Trump: Mueller should not testify before Congress

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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.

Barr, during a hearing about the report before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, was pressed on whether Mueller should be allowed to testify.

“I’ve already said publicly I have no objection to him testifying,” Barr responded.

By Sunday, the president did have an objection. “Are they looking for a redo because they hated seeing the strong NO COLLUSION conclusion?” Trump tweeted. “There was no crime, except on the other side (incredibly not covered in the Report), and NO OBSTRUCTION.”

Democrats say it is essential to hear from Mueller given the friction between the special counsel’s office and Barr over how the report has been characterized.

After Mueller delivered his report to Barr in March, the attorney general issued a four-page summary in which he said there was no finding of collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russia. But he also quoted Mueller saying he could not exonerate the president on the obstruction issue.

Mueller then wrote a letter to Barr complaining that his relatively short rendering of the lengthy report lacked context and full explanation. Last week, Barr called the letter “snitty” during his Senate testimony.

Trump and many of his allies have pushed the theme that Mueller’s report spoke for itself, and that there is no need for additional hearings or testimony. They say Congress should not only move on, but focus its oversight efforts on whether Democrats had even more troubling ties to possible Russian interference.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., chairman of the Judiciary Committee, is among several supporters of the president who have tried to close the book on the Mueller inquiry by saying simply, “It’s over.”

Graham, however, did open a small window to hear from Mueller, saying that if the special counsel thought Barr had mischaracterized a conversation with him during his congressional testimony, then he would offer the chance for him to clarify the matter before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, sent a letter on April 8 to the committee chairman, Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., that Mueller testify.

“I write encouraging you to invite Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller, III to testify before our Committee without delay. If you seek both transparency and for the American public to learn the full contours of the Special Counsel’s investigation, public testimony from Special Counsel Mueller himself is undoubtedly the best way to accomplish this goal,” Collins wrote.

A spokeswoman for Collins said Sunday that he still wanted Mueller to testify.

The effects of the Mueller investigation continued to weigh on the president into Sunday evening.

“Despite the tremendous success that I have had as President, including perhaps the greatest ECONOMY and most successful first two years of any President in history, they have stollen two years of my (our) Presidency (Collusion Delusion) that we will never be able to get back,” he said in another tweet.

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