The House Judiciary Committee is negotiating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s team to delay his long-awaited public testimony one week until July 24 to allow more time for Mueller to testify, according to sources familiar with the matter.
The agreement to delay the hearings in exchange for extended testimony is not finalized, the sources said.
Mueller has been scheduled to appear on July 17 before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees in back-to-back sessions where 22 members from each committee would get to question the special counsel.
But the plan sparked an uproar from members on the Judiciary Committee in both parties over the limited time the special counsel was expected to testify, which would have shut out roughly half the panel from asking questions of Mueller.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler’s spokesman Daniel Schwarz said: “At this moment we still plan to have our hearing on the 17th, and we will let you know if that changes.”
On Friday morning, the Judiciary Committee took an abnormal, brief recess from a hearing about lessons from the Mueller report so members could be informed about the discussions.
One more reason for the potential delay of special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony is to give House Democrats more time to negotiate to bring in Mueller’s deputies — Aaron Zebley and James Quarles — for a closed session that’s supposed to follow the special counsel’s public testimony, according to one source familiar with the matter.
This week, Attorney General William Barr suggested the deputies should not appear, and the DOJ has resisted having them testify before Congress. It’s unclear whether the deputies, now private citizens, will appear. But Democrats have been angry that they may be reneging on their agreement to testify.
The possible delay scrambles preparations across Washington for what’s the one of the most high-profile hearings in years. While Mueller’s hearing is hotly anticipated on Capitol Hill, securing his appearance has been an arduous affair for congressional Democrats, as the special counsel did not want to appear before Congress — and said so publicly in his only public statement delivered on his final day as special counsel.
But Democrats insisted they needed to hear from Mueller, in order to bring to life the dense 448-page report on Russian election interference and possible obstruction of justice. Their desire set off months of negotiations that ultimately led to Mueller agreeing to appear, under subpoena, for a limited time period.
Lawmakers said Friday they were hopeful that a resolution would emerge to allow more members to question Mueller.
“I think that would be the ideal situation, for sure,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, a Washington Democrat.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a senior member of the panel, said the frustration among the junior members of the committee wasn’t about bruised egos.
“I don’t think anyone has said they want their time in the spotlight, I think at the end of the day the American people will be better served if we spend as much time as possible communicating the importance of the stakes of this hearing as it relates to an incredible attack on our democracy, unprecedented in our nation’s history,” Jeffries said.
Mueller’s testimony is seen as essential among Democrats who are advocating for the House to begin an impeachment inquiry into the President, especially because the Trump officials who are cited in the Mueller report have so far either refused to testify or answer most questions posed by the Judiciary Committee, under direction from the White House.
But many Democrats were also concerned that the limited time period of roughly two hours before each committee wouldn’t be enough time for Mueller’s testimony to have an impact. And those on the Judiciary Committee who weren’t in line to get questions were up in arms they might not get their shot to question Mueller with millions tuning in.
Rank-and-file Judiciary members were publicly and privately pressing the committee to seek a longer hearing with Mueller.
“Absolutely,” California Rep. Ted Lieu said Thursday when asked if he would be concerned if he’s not allowed to ask questions.
“I’ll be disappointed, but I’m hopeful,” Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Madeleine Dean, a Judiciary Committee member, said Thursday. “I feel it’s part of my duty to be part of this oversight.”