Barr: I’m not stopping Mueller from testifying


More to the point, William Barr can’t stop Robert Mueller from testifying, and the Attorney General knows it. Barr tells the Wall Street Journal that he’s not even involved in negotiations for Mueller’s testimony to congressional committees. He just wants to get back to his normal job:

Attorney General William Barr denied he is standing in the way of special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony before Congress, after the chairman of the House panel seeking his appearance accused the Justice Department of being unwilling to set a date.

“It’s Bob’s call whether he wants to testify,” Mr. Barr told The Wall Street Journal Wednesday, en route to El Salvador, a trip focused on increasing international cooperation against the violent street gang MS-13, which has roots in both Central America and the U.S.

“I’m trying to break away from Washington and do the real work of the attorney general,” he said.

So why isn’t Mueller confirming his appearance at House Judiciary hearings with Jerrold Nadler? Beats me, Barr says:

Mr. Barr said only that he is aware of continuing negotiations between the special counsel’s office and the House Judiciary Committee over Mr. Mueller’s appearance.

It’s certainly possible that Barr’s lying about this, but it’s hardly likely. Barr may have some limited ability to restrain Mueller from appearing before Congress while Mueller officially remains special counsel, but those days are coming to an end soon regardless. Mueller wrote his report and is now in the process of either wrapping up prosecution tasks or handing cases off to the Department of Justice. Once Mueller becomes a private citizen again, Barr and Donald Trump would have no authority to tell him not to testify.

Even prior to Mueller’s departure, Barr hasn’t much leverage. The White House has already claimed executive privilege over some of the evidence, so they can restrain what Mueller discusses, at least until those claims get settled in court. However, ordering Mueller not to testify is not likely to succeed, and even if it did, what would prevent Mueller from simply taking media interview requests instead?

And that itself is a very interesting question. Why hasn’t Mueller done a media tour the way practically everyone else involved has since the report’s release? Supposedly Mueller and his team were angry over Barr’s handling of the report, thanks to some anonymous second-hand leaks, but neither Mueller nor any other principal from the special counsel office has gone public with those complaints. Nor have they publicly rebuked anyone from their own conclusions based on the report, which has now been out almost a month. If Mueller truly felt his work had been mischaracterized, especially by Barr, wouldn’t we have already seen a 60 Minutes interview with Mueller?

If Barr’s not muzzling Mueller, then the only other conclusion is that Mueller himself may not be interested in talking to anyone about the report or the investigation. It’s very likely, given Mueller’s institutional instincts, that he feels the report is his testimony, to which Mueller would be disinclined to add or subtract. Nadler will want to grill him on other issues, such as whether Mueller felt any interference with his probe, but Mueller might be disinclined to delve too deeply there either.

Mueller’s not talking, and it doesn’t look like that is William Barr’s fault. Perhaps Mueller has taken a close enough look at the Russiagate circus and has made an understandable choice to remain as far away from it as possible.

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