Is Mueller fi­nally ready to say more?

The Fresno Bee (Sunday) - - Opinion - BY MICHAEL MCGOUGH

The an­nounce­ment that for­mer spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller will tes­tify be­fore two House com­mit­tees in July is sig­nif­i­cant only if Mueller goes back on his word.

You’ll re­mem­ber that, in a pub­lic state­ment in May, the for­mer FBI di­rec­tor who in­ves­ti­gated pos­si­ble ties be­tween Rus­sia and Don­ald Trump’s cam­paign made clear that he had no de­sire to tes­tify be­fore Congress. If he were to ap­pear, he added, “I would not pro­vide in­for­ma­tion be­yond that which is al­ready pub­lic.”

“If” has be­come “when.” Last week it was an­nounced that, in re­sponse to sub­poe­nas from House Democrats, Mueller would tes­tify on July 17 be­fore that cham­ber’s In­tel­li­gence and Ju­di­ciary com­mit­tees.

It’s im­por­tant that Mueller re­con­sider his in­sis­tence that the 448page re­port he filed with the Jus­tice Depart­ment “is my tes­ti­mony.” He needs to say more, but not for the rea­son some crit­ics of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump are ea­gerly await­ing his ap­pear­ance.

Their hope, and that of some of the Democrats who will ques­tion the for­mer spe­cial coun­sel, is that Mueller will use his tes­ti­mony – which is ex­pected to be tele­vised live – to ac­cen­tu­ate the find­ings in his re­port that make Trump look bad.

And that may hap­pen. Many Amer­i­cans who didn’t read Mueller’s re­port were prob­a­bly sur­prised to hear what he said on cam­era about the pos­si­bil­ity that Trump had ob­structed jus­tice. Mueller explained that “if we had had con­fi­dence that the pres­i­dent clearly did not com­mit a crime, we would have said so. We did not, how­ever, make a de­ter­mi­na­tion as to whether the pres­i­dent did com­mit a crime.”

Even if Mueller re­peated those words in con­gres­sional tes­ti­mony, it would prob­a­bly in­crease the num­ber of Amer­i­cans who know about that non-ex­on­er­a­tion.

But paving the way for im­peach­ment isn’t the prin­ci­pal rea­son Congress and the coun­try need to hear more from the for­mer spe­cial coun­sel. There are am­bi­gu­i­ties in Mueller’s state­ments about ob­struc­tion that he needs to clear up.

As the Los An­ge­les Times ob­served in a May 29 ed­i­to­rial, the Mueller re­port “left unan­swered ques­tions, most no­tably whether Mueller would have ac­cused Trump of ob­struc­tion of jus­tice if the Jus­tice Depart­ment hadn’t de­cided that a sit­ting pres­i­dent couldn’t be in­dicted. The re­port men­tioned that long­stand­ing pol­icy, but it left un­clear whether Mueller be­lieved that, in the ab­sence of such a di­rec­tive, he would have con­cluded that Trump com­mit­ted a crime.”

Yes, such a clar­i­fi­ca­tion would be help­ful to Congress in as­sess­ing whether to open an im­peach­ment in­quiry, but it’s not nec­es­sary. The House is free on its own au­thor­ity to de­cide whether the con­duct al­leged in Mueller’s re­port – in­clud­ing a find­ing that Trump di­rected then-White House Coun­sel Don­ald McGahn to have Mueller re­moved for sup­posed “con­flicts of in­ter­est” – is cred­i­ble ev­i­dence of “high crimes and mis­de­meanors.” The House doesn’t need an af­fir­ma­tion by Mueller that Trump ob­structed jus­tice – ex­cept per­haps as po­lit­i­cal cover.

So one ques­tion is whether Mueller is ready for his close-up; the other is whether Democrats in the House (in­clud­ing Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who is cau­tious about im­peach­ment) are ready for theirs.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.