WASHINGTON — Live, from a tiny parlor in the Capitol, Democratic lawmakers read aloud Thursday from nearly 400 pages of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report in a marathon expected to stretch into the next day.
More than two dozen lawmakers rotated into the shuttered House Rules Committee room to take their turns keeping the report’s findings on Russian election interference in the public conversation as Congress awaits word on whether Mueller will testify. They’re also trying to galvanize public sentiment, insisted upon by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, before any moves are made toward impeachment. Trump, who is resisting every congressional request on the subject, offered counterprogramming for about 25 minutes with a speech on immigration from the sun-splashed White House Rose Garden.
But by then, a rotating cast of Democrats was in its third hour of sharing a different story to the public — this one written by the former FBI director who spent nearly two years investigating Trump and who has been asked to speak to Congress, under oath, for himself. On C-SPAN, Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts had just gotten to the part about efforts by Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to pave the way for Trump Tower Moscow when the president began delivering his immigration remarks live on other networks.
“The American people need to hear from the report itself,” said Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon of Pennsylvania, adding, “Summaries won’t do.”
Split screen or no, Democrats continued to voice Mueller’s words at roughly three pages per minute, with as many as 10 televised hours of reading ahead of them. Blocked-out sections of the report remained secret. By the time Trump stepped to the podium at the White House, Scanlon, Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas and others had already read into the cameras sections titled “Interactions and Contacts with the Trump Campaign” and “Russian Hacking and Dumping Operations” involving the Democratic National Committee. They read aloud even sections of the report that remain secret.
“Redacted. Redacted,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the Judiciary Committee chairman who has threatened to subpoena Mueller. Later, he said the recitation is important because “it’s damning.”
Democrats agree on that, but there’s significant dissension over whether Mueller’s writings on the question of obstruction is, already, worthy of formal impeachment proceedings. While Mueller did not find evidence that Trump conspired with the Russians, he published startling details about Trump’s efforts to block the investigation and get others to lie for him. Many Democrats say that’s plenty reason to launch impeachment proceedings.
Pelosi has been adamant that the committees, including Nadler’s, first press forward with investigations. She’s said impeachment proceedings would be divisive and politically perilous for Democrats without overwhelming public sentiment calling for them. Additionally, the Senate is controlled by Republicans, so any impeachment findings would almost certainly fade there.
It wasn’t all darkness and monotony in the third-floor parlor, which is decked out in navy and gold under an outsized chandelier. Next door, actor John Cusack stopped by and briefly sat in the hearing room to listen to Scanlon read. He said he’s a friend of Nadler’s, was in town for a screening and wanted to be supportive of those who want to impeach Trump.
“This has to be on the record,” the politically active actor said of the report. “I’m for impeachment on merits because, to me, it doesn’t matter what the Senate does.”