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Why Republicans Should Want to Hear from Mueller

May 13, 2019
Why Republicans Should Want to Hear from Mueller
(Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Despite some heel-dragging from President Trump last week, House Democrats remain confident that special counsel Robert Mueller, who recently concluded his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, will testify before Congress in the days to come. Appearing on ABC’s This Week Sunday, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said Mueller’s eventual testimony was “inexorable.”

“I am convinced it’s going to happen,” Schiff said. “The American people have every right to hear what the man who did the investigation has to say and we now know we certainly can’t rely on the attorney general, who misrepresented [Mueller’s] conclusions. So he is going to testify.”

Schiff’s comments came days after President Trump seemed to suggest he would forbid Mueller to testify in a tweet, arguing that such testimony would amount to a “redo” of the report “because they hated seeing the strong NO COLLUSION conclusion.”

Trump backed off that position Thursday, saying he’d leave the decision “up to our very great attorney general.” The attorney general, William Barr, has said on multiple occasions he is willing to allow Mueller to testify.

It isn’t hard to see why Democrats are anxious to get Mueller in front of the CSPAN cameras. The special counsel’s 448-page report, released in redacted form last month, is stuffed with information about the Trump campaign’s eager attempts to solicit Russian help to sabotage Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, and the president’s subsequent hamfisted efforts to stymie investigations into those attempts—but those details also have the misfortune of being buried in a 448-page government report. Clearly, Democrats expect that quizzing Mueller about those dirty details will make for some explosive soundbites ready to be loaded into campaign ads for 2020. They might additionally hope that Mueller, who has shown signs of displeasure with Barr’s handling of his report, might offer them additional ammunition in their ongoing war against the attorney general.

But a potential Mueller hearing offers upside for Republicans, too. Democrats have invested an enormous amount of political capital in making Barr out to be a chief villain of the Russia saga—an effort Barr has certainly assisted over the last weeks with his gratuitous attempts to spin the Mueller report as favorably for the president as possible. But in battling to compel Barr to hand over an unredacted version of the report, Democrats may have overplayed their hand: If Mueller testifies that Barr’s redactions were legally justified and that the substance of his report is faithfully communicated in the public version, it could take a lot of wind out of the Democrats’ sails. (If Mueller testifies otherwise, of course, Republicans will have bigger problems on their hands than parliamentary jockeying—but there’s so far no reason to believe Mueller is sitting on such a bombshell.)

Why, then, are Trump and his allies still averse to hear from Mueller? It’s a matter of inertia: After two years of frantic denouncements of the special counsel as a bloodthirsty partisan witch hunter, they now struggle to see him in any other way.

Andrew Egger

Andrew Egger was a senior writer at The Bulwark.