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Will Mueller Tell Democrats What They Want to Hear?

Mr. By-the-book himself. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Intelligencer staffers Jonathan Chait and Benjamin Hart discuss what to expect when Robert Mueller finally testifies before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

Ben: Tomorrow, at last, we hear from Robert Mueller — and not just in out-of-nowhere press-conference form. Of all the outstanding issues, threads, and/or loose ends the Mueller Report put out in the world, what are you most eager to see the man himself clarify?

Jon: I’d love to wring any bit of extra clarity about Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, neither of whom cooperated, and both of whom had the closest links to Russian cutouts during the campaign. He’s going to be very hesitant to reveal anything, but if I could pick an area for him to let down his guard somehow, that would be it.

Ben: Republicans will presumably try to downplay Mueller’s findings, and probably attack his and his team’s nonpartisan credibility. What is the best strategy for Democrats to pursue in order to draw out some of the damning information that people might have missed amid all the spin when the report first came out? Beyond avoiding the directionless grandstanding that is an unfortunate byproduct of all these types of hearings, that is.

Jon: It really depends on Mueller, who seems extremely reluctant to cooperate with their intentions here, but maybe getting him to elaborate more on definitions of some of the key terms … “did not establish” and “collusion” are important concepts. His failure to establish some things has been held up to mean “proof they never happened,” and a lack of charging a criminal conspiracy has become “no collusion” to the GOP. So it would be helpful if they can get him to clarify and disentangle what Barr and then the whole GOP have confused.

Ben: Democrats would love it if they got him to say, or even hint, that Trump would have been charged with a crime if he weren’t president. Do you see any likelihood of that happening?

Jon: He is apparently determined not to say that, having concluded that he can’t even suggest Trump is a criminal and saying as much would be tantamount to doing so. Barring a change of heart, it seems impossible.

Ben: What if Adam Schiff forced him to read it off a piece of paper?

Jon: That could work. “It’s time for lunch. Here’s the menu … excuse me, Bob, I can’t make out item 30, can you read it to me?”

Ben: Haha.

Jon: “Shrimp with President Trump committed a crime … dammit!”

Ben: (Crowd gasps.)

The DOJ, never losing an opportunity to try to circumscribe Mueller’s message, wrote him a letter telling him that during his testimony, he “must remain within the boundaries of your public report because matters within the scope of your investigation were covered by executive privilege.” It seems unlikely that Mueller would stray from this guidance anyway, but what did you make of this tactic?

Jon: He seems so cautious and afraid to be seen as partisan that any tactic to hem him in is likely to work, is my depressing conclusion.

Ben: Some resistance hero!

Jon: My sources tell me he’s a Republican. The basic rule of all political investigations are that the central figure has to placate both sides, and the GOP’s expectations are always way farther outside the bounds of neutrality. Janet Reno had to appoint a Republican to investigate Clinton because the crazy Republicans would never accept a Democrat’s findings. Pat Fitzgerlad had to investigate Dubya, because crazy Republicans would never accept a Democrat’s’ findings, Likewise, a Republican had to be appointed to investigate Trump

Ben: Tough times for Democrats who want to be special counsels.

Jon: Never should have studied special counseling in college.

Ben: At least you minored in computer science.

Jon: Readers, that is an inside joke. I am not so good with the tech.

Ben: Since the Mueller Report came out, almost 90 House Democrats have said they want to impeach President Trump — but the most important one, Nancy Pelosi, seems dead set against that idea. It feels like tomorrow might be the last real moment for pro-impeachment Dems to really seize the Zeitgeist. Do you think anything Mueller says could change wavering Democrats’ mind on this issue?

Jon: I’d be stunned — Mueller’s  goal is to have both parties equally happy/unhappy with his performance.

Ben: So should we just be preparing for hours of boredom?

Jon: Well, there will be crazy Republicans saying crazy things!

Ben: Yeah, I’ve had my fill of that.

Jon: The best odds for satisfaction would be if Mueller decides to smack them down a little. But that’s not “Mueller indicts Trump” news, that’s “Mueller shoots down conspiracy theories, defends DOJ” news, which I expect he’ll balance off by treading very carefully on Trump’s misconduct.

Will Mueller Tell Democrats What They Want to Hear?