Be careful what you wish for. Until Wednesday morning, the official White House line on Robert Mueller was “case closed,” and solid opposition to congressional testimony. Now, however, The Daily Beast reports that Rudy Giuliani and other inner-circle figures want Mueller hauled before Congress — in hopes that Republicans will “eviscerate” him:
Trump himself has come out against Mueller testifying before Congress, and key Republicans on Capitol Hill have followed suit by stating that the issue is effectively “closed.”
But those positions have softened, if not changed, significantly after Mueller’s public statement on Wednesday, in which he stated that he would have exonerated Trump if he could have and said that he was prohibited by Department of Justice guidelines from bringing charges against a sitting president.
“If they allow [GOP Reps.] Meadows and Jordan and few of the others there, they’ll eviscerate him more than they did Michael Cohen,” said Rudy Giuliani, President Trump’s personal attorney during and after the Mueller probe. Giuliani said it would be “emotionally satisfying to have” Mueller testify and that “in terms of the politics of it, I would love to have him testify. I think he’s afraid to.”
The former New York City mayor and current Trump lawyer said he’d spoken to the president both before and after Mueller’s televised statement to the press. Asked to describe Trump’s views, Giuliani told The Daily Beast that all he could say was, “I can sum up his feelings as: Nothing new, no new facts, it’s all smoke and mirrors, so what?” Of Mueller’s conduct, he added: “I’m angrier about this than [Trump] is.”
Perhaps Giuliani should take a cue from his boss. It’s true that Mueller’s presser essentially allowed the special counsel to issue a closing statement to the political jury unchallenged, but it’s also true that the Mueller report does the same thing — in much greater detail. Republicans and Democrats have spun both to great effect for their own purposes, in large part because Mueller hasn’t responded at all, other than his reiterative valediction two days ago.
It’s also true that cross-examination has the potential for nailing down the Republican pushback on the obstruction issues. Potential, however, is a curious thing; it often goes unrealized, and as any prosecutor knows, cross-examination can easily backfire, too. Democrats will have their own opportunities to help Mueller shore up those arguments and to emphasize the most damaging parts of Volume II. It would be the highest stakes of all high-stakes gambles for the White House to encourage Mueller to take the stand in a hope that they could get the experienced lawman to demolish his own case.
Short of desperation, it’s the kind of gamble that Trump should pass on taking. What’s the upside? Republicans have made their “cased closed” argument as best as possible, helped along by Mueller’s own reluctance to reach a specific conclusion. Do they want Mueller to change his mind on that? It seems doubtful that Mueller would shift to an explicit “cased closed” on obstruction after his statement Wednesday, so any public change in his position is likely to be, er, not helpful. Even without that, giving Mueller an opportunity to make minced meat out of Republican talking points on this subject seems like a very bad idea.
The best that can be said of this idea is that it’s a briar-patch strategy. It might convince Mueller to resist a subpoena a little more strenuously than before, but even better, it might discourage Democrats from issuing one in the first place. That seems to be the direction Jerrold Nadler’s leaning now anyway:
Following extraordinarily rare public remarks Wednesday by special counsel Robert Mueller, where he appeared to close the door on any possibility of him testifying to Congress, a top House Democrat backed down on previous threats to compel Mueller’s appearance with a subpoena.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler did not explicitly rule out the option of issuing a subpoena, but the Democrat’s remarks to reporters in his New York district contrasted prior vows made earlier this month to subpoena Mueller and that the special counsel “will come at some point.”
Instead, Nadler shied away from that position, just hours after the special counsel stated, “the report is my testimony.”
“Mr. Mueller told us a lot of what we need to hear today,” the chairman said when prompted whether he would subpoena Mueller.
That’s a silly statement, as Mueller didn’t say anything yesterday that wasn’t already in his report, except to praise William Barr for releasing it publicly. It’s enough of an excuse to back down off a subpoena threat, and sudden enthusiasm for Mueller’s testimony might be an even better excuse.