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Opinion Trump tries to silence another witness

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III on March 24 in Washington. (Cliff Owen/AP)

First it was the former White House counsel. Now it is special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. In both cases, President Trump — seemingly petrified of witnesses concerning a report in which he claims to have been exonerated — has tried to suppress testimony from those with the most damning evidence of Trump’s obstruction of justice.

The Post reports, “President Trump said Sunday that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III should not testify before Congress, reversing course from his previous position that the decision is up to Attorney General William P. Barr. ‘Bob Mueller should not testify,’ Trump said in an afternoon tweet. ‘No redos for the Dems!’” The House Judiciary Committee is seeking to have Mueller testify on May 15.

Mueller’s testimony would not be a redo, but it could demolish Trump and Attorney General William P. Barr’s canard that Trump is guilty of nothing. It’s an opportunity to explain what is in the report and review the 10 episodes of conduct that could support a charge of obstruction of justice. Trump and Barr have been overstating and misconstruing the report to such an extent that many Americans — who don’t have time to read a 448-page report — are genuinely confused. The last thing Trump wants is an accurate accounting of the report and his misdeeds.

As former prosecutor Joyce White Vance tells me, “If Trump has nothing to worry about, he’d be scheduling Mueller’s testimony himself. His concern is a red flag.”

The chief law enforcement official seems intent on incinerating his professional reputation. (Video: Kate Woodsome, Joshua Carroll, Danielle Kunitz/The Washington Post)

So can he stop Mueller from testifying? “Of course there is no way Trump can stop Bob Mueller from testifying,” constitutional lawyer Laurence Tribe tells me. “There is no executive privilege between them, and obviously no attorney-client privilege, and Mueller doesn’t even work for Trump.” Tribe continues, “Until he leaves [the Justice Department], he works for Barr. And Barr has no conceivable basis to stop Mueller from testifying.” In any event, Tribe explains, “Mueller is free to leave [Justice] at any time and will then be simply a private citizen.”

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He’ll be as unsuccessful in stopping private citizen Mueller from testifying as he has been in preventing former White House counsel Donald McGahn from telling his story. “Only a dictator can tell a private citizen not to testify in a duly constituted legislative or parliamentary inquiry into the head of state’s conduct,” Tribe concludes. “And though Trump might fancy himself a dictator, that’s not the reality. Not yet, anyway.”

Trump had no luck halting former acting attorney general Sally Yates from testifying, former Justice spokesman Matthew Miller says.

Trump must be frustrated. His spin works only when the facts are hidden or too complicated to unravel. Put the facts out in plain sight, have someone more credible than Trump (an open-ended category) explain what has happened and — poof! — Trump’s smokescreen, the nonsensical patter coming from Fox News hosts and the incoherent arguments from Trump’s TV lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, will vanish.

And make no mistake: According to a new NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll, voters by a substantial margin think more highly of Mueller (net +12 favorability), Democrats (-5) and even Barr (-7) than they do Trump (-10). Sixty percent say Trump is not honest or truthful about Mueller’s investigation, and by a 42-to-29-percent margin, voters already understand that the report doesn’t clear Trump. It may be wrongheaded and fruitless, but you can understand why Trump is trying every trick to shield voters from the full impact of the report. It paints a portrait of a president desperately trying to stop an inquiry into him, which is exactly what he continues to do.

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