It’s a big win for House Democrats — or is it? They have issued a subpoena to force former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to testify in July before two committees, and in front of cameras.
Mueller has said he won’t say anything that’s not already in his report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. “The report is my testimony. I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress,” he said in rare public remarks in May.
So what’s the use of talking to Mueller if he's not going to talk, at least not the way Democrats might want him to? A few reasons.
You’ll be watching (Democrats hope)
Mueller has been a man of mystery for the last two years, but now he will be thrust into the spotlight. That ensures he will be all over the news in a more direct way than he was when he submitted his report to Attorney General William P. Barr in March. And if Mueller is in the news, so are his findings. Among them: that Donald Trump’s campaign welcomed Russia’s help, and that the president repeatedly attempted to blunt or block Mueller’s investigation in a way that may have obstructed justice. (Mueller said he was hamstrung by Justice Department guidelines from determining whether Trump committed a crime.)
It’s one thing to read all that in an article like this. Democrats believe it will be much more dramatic for the nation to hear Mueller say it.
Here’s what Rep. Jim Hines (D-Conn.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told Politico: “It’s going to be challenging for Bob Mueller and it’s going to be challenging for everybody because I believe he’s not going to say anything beyond what he wrote in the report. But, that said, most people haven’t read the report so I think there’s real value in that."
But: While Democrats are probably right that the findings will resonate much more when Mueller describes them out loud, it’s an open question whose minds they will be changing. Polls show that people’s thoughts on the Mueller report are set in partisan stone.
Interviewing Mueller checks a box in their larger investigation
The potential political benefits aside, having Mueller talk is a pretty obvious thing to do. Mueller himself has said that it’s up to Congress to decide what punishment, if any, to give Trump.
To that end, Congress is investigating what’s in the Mueller report. Lawmakers are making inroads with the Justice Department to see the unredacted version. The Intelligence Committee under Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) wants to look deeper into whether Trump broke the law by trying to fire Mueller.
It makes sense to talk to the author of the report. Even if House Democrats don’t get any clear answers, having Mueller testify is an important step to take, and one that’s especially useful if they want to move on to impeachment proceedings.
Having Mueller testify could speed up the impeachment train
There are already 80 House Democrats who support opening an impeachment inquiry into Trump, which is more than one-third of the caucus. That includes 15 of the 24 Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over impeachment. To the extent Democrats want to make impeachment an inevitability, having Mueller testify is a good way to do it. After Mueller’s brief news conference in May, a dozen House Democrats came out in support of beginning impeachment proceedings.
Generally, House Democratic leadership opposes impeaching Trump. But leaders of the two committees that will be hearing Mueller testify, the Judiciary and Intelligence committees, have been sounding more open to impeachment lately.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said that until public opinion supports impeachment, Congress should not do it. But The Washington Post has reported that he has privately urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to let his committee open up an inquiry into whether Trump should be impeached. And he has said there “certainly is” justification for beginning impeachment proceedings.
And Schiff, the Intelligence Committee chairman, said Sunday of impeachment, “We may get there” — a notable contrast from his remarks just a few weeks ago that impeachment would not be helpful to Democrats.