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Former Nixon White House Counsel Testifies On Allegations Of Obstruction Against Trump


Today the House Judiciary Committee began hearings on lessons from special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russia's election interference. Also today, Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler announced a breakthrough in talks with the Justice Department to hand over evidence Mueller used to draw his conclusions. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis joins us now on the latest, from Capitol Hill. And Sue, let's start with that agreement reached between the Judiciary Committee and DOJ. What are the terms?

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: So in a statement, Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler said that DOJ agreed to turn over, in his words, key evidence that was used in its investigation over whether or not President Trump obstructed justice. We don't know explicitly what this evidence is. It's always important to remember that Mueller did not draw a conclusion on whether or not the president obstructed justice. In the report, it made a point to say the president was not exonerated on this front and kind of turned it over to Congress for their oversight capabilities. Nadler said this evidence should start coming over as early as today. He said every member on the panel will be able to view it, and it will continue to be part of their ongoing investigation.

CORNISH: If there is a deal, will Democrats call off that vote tomorrow to hold Attorney General Barr in civil contempt?

DAVIS: No, it's still on. It's really important to make a distinction here, though. So the - what the judiciary did back in May - the committee - is they did vote to hold Barr in contempt of Congress. That is not what's going to be coming to the floor tomorrow. What Democrats are bringing to the floor tomorrow essentially authorizes the Judiciary Committee to fight the attorney general and other people in the administration in civil court to enforce their subpoenas. It's a type of civil contempt. Nadler says if Barr and DOJ complies with this request, they are not going to have to take that route. But they're not going to take the pressure off. The resolution also applies to former White House counsel Don McGahn and testimony and documents they're seeking from him.

I also think it's important to see this vote happening tomorrow as, you know, a bit about politics. Democrats are still pretty divided over whether to move forward formally with an impeachment inquiry. It does give Democrats a chance to go on the record and say they are doing something to hold this administration accountable. It is not legally necessary in order to fight it in the courts, but it does give them a little bit of oomph.

CORNISH: In the meantime, the Judiciary Committee launched its oversight investigation into Robert Mueller's report. Then we turn on C-SPAN, and basically we see the former Nixon White House counsel John Dean. I mean, he was a key witness in the...

DAVIS: Yeah.

CORNISH: ...Watergate scandal testifying. So why did they call him?

DAVIS: You know, they're clearly trying to draw a parallel here between Nixon. What Nixon was to Watergate, Democrats are saying, Mueller could be to President Trump. Dean did invoke Watergate in saying that the Mueller report could be seen as a, quote, "roadmap for impeachment." This is a term that was used for a secret report that was written by Watergate prosecutor Leon Jaworski, who provided a report to the House Judiciary Committee that kind of said - here's the case; now you go make it.

The top Republican on the committee, Doug Collins - he's a Republican from Georgia - kind of made the point about this panel of hearings is, so what, right? Like, none of the witnesses at the hearing today were involved in the Mueller investigation. There was also a couple former federal prosecutors that testified. There were not substantial fact witnesses in the investigation into either the interference or the administration. It wasn't that dissimilar, Collins said, to listening to people on a cable news panel talk about what they think should happen. We should note that Dean is often seen on cable news talking about this very matter.

But it does - it also serves as a reminder that Democrats have had a hard time, you know, getting people in the Trump administration to come up and testify about the Mueller report. They've really struck out so far. So this is, in some ways, seen as the best they could do as a starting point.

Nadler says he's still confident Bob Mueller is going to come up and testify before the committee in public, even though Mueller has said he does not want to do that. Jerry Nadler has not ruled out using a subpoena if he won't. But he still says he's not willing to go there just yet.

CORNISH: That's NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis. Thank you.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.