Congressional Democrats don’t have any plans to afford him that benefit: When they have the chance to question him again this week, the discrepancies between his summaries and the text of Mueller’s report are likely to be their juiciest target.
As with so much else over the course of a nearly two-year investigation, looming over the debate about the Mueller report is the oh-so-closely-held opinion of its author. Does Mueller believe that his friend Barr mischaracterized the painstaking, book-length document he submitted? And did he expect Barr to clear the president once and for all, or, as Democrats want to believe, did he intend for Congress to use his findings as a road map for further investigation and possibly impeachment?
Mueller has been studiously silent for two years, saving his conclusions—or lack thereof—for the 448 written pages he handed in last month. He didn’t hold a single press conference and was absent for Barr’s event last week. He even politely declined to comment when NBC News followed him to his car as he left church on Easter Sunday.
Read: The Democrats’ plan to summon Robert Mueller
Democrats want answers from him and are insisting that he testify before the House Judiciary Committee in the next month. Barr has said he won’t stand in his way, but there’s been no final determination about when—or if—he’ll appear. “We have not heard about a date yet or received confirmation that Mueller will come in to testify,” said Daniel Schwarz, a spokesman for Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler. The Department of Justice, which is handling the request for Mueller’s testimony, did not respond to a request for comment on the matter.
As for what Mueller might say, there is broad disagreement. None of the former colleagues I spoke to expect him to divulge information that was redacted in the report, and Flanigan predicted he would open up little daylight between himself and Barr. “I’ll be surprised if Bob is ever quoted as saying he disagrees with the way Bill handled this,” he told me.
Figliuzzi and Anderson, however, described Mueller as deferential to Congress’s oversight role, and they suggested he would find a way to share his views honestly. Figliuzzi recalled that in the rare instances when Mueller was overruled by leaders at the Department of Justice, he would write a confidential memo memorializing his views and send it up the chain. “He wasn’t the one who would yell, scream, bang on the desk, and say, ‘This is all wrong,’” Figliuzzi said. “Those rare examples were very illustrative of him playing within the parameters he was given, but yet asserting his principles and ethics when necessary.
“I think we’ll see that approach in testimony on the Hill,” Figliuzzi continued. “He won’t necessarily come out and champion a cause without having been asked a question, but when he’s asked the right question, you’ll see him say, ‘Yeah, I don’t understand, nor do I agree with, the attorney general’s characterization of the president cooperating.’”
It’ll be on Democrats to see whether they can prod Mueller into opining about Barr, his longtime friend who is once again, at least temporarily, his boss.
“In a constrained, Mueller, button-down way,” Figliuzzi predicted, “it’ll be quite explosive.”