House Democrats pushing back on DOJ offer for limited Mueller testimony

Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are pushing back on terms offered by Justice Department officials for special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony, objecting to a proposal for him to give a public opening statement before answering questions behind closed doors, according to multiple sources familiar with the negotiations.

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The ongoing back-and-forth over the special counsel’s highly anticipated appearance to discuss the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and any efforts to obstruct the probe continues as Democrats battle with the administration over access to documents and witness testimony. A Justice Department official said Mueller’s team is “directly negotiating with the Hill.”

While House Democrats aren’t ruling out having closed-door testimony for portions of the report, they want to have Mueller answer at least some questions in a public setting.

The committee has been in discussions with Mueller’s team within the Justice Department over the past month. Sources have said that Mueller is seeking guidance from DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel ahead of any planned testimony to advise on what he can and cannot say.

A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment about the negotiations.

While Democrats had initially hoped that Mueller would testify by May 15, the ongoing discussions mean that the special counsel will not appear on Capitol Hill before next month.

PHOTO: Special Counsel Robert Mueller walks past the White House after attending services at St. Johns Episcopal Church, in Washington, March 24, 2019.Cliff Owen/AP, FILE

Special Counsel Robert Mueller walks past the White House after attending services at St. John’s Episcopal Church, in Washington, March 24, 2019.

Attorney General William Barr has said he has no objections to Mueller testifying, even though President Donald Trump has said publicly in a tweet that “Bob Mueller should not testify.”

One complicating factor in the negotiations, according to people familiar with the talks, is Mueller’s unwillingness to enter the political fray over his findings.

The Justice Department has also not complied with the committee’s subpoena for the unredacted version of the Mueller report and underlying evidence. The White House has asserted executive privilege over the full report, which has raised new questions about Mueller’s testimony and prompted Democrats to prepare to hold Attorney General Bill Barr in contempt of Congress.

President Trump has deferred to Barr but tweeted earlier this month “Bob Mueller should not testify. No redos for the Dems!”

Barr has said he has no objections to Mueller testifying before Congress, most recently in a Wall Street Journal interview.

In addition to the House Judiciary Committee, the House Intelligence Committee is also in talks with some officials at the Justice Department about Mueller appearing before the panel, which is also locked in a battle over access to the full Mueller report and underlying intelligence gathered in the probe.