What to Expect From Robert Mueller’s Testimony

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is testifying in front of the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees on Wednesday during two back-to-back hearings. 

First, he’ll be questioned by lawmakers about whether President Donald Trump and his colleagues obstructed justice during the Special Counsel’s investigation into 2016 presidential election. The second hearing will focus on Russian interference in the election. 

To find out what to expect during the hearings, Katie Couric Media spoke with Wired contributor Garret Graff about the significance of Mueller’s testimony, how Democrats and Republicans will be handling the day, and what questions he hopes to see answered.

Katie Couric:
What do you we need to know about Mueller’s hearing today? Why is it so significant?
Garrett Graff: It’s significant in that this is going to be the first time we hear from Robert Mueller’s own mouth the words in his report. Obviously he spoke a little bit about this in the press conference he gave earlier in the spring, but most Americans have still not read the report. So, for many of them, they are going to be hearing the language that Mueller used for the first time when he speaks during the hearing.

We’ll see Mueller testify in two different hearings. What can we expect to see in each of these?
The first hearing is the House Judiciary Committee from 8:30 to 11:30, and that’s going to be primarily focused on Volume II of the report, which is the one dealing with the president’s obstruction. Then, the House Intelligence Committee will question from noon until 2:00, and that will be primarily focused on Volume I of the report, which was the focus of the Russia investigation.

What do you think the goal is for House Democrats?
There are really two goals, and they should be able to achieve one. But the question is going to be whether they are going to be able to achieve both. The first is simply to make clear to the American people the reality of what the Mueller report actually said. Bill Barr has really obfuscated and muddied up what the conclusions of the report were, and this is going to be the House Democrats’ best opportunity to cut through that noise and be clear about what Mueller really found. 

Then the second goal is going to try to push Mueller to say things beyond what he said in the report, to try to get answers to questions like, Why didn’t he subpoena the president? or Would he have indicted the president if there was no [Office of Legal Counsel] opinion saying that he couldn’t? It seems highly unlikely that Mueller will give them much ground along those wider points. He has made very clear that he wants to stick to the boundaries of his existing report and has received guidance from the Department of Justice saying that he should do so.

Right, so does he actually have to follow the Department of Justice’s guidelines?
The short answer is no. He’s a private citizen, and he can say what he wants and certainly not while there are obvious sensitivities that are real in the guidance from the DOJ, not all of it is necessarily legally clear. So there would be room for Mueller to stretch the boundaries of it even without ignoring it. But it seems unlikely that we’re going to see any of that.

The Democrats are expected to zero in on the question of obstruction. If Mueller does testify that the president may have committed some sort of obstruction, what will come of this? What should we expect next?
If Mueller makes a strong statement, that will radically change the political landscape in this. It’s unlikely that that is going to be the case, but Democrats have made clear that they do intend to continue these conversations into the fall, with additional hearings and with additional witnesses. This matter is not necessarily over at the conclusion of the hearing. 

With that said, it’s important to stay focused on the fact that the report itself — even if Mueller doesn’t go beyond what is said in the report — is quite damning for the president. It is quite clear that there were multiple incidences that appear to rise to the definition of obstruction of justice under the federal code. It’s clear that the presidents’ advisors were engaged in corrupt behavior throughout the campaign and the time in the White House. You know, I think we should not lose sight of the fact that Mueller has already uncovered.

As for Republicans, what do you think they will be saying?
Republicans have made pretty clear that their goal is to muddy up the investigation as best they can. I think you’re going to see them shouting about … Mueller’s team of angry Democrats, which are not actually Democrats. Their goal is to deflect as much attention from the underlying crimes of the president.

And what questions are you looking for Mueller to answer during the hearing?
The thing that would be most valuable — but I think that we are least likely to see — is a clear statement from him about whether he thinks that the presidents behavior meets the definition of obstruction. I don’t think that we’re going to see that. So what I do hope is that he effectively reads the executive summary of Volume I and Volume II — both of which are incredibly damning in their own right. 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

This interview appeared in Katie Couric’s Wake-Up Call newsletter. Subscribe here.