Robert Mueller will change nothing
The nation is about to be riveted by the public testimony this week of former special counsel Robert Mueller before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees. Millions will tune in to hear the most respected prosecutor in the nation describe how President Trump interfered with the investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 campaign, lied about it to the American people, and instructed others to do the same. Facts and legal jargon buried in the final report of Mueller will become clear, causing support for Trump and Attorney General William Barr to begin crumbling.
Previously wavering House Democrats now aided by a growing number of moderate Republicans will finally embrace impeachment with hearings dominating news coverage after this summer and well into the campaign cycle. Trump, bereft of allies, will retreat further into his inner circle as calls for a primary challenge become louder. He will suffer a humiliating defeat in the 2020 election along with the Senate Republicans who, ignoring the growing public outcry, stubbornly refused to remove him.
That is one scenario. Here is what is much more likely to happen. Mueller, true to his word, will testify to the facts and conclusions found within the four corners of his report and nothing more. Democrats, who in the last few months since the report was released have not been able to hold a single substantive hearing on its key findings, will try desperately to force Mueller to say the actions of Trump constitute impeachable offenses. They will ask whether Mueller would have brought charges against Trump but for Justice Department policy against charging a sitting president, still bitter that Mueller had failed to engineer a way as an executive branch prosecutor to exercise the removal authority that rests with Congress.
For good measure, Democrats will take every opportunity to drive a wedge between Mueller and Barr, who they have spent months arguing has acted as a de facto defense lawyer for Trump. Republicans, their heads firmly in the sand, will add nothing of value. They will use their time decrying the hearing itself, railing about the two years and tens of millions of dollars spent on a collusion investigation that found no collusion, and asking questions about the origins of the probe that they know are currently under investigation and simply cannot be answered.
Mueller will not take the bait on any of it. He will not provide Democrats cover to pursue impeachment, throwing it back as a political question for Congress whether the evidence collected constitutes “high crimes and misdemeanors.” He will refuse to answer hypothetical questions about whether he would have charged Trump if he were not the president. The former special counsel, ever the consummate professional, will not go on record criticizing Barr or divulging the inner deliberations of the Justice Department. Most Americans will ignore the entire spectacle. Those who tune in will recoil at the dysfunction in Congress on full display, feeling even more disgusted by the partisan posturing that does nothing to help with the everyday bread and butter issues that actually affect their lives.
House Democrats have everything they need to impeach Trump except the will to move forward with the process. They know they lack broad public support for it, they know they will not get an explicit impeachment recommendation from Mueller, and they know there is no chance Senate Republicans will allow for the removal of Trump. They nonetheless have every right to proceed with impeachment and exercise their obligation under the Constitution to hold the president accountable. However, their insistence that the testimony of Mueller will change public opinion reeks of condescension that the American people are too obtuse to understand the severity of the actions of the president unless it is spoon fed to them.
Viewers who tune in this week will hear whatever confirms their existing predisposition toward Trump. For those who believe he is a scoundrel who should be driven from office, the testimony will reinforce that. For those who think Trump is the victim of a witch hunt kept alive by the Washington establishment, they will come away more fired up to defend him. At some point, our leaders in Congress must decide whether to impeach Trump for his actions during the Russia investigation and let the chips fall where they may. They should not expect Mueller to do the hard work for them.
Joseph Moreno is a former federal prosecutor with the Department of Justice and a United States Army combat veteran. He is now an attorney based in Washington. You can follow him on Twitter @JosephMoreno.