WASHINGTON • Special counsel Robert Mueller has agreed to testify publicly before two House panels, setting up a dramatic hearing that promises to reinvigorate the national debate over his findings on Russian election interference and possible obstruction of justice by US President Donald Trump.
Judiciary chairman Jerrold Nadler and intelligence chairman Adam Schiff, both Democrats, announced the July 17 joint hearing on the eve of yesterday's first Democratic presidential debate, where several of the candidates on the Miami stage are likely to remind viewers that they support an impeachment inquiry of the President.
The chairmen said that Mr Mueller, who issued his report in April, would appear in an open session and that he had agreed to the appearance under subpoenas.
The session, sure to be televised live, sets up one of the most dramatic hearings of the Trump presidency - and a confrontation between Democrats, who have been pursuing investigations of the President since they took control of the House, and Mr Trump's Republican supporters, who dismissed the inquiries as fishing expeditions.
Until now, the White House has stymied probes by Mr Nadler, Mr Schiff and other House Democratic chairmen by refusing to let present and former officials appear.
Mr Mueller said in his report that he could not conclude whether Mr Trump's 2016 campaign conspired with Russia and also could not exonerate the President over attempts to obstruct the investigation.
AMERICA DEMANDS ANSWERS
Americans have demanded to hear directly from the special counsel so they can understand what he and his team examined, uncovered and determined about Russia's attack on our democracy, the Trump campaign's acceptance and use of that help, and President Trump and his associates' obstruction of the investigation into that attack.
U.S. JUDICIARY CHAIRMAN JERROLD NADLER AND INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN ADAM SCHIFF, in a statement.
Mr Trump has repeatedly denounced the inquiry and steadfastly denied any wrongdoing. The President has tweeted in the past that "after total exoneration by Robert Mueller & the Mueller Report", Democrats "want a Do Over".
Soon after the Mueller hearing appearance was announced, Mr Trump's Twitter post contained just two words: "Presidential Harassment!"
Lawmakers from both parties are likely to tread carefully in their questioning of Mr Mueller, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation director, federal prosecutor and decorated Vietnam War veteran with a reputation for scrupulousness.
He has said next to nothing about his investigation beyond the report, and made it clear that he would prefer to say no more.
"Americans have demanded to hear directly from the special counsel so they can understand what he and his team examined, uncovered and determined about Russia's attack on our democracy, the Trump campaign's acceptance and use of that help, and President Trump and his associates' obstruction of the investigation into that attack," Mr Schiff and Mr Nadler said in a statement.
The announcement comes after Republicans have taunted Mr Nadler for not producing Mr Mueller for a public hearing sooner.
One of Mr Trump's closest congressional allies, conservative Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows, said on Fox News: "Bob Mueller had better be prepared because he will be cross-examined and the American people will see the flaws in his report."
But next month's hearing carries risks for both parties.
Some Democrats have taken comments by Mr Mueller as a virtual invitation to open impeachment proceedings, a course that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has resisted so far and has said could result in a political backlash because the Republican-controlled Senate would be unlikely to follow up by removing Mr Trump from office.
Mr Mueller has said Justice Department rules prohibit the indictment of the nation's chief executive, and "the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing".
Now, Mr Mueller will be available to directly answer whether impeachment proceedings are what he is suggesting.
If he says that, it will be difficult for Ms Pelosi to continue putting off demands to move forward.
For Republicans, their gamesmanship in heckling Democrats for not subpoenaing Mr Mueller to this point could come home to roost.
Their claims that Democrats have misinterpreted Mr Mueller's findings could be proven false.
The timing of the scheduled testimony comes a week before the House is set to break for a six-week summer recess, and members are not scheduled to return to Washington until early September.