Robert Mueller’s blockbuster appearance on Capitol Hill is the moment pro-impeachment Democrats have been waiting for: a chance to put the former special counsel’s explosive findings about President Donald Trump on display for millions of Americans, and for their own reluctant colleagues.
To these Democrats, Mueller’s testimony is a chance to finally pressure dozens of fence-sitting lawmakers, who have been sidestepping calls for an impeachment inquiry, even after Mueller laid out evidence of potential obstruction in his extensive report.
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“I still think the vast majority of the caucus is on a path to impeachment. This will probably clear the path for a number of them,” said Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), who supports impeachment.
Many Democrats see Mueller’s testimony on July 17 as a potentially presidency-defining moment for Trump, who will watch as Democrats attempt to draw out damning insight from Mueller, whose 22-month investigation described a Trump campaign that welcomed Russia’s interference in the 2016 election — and a president who attempted to undermine Mueller’s probe.
And some hope that Mueller’s made-for-cable appearance will help push the effort to initiate the president’s ouster into the mainstream for the Democratic caucus.
For months, Democrats who have overseen investigations into Trump have largely struggled to generate the kind of public furor they say is warranted from Mueller’s 22-months investigation — and which Speaker Nancy Pelosi has said is necessary to take the historic step.
“To the extent that Mueller ends up educating America, I imagine the clamor for impeachment will grow,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said.
A steady stream of lawmakers has begun to embrace calls to open an impeachment inquiry, with many citing Trump’s stonewalling and saying impeachment proceedings would help speed up House investigations. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has privately advocated this approach but has publicly aligned with Pelosi, saying the effort would require public support and Republican buy-in to be worth it.
On Wednesday, Nadler said Mueller’s testimony could potentially drive more calls for impeachment proceedings, but he said at the very least, it would drive public awareness of Mueller’s findings.
“I think it will have a profound impact,” Nadler said, arguing that Americans had been “subjected to months of deception of what’s in the report by the attorney general and by the president.”
Nadler’s attempts to drive public awareness so far have been frustrated by the White House, which has blocked Mueller’s key witnesses, like former White House counsel Don McGahn and former top Trump aide Hope Hicks, from answering crucial questions. Instead, the Judiciary Committee has held a pair of informational hearings with expert witnesses that elicited little new insight.
Wall-to-wall coverage on the cable news networks will be a far cry from how the Mueller report has so far been presented to the public: a 448-page report in Times New Roman, laden with footnotes, legalese and a dense roster of characters unfamiliar to most Americans.
“Only 3 percent of the American people have read the Mueller report, which I can understand, it’s is a long document,” said Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), another Judiciary Committee member who favors impeachment.
“I think it is likely to change the perception of the American people about what the report found and what the investigation uncovered,” Cicilline said.
Mueller’s testimony alone is unlikely to unleash the floodgates for impeachment, with Pelosi and her top deputies refusing to budge on launching the process without broad bipartisan buy-in.
But there are several Democrats — including Reps. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) and Chris Pappas (D-N.H.) — who have said they are waiting for Mueller to publicly testify before deciding whether to back impeachment.
There’s also a risk that Mueller’s lengthy appearance could be another letdown for Democrats who have spent months building up to this event. Mueller has emphasized that he intends to say nothing other than what is contained in his report, and the White House has signaled that it might attempt to block Mueller from expounding on the details of what he found.
In addition, Republicans who have criticized Mueller’s team as biased and questioned the origins of his probe will attempt to draw blood. Democrats in favor of impeachment will also have to overcome a key challenge on timing: Mueller will testify just days before the caucus leaves town for a six-week recess.