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.
In the report, Mueller’s team wrote that while the investigation established that the Trump campaign “expected it would benefit electorally from” information stolen in Russia-backed efforts, it “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
Mueller also found 10 “episodes” of potential obstruction of justice but ultimately concluded that it was not his decision to determine whether Trump broke the law.
Trump’s Sunday tweet marks a shift from what he said Friday during an exchange with reporters in the Oval Office. Asked then whether Mueller should testify before Congress and whether he would like to see the special counsel do so, Trump replied, “I don’t know. That’s up to our attorney general, who I think has done a fantastic job.”
Trump and House Democrats are locked in a battle over congressional oversight, with the president refusing to cooperate with multiple Capitol Hill investigations seeking witnesses, documents and his tax returns. The president has vowed to “fight all the subpoenas” from Democrats, sued to block compliance by accounting firms and banks, and instructed aides to ignore the repeated requests from Congress.
The tensions between the Trump administration and Congress could come to a head as early as this week, when House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said his panel will probably adopt a contempt citation against Barr unless he provides the full, unredacted Mueller report.
Democrats aren’t alone in seeking Mueller’s testimony. Early last month, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Douglas A. Collins (Ga.) urged Nadler to invite Mueller to testify, writing in a letter to the chairman, “If you seek both transparency and for the American public to learn the full contours of the Special Counsel’s investigation, public testimony from Special Counsel Mueller himself is undoubtedly the best way to accomplish this goal.”
In an appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation” Sunday, Collins mentioned the letter and said of Mueller: “He’s the one that is the central figure here.”
Trump’s reversal on Mueller testifying came hours after a key member of the House Judiciary Committee said that the panel has proposed a date of May 15 for Mueller to testify but that no agreement has been reached yet.
Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.) said Sunday morning during an appearance on “Fox News Sunday” that a “tentative date has been set” for Mueller’s testimony. But he said in a later tweet that he had misspoken.
“Just to clarify: we are aiming to bring Mueller in on the 15th, but nothing has been agreed to yet,” Cicilline said in the tweet. “That’s the date the Committee has proposed, and we hope the Special Counsel will agree to it. Sorry for the confusion.”
A spokesman for Mueller declined to comment.
In late March, Mueller wrote a letter to Barr voicing dissatisfaction that a four-page memo to Congress describing the principal conclusions of his investigation into the president “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of his work.
Barr defended his handling of the case during a contentious Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week. He repeatedly denied accusations and insinuations by Democrats that he had lied or misrepresented anything.
“I wasn’t hiding the ball,” Barr told Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.), who pressed the attorney general on whether he omitted key details of Mueller’s report from his initial account of the findings.
In his “Fox News Sunday” interview, Cicilline said the panel hopes Mueller will agree to testify.
“We think the American people have a right to hear directly from him,” he said.
Asked whether Mueller has agreed, Cicilline responded: “The representative for the special counsel has, but, obviously, until the date comes, we never have an absolute guarantee.”
Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Mueller and former White House counsel Donald McGahn should testify.
“Barr’s testimony alone — designed to protect Trump — isn’t going to cut it. They will testify. The American people deserve the truth,” Schiff said.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) responded to Trump with his own tweet.
“First @realDonaldTrump repeatedly tried to fire Mueller. Then he refused to be interviewed by Mueller. Now he’s trying to silence Mueller. For a man who constantly proclaims his innocence, @realDonaldTrump is acting awfully guilty. Mueller must testify publicly before Congress.”
Devlin Barrett and Shane Harris contributed to this report.