Mueller’s testimony poses risk for Trump, but also Democrats
By LISA MASCARO
and MARY CLARE JALONICK
WASHINGTON — Robert Mueller’s testimony before Congress will depend not so much on what he says, but that he’s even saying it at all.
For Democrats, the special counsel’s appearance Wednesday creates a moment many have been waiting for: Mueller finally speaking out, piercing the public consciousness about President Donald Trump’s response to the Russia investigation and whether anything should be done about it.
The political stakes are high for Trump, but also for Democrats, who have spent the past two years pushing toward this day. As public attention has drifted and views have hardened, Democrats are counting on Americans hearing what most have not likely read — the stunning findings of Mueller’s 448-page report .
“Let us listen, let us see where the facts will take us,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “And then, we’ll see what happens after that.”
Yet there’s a real possibility that Mueller may not bring clarity.
It took months to negotiate his appearance before Congress and he has been reluctant to speak beyond what he and his team wrote. Few bombshells are expected. As the House Judiciary Committee and the House Intelligence Committee gavel in, the buttoned-down prosecutor, once envisioned as a trusted last word, may deliver just-the-facts responses that leave more questions than answers.
Rather than galvanizing public opinion and the questions of impeachment, Mueller’s reluctant appearance may become just another chapter in the Trump era that won’t be closed until the 2020 election.
Trump tried to project a lack of interest, claiming he will not tune in to Wednesday’s hourslong hearings and saying Democrats are “just playing games.”
“I won’t be watching Mueller,” he told reporters.
The nation, though, will likely pay attention.
Mueller’s appearance comes more than two years since the start of the Russia investigation, an extraordinary moment in Trump’s presidency when, after Trump had fired FBI Director James Comey, his Justice Department appointed Mueller to take over the inquiry into election interference and the potential role that Trump and his winning 2016 campaign may have played.
Mueller spoke publicly only once, saying his team’s report, released in April, should speak for itself.
The report found that while there was no evidence the campaign colluded with Russia to swing the election, Trump could not be cleared of trying to obstruct the investigation . But Mueller believed he couldn’t be indicted in part because of a Justice Department opinion against prosecuting a sitting president.
The special counsel’s team appeared to punt the question to Congress to decide next steps. More than 80 House Democrats now say there should be impeachment proceedings, and it’s likely that Mueller’s testimony increases that number.
But time has a way of changing the political dynamic.
While Mueller’s testimony was once envisioned as a crystalizing event, a Watergate-style moment to uncover truths, public attention has drifted in the months since the report was released.
Trump, a master at changing the subject, has easily shifted the public’s attention to his racist attacks on four women of color in Congress.
“Timing matters,” said Julian E. Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He and others who favor opening impeachment proceedings say Mueller should have testified months ago.