Trump move raises pressure on Barr
President TrumpDonald TrumpWhite House denies pausing military aid package to Ukraine Poll: 30 percent of GOP voters believe Trump will 'likely' be reinstated this year Black Secret Service agent told Trump it was offensive to hold rally in Tulsa on Juneteenth: report MORE’s decision to publicly object to special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE’s testimony has raised pressure on Attorney General William BarrBill BarrLieu calls Catholic bishops 'hypocrites' for move to deny Biden communion The Hill's Morning Report - After high-stakes Biden-Putin summit, what now? Senate Judiciary Democrats demand DOJ turn over Trump obstruction memo MORE while stoking a deepening feud with Capitol Hill over presidential power.
Barr has maintained that he is willing to allow Mueller to testify, a position that now appears to put him at odds with the president.
Until this weekend, Trump had expressed ambivalence over Mueller’s testimony, leaving the decision up to Barr.
He altered course Sunday, stating in a tweet that Mueller “should not testify” and declaring once again that Mueller’s findings had proven “NO COLLUSION” and “NO OBSTRUCTION.”
Barr, at a news conference on April 18, said he did not object to Mueller testifying, something he reiterated in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. Barr also told Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoSenate on collision course over Trump DOJ subpoenas Democrats mull overhaul of sweeping election bill White House gets back to pre-COVID-19 normality MORE (D-Hawaii) that the White House was not exerting influence on his decision of whether and when to allow Mueller to testify.
The Justice Department did not respond Monday to a question about whether Barr stood by his April 18 comments.
Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are angling to bring Mueller in to testify on May 15 and are said to be negotiating directly with the special counsel.
Mueller is still employed at the Justice Department, meaning Barr would need to sign off on his testimony and could in theory block him from appearing. Mueller is also expected to leave the Justice Department soon, which could leave the administration with little control over his actions as a private citizen.
Peter Carr, a spokesman for the special counsel’s office, told The Hill on Monday that Mueller “will be concluding his service within the coming days.” Carr offered no information regarding negotiations surrounding the special counsel’s potential testimony.
“They could instruct him not to appear voluntarily, but then Congress would just subpoena him, and I don’t think there is any basis for fighting the subpoena,” said Randall Eliason, a George Washington University law professor. “If they tell him not to go and he wants to go, he can quit and then go.”
Barr is already under fire from House Democrats for refusing to hand over Mueller’s full report and underlying evidence.
The House Judiciary Committee has teed up a Wednesday vote to hold Barr in contempt of Congress for failing to respond to a subpoena for Mueller’s full report and investigative files. The Justice Department has accused Democrats of making unreasonable demands.
Any effort by the Trump administration or White House to prevent or delay Mueller’s testimony would inspire a wave of criticism from Democrats.
“Trump’s position now is a complete shutdown of information, documents and witnesses to Congress — and Mueller obviously could be a devastating witness, just if he tells the truth about what is in his report,” said Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben Raskin House Democrats to Schumer: Vote again on Jan. 6 probe Democrats claim vindication, GOP cries witch hunt as McGahn finally testifies Trump DOJ seized phone records of New York Times reporters MORE (D-Md.). “Remember, Attorney General Barr has basically created this propaganda smokescreen over the last month and we are struggling to pierce the fog.”
It’s possible the White House could look to assert executive privilege to block Mueller’s testimony, though legal experts say Trump is unlikely to do so successfully.
Trump allowed Mueller to interview several aides as part of his investigation and let Barr release the special counsel’s 448-page report without making a privilege claim.
“To a great degree, that cat is out of the bag,” said Jack Sharman, a former special counsel to Congress during the Whitewater investigation.
Trump is weighing a privilege assertion to prevent testimony by former White House counsel Don McGahn, who is featured extensively in Mueller’s report and has been subpoenaed by the House Judiciary Committee.
In an April 19 letter to Barr criticizing Mueller’s report that surfaced last week, White House lawyer Emmett Flood argued Trump’s decision to allow the report’s release without asserting executive privilege did not preclude him from invoking it to block Congress from receiving testimony from his advisers or underlying evidence related to Mueller’s investigation.
Flood also wrote that Trump had provided documents and allowed advisers to speak with Mueller with the understanding that the material would be treated by Mueller as “presumptively privileged.”
Mueller’s testimony would be nothing short of a spectacle. It presents a unique threat to the White House, given that Democrats are likely to grill the special counsel on the episodes he examined in the course of investigating links between the president’s campaign and Russia and possible obstruction by Trump.
Even though the special counsel did not find evidence to charge members of Trump’s campaign with conspiring with Russia, Mueller’s testimony could undermine the president’s argument that the report completely vindicated him on allegations of obstruction.
“Clearly, testimony from Mueller could call that vindication into question,” said Republican strategist Doug Heye.
In a phone interview, Rep. Ted LieuTed W. LieuLieu calls Catholic bishops 'hypocrites' for move to deny Biden communion Gaetz, under investigative cloud, questions FBI director Crenshaw trolled after asking for examples of 'woke ideology' in military MORE (D-Calif.) surmised that Trump has “realized the Mueller report is actually quite bad for him and that is why he is trying to prevent Robert Mueller from testifying,” adding that Democrats “fully expect” the special counsel to appear before Congress.
It’s not a sure thing that Mueller would offer new bombshells.
Mueller is unlikely to talk about much more than the facts as laid out in the public report, 10 percent of which is redacted to protect ongoing probes and other sensitive information.
Republicans have also pushed for Mueller to testify, something that raises the odds he’ll eventually appear. They’re likely to focus their questions on whether FBI agents were biased in opening a probe into the Trump campaign.
In the Senate, Judiciary Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGraham quips key to working with Trump: We both 'like him' Centrists gain leverage over progressives in Senate infrastructure battle Lawmakers rally around cyber legislation following string of attacks MORE (R-S.C.) has offered Mueller the chance to testify in order to refute any of Barr’s claims about a phone conversation they had in late March. In that conversation, Barr said Mueller expressed frustrations about the media coverage of the attorney general's four-page memo laying out his investigative conclusions.
Democrats argue the nation needs to hear from Mueller to make up for Barr’s memo.
“Barr is not a reliable narrator at this point. He is a one man spin factory so we’ve had enough of the propaganda,” Raskin said.
Yet even as they push ahead, a new NBC News–Wall Street Journal poll points to risks for Democrats.
The poll released Sunday found that 45 percent of independents are against Congress holding impeachment hearings, compared to just 19 percent who believe there's enough evidence to begin such proceedings. Thirty-four percent say Congress should continue to investigate to see if there's enough evidence to begin impeachment hearings.