On May 29, Robert Mueller delivered his first and only public statement regarding the investigation that bears his name.
In remarks delivered at the Justice Department, the special counsel reiterated the findings of his two-year probe, and, crucially, he made it clear that under DoJ regulations, charging Donald Trump with obstruction of justice “was not an option”.
It was as obvious as it could have been under the circumstances that Mueller likely intended for Congress, not William Barr, to make the final determination on whether the president had committed a crime. At the very least, it seemed as though Mueller believed Congress should have a say in the matter.
Mueller concluded by thanking the agents and attorneys who worked on the investigation and by saying that any testimony he would theoretically give would not deviate from the conclusions delivered over 450 pages. “The report is my testimony”, Mueller said.
Or maybe not. Because on Tuesday evening, Jerry Nadler and Adam Schiff said, in a statement, that “pursuant to subpoenas issued” by their respective committees, Mueller “has agreed to testify before both Committees on July 17 in open session”.
This comes at a delicate time for Democrats. Nancy Pelosi has been at pains to convince Nadler and others in her party that the best course of action is not impeachment, but rather to focus on the issues and beat Trump at the ballot box in 2020, then allow the justice system to deal with him once he is no longer immune from prosecution. “I don’t want to see him impeached. I want to see him in prison”, Pelosi reportedly said this month.
Suffice to say some Democrats (and, notably, one Republican in Justin Amash) aren’t satisfied with that strategy.
Mueller’s testimony could, conceivably, tip the scales one way or another, assuming House Democrats manage to compel the special counsel to deviate from the script, where the script is simply the special counsel report. As noted above, Mueller made it clear in May that any testimony he might give would not differ materially from what he’s already said.
Of course, most lawmakers (not to mention most Americans) have not actually read the report, which means having it effectively recounted by Mueller himself may be useful when it comes to communicating the fact that the 450-page tome represents anything but a wholesale exoneration, as William Barr and the White House have loudly insisted.
The report contains voluminous evidence to support an obstruction case and, again, Mueller made it clear in his public statement that he was precluded from charging the president. His testimony may help House Democrats pushing for impeachment make their case to Pelosi and, more importantly, to the public.
Trump has variously suggested that Mueller should not testify. The president has tweeted about the special counsel 16 times in June so far. At one point, he quoted Sean Hannity in calling Mueller’s report “pure political garbage”. America now knows Hannity exchanged hundreds of text messages with Paul Manafort during the special counsel probe.
Trump will be profoundly displeased that Mueller is set to appear on Capitol Hill and you can expect plenty of angry tweets and derisive public rants aimed at the special counsel between now and July 17.