Will Democrats be up to the task of publicly interviewing Mueller?

Will Democrats be up to the task of publicly interviewing Mueller?
© UPI Photo

Democrats view the long-awaited congressional testimony of special prosecutor Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerMueller report fades from political conversation Trump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony MORE as a chance to educate Americans about President Donald TrumpDonald John Trump Former US ambassador: 'Denmark is not a big fan of Donald Trump and his politics' Senate Democrats push for arms control language in defense policy bill Detroit county sheriff endorses Booker for president MORE's transgressions; Republicans plan to sabotage the forum. Subversion is a lot easier than elucidation.

The much-respected former special counsel, who after almost two years, issued a 448-page report replete with explosive revelations about Trump but stopped short of charging collaboration with the Russians during the 2016 campaign — and observed that current Justice Department regulations preclude indicting a sitting president.

Congressional Democrats have touted Wednesday's testimony — three hours before the House Judiciary Committee and then two hours before the Intelligence panel — as an opportunity to demonstrate Trump's illicit, perhaps impeachable offenses.

ADVERTISEMENT

Even some Trump critics doubt they'll succeed.

"They are making too much of this," worries Bill Cohen, who was one of the Republican heroes on the Nixon impeachment committee 45 years ago and went on to serve five more terms in the House and Senate and then as Defense Secretary. "All pretense of civility is gone. The Republicans will be disruptive, and Trump will find a diversion," he predicts. "Mueller will be Joe Friday," the famed television detective who just presented the facts without elaboration.

The chief Trump cheerleader is Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrProsecutors are mainly to blame for the criminal justice crisis The Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes 10 declassified Russia collusion revelations that could rock Washington this fall MORE, from initially misrepresenting the report to taking cracks at the special counsel to accusing the House Democrats of trying to create a "public spectacle." His Justice Department also sought to bar two top Mueller deputies — now private citizens — from appearing with him. (The two former aides will be there if there's need to respond to a more granular inquiry.)

Republicans like Ohio's Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanDemocratic Women's Caucus calls for investigation into Epstein plea deal DOJ releases notes from official Bruce Ohr's Russia probe interviews CNN slams GOP for not appearing on network after mass shootings, conservatives fire back MORE and California's Devin NunesDevin Gerald Nunes10 declassified Russia collusion revelations that could rock Washington this fall Juan Williams: Trump, his allies and the betrayal of America Trump expected to nominate Texas GOP lawmaker to replace Dan Coats: report MORE, right wing Republican attack dogs, will be determined to fulfill Barr's prediction.

There's also a question, however, whether Democrats are ready for the task. They largely blew it when the initial Mueller report was released in April. The narrative from Trump and Republicans was that the report found no collusion and no cover-up. That was false, but the Democratic counter focused too much on the need to see the small part of the report that was redacted for national security or confidentiality reasons, giving scant attention to the detailed damning stuff about Trump: that he orchestrated a lie about his campaign operatives dealings with the Russians, ordered his White House counsel to lie, and instructed one of his political hacks to get the Attorney General to terminate the investigation. (These last two orders weren't carried out.)

ADVERTISEMENT

The Democrats' response diluted the impact of these revelations.

Now, the Judicary Committee, rather than relying on an experienced counsel, will allot five minutes apiece for members to question Mueller. Although they have prepared and planned for this forum more than usual, this often places a premium on scoring political points more than eliciting information.

A probability: Democrats will press Mueller on whether he would have indicted the president but for Justice department regulations that preclude that action against a sitting president. Predictably, he will say they followed department regulations; it's a moot point.

The political context is over whether to initiate an impeachment proceeding. With all Republicans and much of the public opposed, it would be doomed to fail. But the Democrats' left wing is trying to step up the pressure to proceed anyway. (Last week the House, including a majority of Democrats, voted to set aside an impeachment motion.)

That's more of a political, than a substantive, dynamic. There are arguably impeachable offenses in the Mueller report, as well as separate charges emanating from the conviction of ex-Trump lawyer Michael CohenMichael Dean CohenCapitol Police advised Gaetz against holding open events I'm not a Nazi, I'm just a dude: What it's like to be the other Steve King Wyden blasts FEC Republicans for blocking probe into NRA over possible Russia donations MORE, who illegally bought the silence of a former Trump mistress right before the 2016 election at the direction of the candidate. Critics like Bill Cohen raise whether it also includes his recent racist charges to send left wing Democratic House members, all women of color, back to the countries "from which they came." (All are citizens, three born in America.)

"This is like ll Duce out inciting supporters," says the former Republican lawmaker and Defense chief. Il Duce was the Italian fascist leader, Benito Mussolini.

Still Cohen holds out hope the Mueller forums may play an educational role, and an historical one.

Albert R. Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter-century he wrote a column on politics for the Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter @alhuntdc.