The chairmen of the US House Judiciary and Intelligence committees have announced that former special counsel Robert Mueller would, pursuant to a subpoena, testify in a public session on July 17. In their written statement, the chairmen asserted, “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 Speaker Nancy Pelosi, noted: “The Mueller Report revealed that the Russians waged a ‘sweeping and systematic’ attack on our elections, and America’s top intelligence and law enforcement officials have warned that the Russians will attack our elections again. This may be the most watched congressional testimony in history. President Donald Trump and his legal team have struggled mightily, even raising entirely spurious claims of “absolute immunity,” to prevent live testimony of any witness who might be able to elucidate the findings in the Mueller report, which the vast number of Americans have not read and do not fully comprehend. The importance of Mueller’s testimony cannot be overstated. “It is important that it’s happening now,” former Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller tells me. “Even if all he does is repeat the findings in the report, it’s important that the American people hear directly from him about the serious evidence that the president violated the law.”
The Mueller testimony has enormous ramifications for at least four reasons.
“No collusion, no obstruction”
First, this is possibly the only way to dispel the notion that Mueller found “no collusion, no obstruction.” In fact, he didn’t look for “collusion,” which is not a crime, but came up short of finding a criminal conspiracy. Nevertheless, he found that the president and his campaign welcomed Russian interference and thought it would help Trump win.
Hearing that directly from Mueller will be a powerful and complete contradiction of Trump’s and Attorney General William Barr’s public statements. As to obstruction, listen to Mueller lay out the conduct for which he found elements of obstruction of justice. Finally, Mueller can explain that because of an Office of Legal Counsel memo, he didn’t decide to opine on obstruction because that is Congress’s job in the context of impeachment. Certainly, what he says likely won’t go beyond the report, but for most of the country this will be the first time they really will discover what he found.
Second, while truth-telling is a benefit unto itself, Mueller’s testimony has the potential to move public sentiment. No matter what he says, he will not sway hard-core Trump supporters who believe nothing negative about their leader. However, it is not hard to imagine him shifting public opinion in the way that the Watergate hearings shifted public sentiment in favour of impeachment. That in turn would make it more uncomfortable for Republicans to defend him and more politically feasible for Democrats in the House to act — and then excoriate the Senate for not fulfilling its constitutional duty to remove him.
Third, Mueller’s testimony may both alleviate and increase pressure on Pelosi to begin impeachment hearings. On one hand, she buys a bit of time to allow Mueller to testify, for public reaction to take it in and perhaps for other witnesses to step forward. However, if Mueller is truly convincing (especially if there is perceptible movement in public approval of impeachment), it will be hard for her to deny that Mueller found substantial evidence of obstruction, for which the available remedy is impeachment.
Fourth, while Mueller is unlikely to discuss his conversations with Barr, committee members and/or counsel can read portions of Barr’s original summary, testimony and news conference to Mueller and then ask if the statements are true. True or false — you left it to Barr to decide on obstruction? True or false — President Trump did not “completely cooperate” insofar as he refused to be interviewed and tried to sway the testimony of others?
Barr is unlikely to come off as a straight shooter after Mueller lays out the facts discussed in the report, facts that contradict Barr’s spin. (At a minimum, people will be educated about the public facts that are in the report — facts that paint a picture of obstruction of justice.) Ideally, we will also learn more about the campaign’s interactions with Russia and also Bill Barr’s interactions with Mueller and why the investigation ended when it did. While I think people need to temper their expectations, because Mueller isn’t going to talk much about things not already public, the impact of his short public statement is a sign of how impactful a full day of testimony could be.
Indeed, Americans are about to learn a whole bunch about Trump’s conduct.
Jennifer Rubin is a prominent American journalist and political columnist.