John Dean, the former White House counsel to Richard Nixon and a key figure in the Watergate scandal whom President Trump has compared to a “RAT,” is expected to be front and center on Capitol Hill on Monday, as House Democrats are set to begin a series of hearings this coming week seeking to keep the spotlight on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
Although the week could end with Attorney General Bill Barr and former White House counsel Donald McGahn in contempt of Congress, no formal impeachment inquiry is on the table, and the way forward remains unclear. Prominent Democrats have continued to support the investigative “path” — in the words of Speaker Nancy Pelosi — that some of them publicly hoped would lead to that outcome. On Saturday, Hillary Clinton claimed that the Mueller report showed “obstruction of justice occurred,” days after Pelosi reportedly said she wanted to see Trump in “prison.”
Dean’s dramatic appearance before the House Judiciary Committee, in particular, could create a spectacle not unlike the May hearing before the panel, in which Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., showed up with a bucket of fried chicken and a ceramic chicken statue Thursday to mock an absent Barr. In a March op-ed in The New York Times, Dean made clear his thoughts on the Trump, whom he called an “authoritarian president,” in no uncertain terms.
“In fact, all Americans are affected by the growing authoritarianism that made Mr. Trump president,” Dean wrote. “These people who facilitated his rise will remain long after Mr. Trump is gone. We need to pay more attention.”
Late Saturday, Dean escalated his personal attacks, tweeting: “Would someone get Trump a dog. He needs a friend so he won’t endlessly vent on Twitter. He’s uninterested in government and policy. He doesn’t read. He doesn’t exercise. He has no real friends. A dog might save humankind. Admittedly, it a lot to ask of a dog. But help is needed.”
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Last August, Trump had his own harsh words for Dean, who assisted with the Watergate coverup and pleaded guilty to obstruction before becoming a key prosecution witness.
The president tweeted, “The failing @nytimes wrote a Fake piece today implying that because White House Councel [sic] Don McGahn was giving hours of testimony to the Special Councel, he must be a John Dean type ‘RAT,’” Trump wrote. “But I allowed him and all others to testify – I didn’t have to. I have nothing to hide……”
Partisan theatrics and high-profile witnesses, Republicans have charged, have distracted from Congress’ legislative work. Jason Chaffetz, a former member of the Judiciary Committee and a Fox News contributor, has accused the committee’s chairman, Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., of running a “clown show.”
Democrats, throughout the week, also are likely to lay the groundwork for an appearance from Mueller himself, despite his stated desire to avoid the spotlight. The hearings are to focus on the two main topics of Mueller’s report, obstruction of justice and Russian election interference.
Following the Monday hearing on “presidential obstruction and other crimes,” the House has scheduled a vote on Tuesday to authorize contempt cases against Barr and McGahn for failing to comply with subpoenas from the Democrat-controlled House.
Barr has defied a subpoena to provide a full and unredacted version of Mueller’s Trump-Russia report, along with underlying evidence from the report. Republicans have asserted that federal law protecting secretive grand-jury information would prevent Barr from turning over all of those documents, and Mueller himself has said he did not question Barr’s “good faith” in his handling of the report’s release.
McGahn, who was referenced in the Mueller report frequently, also has defied subpoenas to provide documents and testify before the Judiciary Committee. The White House directed McGahn not to comply with requests for documents during his tenure there, saying he’s legally immune from being compelled to testify about privileged discussions in the course of his official duties. Democrats have responded that McGahn waived that privilege by agreeing to speak to Mueller.
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Language in the resolution to be considered Tuesday would make it easier for committee chairmen to take the Trump administration to court. Those chairs could take legal action to enforce subpoenas in the future without a vote of the full House, so long as they have approval from a five-person, bipartisan group in which Democrats have the majority.
This coming Wednesday, the House Intelligence Committee has said it intends to review the counterintelligence implications of the Russian meddling. Mueller said there was no proof of a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia despite multiple efforts by Russians to involve the Trump campaign, but he said he could not exonerate Trump on obstruction.
Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said the goal of the Wednesday hearing will be to explain to the American people “the serious counterintelligence concerns raised by the Mueller report, examine the depth and breadth of the unethical and unpatriotic conduct it describes, and produce prescriptive remedies to ensure that this never happens again.”
With Trump pledging that “we’re fighting all the subpoenas,” top Democrats have said they wanted to avoid repeated floor votes on contempt resolutions detracting from their legislative agenda.
The procession of hearings and votes in the week ahead is designed in part to mollify anxious Democrats who have pushed Pelosi, D-Calif., to begin impeachment proceedings immediately. Pelosi so far has rejected that option, preferring a slower, more methodical approach to investigating the president, including the court fights and hearings.
During a meeting with Nadler and other committee heads last week, Pelosi made the case that she would rather see Trump voted out of office and “in prison” than merely impeached, according to multiple sources.
The latest approach appears to have satisfied restless House Democrats for the time being.
Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., who pleaded with Pelosi last month to start an inquiry, said the votes and hearings would be enough, for now, as they wait to see what happens in court.
“I am very satisfied that things are moving in the right direction,” Raskin said, “and I think the American people are getting increasingly educated and engaged about the lawlessness of the president.”
Rep. David Cicilline, a Judiciary Committee member who has favored an impeachment inquiry, took pains to avoid separating himself from top Democrats such as Pelosi.
“We should never proceed with impeachment for political reasons. We should never refuse to proceed with impeachment for political reasons,” Cicilline, D-R.I., said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Republicans are poised to defend the president at the hearings and challenge Democrats on the decision not to open impeachment hearings.
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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.”
Fox News’ Bret Baier, Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.