Trump: Mueller should not testify before Congress
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump reversed himself Sunday and said special counsel Robert Mueller should not testify before Congress, setting up a potentially explosive confrontation with Democrats over presidential authority and the separation of powers.
The president argued on Twitter that Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election — which found no conspiracy between Moscow and Trump’s campaign but did not exonerate the president on obstruction of justice — was conclusive and that Congress and the American people did not need to hear from Mueller. “Bob Mueller should not testify,” he said. “No redos for the Dems!”
On Friday, Trump had said it was up to Attorney General William Barr whether Mueller testified. The president’s about-face now puts new pressure on Barr, who must decide whether to accede to Trump’s call. Last week, Barr said he had no objection to Mueller testifying.
The conflict over Mueller escalates Trump’s fight with Democrats just as his re-election campaign is taking shape. It comes on top of numerous refusals by the administration to turn over records to Congress, including a request for Trump’s tax returns. Trump has also balked at testimony from his former White House counsel, Donald McGahn.
Still, the confrontation over Mueller, however much it antagonizes Democrats, could be short-lived. Mueller, who as special counsel is an employee of the Justice Department, is likely to finish his work this month. After that, any decision to testify before Congress would not be constrained by Barr, assuming the White House does not try to stop him by some other means, possibly through the courts.
Throughout the two-year investigation, Mueller has said virtually nothing in public. Democrats have insisted that Mueller is the best person to provide a detailed interpretation of the 448-page report that he delivered in March to Barr, and on Sunday, they vowed to press ahead.
Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, criticized the president, saying he “repeatedly tried to fire Mueller, then he refused to be interviewed by Mueller.”
“Now he’s trying to silence Mueller,” he said, adding, “Mueller must testify publicly before Congress.”
The House Judiciary Committee formally invited Mueller to testify last month and has been negotiating details of a possible appearance on May 15, but no date has been confirmed. Separately, the House Intelligence Committee has also invited Mueller to answer questions.
Two people close to Trump said he had been moving toward an objection to Mueller testifying over the last few days as a counter to the call from some Democrats to impeach Barr for how he handled his own testimony last week to Congress.
But some of Trump’s advisers have warned that he risks turning Mueller into a martyred figure if he demands that he not testify. Others close to the president say he is making a mistake for a different reason in trying to restrain Mueller.
The special counsel, they say, would most likely face tough questions from Republicans about two FBI officials, Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, who in text exchanges were deeply critical of Trump as they were investigating Russian interference in the election. Those questions would undercut Mueller’s investigation, those close to the president say, and allow them to paint it as a partisan attack on Trump.