Democrats want him to testify. Trump doesn’t. Who will win?
One of the primary takeaways from Attorney General William Barr’s Senatetestimony last week is that Robert Mueller must have his own day in front of Congress. Congressional Democrats have been beating that drum for weeks, but they started beating harder after it was revealed that Mueller wrote Barr a letter criticizing the AG’s summary of the special counsel report. Here’s what we know about a potential hearing involving Mueller.
Who wants him to testify, and why?
Democratic leaders in the House and Senate first called for Mueller to testify in mid-April when, they said, Barr’s behavior had created a “crisis of confidence in his independence and impartiality.” The revelation of Mueller’s letter brought renewed calls for his testimony.
In the House, the chairs of both the Oversight and Judiciary Committees have called for Mueller’s testimony. Representative Jerrold Nadler, the Judiciary chairman, said last week that the Justice Department has agreed to allow Mueller, who is still employed as special counsel, to testify. A date has not yet been set, but Nadler said he’s targeting May 15.
Democrats are eager to hear from Mueller about the decisions he made during his investigation and his thoughts on Barr’s handling of the report. His letter to Barr said that the AG’s summary “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this office’s work and conclusions.” Though a redacted version of the report has been released since Mueller wrote that letter, there’s still great interest in his thoughts on Barr’s behavior.
Some Trump allies in the GOP are calling for Mueller to testify because they think it will help the president. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, told Politico Monday, “There was no collusion, no obstruction, and that’s what Bob Mueller will tell everyone.” Utah congressman Chris Stewart wants Mueller to go before Congress so he can be grilled on why he didn’t investigate the so-called spying on the Trump campaign.
Lastly, Barr himself was not opposed to the idea of Mueller’s testimony when it came up in last week’s hearing. At one point, when he couldn’t answer Senator Amy Klobuchar’s question about whether Mueller reviewed President Trump’s taxes, Barr said, “You could ask Bob Mueller when he comes here.” His position is slightly complicated by Trump’s opposition to Mueller’s testimony (more on that later). For now though, the Times reports that Barr “appears to be adopting a tentative strategy of trying to tiptoe past Mr. Trump’s challenge by interpreting the pronouncement as a mere expression of opinion by the president rather than as an order.”
Who doesn’t want him to testify?
President Trump, for starters. After initially saying he’d have no problem with Mueller testifying, Trump flip-flopped over the weekend. He tweeted that Democrats are looking for a redo after Mueller issued a “strong NO COLLUSION conclusion.” Mueller, of course, reached no such conclusion.
After spending more than $35,000,000 over a two year period, interviewing 500 people, using 18 Trump Hating Angry Democrats & 49 FBI Agents – all culminating in a more than 400 page Report showing NO COLLUSION – why would the Democrats in Congress now need Robert Mueller…….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 5, 2019
….to testify. Are they looking for a redo because they hated seeing the strong NO COLLUSION conclusion? There was no crime, except on the other side (incredibly not covered in the Report), and NO OBSTRUCTION. Bob Mueller should not testify. No redos for the Dems!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 5, 2019
The AP reports that Trump has “stewed for days about the prospect of the media coverage that would be given to Mueller.” He doesn’t want a repeat of the Michael Cohen hearing last February.
On Wednesday, Trump asserted executive privilege over the Mueller report and the underlying evidence. That could complicate, or at least delay, efforts to get Mueller in front of the committee. University of Missouri law professor Frank Bowman III told CBS News that the claim is unlikely to keep Mueller from testifying.
Bowman, however, insisted the executive privilege claim would be a hard one back up.
“The claim of executive privilege can really only be extended to advice that’s given to the president or perhaps communications that were sort of under-girded advice given to the president,” Bowman said.
“It’s hard to imagine that any serious claim on that basis could prevent Mueller from testifying.”
In the Senate, Lindsey Graham has indicated that the’s not eager to hear from Mueller. Following last week’s hearing, the Senate Judiciary chairman told reporters that he will not be calling Mueller to testify. “I’m not going to do anymore. Enough already. It’s over,” he said. Graham left the door slightly open to a Mueller appearance in front of the committee, saying he’d write a letter inviting Mueller to testify if he wants to dispute any part of Barr’s testimony.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy also said he doesn’t need to hear from Mueller.
Does Mueller even want to do it?
House Democrats say he does. The Daily Beast reported last week that Mueller has indicated a willingness to testify, though it’s not clear if it would take place in public. A hearing hasn’t been scheduled though, because the Justice Department is dragging its feet, despite Barr’s assurances that he has no problem allowing testimony from Mueller.
One easy way for Mueller to get in front of Congress, despite Trump’s objections, would be to leave the Justice Department. It’s unclear what’s keeping him from doing so, and a spokesman has said for weeks he’d be ending his position as special counsel “in coming days,” the Times reports. Nadler said Wednesday that he expects Mueller’s employment with the department to end in a “couple weeks.”
Update, May 10, 2019: House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler announced that Mueller would not testify during the week of May 13, as The Hill reported:
“It won’t be next week. We’re negotiating now,” Nadler said. “We’re talking with him and the Justice Department.”
Nadler did not give a specific reason for why Mueller would not testify next week, telling reporters it “just hasn’t developed.”
“He will come at some point. If it’s necessary, we will subpoena him and he will come,” Nadler said later.