After a two-year investigation and the recent release of a redacted version of his 448-page probe into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, former Special Counsel Robert Mueller broke his silence and provided the nation with a televised summary of his report’s conclusions, which directly contradicted a summary issued earlier by Trump-appointed Attorney General William Barr.
In his nine-minute talk, Mueller made several important points about his investigation. He pointedly stated, “If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” and went on to explain that Justice Department policy prevented him from moving to indict a sitting president. However, Mueller did not call on Congress to exercise its constitutional power to hold the president accountable in an impeachment inquiry, for possible crimes that Mueller stated he could not prosecute.
Now House Democrats and activist groups across the country are calling on Mueller to testify before Congress, despite the former special counsel’s insistence that he would not provide any additional information about the Russia investigation beyond the information already contained in his report. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Marge Baker, executive vice president with People for the American Way. Here, she explains why many believe it’s important that Mueller testify before Congress about the details of his investigation, and also comments on the current debate over whether or not the House should initiate a Trump impeachment inquiry.
MARGE BAKER: People need to know what’s in the report. And they’re not going to pay attention to what’s in the report by reading it. They’re going to pay attention to what’s in the report by hearing Mueller talk about what’s in the report. And even if he goes no further than what’s in the report, there’s still numerous lines of questioning that he will be asked. Even those lines of questions are ways of sort of creating a narrative about – well, you know, making it clear his differences in significant respects from (U.S. Attorney General William) Barr’s interpretation of the law and the Constitution, and in what way a current sitting president can be held accountable.
But what’s most important is actually getting the American public, giving them an opportunity to hear and see and watch this man’s demeanor and understand how thorough the report is. If all he did was testify about what’s in the report, what’s in the report is absolutely damning.
BETWEEN THE LINES: What are the specific areas that you would like both the House and Senate committees to ask Mueller about? What needs the most clarification, in your view?
MARGE BAKER: There’s two things. The report has 10 different potential instances of obstruction and I think some of the most important ones have to do with attempts to fire Mueller and then try to get people to, for example, (former White House Counsel) Don McGahn to lie about whether he tried to fire Mueller. There were significant attempts to limit the Muller investigation by getting (former Attorney General Jeff) Sessions to unrecuse himself and get back in the game or limit the Mueller investigation to just future interference in elections. And there’s potential witness tampering in terms of the president’s efforts to influence Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort in particular. Those are just sort of the tip of the iceberg. So there are actual discrete instances discussed in the report, laid out in the report that talk about Trump’s efforts to undermine the investigation and that’s extremely important.
Volume One of the report talks about the extensive efforts by Russia to interfere with elections, and although Mueller did not find that there was an effort by Trump to coordinate with the Russians on that, it was very clear from the report that Trump knew what was going on. HIs folks knew what was going on. They didn’t do anything about it. They didn’t go to the FBI.
They were happy to receive the benefit of what the Russians were doing because it was going to help him win the election. And that’s really important. That’s really important both in terms of understanding what happened during the election, but also understanding what are these relationships that are even now potentially influencing our foreign policy and national security efforts. So I think both areas need exposure, need public exposure, need the public to understand, and having Mueller testify in both of these areas would be extremely enlightening.
BETWEEN THE LINES: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and her House leadership have for months now backed off on the question of impeachment out of fear, we hear, of a backlash and energizing Trump’s base of support. They feel and they’ve articulated their argument that going after impeachment could be a dead end because two-thirds of the Senate will likely not convict Trump of articles of impeachment and therefore he won’t be removed from office. And Nancy Pelosi and the other leaders in the House basically say our only recourse and our strongest suit to make sure Trump doesn’t come into a second term is to focus like crazy on the election in November 2020.
MARGE BAKER: Yeah. So, I think, number one, it’s really hard to sit here and you know, June 2019 try to figure out what June, 2020 is going to look like, right? And so I think it’s really, really important to be focusing on kitchen table issues because that is ultimately what that sort of lawlessness and corruption are doing. It is leaving us without an ability to have a government that cares about healthcare and cares about climate and cares about the ability to have safe and secure elections and all of that. But I also think this taking on a life of its own. The lawlessness and corruption and extent of that are so huge that there’s no question it has to be investigated. And as it gets investigated and as the public gets more aware, we will start seeing this line of change.
And I would bet that it’s quite possible by June, 2020 that the people who will be hurt by not holding this administration accountable are not the Democrats, (but) the Republicans who are enabling this administration. And that will be true in both Republicans in the House and Republicans in the Senate. And so I think we just have to understand where we are. We are in a moment. We are virtually in a constitutional crisis. We have no choice, but we have to continue exposing what’s going on and exposing lawlessness and corruption and understanding how that is totally undermining the government serving the people. The government is not serving the people. The government to serving the interests of Donald Trump. And that’s not what democracy is about.
I just think this is the time when Congress needs to use every single tool at its disposal to hold this administration accountable and to hold this administration’s enablers accountable, including opening an impeachment inquiry if necessary. This is where we are and it’s what the constitutional framework that we have. Fundamentally, Mueller said, based on the OLC opinion, the Office of Legal Counsel opinion, for the Department of Justice, that you can’t indict a sitting president and you can’t charge a sitting president. So he basically, Mueller clearly said, this is in Congress’ hands, Congress has to step up and do that investigation. What’s important is getting the story out because when the American people understand the story, they will not accept what’s going on. So that’s the most important thing. Fundamental issue is that our democratic process, our Constitution provides ways to get that story out. And that’s what we need to do.
For more information on People for the American Way, visit PFAW.org