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Whether Mueller testifies to Congress ‘won’t be his choice,’ says Rep. Connolly

After special counsel Robert Mueller spoke out about his investigation, some Democrats felt they had new motivation for impeachment. Judy Woodruff talks to Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., about Mueller's "consequential" remarks and how they differed from Attorney General William Barr’s, why Mueller should still testify before Congress and and whether Democratic opinion on impeachment is shifting.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, we were hearing about congressional Democrats. Let's hear now from one of them.

    I spoke a short time ago with Representative Gerry Connolly of Virginia. He serves on the U.S. House Oversight Committee.

    Congressman Gerry Connolly, thank you very much for talking with us.

  • Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.:

    Pleasure.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So we heard today finally from the special counsel. What did you take away from it?

  • Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.:

    I found it extraordinary that he decided to break his silence after two years in person.

    And what you heard from him, I think, was pretty consequential. He said, on the Russian part of his investigation, that there was plenty of evidence of — convincing evidence of Russian interference, and there was evidence of cooperation, but not enough to file criminal conspiracy charges.

    That's not the same as saying, I found full exoneration, nobody did anything wrong. He didn't say that. And that's a huge difference between him and the summary provided by the attorney general, Mr. Barr.

    Secondly, on obstruction, he all but said President Trump has committed a crime and said that the fact that we didn't find a crime doesn't mean he didn't commit it. And, oh, by the way, they wouldn't let us, meaning the Department of Justice.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, what should happen now? I mean, the Congress was asking for the special counsel to testify. You heard him say today, I'm going to let the report speak for itself. I have no further comments to make.

  • Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.:

    That won't be his choice.

    You're a citizen of the United States. And when Congress subpoenas you to come and testify, especially given the fact of who you are — you just wrote one of — one of the most consequential documents in recent history with respect to the president and the potential for impeachable and even criminal behavior.

    You have got to come and explain yourself. And it's not true the document speaks for itself. There are many unanswered questions or questions that need amplification in terms of answers in that report.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What's an example?

  • Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.:

    Well, one example is, why didn't you summon President Trump personally, the way President Clinton was summoned by Ken Starr? And were you pressured into not doing that?

    And did the fact that you didn't do that, and didn't hear from him personally, did that change any opinions in your report? Did it water it down? Did it mean that you couldn't take actions you otherwise might have?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You — we talked to you on the "NewsHour" last week. You were at the Capitol.

    You said, at that time, you did not think an impeachment inquiry was needed. Do you still have that view?

  • Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.:

    Well, that was in the context of, do you need an impeachment inquiry to elevate the issue for judges to rule in favor of Congress in enforcing subpoenas?

    And I opposed that because the precedent that sets is terrible. So, in other words, the only time judges are going to rule in favor of Congress is if we have launched an impeachment inquiry. I don't think that's right.

    A subpoena by Congress is a legitimate tool for investigation, as Judge Mehta found two weeks ago, and needs to be upheld by the courts, without any kind of impeachment inquiry.

    Absent that, I think we are being pushed more and more toward that direction. I don't think we're quite there yet. And I think a few things have to play out. Certainly, what Mueller had to say today, in my view, makes it harder to avoid the impeachment question.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you — I mean, is it your sense that the center of gravity is shifting in the House…

  • Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.:

    Yes. Yes, absolutely.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … as a result of this?

  • Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.:

    Absolutely.

    I think impeachment started out as sort of at the edges for a few individuals who were passionate about it. I think, today, the broad middle is evaluating carefully what their duty is and what the political fallout could be.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I'm asking because we saw that Speaker Pelosi was saying today that, in order — and I am quoting in part. She said, in order to succeed with impeachment, there has to be a compelling case, so ironclad that even the Republican majority Senate would go along with it.

  • Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.:

    I would agree with all of that, except that word ironclad.

    I don't know what ironclad means. Ironclad means there is nothing to detract from the obvious truth of something. I wish life were that simple. I think that's a standard no one can meet.

    But the question is, have we crossed a threshold in terms of impeachable offenses that require Congress constitutionally to undertake an inquiry and possible subsequent action? I don't think we're there yet. I think it does need to play out for maybe a few months.

    But I think we're getting closer and closer to that point.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Do you think it has any bearing on what Congress does that you have more and more of the Democratic candidates for president moving into the "we need to pursue impeachment" camp?

  • Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.:

    I don't think a presidential candidate doing that in a Democratic primary, trying to position for advantage in a crowded field, is going to influence any of our swing Democrats who just won Republican districts and want to be very careful about how they thread this needle.

    I don't think that's going to have an effect on them at all.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    What will affect them?

  • Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.:

    Convincing evidence, not necessarily ironclad, but certainly compelling evidence, as the speaker said, that makes it almost impossible to avoid for them, that I think that's a standard they have to consider.

    For many of us not any longer in swing districts, I have to define this as, what is my constitutional duty with the evidence I'm faced with? And that evidence becomes more and more inconvenient if I want to avoid the impeachment question.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Congressman Gerry Connolly of Virginia, thank you very much.

  • Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va.:

    Thank you, Judy.

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