WASHINGTON (AP) — Special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony to Congress has been delayed until July 24 under an agreement that gives lawmakers more time to question him.
Mueller had been scheduled to testify July 17 before two house committees about the findings of his Russia investigation. But lawmakers in both parties complained that the short length of the hearings would not allow enough time for all members to ask questions.
Under the new arrangement, Mueller will testify for an extended period of time — three hours instead of two — before the House Judiciary Committee. He will then testify before the House intelligence committee in a separate hearing. The two committees said in a statement that all members of both committees will be able to question him.
The agreement will also give Mueller more time to prepare for the rigorous questioning. The statement said the postponement was “at his request.”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., announced the terms after days of negotiations and questions over whether the testimony would be delayed. In the joint statement, the panels said the longer hearings “will allow the American public to gain further insight into the special counsel’s investigation and the evidence uncovered regarding Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and President Trump’s possible obstruction of justice and abuse of power.”
Mueller has expressed his reluctance to testify and said he won’t go beyond what’s in his 448-page report. But Democrats have been determined to highlight its contents for Americans who they believe have not read it. They want to extract information from the former special counsel and spotlight what they say are his most damaging findings against Trump.
Democrats are expected to ask Mueller about his conclusions, including that he could not exonerate Trump on obstruction of justice after detailing several episodes in which Trump tried to influence the investigation. Mueller also said there was not enough evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy between Trump’s presidential campaign and the Kremlin.
One thing Judiciary members want to focus on in questioning Mueller is whether Trump would have been charged with a crime were he not president. Mueller said in a May news conference that charging a president with a crime was “not an option” because of longstanding Justice Department policy. But Democrats want to know more about how he made that decision and when.
A separate closed-door session with two of Mueller’s deputies is expected to be canceled, for now. An official for the intelligence panel said that they are still negotiating the appearance of the two Mueller team members, James Quarles and Aaron Zebley.
The official, who declined to be named to discuss the confidential negotiations, said that the committee had recently heard almost five hours of testimony from another member of Mueller’s team.
The official did not name that person. A separate person familiar with that testimony said that the person is David Archey, the senior FBI official who was involved in Mueller’s probe. That person also declined to be named because the committee had not announced it.
The closed-door interviews with the deputies had appeared to be in doubt for several days after the Justice Department has recently pushed back on the arrangement.
As the hearing neared, members of both parties had complained about the lack of time for questioning. While every member of the smaller Intelligence panel was expected to be able to question Mueller, fewer than half of Democrats and Republicans on the Judiciary panel would have been able to do so in the original two-hour timeframe. At a separate hearing on Thursday, several Republicans complained about the setup.
“I have been elected just like anyone else here,” said Arizona Rep. Debbie Lesko, a junior GOP member of the panel.
After Nadler and Schiff’s announcement, the top Republican on the Judiciary panel, Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, said: “I appreciate news the chairman has taken seriously the concerns Judiciary Republicans raised this week. The new format will allow all Judiciary Republicans to question the special counsel on July 24.”
It’s unclear whether Mueller’s testimony will give Democratic investigations new momentum. In the news conference, Mueller indicated that it was up to Congress to decide what to do with his findings. But Democrats have had little success so far in their attempts to probe his findings as the White House has blocked several witnesses from answering questions.
That means the committees may have to go through a lengthy court process to get more information. Around 80 Democrats have said they think an impeachment inquiry should be launched to bolster their efforts, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has so far rebuffed those calls.