
“My constituents deserve to be represented at this hearing,” Cline said. “Because the questions, the issues that are being discussed affect my constituents.”