WASHINGTON – The United States special counsel appointed to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections and the related collusion and obstruction of justice allegedly committed by the campaign of now-President Donald Trump will testify in open session before a pair of committees in the House of Representatives, senior congressional leaders said on Tuesday.
Robert Mueller, the former Federal Bureau of Information director (2001-13) and prosecutor, has agreed to be questioned by the House’s intelligence and judiciary committees on July 17 pursuant to a subpoena, the committees’ respective chairmen, Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), said in a joint statement.
“Americans have demanded to hear directly from the Special Counsel so they can understand what he and his team examined, uncovered, and determined about Russia’s attack on our democracy, the Trump campaign’s acceptance and use of that help, and President Trump and his associates’ obstruction of the investigation into that attack,” the lawmakers said.
The two Democratic Party committee chairmen had for weeks threatened to issue subpoenas to force Mueller to testify, but they didn’t serve the summons until Tuesday.
The special counsel’s public testimony is considered by Democrats to be crucial to their goal of educating the public about the information contained in Mueller’s report – which his office submitted on April 18 – on Trump’s efforts to stifle the two-year investigation, with the goal of building public support for opening an impeachment inquiry in the lower house.
Attorney General William Barr, who was nominated by Trump to replace Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III – the former Alabama senator who was forced to recuse himself from the Russia investigation due to his deep involvement in Trump’s campaign and left the cabinet in Nov. 2018 – previously said he had no problem with Mueller testifying and wouldn’t stand in the way.
Barr’s four-page summary of the report, which he released ahead of the redacted two-volume version of Mueller’s complete findings, claimed Trump had been exonerated of both the collusion and obstruction charges.
This claim was heavily disputed by Democrats, who pointed out that the report by Mueller’s team said that “if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.”
“Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment,” it added.
The report listed several exchanges between Kremlin-linked officials and members of Trump’s campaign, as well as detailing 10 different instances in which Trump possibly obstructed justice.
However, Mueller’s team clarified that “under long-standing Department [of Justice] policy, a president cannot be charged with a crime while he is in office.”
Mueller himself recently declined to voluntarily testify before Congress, arguing he had nothing else to say beyond the information contained in his 448-page report.
“The report is my testimony,” he said at the time.
The ex-FBI director, a registered Republican and a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, was appointed to head the investigation into Russian meddling on May 17, 2017, by Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who obtained jurisdiction over the Russia inquiry following Sessions’ recusal.
Trump was reportedly infuriated with Sessions for removing himself from the investigation and later wrote over 200 tweets in which he described the special counsel’s inquiry as an illegal “witch hunt” and his team of prosecutors as “17 Angry Democrats” hellbent on attacking his presidency and influencing public opinion against him.
“Without the ILLEGAL Witch Hunt, my poll numbers, especially because of our historically ‘great’ economy, would be at 65 percent. Too bad! The greatest Hoax in American History!” was one of the oddly-capitalized presidential statements made via Twitter as late as last month.
Mueller’s investigation led to the indictment, conviction or guilty plea of 34 people and three companies on charges ranging from witness tampering and perjury to cybercrimes and money laundering.