Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

6 Questions Congress May Ask Robert Mueller During His Testimony

Former special counsel Robert Mueller is testifying before Congress on Wednesday, and lawmakers have so many questions they may not have enough time to ask them all.

The House judiciary and intelligence committees have scheduled hearings for 8:30 a.m. and noon.

Majority Democrats and minority Republicans are expected to try their utmost to get the most good they can from Mueller — in very different ways.

Members of Congress already postponed Mueller's hearings once to wrangle more time. Complicating the matter will be Mueller himself, who has said he intends to confine his testimony to what he has already set forth in his report.

In addition, the Justice Department sent Mueller a letter on Monday night saying it expects Mueller to not stray beyond what is publicly known about his work, citing executive privilege.

That won't constrain members of Congress from trying.

Here are some of the questions they might ask, broken up by the majority and the minority members on these committees.

Democrats: Just summarize your findings

One basic goal for Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., is to get Mueller to say on TV what he has already said in dry print.

The special counsel's office uncovered an unprecedented wave of "active measures" launched by Russia against the 2016 election, aimed at blocking Hillary Clinton from being elected and at helping put Donald Trump into office.

It documented a number of contacts between Trump's campaign and Russians and it established a number of what Democrats call questionable actions taken by Trump before and after the election.

Democrats have sought to tamp down expectations about big new revelations from Mueller beyond the scope of his findings.

Republicans: Did you find a conspiracy with the Trump campaign?

What's good for the goose is good for the gander — Judiciary Committee ranking member Doug Collins, R-Ga., likely wants a sound bite of his own that he knows Mueller probably will give.

He wants the former special counsel to say that he did not establish there was a criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians who interfered. That was one conclusion from Volume I of the Mueller report.

What will be trickier for both Democrats and Republicans are the findings of Volume II of Mueller's report, in which the special counsel explicitly did not clear Trump of obstructing justice. The report faulted uncooperative witnesses — including Trump himself — and cited the Justice Department policy proscribing him from seeking an indictment against a sitting president.

Mueller later explained in his own brief statement at the Justice Department that he never considered it an option to charge Trump.

Attorney General William Barr has since said that he agrees Mueller could never have indicted Trump — but Barr felt that Mueller could have said whether he believed an indictment was necessary.

This will likely come up in the hearings.

Mueller's own view was that expressing an opinion about charges, even apart from the special counsel's ability to bring them, would be unfair to Trump. The president's immunity also means he could never have a day in court in which to defend himself against any allegation, Mueller believed.

This complicated knot of legal interpretation may make it difficult for members of the committee majority and minority to bounce a clean ricochet off Mueller.

Democrats: What didn't you investigate?

Mueller has stepped down and his work is over. But Democrats are anxious about trying to preserve some momentum to animate their own ongoing investigations into Trump.

The president and his supporters have pointed to Mueller's findings and called them the final word on any alleged impropriety. Trump has said, for example, that he assumes Mueller obtained his tax returns and concluded nothing was wrong.

Now Democrats will have the ability to ask Mueller whether that's true. The answer could have some of the biggest long-term political implications for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and her majority.

If Mueller says — in so many words — that his report is a clean bill of health for Trump, it will mean new headwinds for Democrats' investigations and strengthen opponents' criticism that they're just new fishing expeditions.

If Mueller appears to clear the way for the judiciary, intelligence and other committees to press ahead with the work they've begun, Democrats would be happy to take the torch from him.

But remember, the Justice Department has made it clear that Mueller should not discuss aspects of the investigation that have been redacted and not cleared for public consumption.

Republicans: Who are you to "exonerate" anyone?

Trump, White House aides and their supporters in Congress argue that Mueller has violated the most basic responsibility of a prosecutor: assess whether there's sufficient evidence of lawbreaking and, if so, seek an indictment.

If not, don't.

It isn't a prosecutor's job to write a report about findings short of charges and it isn't his role to "clear" anyone, Mueller's critics argue. Everyone is supposed to be cleared in the American system unless she or he is proved guilty.

Yet Mueller wrote this: "While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."

So not only have White House attorneys faulted Mueller for his report — "part 'truth commission' report and part law school exam paper," as lawyer Emmet Flood scoffed — members of Congress likely want to ask Mueller why he went so far afield of what they consider his remit.

Democrats: Will you say now whether you'd indict Trump?

Look for majority Democrats to take the opposite tack.

Barr, the attorney general, has said he considered the way clear for Mueller to say whether he believed Trump merits criminal charges in connection with the alleged obstruction of justice — with the caveat that there could be no actual indictment.

All right, Nadler and his colleagues may say to Mueller, not only are you off the Justice Department payroll, your own former boss has said he didn't object to your giving an opinion about this. Even though the Justice Department's policy kept you from charging Trump, would you if you could have?

Or to put it a different way, would anyone else who has done the things you've found Trump has done face criminal charges?

Republicans: Why did you remove Peter Strzok?

The melodrama involving Strzok, formerly a top FBI counterintelligence specialist, and Lisa Page, formerly a top FBI lawyer, has been one of the most embarrassing subplots in the Russia imbroglio for the FBI.

Strzok and Page exchanged a number of candidly political text messages on their government phones in 2016 at the time they were involved in an extramarital affair.

When investigators discovered all this and publicized the story and their messages, it fueled criticism that the Russia investigation was the product of "bias" by an insider cabal out to get Trump.

Mueller removed Strzok from the special counsel's office when he got word about the text messages. Expect Republicans to invite him to relate that story early and often — and to press him about why they should accept anything from an office that included Strzok and others who've been criticized for political "bias."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Philip Ewing is an election security editor with NPR's Washington Desk. He helps oversee coverage of election security, voting, disinformation, active measures and other issues. Ewing joined the Washington Desk from his previous role as NPR's national security editor, in which he helped direct coverage of the military, intelligence community, counterterrorism, veterans and more. He came to NPR in 2015 from Politico, where he was a Pentagon correspondent and defense editor. Previously, he served as managing editor of, and before that he covered the U.S. Navy for the Military Times newspapers.