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Mueller's Testimony Could Be A Letdown To Some, Rep. Himes Says


What can we expect today from one of the most highly anticipated congressional hearings in recent history? Well, back in May, this is what former special counsel Robert Mueller said we could expect.


ROBERT MUELLER: Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report. It contains our findings and analysis and the reasons for the decisions we made. We chose those words carefully, and the work speaks for itself. And the report is my testimony. I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress.

KING: House Democrats want his testimony anyway, and they're going to get it. They want Mueller to talk about his nearly two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and his investigation into whether the president obstructed justice. Representative Jim Himes is a senior member of the House Intelligence Committee. He'll be one of the people asking questions of Robert Mueller today. Good morning, sir.

JIM HIMES: Good morning, Noel.

KING: What will you ask Robert Mueller today?

HIMES: Well, I think you're going to find that the Intelligence Committee in particular, on which I sit, talks exclusively about Volume One, which is the Russian attack and the interaction between the Russians and the Trump campaign. The Judiciary Committee, which will precede the Intelligence Committee, is going to really focus on the questions of obstruction, the president's behavior in Volume Two.

All of us, I think - obviously the parties have slightly different agendas. The Democrats really want to bring the report, a report that most Americans have not read, a report which raises really serious questions even if they don't rise to criminal - a criminal threshold about the president's behavior or the president's people's behavior. The Republicans, of course, will be doing something equally challenging, which is trying to damage Bob Mueller's credibility, arguably generally acknowledged to be one of the men of most intense integrity in the United States. The Republicans will be looking to find bias to be - to challenge his integrity.

KING: You have said that you think this hearing might be a letdown to some people. What do you mean by that?

HIMES: Well, Bob Mueller is a guy who says what he means and means what he says. And I think he is going to really stick to the script, specifically his report. And so, you know, questions about whether, had he been a prosecutor and had the president not been president, would he be charged, I just don't think he's going to go there. And so I think the bulk of both hearings is likely to be a little bit frustrating inasmuch as I think Bob Mueller is either going to give one-word answers or refer and perhaps even read elements of his report.

KING: All right. In that event, why is it so important to you and your party colleagues to get this testimony today? Like Robert Mueller has said, the report is out there. Right?

HIMES: Yeah. And of course, very, very few people have read it. And I think there's a couple of reasons. One is, I think, universal. And the other is - maybe has a bit more partisan tinge to it why Americans need to know what is in that report.

With respect to the Russian attack, you know, what does it mean when there are 126 million face impressions paid for by the Russians? How did they manipulate our emotions? How did they aggravate the racial rifts, the other rifts in our body politic? Americans really need to understand that. And they need to better understand how the Russians hacked into the Democratic National Committee and other entities and then released, of course, those email. That - that's important for everybody to understand.

It's also - and I understand this has a little bit of a partisan tinge to it - but more Americans really need to understand how aggressively the president's campaign, whether it was George Papadopoulos or Paul Manafort, very, very senior people in the president's campaign welcomed Russian help, planned to use that Russian help and then, of course, how the president directed people to lie about that, how the president himself lied about that. I'm not sure that's going to change a lot of opinions. But history demands that people know and understand the behavior of this president and his campaign in the face of that Russian attack.

KING: Is there anything you want to know from Mr. Mueller that was not in the report?

HIMES: There are. There are. And here's where I think it gets really interesting. For example, why did Bob Mueller take the decision not to question the president in person? As you know, the president submitted written answers. I have no doubt that those written answers were crafted by a committee of lawyers. You know, Bill Clinton, when he was in a similar position, of course agreed to be interviewed.

A lot of the crimes of which the president is potentially accused - obstruction of justice especially - have everything to do with what he was thinking at the time. And so Bob Mueller not probing him directly, not backed by a phalanx of lawyers in a conference room - Bob Muller taking the decision not to interview the president not only breaks with historical precedent, but that's a pretty serious, in my opinion, shortcoming to the case. And why did he make that decision? I don't know where he's going to go on that, but I do think he owes the American people an answer.

KING: Well, it seems as though he said in the past that he didn't do that because he was afraid it would just take too much time to get the president to actually come in and sit down. Let me ask you about the impeachment inquiry that you have called for the House to begin. Are you hoping that these hearings today will pave the way to impeachment?

HIMES: Yeah. And if I could just quickly note on what you just said - it would take too much time is not an excuse in the justice system, right? There was - this was a two-year investigation. And again, no - it would take too much time is a good reason not to do your workout, not to be - (laughter) you know, not to be comprehensive in your answers. But to your impeachment question, look, I have very little doubt that this day will be a catalyst for a number of people to come out and say that they now favor an impeachment inquiry. I don't think that's going to matter.

KING: Really?

HIMES: Nancy Pelosi is not keeping a tally sheet somewhere, and once a certain threshold is called, she decides to move forward with impeachment. She has her eye on the body - on the American people. And sentiment in this country, not sentiment on the part of a couple members of Congress, but sentiment in this country - and, look, Nancy Pelosi is already a historical figure. She is not going to risk her legacy by - and I think this is the argument she would make - necessarily moving prematurely in a way that would either be particularly divisive for the country or that might have really bad impacts on 2020.

KING: Additionally, a number of polls show that more Americans oppose the beginning of impeachment proceedings than support it. So that may be part of it too, right?

HIMES: I think that is part of it.

KING: The American people might not want this. Yeah.

HIMES: She is a huge believer in public sentiment and the power of public sentiment.

KING: Representative Jim Himes of Connecticut. He's one of the people who will question former special counsel Robert Mueller today. Sir, thanks so much for your time. We appreciate it.

HIMES: Thank you, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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