Why Mueller’s Reluctance To Testify Publicly May Be His Biggest Mistake
Reprinted with permission from Alternet.
Democrats in Congress are eager to have Special Counsel Robert Mueller testify publicly. But Mueller is dragging his feet — and making a big mistake.
New York Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), the Democratic chair of the House Judiciary Committee, gave his most extensive comments on the negotiations around Mueller’s pending testimony thus far Thursday night on Rachel Maddow’s show.
But if Mueller actually gets the chance to describe his work, defend it from combative Republicans, explicate its most important parts when pressed by Democrats, and explain exactly why he made the choices he did, people will listen.
It will be a spectacle. But he will largely be in control, and he can stick to the facts he wants to stick to.
Mueller likely just sees his role as that of a narrowly constrained prosecutor. His job was to find the facts and to bring the charges he thinks were worth bringing. Having done that, he thinks it would be inappropriate to promote his findings or be used as a political tool. In the report, he was clear that, with regard to his obstruction of justice investigation of President Donald Trump, his role was to find facts for Congress and potentially future prosecutors to consider. Now that the report is public and in the hands of Congress, he concludes, his job is done.
But even as a narrow fact-finder and fact-sharer, his job is not done. It’s true that it is the role of Congress to impeach if necessary based on his findings, but Congress is constrained and guided by the public. For the Congress to do its job, both lawmakers and the public at large have to be educated about what the facts are. Burying the facts in a dense report leaves much of the education of the public undone. Mueller is uniquely situated to educate the public about the report by testifying publicly.
And in fact, Mueller must correct the record. Trump and his supporters — including Attorney General Bill Barr — have lied and misled the public extensively about the report and the investigation. Trump has lied about and endlessly smeared Mueller himself. Mueller’s job isn’t done until he has helped debunk and challenge these lies.
Obviously, this is not a role Mueller wants to play. It will, inevitably, turn him into something of a political figure. But even if he just sees himself as a prosecutor and fact-finder, challenging lies remains a central part of his duty. Defending his work is part of his duty. He will surely insist that it’s not his call whether Trump deserves to be impeached — but he has an important role to play on behalf of those who make that decision.
Somewhat ironically, Mueller could learn something from former FBI Director James Comey. Comey has been extensively criticized for his tendency to make public pronouncements about federal investigations — and I certainly agree that he made mistakes by going too far in this direction. But Comey understood and understands the power and the importance of speaking publicly — even engaging in a bit of spectacle — when needed. Mueller could learn something from that.