Mueller's public testimony could blow the lid off of Trump's denial of Russian collusion — and Bill Barr covering for him
Special Counsel Robert Mueller could be opening a new stage in the Russia collusion investigation. (AFP/File / Saul LOEB)

Congress is reportedly on the verge of locking down testimony from special counsel Robert Mueller on the details of the Russia investigation, although it appears that Mueller wants to speak behind closed doors.

On Friday, former Director of National Intelligence general counsel Robert S. Litt and Brookings Institution fellow Benjamin Wittes outlined just how important the testimony will be in an editorial for the Washington Post.

"Given Mueller’s well-deserved reputation for reticence and strict adherence to the law, he is unlikely to be willing to provide a political spin on his report," wrote Litt and Wittes. "But Mueller's reputation for probity — previously unquestioned by Republicans and Democrats alike — is all the more reason he should testify, and why that testimony should be public rather than behind closed doors."

Mueller's testimony, they noted, would be able to definitively answer whether President Donald Trump and his allies are correct to characterize the result of his report as "no collusion, no obstruction"; what exactly Mueller meant when he wrote that he "did not establish" a criminal conspiracy between Trump's campaign and the Russian government; and whether he found "substantial evidence of cooperation, shared objectives and contacts between Russian actors and the Trump campaign figures."

Additionally, they said, Mueller's testimony could clarify the behavior of Attorney General William Barr. For example, Mueller could answer whether Barr discussed the reports findings with him before making a determination, whether he agrees that the facts don't support charging the president with obstruction of justice, whether he intended Barr to make that determination, and whether Barr was correct that Mueller's determination was not solely a result of the Office of Legal Counsel's policy against indicting a sitting president.

Mueller could also shed light on Trump and his allies' grievances about FBI surveillance of the campaign, they noted. For instance, the special counsel could definitively explain the origins of the investigation, what role the "Steele dossier" played, and whether it is appropriate to characterize the civil servants working for his office as "angry Democrats" — which could potentially push back on right-wing conspiracy theories about the probe.

Lastly, they said, Mueller's testimony could be instructive about how to handle threats of foreign election interference going forward. He could contextualize how big of a threat the operation he uncovered poses to American democracy, and outline steps that should be taken to ensure it never happens again.

"When Mueller does testify, he can expect far more questions than we could list here," Litt and Wittes concluded. "But it is vital for the public’s understanding, and in order to preserve the security of U.S. elections in the future, that it hear from Mueller on these and other matters. Congress has an important fact-finding role to play, and special counsel Mueller has an important part to play in assisting the legislature, consistent with the rules governing prosecutors and investigations of this scope and significance."

You can read their list of Mueller questions here.