WASHINGTON — Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, will not testify next week before Congress as Democratic lawmakers had hoped, though they are far from giving up on hearing from him despite President Trump’s broad objections to congressional investigations.
“It won’t be next week,” Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told reporters on Friday. “He will come at some point,” he added. “If necessary, we’ll subpoena him.”
Mr. Trump has waffled on whether House members could question Mr. Mueller about his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether the president obstructed justice. On Thursday, Mr. Trump said he would leave the decision to Attorney General William P. Barr, who had previously said he had no problem with Mr. Mueller testifying on Capitol Hill.
Democrats view getting Mr. Mueller to testify before the Judiciary Committee as the most consequential of several fights Mr. Nadler is waging with the White House over access to the complete, unredacted special counsel report and its underlying evidence — including more details about the at least 10 instances of possible obstruction of justice that Mr. Mueller and his team investigated. Tensions have grown in recent days as the legislative and executive branches of government fight over constitutional powers.
On Wednesday, the Judiciary Committee voted to recommend that Mr. Barr be held in contempt of Congress after he refused to release Mr. Mueller’s entire report and its evidence. The House Intelligence Committee has issued a subpoena for the same material, and could follow up with another contempt vote.
The Mueller report was redacted to protect secret grand jury information and details that could jeopardize open investigations. The Justice Department has held that fulfilling the House subpoenas would require violating the law protecting grand jury secrets.
This week, the White House stopped Donald F. McGahn II, the former White House counsel and a central witness in the special counsel investigation, from providing documents to lawmakers under subpoena. The subpoena from the Judiciary Committee also requires Mr. McGahn to appear before the panel on May 21. Mr. Nadler said if Mr. McGahn was a no-show, lawmakers would consider more contempt citations.
Mr. Nadler said his committee had been negotiating with the Justice Department over testimony from Mr. Mueller, who is still a department employee. He said department officials had said Mr. Mueller would no longer be considered a government employee in a matter of weeks, but would not give a specific date. Mr. Nadler said Mr. Mueller might be more comfortable testifying as a private citizen, free from some of the Justice Department’s constraints.
Mr. Nadler and other Democrats are eager to ask Mr. Mueller about the instances of possible obstruction of justice that his team examined. In the final report, Mr. Mueller said, “while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
Before releasing a summary of the report’s findings, Mr. Barr and Rod J. Rosenstein, the outgoing deputy attorney general, said they reviewed the material from Mr. Mueller and concluded that Mr. Trump had not obstructed justice. Mr. Mueller told Mr. Barr about his frustrations over Mr. Barr’s spin on the report, the culmination of nearly two years’ work. The disagreement between the men, who are longtime friends, has only fueled Democrats’ desires to speak with Mr. Mueller.
The Republican-controlled Senate has extended Mr. Mueller a more limited offer to testify through its Judiciary Committee, but does not appear eager to stage a freewheeling public hearing. The panel’s chairman, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, wrote to Mr. Mueller last week offering to hold a hearing only if Mr. Mueller desired to address disagreements with Mr. Barr or contest the attorney general’s public statements.