Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller has agreed to testify
publicly before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees after Democrats
issued a subpoena. In his press
conference on May 29, Mueller indicated that he did not want to testify
before Congress and intended his report to be his testimony.
“Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our
report,” Mueller said at the time, adding, “The report is my testimony. I would
not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance
Nevertheless, many Americans want to hear more from Mr.
Mueller. “Americans have demanded to hear directly from the Special Counsel so
they can understand what he and his team examined, uncovered, and determined
about Russia’s attack on our democracy, the Trump campaign’s acceptance and use
of that help, and President Trump and his associates’ obstruction of the
investigation into that attack,” House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler and
House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said in a joint
Other Americans pointedly don’t want to hear more about the special counsel investigation. As the news of Mueller’s upcoming testimony broke on Tuesday, President Trump tweeted, “Presidential harassment!”
Even if, as is likely, Mr. Mueller brings no new details of
Russian collusion or presidential obstruction of justice to the witness chair,
there are lingering questions about his report that his testimony could help
answer. First and foremost is whether Mueller would have recommended
prosecution of Donald Trump for obstruction of justice if he had not been
president. Along that line is whether Trump’s actions, in Mueller’s opinion,
constituted impeachable offenses.
There is also the question of Mueller’s
letter to Attorney General William Barr. It was only after Mueller sent a
letter complaining about Barr’s characterization of the Mueller report that the
attorney general agreed to release a redacted version of the report to the public.
Did Barr originally intend to mislead the public with summary that allowed the
president to claim “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION”
while not revealing that Mueller’s failure to recommend prosecution for obstruction
was because he did not make a prosecutorial judgment due to Justice Department
policy that prohibits indictment of a sitting president?
For their part, Republicans will likely use the opportunity
to attack the credibility of the Special Counsel’s office and the FBI as well
as question the origins of the Russia investigation. Republicans can be
expected to question Mueller about the Steele dossier as well as probe whether
the FBI was biased in its investigation of the Trump campaign. Many Republicans,
including AG Barr, have alleged that
the FBI behaved in a corrupt fashion during the investigation but have not
provided evidence to support their claims.
Congressional hearings will also provide Mueller with a
platform to draw attention to what he seems to see as the bigger elephant in
the room: the fact that Russia went to great lengths to tamper with the
election. As Mueller
stressed in his press conference, “There were multiple systemic efforts to
interfere in our election. And that allegation deserves the attention of every
House Democrats will be certain to point out that Republicans,
who traditionally have been strong on national security, have spent two years
blocking efforts to beef up election security and minimizing the effect of Russian
cyber attacks on election infrastructure. As recently as this week, Senate
Republicans blocked a bill by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) that would have
required backup paper ballots and provided election security grants to states.
Ultimately, much can be gleaned from the expectations of the
two parties. The eager anticipation of Democrats shows that they think it is
likely that Mueller’s testimony will be damaging to the president. The panicked
reaction of the Republicans shows that they agree.
Mueller’s testimony is scheduled for July 17.