Chairman Nadler Statement for Hearing on “Lessons from the Mueller Report: Presidential Obstruction and Other Crimes”

Washington, D.C. June 11, 2019 – Yesterday, House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening remarks for the hearing “Lessons from the Mueller Report: Presidential Obstruction and Other Crimes,” the first of a series of hearings the Committee will conduct focused on the alleged crimes and other misconduct laid out in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report:

“Just over two years ago, Special Counsel Robert Mueller was charged with conducting “a full and thorough investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election,” including an examination of “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” and “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”

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“He concluded, in his own words:

“Russian intelligence officers who were part of the Russian military launched a concerted attack on our political system. [Those officers] used sophisticated cyber techniques to hack into computers and networks used by the Clinton campaign. They stole private information, and then released that information through fake online identities and through the organization WikiLeaks.”

“We now know that the Russian government timed their operation to interfere with our election, to harm the candidacy of Secretary Clinton, and to benefit the Trump campaign.

“Separately, the Special Counsel concluded that Russian entities “engaged in a social media operation where Russian citizens posed as Americans in order to interfere in the election.”  Using fake identities on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, these operatives planned rallies in favor of the President and spread lies about Secretary Clinton made to look like legitimate media. Again, these activities represent a direct attack on our democratic process.

“With respect to these two, specific operations by the Russian government, the Special Counsel did not find sufficient evidence to charge Trump campaign officials with conspiracy against the United States.

“He did, however, document at least 171 contacts between members of the Trump campaign and transition team and the Russian government.  Sixteen Trump campaign officials are known to have had direct communications with Russian agents.  Representatives of the Trump campaign exchanged emails and phone calls and held face-to-face meetings with high-level Russian government officials, Russian oligarchs, and even some of the hackers the Special Counsel accused of working to sway the election.

“There can be no question that Congress must investigate this direct attack on our democratic process.  I believe that Ranking Member Collins agrees that we must do so without delay.  In a letter he sent last month, he urged the Committee to call Robert Mueller to testify—during the Memorial Day recess, if necessary—both for the sake of transparency and “for the American public to learn the full contours of the Special Counsel’s investigation.”  In a letter he sent last week, the Ranking Member again asked us to examine “the threat Russia and other nefarious actors have played, and may continue to play, in our elections.”

“Over the course of the coming weeks, this Committee will do just that.  We will examine the effects of foreign influence on our elections.  I hope that we will hear testimony from the Special Counsel as well.

“But the country cannot hope to understand the Russian government’s attack on our democratic system if we do not also investigate who stood to benefit from that attack and the extent to which the Trump campaign may have welcomed it.  Similarly, we cannot fully understand the Special Counsel’s work without also discussing President Trump’s repeated attempts to undermine it.

“In his report, the Special Counsel describes ten separate incidents in which the President attempted to change the scope or direction of the investigation, or to end it altogether.

“At one point, President Trump ordered White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire the Special Counsel.  Later, he asked McGahn to write a letter stating that the incident never happened.  McGahn said he would rather resign.

“At different stages, he asked Attorney General Jeff Sessions to “unrecuse” himself and to step in to direct the investigation away from the President’s conduct.

“And, of course, the President’s public statements about this investigation before and after the release of the Mueller report are, at best, at odds with the evidence laid out in the report itself.

“There can be no question that this Committee must investigate this behavior as well.

“Today’s hearing is the first in a series of hearings designed to unpack the work of the Special Counsel and related matters.

“We have a responsibility to do this work, to follow the facts where they lead, to make recommendations to the whole House as circumstances warrant, and to craft legislation that makes certain no President, Democrat or Republican, can ever act in this way again.

“Our witnesses today include three former federal prosecutors, each of whom has considerable experience weighing the kind of evidence laid out by the Special Counsel in his report and in his indictments of thirty-four individuals—including President Trump’s National Security Advisor, his campaign manager, his deputy campaign manager, and his personal attorney.

“Our panel also includes Mr. John Dean, who served as White House Counsel to President Nixon, and who became a critical witness for prosecutors and congressional investigators attempting to respond to President Nixon’s attempt to obstruct the Department of Justice and the FBI.

“We will rely on the expertise of these witnesses to help draw our own conclusions about the findings of the Special Counsel and other evidence before us today.

“We will do so mindful of the House rules that prevent us from making inappropriate personal references to the President, members of this Committee, and other Members of Congress.

“But the rules of decorum in the House of Representatives are a shield, not a sword.  The rules are designed to focus the debate on the facts and the law, and can therefore help us discuss the findings of the Special Counsel with the seriousness they deserve.

“The rules are not, however, an opportunity to avoid discussing serious allegations of misconduct altogether.

“I know that the Ranking Member and I disagree on any number of topics, including on what conclusions we should draw from the facts laid out by the Special Counsel.  For example, in his last letter, he argued that President Trump has been “vindicated” by the Special Counsel’s report.  I cannot agree with that conclusion—and neither, I believe, could the Special Counsel, given his insistence that his report “does not exonerate the President.”

“But I also know that the Ranking Member and I agree on the seriousness of the attack on our elections, and that we must work together to make it more difficult for any President to ignore the danger that presented itself in 2016.

“That work continues in this hearing room, today.

“And it continues at the Department of Justice, later this afternoon, when this Committee will begin to review some of the documents that Attorney General Barr previously denied us.

“I am pleased that we have reached an agreement to review at least some of the evidence underlying the Mueller report—including interview notes, first-hand accounts of misconduct, and other critical evidence—and that this material will be made available without delay to members on both sides of the aisle.  As a result, I see no need to resort to the criminal contempt statute to enforce our April 19 subpoena, at least for now, so long as the Department upholds its end of the bargain.

“But our arrangement with the Department does not extend to the full scope of our request for the full Mueller report and its underlying materials, including grand jury information, nor does it extend to our demand that Don McGahn, a key fact witness, testify before this Committee.

“Our work will therefore continue tomorrow, on the House floor, when we consider Chairman McGovern’s resolution to authorize this Committee to enforce its subpoena through civil litigation.  It is my expectation that, as a result of this authorization, Mr. McGahn will testify here before long.

“And between now and then, we still have an obligation to investigate the deeply troubling evidence outlined by the Special Counsel—not merely the portions that implicate Russian nationals, as some have suggested, but the entire report, including the volume that lays out some of the President’s troubling behavior.

“The Committee’s work is serious.  We should delay it no further.  We should conduct ourselves in a manner that is consistent with the Rules of the House and worthy of this chamber.

“And even if we cannot agree to draw the same conclusions from the evidence, we should at least proceed with a common understanding:  We were attacked.  We were attacked by a foreign adversary.  President Trump’s campaign took full advantage of the attack when it came.  The descriptions of obstruction of justice in Volume II go to the heart of our legal system.

“If we can agree on this common set of facts as our starting place, and agree to follow the facts and the law where they take us, I believe we can make a great deal of progress in this hearing today.

“I thank the panel for being here today, and I look forward to your testimony.”