There are just three simple yes-or-no questions Congress should ask Robert Mueller:
Mr. Mueller, the president said your report found, in his words, "no collusion, no obstruction, complete and total exoneration."
First, did your report find there was no collusion?
Second, did your report find there was no obstruction?
Third, did your report give the president complete and total exoneration?
That's it. That's the ballgame. It makes no difference if there are 20 questioners or two when Mr. Mueller appears before two House committees on Wednesday. All of this speculation about whether Mr. Mueller will go beyond the four corners of his report is largely a waste of time, with one asterisk. The report itself is deeply damning to Mr. Trump, elevating him to the rare president who has been credibly documented as committing federal crimes while sitting in office.
So what accounts for the vast discrepancy between what the report says and the way the American public has received it? It's not hard to pinpoint three factors and to design the right questions to bring the focus back to the report.First, when the report was finished, Americans were not even able to read it for several weeks. Instead, they were treated to an immediate and total distortion of what it said by the attorney general, William Barr. In his four-page letter on the report, he wrote that it "identifies no actions that, in our judgment, constitute obstructive conduct." He pushed that false narrative for weeks before letting the public see the actual report. Mr. Barr's misleading letter also did not inform the nation of many of Mr. Mueller's most critical lines.
In particular, Mr. Barr did not mention that Mr. Mueller said that he would have cleared the president of obstruction if the facts so showed. Nor did it mention that Mr. Mueller believed Justice Department policy prevented him from indicting a sitting president or even calling Mr. Trump's conduct criminal. The president echoed Mr. Barr's claims for months, saying things like "Robert Mueller and the 18 angry Trump-hating Democrats" arrived "at a conclusion of no collusion and no obstruction!"
Second, the Democrats in Congress have myopically viewed the report in political terms, asking whether their fortunes would be harmed by opening an impeachment proceeding. That is the wrong way to look at it. The right way is to look at it in law enforcement terms — a president who takes grave steps to undermine the rule of law in the very way the report describes is not fit for office.
There is no higher duty for Congress than to investigate and act when such a report lands on your desk. Those who say "oh, a Senate supermajority will never convict Trump" have it backward. That's a feature, not a bug — our Constitution allows the House to investigate without the worry that its investigation will be twisted for political ends that would force the removal of an innocent president. The members of the House have a duty to act, even if the Senate won't convict, because they are setting the standards for future presidents and because impeachment hearings will crystallize the nation's attention on the actual events, as opposed to spin from the president and his attorney general.
And third, people don't have the time or inclination to read a long report, at least not unless there's something more lurid in it (the Starr report comes to mind). I've addressed many large audiences recently and asked for a show of hands on how many have read the Mueller report. The response is always under 1 percent — and it's not surprising, given that the report is over 440 pages long and doesn't reach a conclusion.
But now we get to something interesting — the asterisk. Mr. Mueller's testimony will occur under a greatly changed circumstance from when the report was finished. The attorney general has recently said, referring to Mr. Mueller, "I personally felt he could've reached a decision" about obstruction, and further said that "the opinion says you cannot indict a president while he is in office, but he could've reached a decision as to whether it was criminal activity."
That compels Congress to ask Mr. Mueller two final questions: "First, when you were serving as special counsel, did Mr. Barr ever tell you that you could reach a decision about Mr. Trump's criminality? Second, since Mr. Barr has now said that department policy allows you to reach a decision as to whether it was criminal activity, please do so. No one knows the facts better than you. We need you to. "
The report speaks for itself. But in an era when our leaders have lied about it in the hope that Americans won't read it, we need simple connect-the-dots questions clearly posed that will correct the record. Mr. Mueller's report itself says that a sitting president cannot be indicted because it may "potentially pre-empt constitutional processes for addressing presidential misconduct." Our Constitution outlines only one such process: an impeachment inquiry in the House. It's time.
Neal K. Katyal wrote this in The New York Times on July 22, 2019
Mr. Katyal was an acting solicitor general in the Obama administration.
July 23, 2019
Voices4America Post Script. Get ready for Mueller. Tomorrow. Yes, I wish Kamala Harris could be there to question him but I have faith that the Dems on the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees will make us proud. Let the truth prevail. #MuellerTime #ImpeachTrump