Rep. Johnson’s Statement for Hearing on “Lessons from the Mueller Report: Presidential Obstruction and Other Crimes”
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Rep. Hank Johnson (GA-04) delivered the following opening remarks and questions for witnesses during the Judiciary Committee hearing “Lessons from the Mueller Report: Presidential Obstruction and Other Crimes,” the first of a series of hearings the Committee will conduct focused on the alleged crimes and other misconduct laid out in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
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Witnesses: Mr. John Dean, Former White House Counsel; Mr. John Malcolm, Vice President, Institute for Constitutional Government, Director of the Meese Center for Legal & Judicial Studies and Senior Legal Fellow, The Heritage Foundation; Ms. Barbara McQuade
Former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan; Ms. Joyce White Vance, Former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama.
Rep. Johnson: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Dean, relatively early on in the Nixon cover up, you told the president that there was a cancer on the presidency. And then you came forward and blew the lid off of the whole cover up. Then you pleaded guilty. You paid your debt to society. And since that time, you have been an exemplary individual committed to truth, justice and protection of the rule of law. And for that I want to thank you for your service to our country. For the rest of the witnesses, thank you for your testimony today. On January 25, 2018, The New York Times reported that in June of 2017, the president ordered Don McGahn to have Special Counsel Robert Mueller fired. Shortly after that news broke, the president went on TV and said: “fake news, folks. fake news. A typical New York Times fake story.” The report, however the Mueller Report documents a flurry of events behind the scenes after the Times reporting came out. Volume II, page 114 of the Mueller Report says: “On January 26, 2018, the president's personal counsel called McGahn’s attorney and said that the president wanted McGahn to put out a statement denying that he had been asked to fire the special counsel and that he had threatened to quit in protest. McGahn’s attorney spoke with McGahn about that request and then called the president's personal counsel to relay that McGahn would not be making that statement. McGahn 's attorney informed the president’s personal counsel that the Times story was accurate in reporting that the president wanted the special counsel removed. Accordingly, the attorney said although the article was inaccurate in some respects, McGahn could not comply with the president's request to dispute the story.” Mr. Dean, why could Don McGahn not comply with this request to put out a statement denying that he had been asked to fire Mueller?
Mr. Dean: Because it would have been -- I suspect what he had in his – I’m projecting myself into his position. He didn't want to put out a false statement. He didn't want to become embroiled in something that he knew was troublesome. He had already expressed that. It's not dissimilar from a situation I found myself in when Nixon announced in August 29 of 1972 during the campaign that when he was asked why he didn't appoint a special counsel, he said well because the Congress is investigating Watergate. The FBI is investigating Watergate. The general office is looking into why the burglars had fresh $100 bills in their pocket. He said most importantly, my White House counsel, John Dean, has investigated this entire matter and found that nobody presently employed in this White House had anything to do with this bizarre incident.
Rep. Johnson: And that was a lie.
Mr. Dean: That was a lie. It was the first I heard of my investigation. I was then asked repeatedly to issue a report based on my non-existent investigation.
Rep. Johnson: And you declined to do so. Why?
Mr. Dean: I did because it would have been a lie.
Rep. Johnson: And what would have been the result for you?
Mr. Dean: Theoretically, depending upon the venue, it could have been anything from a false statement to perjurious statement.
Rep. Johnson: You could have gone to prison, in other words, for doing what you were asked to do by the president.
Mr. Dean: Yes.
Rep. Johnson: Thank you. Page 115 of volume II states: “On January 26, 2017, Hope Hicks recalled that the president asked White House press secretary Sarah Sanders to contact McGahn about that New York Times story and McGahn told Sanders there was no need to respond and indicated that some of the article was accurate.” Mr. Dean and also Professor Vance and Professor McQuaid, what is your reaction to this internal effort to get McGahn to dispute the press report?
Mr. Dean: I'll defer to the ladies to start first.
Professor Vance: Well, Congressman, I'll just say that this is part of four successive steps that the president takes in an effort to get the White House Counsel Don McGahn to change the story. And this isn’t just in response to a press report. The Mueller Report is very careful to say that at the point that this cascading series of requests go from the president to McGahn, they are outside of that window where you would just be trying to respond in the press. And this looks like an affirmative effort to create an official record that would confirm the president’s story here which is that he did not try to get McGahn to fire Bob Mueller. And so there are actually four conversations. As you reflected there is the counsel to counsel call. There is Hope Hicks’ testimony about the president’s conversation with his press secretary. He has an additional conversation with Rob Porter, the staff secretary. And then finally there is this Oval Office meeting where the president says to Don McGahn: “You need to change your story, I did not ask you to fire Mueller.” McGahn pushes back. We have a series of efforts that don’t culminate obstruction because McGahn refuses to cooperate. This sort of crime, obstruction of justice, does not depend upon completing the crime. The attempt to obstruct justice is really the problem here. That is what interferes with the functioning of our criminal justice system. And that’s why this conduct is so deeply troubling.
Chairman Nadler: The time of the Gentleman has expired.
Rep. Johnson: Could I ask that Ms. McQuaid be able to answer?
Chairman: If she is brief.
Professor McQuade: I will be brief. The only thing I would add is it demonstrates why it is important to look at the totality of the circumstances and the conclusion that Robert Mueller makes with regard to all four of those incidents that there is substantial evident of an intent on the part of president Trump to prevent scrutiny of President Trump and his campaign.