The importance of special counsel Robert Mueller testifying before Congress is easy enough to summarize: If the results of the Russia investigation had begun with the statement that Mueller delivered on Wednesday morning, rather than the “summary” written by Attorney General William Barr, Congress would already be well into impeachment proceedings. In his 10-minute appearance, Mueller said nothing that was not in the report, but anyone watching those 10 minutes saw that the difference between the real contents of that report and the distorted note that Barr authored is enormous.
Mueller has stated that he doesn’t want to testify again. He’s also insisted that, should he testify on the Russia investigation, he will have nothing to say that’s not already in the report. Good. Let him say it. The statement that Mueller delivered on Wednesday morning was the same one he delivered in the report, using the same words. But this was Robert Mueller telling America what he believed were the most important points of the report.
Shorter Mueller: I’m not allowed to say that Trump is guilty, but he’s not innocent. If only the Constitution described a way to deal with this. Perhaps in Article I, Section 2?
Should the special counsel appear before Congress and say this again? Sure. Because every appearance he makes undoes some of the damage done by Barr getting out in front of the truth with an upside-down version of the report that reversed the actual findings. The more times that Mueller can be compelled to speak in front of cameras, in sight of the American people, the better. If that appearance can be worked out voluntarily, that’s fine. If it means handing him a subpoena, that’s fine, too.
And even though Mueller has said he will not say anything not already contained in the report, that’s not quite true. Because some of the questions that the House Judiciary Committee and others must ask him concern the handling of that report once it was delivered to Barr.
The public has already seen letters originating from Mueller complaining about the way that Barr summarized the report and the confusion that Barr’s mischaracterization of the report created. In his short statement on Wednesday, Mueller seemed to excuse what Barr did after receiving the letter—but he didn’t address Barr’s original summary or what caused him to put his complaints about the summary on paper. That’s an area that demands to be investigated.
Mueller also needs to be asked about his interactions with both Barr and Rod Rosenstein. From Mueller’s statement, it’s clear that the special counsel’s office looked into other means of charging Trump that wouldn’t violate the limits set by Department of Justice guidelines. That included looking at filing charges under seal, or in some other nonpublic way. But, says Mueller, that was also not possible. Said who? Was Rosenstein involved in that decision?
For that matter, what were Mueller’s instructions from Rosenstein? The original letter giving Mueller his marching orders is included in the report, but the two other letters that Rosenstein wrote overriding that initial order are not. In fact, the public has still not seen what authority Rosenstein gave to Mueller or what limits were set on his investigation. What areas might the special counsel have wanted to look at that were specifically cut out of his purview? That’s something that has to be revealed.
Ten minutes with Robert Mueller on Wednesday morning has already pushed the movement toward impeachment forward, done a good deal to shred the distorted note written by Barr, and driven Trump into a fresh lather. If Mueller appeared before Congress and said nothing more than a word-for-word repeat of the statement he gave at the DOJ, it would still absolutely be worth the effort.