The Democrats Want to Hear From Mueller
“There is anger at the president’s conduct. There is a sense that the president has to be held accountable,” Representative Ro Khanna, a progressive from California who also serves as a co-chair of Senator Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, told me. But lawmakers agree that “there should be a step-by-step process,” he said, and in her approach to members, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi “has found a sweet spot where most of the caucus is.”
The special counsel’s report, which was released on Thursday, explained how Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election in a “sweeping and systematic fashion,” though Mueller didn’t find a criminal conspiracy between Donald Trump’s campaign and the Kremlin. The report also showed how President Trump attempted multiple times to influence Mueller’s investigation, though he was regularly thwarted by his own advisers. Ultimately, Mueller concluded that he could not charge Trump with a crime, and suggested how lawmakers might weigh in on the matter. “The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law,” the report reads.
Democratic lawmakers across the ideological spectrum have reacted to the report with varying degrees of urgency and outrage, but almost all of them—progressives and moderates alike—are demanding the same follow-up steps, starting with the release of the unredacted Mueller report, which House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler subpoenaed on Friday. With so much of the special counsel’s language blacked out, Democrats argue, they can’t know all the facts. “From day one, Congress and the American public have demanded [the] release of the full Mueller report and all underlying documents; anything less is unacceptable,” said Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington, the co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, in a statement.
Even moderate members in the rank and file—who generally aim to straddle partisan lines by focusing on policy issues rather than Trump—aren’t suggesting that their party needs to ignore the report’s findings. “There’s more pieces of the story that need to come out,” said the moderate freshman Democrat Haley Stevens at a recent town hall in her Michigan district. Every American “should want to know why Vladimir Putin and Russia worked so hard to get President Trump elected,” said Representative Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts moderate who recently announced a 2020 presidential bid, in a statement. “This is where Congress should focus its oversight of the Administration—as mandated by our Constitution—in the months ahead.”
That seems to be exactly what will happen next. In a caucus conference call on Monday, according to a staffer who listened in on the proceedings, Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the House Oversight Committee chairman, said that his panel’s next round of hearings will follow the road map laid out by Michael Cohen during his House testimony in February, in which he offered names of people who could corroborate his claims about the Trump Organization’s alleged misconduct. Representative Adam Schiff of California, who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, said the panel will focus on Russia’s systematic interference in the 2016 election, and he plans to call on Mueller and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to testify.