The Democrats’ Mueller hearings
House Democrats this week launched two separate hearings on the Mueller report as they stepped up their campaign to raise public awareness of its findings. The House Judiciary Committee convened its first hearings on the special counsel’s investigation, with testimony from Watergate-era White House counsel John Dean. During the Watergate hearings, Dean provided testimony about President Richard Nixon’s attempts to obstruct justice, helping force Nixon’s resignation. Dean drew parallels between many of Trump’s actions and Nixon’s, including Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey and his dangling of pardons for Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, which he likened to Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre and his attempt to silence the Watergate burglars. “The Mueller report is to Trump as the Watergate road map was to Nixon,” Dean said, referring to the sealed special prosecutor’s report delivered to Congress in 1974.
Meanwhile, the Justice Department agreed to provide Democratic lawmakers parts of Mueller’s underlying evidence in exchange for dropping a criminal contempt citation against Attorney General William Barr for defying a House subpoena. Lawmakers have demanded Mueller’s entire unredacted report and all underlying evidence, which the Trump White House has refused to provide. The House voted along party lines to sue Barr in order to force full compliance, as well as to compel testimony from former White House counsel Don McGahn. The House Intelligence Committee opened its own hearings into questions not fully answered in the Mueller report, including whether or not the Russian government had compromising information on Trump. The president vowed not to resign like Nixon regardless of what the Democrats do. “He left,” Trump said. “A big difference. I don’t leave.”
What the editorials said
“When John Dean speaks about Watergate, people would do well to listen,” said the Springfield, Mass., Republican. Trump’s behavior bears “remarkable” similarities to Nixon’s during the Watergate scandal. Nixon did not order the break-in at Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate Hotel, just as Trump didn’t tell Russia to interfere with the 2016 election. “What was important was the exhaustive web of deceit” the Nixon White House used to cover it up. “A big difference today, though, is that there are almost no Republicans in Congress who are willing to search for the facts.”
Is this all the Democrats have? asked the New York Post. Dean, who pleaded guilty to a single count of obstruction of justice in exchange for testifying against his fellow Watergate conspirators, has made a career out of calling things “worse than Watergate.” Dean was nothing more than a political prop summoned to let Democrats role-play impeachment hearings without the real thing. Next time, why not “subpoena Monica Lewinsky?”
What the columnists said
The Democrats are blowing this, said Alex Shephard in NewRepublic.com. Hearings on Mueller’s sensational findings should be must-see TV, but Dean’s testimony “was a dud.” Most Americans weren’t born when Nixon resigned; the larger and more immediate problem is that so few of them really know what’s in the Mueller report, including documentation of Trump’s blatant attempts to obstruct the Russia investigation. “Democrats need to show that the president broke the law, not just tell us about it.”
“This is just a game,” said Andrew McCarthy in NationalReview.com. Democrats know “impeachment will go nowhere,” since the Republican-held Senate would vote to acquit. So party leaders are trying to keep their Trump-hating base happy with pointless blustering. “I don’t want to see him impeached,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reportedly told Democrats at a meeting last week. “I want to see him in prison.” Of course, Pelosi knows that’s not going to happen. But she “has to say something to appease them.”
It’s true: Democrats’ dire messaging doesn’t match their actions, said Jonathan Bernstein in Bloomberg.com. “It’s hard to argue that Trump’s various scandals are truly Watergate-like if Democrats aren’t moving ahead with impeachment proceedings.” Have some patience, said Jennifer Rubin in The Washington Post. Pelosi’s “step-by-step approach” is already paying off, with the administration agreeing to hand over some of Mueller’s underlying evidence. Democrats should keep up the pressure on reluctant witnesses, such as former White House counsel Don McGahn and former communications director Hope Hicks—“fact witnesses who can bring to life” the damaging details in Mueller’s report. “Persistence will pay off.”
Cover illustration by Fred Harper.
Cover photos from AP, Newscom, Getty