For those eager to see special counsel Robert S. Mueller III testify, lay waste to misinformation about his report and put Attorney General William P. Barr in his place, you can keep right on waiting.
The Washington Post confirms that Mueller is reluctant to testify publicly beyond the contents of his report. He is at an impasse with the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), who wants all of Mueller’s testimony to be public.
From The Post’s Devlin Barrett, Ellen Nakashima and Rachael Bade:
Mueller, according to people familiar with the matter, would like for any discussions beyond the public contents of his report to be conducted in private. Democrats want to press Mueller in a nationally televised hearing about a host of issues, including whether he thought President Trump could or should be charged with obstruction if he were not the president, and whether Mueller agreed with Attorney General William P. Barr’s handling of the investigation’s findings.
The standoff won’t be surprising to those who know Mueller best. He has long been content to let his investigations speak for themselves, and rarely makes public statements or discloses more than he needs to. His office made only one public comment — beyond legal filings — during the entirety of its almost two-year investigation; that was to shoot down a report that President Trump had directed his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress.
But Trump opponents who saw Mueller as their white knight have a difficult time letting go of that. Even after Mueller decided it wasn’t his place to accuse Trump of obstruction of justice, they believe his testimony might reveal something beyond the text of his report, or that he might even just come out and say Trump committed obstruction. The fact that Mueller wrote a letter criticizing Barr’s handling of the rollout of his report’s findings made them feel like he’s got a story he wants to tell.
But what’s happening now indicates we’re not about to see anything amounting to Robert Mueller, unplugged. If he felt it was important for him to show up to Congress and set the record straight, he probably wouldn’t be haggling over limiting his public comments. You’d think he’d be taking the first available date.
But it’s also remarkable that Mueller is sticking to this posture, even now. It’s understandable that Mueller wants to stay above the political fray, as he has tried to do throughout his time in public office. But he’s now in the fray. The fact that he rarely speaks publicly allowed Barr to define his report before people had a chance to read it. Mueller will forever be judged by the contents of the Mueller report and how it shook out politically, but right now he’s letting Barr own the debate.
That’s not to say Mueller couldn’t still tell us something important. Simply by going over the results of his obstruction investigation or talking through some of the reasons behind the decisions he did or didn’t make, he could crystallize some of the confusing aspects of the report. He could correct misinformation simply by restating what’s in the report publicly, which could be compelling for people who haven’t studied the chapter and verse of the Mueller report (which is almost everyone). I wrote about four areas on which he could provide some clarity, even if he’s not stepping far outside the details of his report.
But it doesn’t seem Mueller wants any part of blowing the lid off this. Which means, as previously emphasized, that expectations about his testimony should be tempered. This is a man who, as Politico’s Darren Samuelsohn recapped Tuesday, has testified to Congress more than 50 times. And if he’s not eager to make this all about him, he probably won’t.