Dems wonder: Will Mueller ever testify at all?


The special counsel may have had his fill of Washington. Robert Mueller sent his regrets to Jerrold Nadler over the House Judiciary chair’s Russiagate party this week, Nadler told Politico yesterday. The committee will push off its hearing to take Mueller’s testimony until next month, but thus far it’s looking as though Mueller might not show up ever:

House Democrats are backing away from plans to hold a blockbuster hearing this month with Robert Mueller after talks stalled out with the special counsel and his representatives.

Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and a senior Democratic committee aide told POLITICO on Friday that there’s no Mueller hearing planned for next week, though that could also change at a moment’s notice if the special counsel said he’s ready to testify. …

A Judiciary staffer later added, “Mueller could always call us and say, ‘The heck with it, I want to come in Wednesday,’ and we would make time. But at the moment, no Mueller planned for next week.”

Until yesterday, Democrats assumed — at least publicly — that any problems they had getting Mueller to testify originated at the White House. Even Politico adds in the context of Donald Trump’s claims of executive privilege as the background to the negotiations with Mueller. although executive privilege doesn’t apply specifically to the special counsel. After Attorney General William Barr told the Wall Street Journal that he had no problem with Mueller testifying, the Trump-obstruction explanation fell apart.

So what’s going on? It has begun to dawn on Democrats that Mueller — in the parlance of our times — just isn’t into them. The Hill reports that the prospects of getting any testimony from Mueller have begun to dim. That hasn’t kept them from shifting the blame, however:

Weeks ago, it seemed all but certain that the special counsel would head to Capitol Hill in May to answer questions about his eponymous 448-page report on Russian election interference and potential obstruction of justice by President Trump.

Now, some frustrated Democrats say his testimony could slip into June, while others are beginning to doubt he’ll ever show, saying Mueller has no desire to become a political pawn in an ugly, partisan fight that’s become a proxy battle for 2020 presidential race.

“He doesn’t want to be trashed by the Republicans,” said Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), who serves on the Intelligence Committee and is close to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a fellow California Democrat.

“Does anyone want their reputation dragged through the mud falsely? You’ve seen Jim Jordan [R-Ohio] in action. He can handle his own, but they’ll ask questions like, ‘Why didn’t you look at this and why didn’t you look at that?’ I mean, talk about a thankless job.”

Excuse me? The most obvious role for Congress in relation to a special counsel would be oversight. That necessarily involves asking government officials to explain what they did, and what they didn’t do. How is that out of bounds, and why would merely asking Mueller to explain his decisions as a prosecutor-at-large be the equivalent of dragging his reputation through the mud?

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In fact, Democrats want to ask why/why not questions, too. Democrats want to get Mueller on the stand to demand from him why he didn’t charge Trump with obstruction and why he didn’t leave a clearer path for impeachment in Volume II of the report. The larger goal for Democrats is to drag the reputations of Barr and Trump through the mud by exploiting Mueller’s time in nationally televised hearings. Talk about a case of projection.

And of course, Mueller knows all this only too well. Having completed his report, Mueller has to wonder why he should speak at length in this circus, or as The Hill puts it, to serve as “a political pawn in an ugly, partisan fight that’s become a proxy battle for 2020 presidential race.” He’d be happier heading off into retirement and letting his report speak for itself. As I pointed out yesterday, Mueller isn’t exactly burning through media venues to keep his name in the news, either.

The whole mess has left Democrats frustrated, the Washington Post reports today. And Nancy Pelosi might end up paying the price:

An increasing number of House Democrats are frustrated by their stalled investigations into President Trump, with an uncooperative chief executive, their own leader’s reluctance about impeachment and courts that could be slow to resolve the standoff.

Democrats have yet to hear from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who led the nearly two-year investigation into Russia interference in the 2016 election and possible involvement with the Trump campaign. Even with negotiations, the earliest Mueller could testify would be next month.

And any hopes of former White house counsel Donald McGahn facing a congressional panel on Tuesday are slim, as the White House moves to block all current and former aides from cooperating with congressional inquiries. …

“There’s no doubt in my mind that we are all going to come to a point [where more has to be done] — including the speaker,” said Rep. Marcia L. Fudge (Ohio), a senior Democrat. “We respect her leadership and we respect her strategic sense about how these things work, her political sense. But I think we’re all getting to a point where we know something more has to be done.”

Pelosi’s taking the smart strategy of focusing on the election rather than on impeachment or “inherent contempt,” another Democratic fantasy strategy that has emerged recently. Many House Democrats — especially those who have tough re-election campaigns coming in 2020 — will stick with Pelosi. However, the division and frustration may end up growing so toxic that it starts another leadership fight at the very time the party needs to focus on convincing voters of their leadership superiority. At least for now, they’re not showing much of it at all.

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