Under pressure by House Democrats — and a clever Watergate trick — the Justice Department has agreed to turn over some of the underlying evidence from special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, including files used to assess whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said Monday.
In the first breakthrough in weeks of negotiations over the report, Rep. Jerry Nadler said the department will provide some of Mueller’s “most important files.” He said all members of the committee will be able to view them.
The news comes hours before Democrats were to start a series of hearings intended to galvanize public attention on the findings of the Russia investigation. John Dean, a star witness from Watergate who helped bring down Richard Nixon’s presidency, is one of the witnesses. The hearing, which will also feature former U.S. attorneys, is on “presidential obstruction and other crimes.”
Dean, a White House counsel during Nixon’s administration, told CNN on Monday that he’ll describe “how strikingly like Watergate what we’re seeing now, as reported in the Mueller report, is.”
In response to the agreement, Nadler said the panel will not vote to hold Attorney General William Barr in criminal contempt, for now. But the House is still expected to vote on a resolution Tuesday that would empower the committee to file a civil lawsuit for the materials, if Democrats decide to do so.
“We have agreed to allow the Department time to demonstrate compliance with this agreement,” Nadler said in a statement. “If the department proceeds in good faith and we are able to obtain everything that we need, then there will be no need to take further steps.”
Of course, the deal won’t give Democrats all of what they were requesting — including an unredacted version of the report and secret grand jury testimony. But it is the first agreement that the Judiciary panel has been able to strike with the department since the report was issued in April.
The slate of televised sessions on Mueller’s report means a new, intensified focus on the Russia probe and puts it on an investigative “path” — in the words of anti-impeachment Speaker Nancy Pelosi — that some Democrats hope leads to Trump’s impeachment. In doing so, they are trying to aim a spotlight on allegations that Trump sought to obstruct a federal investigation as well as his campaign’s contacts with Russia in the 2016 election.
And they will likely demand an appearance from Mueller himself, despite his stated desire to avoid testifying.
Monday’s hearing is the start of three days of Russia-related action on Capitol Hill. The House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday intends to review the counterintelligence implications of the Russian meddling. Mueller said there was no evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia.
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Republicans are poised to defend the president at the hearings and challenge Democrats on the decision not to open impeachment hearings.
Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, sent Nadler a letter Friday calling the upcoming hearing a “mock impeachment hearing” and warning Democrats to be civil when speaking of the president.
Collins said in the letter that outside of impeachment proceedings, “it is out of order for a member of Congress, in debate, to engage in personalities with the president or express an opinion, even a third party opinion, accusing the president of a crime. The rules are clear on this point.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article