Robert Mueller To Testify Before Congress

Robert Mueller has agreed to testify before Congress in public. Testimony that is likely to be the big story of the summer.

After several weeks of back and forth negotiations and obvious reluctance, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has agreed to appear before Congress in mid-July to testify publicly about his report and investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and person’s linked to the Russian government:

WASHINGTON — Robert S. Mueller III, the former special counsel, has agreed to testify in public before Congress next month about his investigation into Russia’s election interference and possible obstruction of justice by President Trump, House Democrats announced on Tuesday night.

Coming nearly three months after the release of Mr. Mueller’s report, two back-to-back hearings on July 17 before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees promise to be among the most closely watched spectacles of Mr. Trump’s presidency. They have the power to potentially reshape the political landscape around his re-election campaign and a possible impeachment inquiry by the Democrat-controlled House.

Mr. Mueller, a strait-laced former F.B.I. director who has spoken publicly only once about his work as special counsel, had resisted taking the witness stand. He knows he is certain to face questions from both sides of a pitched political fight. Many Democrats are eager to employ him to build a case against Mr. Trump, and Republicans are just as eager to vindicate the president. His 448-page written report, Mr. Mueller asserted, should speak for itself.

In the end, though, the two committees issued subpoenas compelling Mr. Mueller to speak, and he accepted.

The chairmen of the panels, Representatives Jerrold Nadler of New York and Adam B. Schiff of California, wrote in a letter to Mr. Mueller on Tuesday that they understood that he had reservations about appearing on Capitol Hill, but they were insistent he do so, anyway.

“The American public deserves to hear directly from you about your investigation and conclusions,” the chairmen wrote. “We will work with you to address legitimate concerns about preserving the integrity of your work, but we expect that you will appear before our committees as scheduled.”

The White House declined to comment on Tuesday night. However, Mr. Trump posted a familiar two-word refrain on Twitter amid news of the testimony: “Presidential Harassment!”

The president and his attorney general, William P. Barr, have said that they have no issue with Mr. Mueller testifying, but they could theoretically try to block him from appearing, as they have other former government officials.

The stakes could scarcely be higher for Mr. Trump, who is facing re-election next year, or for Congress, which is battling to weaken him. The executive and legislative branches have been locked in an ever escalating dispute over access to documents and witnesses related to Mr. Mueller’s work, with the White House refusing to honor congressional subpoenas and court battles looming. That intransigence has prompted growing calls for an impeachment inquiry on Capitol Hill, but has also slowly lost the attention of the wider public.

The hearings will most likely be aired live and in full on network and cable television. With other potential witnesses off limits for now, Mr. Mueller possesses perhaps the singular authority to shift the dynamic in Washington and change the minds of Americans across the country who long since cast their lot with Mr. Trump or his critics.

“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,” Mr. Nadler and Mr. Schiff said in a joint statement.

(…)

From the time he took over the F.B.I.’s investigation of Russia’s election meddling and possible ties to the Trump campaign in May 2017, Mr. Mueller, 74, has been one of the most vexing figures in American public life. He conducted his work in absolute private, despite incessant attacks by Mr. Trump in public and from within the White House, and ultimately issued a lengthy report that raised as many questions as it answered.

In the report, Mr. Mueller detailed Russia’s disinformation and hacking campaigns to sow chaos in the American political system, harm Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and eventually bolster Mr. Trump. Though he detailed more than 100 contacts between Trump associates and various Russian figures and painted a picture of a campaign that welcomed the foreign assistance, the special counsel ultimately concluded that there was insufficient evidence to charge anyone with conspiring with the Russians to undermine the 2016 election.

Mr. Mueller’s team also extensively investigated whether Mr. Trump’s attempts to thwart its work amounted to obstruction of justice. The special counsel’s report documented 10 such episodes — including orders by Mr. Trump to fire Mr. Mueller, to constrain his investigation and to alter records about what he had done.

Ultimately, the members of Mr. Mueller’s team concluded that because Justice Department policy prohibits indicting a sitting president, they could not determine whether Mr. Trump’s actions had been criminal. But they also clearly stated that they could not exonerate the president of wrongdoing, either, and that the Constitution provides another means of adjudicating possible presidential wrongdoing: Congress.

“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mr. Mueller said during his lone public appearance in late May.

House Democrats have seized on those comments as a de facto referral to Congress to act, but they want to hear more from Mr. Mueller about why he made such an unusual prosecutorial decision around obstruction of justice and if he believes he had enough evidence to charge Mr. Trump if he was not president.

More from The Washington Post:

Former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III will testify to Congress in a public session next month about his investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential campaign and possible obstruction of justice by President Trump, a reluctant witness long sought by House Democrats.

The House Judiciary and Intelligence committees, in an announcement late Tuesday, said that “pursuant to a subpoena,” Mueller has agreed to appear before both panels on July 17. Mueller, who oversaw the 22-month inquiry, is perhaps the one person lawmakers and the nation have been wanting to hear from the most.

“We are pleased that the American people will hear directly from Special Counsel Mueller. Our national security is being threatened and the American people deserve answers,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has pushed back against calls to impeach Trump, said in a statement.

Mueller will testify in back-to-back hearings before the House Judiciary Committee, led by Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), and the House Intelligence Committee, led by Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.).

The long-awaited testimony comes as nearly 80 House Democrats have called for opening impeachment proceedings against Trump, arguing that he has ignored the Constitution that he took an oath to defend while repeatedly refusing to cooperate with congressional investigations.

Impeachment proponents hope Mueller’s testimony will increase public support for ousting the president. At the very least, his testimony is certain to provide the headline-grabbing, made-for-cable-television testimony that Democrats have been seeking since the 448-page redacted report was released April 18.

Still, some Democrats are already trying to temper expectations. Privately, some fear that Mueller’s much anticipated testimony won’t live up to the hype that has been built around him for months. 

“I don’t want to set unrealistic expectations,” Schiff said in an interview after the announcement. “We want to hear what he has to say, and I think it’s very important for the American people to hear from him as well. But there are a great many other witnesses that the American people need to hear from in addition to Bob Mueller.”

Mueller spoke briefly in May, saying that he could neither clear nor accuse Trump of obstructing justice, leaving room for Congress to make that call and fueling impeachment demands among some Democrats. The remarks were his first public comments on the case since he concluded his investigation. Mueller said that if his office “had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” and he noted that the Constitution “requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.”

Getting Mueller to testify is the end of a process that began not long after he submitted his report to Attorney General William Barr and Barr provided Congress with a redacted copy of the report that has also been released publicly. Initially, it was reported that Mueller was reluctant to testify publicly or in open session and the initial discussions involved him testifying behind closed doors, but as time has gone on it has become clear that only public testimony would be sufficient to deal with the questions that still exist with regard to the report and Mueller’s investigation. In no small part, of course, one of the reasons for this is the fact that it quickly became clear that Attorney General Barr had seriously misrepresented several aspects of the report. This has been one of the many reasons why Barr has been held in contempt by the House Judiciary Committee.

The main question, of course, is what Mueller will be willing to testify about in detail. In his only public statement in the two years that he was acting as Special Counsel, Mueller said that he would not testify about anything outside the report itself and, indeed, it seemed clear that he hoped that Congress would simply accept the report itself as everything he had to say about the matter. Many people have chalked this up to Mueller’s by-the-book personality and his obvious desire not to get caught up in the partisan whirlwind that has developed around the report and the ongoing question of whether or not to begin impeachment proceedings against the President.

Despite this understandable reluctance, though, it’s been clear from the start that Mueller’s public testimony is crucial to bringing attention to what the report was about and to rise above the efforts of Trump, Barr, the Administration, and the President’s propagandists and supporters to distort the report and continue the undermining of the investigation that the President has been engaged in since the beginning. Additionally, there are rather obvious outstanding questions that go beyond the four corners of the report that only Mueller himself can answer.

Whatever Mueller might say, his testimony will no doubt be the must-watch news event of the summer in much the same way that the testimony of Oliver North because the Iran-Contra Committee was back in 1987. It’s also likely to lead the President to erupt on Twitter, perhaps even during the hearings themselves which should make for some interesting side-by-side comparison. Republicans no doubt will take their marching orders from the President and seek to undermine Mueller and try to paint his investigation as partisan and tainted, but one suspects that they will fail as miserably as the President has in that respect.

In any event, mark your calendars. The big day is July 17th and, regardless of what happens, it’s guaranteed to make for some riveting testimony.

Here’s the letter from Chairmen Nadler and Schiff:

Letter to Mueller by on Scribd

FILED UNDER: Congress, Donald Trump, Impeachment, Politicians, Russia Investigation, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    In my mind the most we can expect from Mueller is for him to explain his intent; what he thinks should have happened after he filed his report. Did he intend for Congress to pick up the ball and run with it? Or did he intend for Barr to spike the ball?
    Other than that, having him read the report could have some power. I actually had someone claim, in a bar last night, that he had read the entire report and that Mueller had found no obstruction. So clearly Barr’s effort at mis-information has worked.
    I imagine the next 3 weeks is going to see a all-points effort by the President and his sycophants to try to discredit, and even stop, this testimony. From what I’ve read Hannity is already apoplectic.

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  2. SenyorDave says:

    I expect that there will be a full court press from the right media to discredit the whole investigation, largely focusing on the FISA warrant issue. I saw a Fox News story with “multiple legal experts” claiming that the Democrats and Mueller will rue the day they got him to testify. Mark Meadows, noted RWNJ, was quoted as saying that Mueller better be prepared to answer a lot of questions about his methods. And that is what will happen. The REpublicans in government know that Trump committed crimes – they just don’t care.
    I heard a bit of testimony last week from a constitutional lawyer who was testifying before the House about technicalities regarding Obstruction of Justice. The two Republicans who questioned him both asked questions only about Hillary Clinton and why shouldn’t she have been prosecuted.
    This attitude is why the rape allegations don’t matter to the Republicans in Congress. Most of them know he did it, but they don’t care.

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  3. mattbernius says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:
    Agreed, I think most of this will just be him repeating “the report is my testimony” over and over again.

    At best, the Democrats might be able to get him to say out loud “We didn’t consider the issue of charging the president because our team’s understanding of the policy says we could not charge the president.” But I suspect he will not go there.

    I am sure some of the Democrats will try to get him to directly state that if this was anyone other than the President, he would most likely have brought charges. As with the above point, I don’t see Mueller remotely going near that.

    The biggest trap for the Republicans is a direct attempt to discredit him on the stand. I don’t see that going well for them (especially given how generally ineffective they were against Michael Cohen).

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  4. SKI says:

    I think the biggest impact will be him clarifying whether or not the spin/gloss offered by some is accurate or inaccurate.

    “Mr. Mueller, the President said that your report clears him of obstruction of justice. Is that an accurate description of Part II?”

    Ad infinitum… Clips running on cable news over and over.

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  5. gVOR08 says:

    Remember that this all started with an intel investigation into Russian meddling and possible ties to US actors. Mueller was not appointed because of a hue and cry by Dems, he was appointed because of a general hue and cry, especially by the intel community, when Comey was fired in an apparent effort to shut down the intel investigation. It’s unclear whether Rosenstein, who wrote the memo justifying firing Mueller, was a victim, an innocent negotiating a minefield, an idiot, a useful idiot, a co-conspirator, or after the job himself. An intel investigation should not have been bound by the rules of evidence or DOJ opinion that limited Mueller. Which makes Mueller’s statement that he found insufficient ADMISSIBLE evidence against Jr. fascinating. And no one knows what happened to the original intel investigation. The Intel Committees supposedly have heard nothing.

    So maybe Mueller will tell us where the Intel investigation went. But
    I doubt it. I expect this to be a nothingburger. More Jesuitical evasion and rationalization, more refusal to provide information relevant to unknown investigations that Barr may or may not be allowing to proceed, more hints that maybe someone should do something but not Mueller, more claims that he said all he had to say in the report.

    Maybe Mueller is providing cover for ongoing criminal or intel investigations he thinks will answer the questions he refrained from answering, maybe he feels his charter was narrow and he’s done his job, maybe the FBI is implicated and he’s covering, maybe his sympathies are such he feels the forces of order need to be protected from the mob and the takers, maybe Barr’s holding his children hostage. How is anyone to know unless Mueller opens up. Maybe it’s just that the Deep State works for the Czar. Whatever is going on, I’m getting tired of hearing what a straight arrow Mueller is without evidence.

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  6. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @gVOR08:

    Which makes Mueller’s statement that he found insufficient ADMISSIBLE evidence against Jr. fascinating.

    I thought the report basically said Jr. was too dumb to know he was doing something wrong?

    And no one knows what happened to the original intel investigation.

    Are you talking about the Counter-Intelligence Investigation looking into whether Dennison is compromised by Foreign Powers? That seems to be a huge mystery…no one seems to know where it stands.

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  7. Tyrell says:

    “The report is my statement”

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  8. Scott F. says:

    @mattbernius:

    The biggest trap for the Republicans is a direct attempt to discredit him on the stand.

    I believe the Republicans falling into this trap is more likely than not because of stories like this:
    @SenyorDave:

    I saw a Fox News story with “multiple legal experts” claiming that the Democrats and Mueller will rue the day they got him to testify. Mark Meadows, noted RWNJ, was quoted as saying that Mueller better be prepared to answer a lot of questions about his methods. And that is what will happen.

    I believe the only way the Mueller testimony might significantly move the needle on Trump impeachment is the Republicans decide to go hard at the Special Counsel’s methods and credibility. I don’t suspect Mr. Mueller is the kind of man who would countenance much public questioning of his personal integrity and the integrity of his team before he’d feel compelled to defend their honor.

    He’s given every indication that he will try to stay above the political fray, but if it becomes personal, I’d like to imagine Mueller wouldn’t put up with that. Let’s hope the Republicans step in that bear trap.

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  9. Kylopod says:

    @gVOR08:

    I expect this to be a nothingburger. More Jesuitical evasion and rationalization

    Yup, I’ve been imagining it going sort of like this:

    DEM: Did Trump, in your estimation, commit obstruction of justice?

    MUELLER: The report did not conclude that Trump was exonerated of obstruction of justice.

    DEM: Does that mean there was evidence of obstruction on the president’s part?

    MUELLER: The report didn’t conclude that there wasn’t evidence sufficient to bring charges of obstruction.

    DEM: If Donald Trump weren’t president, would you have indicted him?

    MUELLER: The report didn’t conclude that President Trump wouldn’t have been indicted if he weren’t a sitting president.

    Jeez, it’s like the interrogation of Pinocchio in the Shrek films.

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  10. mattbernius says:

    @Kylopod: In his defense, Mueller has made that clear more or less from the start.

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  11. Liberal Capitalist says:

    Still, in reading the various news stories today, it strikes me that TODAY is the day when the house of cards starts falling down.

    There are too many different issues confronting Trump, and he is ill qualified to deal with any of them. And it shows.

    Tell me again about the strawberries, Mr. Trump. Please continue.

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