US House Democrats to get more Mueller evidence, Trump calls witness 'sleazebag'

Congressional Democrats on Monday struck a rare deal in their wide-ranging probes of President Donald Trump as the US Justice Department agreed to hand over more evidence from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia inquiry.
Former White House Counsel John Dean testifies during a House Judiciary Committee hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on June 10, 2019.
Former White House Counsel John Dean testifies during a House Judiciary Committee hearing, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on June 10, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Congressional Democrats on Monday (June 10) struck a rare deal in their wide-ranging probes of President Donald Trump, with the US Justice Department agreeing to hand over more evidence from Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia inquiry.

The compromise, an unusual retreat by Mr Trump in his months-long stonewalling campaign against House Democrats, came just before a House panel heard testimony for more than four hours from Mr John Dean, a historic figure from the Watergate era.

Before Mr Dean spoke to the House Judiciary Committee, Mr Trump took the opportunity on Twitter to slam the former White House counsel under President Richard Nixon as a "sleazebag attorney." Nixon resigned the presidency in disgrace in 1974.

Mr Dean told the panel there were parallels between Mr Mueller's investigative report, released in redacted form in mid-April, and a 1974 document, known as the Watergate Road Map, in which a special prosecutor laid out the case against Nixon.

"Mueller has provided this committee with a road map," said Mr Dean, who was part of a panel of witnesses.

Mr Mueller's report found Russia meddled in the 2016 US presidential election and that Mr Trump's election campaign had multiple contacts with Russian officials. But the report found insufficient evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy between the campaign and Moscow.

The report also outlined 10 instances in which Mr Trump tried to interfere with Mr Mueller's investigation but declined to make a judgment on whether that amounted to obstruction of justice.

 
 
 
 

As part of his effort to uncover more of Mr Mueller's findings, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler announced that his panel will get some of the evidence related to Mr Trump's attempts to interfere with Mr Mueller's probe from the Justice Department.

The committee will not see a full, unredacted copy of Mr Mueller's report under the agreement, said Mr Nadler, a Democrat.

But lawmakers will get access to interview notes and other evidence, including "first-hand accounts of misconduct," Mr Nadler said at the outset of the hearing.

The hearing, one in a series still to come on the Mueller report, occurred amid continuing discussion among House of Representatives Democrats about whether to begin impeachment proceedings against Mr Trump.

Mr Nadler said that under the deal with Justice he will hold off on a threat to bring criminal contempt charges against US Attorney-General William Barr. For weeks Mr Barr has resisted a subpoena from Mr Nadler's committee for a full, unredacted version of Mr Mueller's 448-page final report and underlying evidence.

The Justice Department will continue to cooperate with the committee, under their agreement, as long as Democrats hold off on the contempt vote, Justice spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said.

The Democratic-controlled House will vote as previously planned on Tuesday on a measure that would increase pressure on Mr Trump by authorising the committee to sue the administration in federal court if needed over access to the report.

Mr Nadler said a lawsuit may yet be necessary and added that Tuesday's vote may force former White House counsel Don McGahn, a central figure in Mr Mueller's report, to testify. Mr McGahn resigned his White House post in August 2018.

Mr Mueller's investigation is part of a broad fight between Mr Trump and congressional Democrats, who are investigating his policies, conduct in office and private businesses. Mr Trump has vowed to fight congressional subpoenas.

Mr Barr has said he is required by law not to release evidence obtained from grand jury proceedings, and grand jury materials were redacted from the section of the report dealing with Russian interference in the election.

 
 
 

But this was less of a concern for the section of Mueller's report dealing with obstruction, which was based on testimony from voluntary interviews Mr Trump advisers and other witnesses gave to Mr Mueller, rather than grand jury testimony.

Representative Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said the agreement indicated the Trump administration was not stonewalling Congress, adding that Democrats should focus on the threat from Russia.

"Democrats are abandoning their duty to confront foreign interference in our elections in favor of drawing out their slanderous campaign against the president," he said.

In related news, the House Oversight Committee said on Monday it plans to vote on Wednesday on whether to hold Mr Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt of Congress for stonewalling a probe into an alleged scheme to politicise the 2020 US Census.