U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham will give White House special counsel Robert Mueller a chance to tell his side of the story — but that isn’t the same as promising to let Mueller testify before his committee, as Democrats are demanding.
The South Carolina Republican sent Mueller a letter Friday inviting him to “provide testimony” if there was “any misrepresentation” in Attorney General William Barr’s recollection of conversations the two men had regarding characterizations of Mueller’s report on the two-year investigation into possible misconduct by President Donald Trump.
Barr appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee, which Graham chairs, on Wednesday.
“The Attorney General testified in essence that you told him in a phone call that you did not challenge the accuracy of the Attorney General’s summary of your report’s principal conclusions, but rather that you wanted more of the report, particularly the executive summaries concerning obstruction of justice, to be released promptly,” Graham wrote to Mueller. “In particular, Attorney General Barr testified that you believed media coverage of your investigation was unfair without the public release of those summaries.
“Please inform the Committee if you would like to provide testimony regarding any misrepresentation by the Attorney General of the substance of that phone call,” Graham said.
Congressional testimony can be given in a number of ways. The best-known and frequently-used method is to ask an individual to deliver that testimony verbally, under oath and before a specific committee, and then submit to questioning from committee members. These hearings are open to the public, streamed on the committee’s website and, in the most high-profile cases, carried on live television.
But in an interview with McClatchy last month, in the minutes following the release of a redacted version of the Mueller report, Graham made clear he was “not interested” in holding a hearing with Mueller.
A staunch Trump ally who now wants to investigate whether the Obama-era Justice Department tried to influence the 2016 election in Democrat Hillary Clinton’s favor, Graham reiterated on Wednesday that, as far as he was concerned, the Mueller investigation “is over.”
To this end, a more likely scenario would be that Mueller is asked to provide written testimony to the Judiciary Committee, which is then submitted into the official committee record. This would spare Barr the media spotlight and scrutiny from Democrats who want to hammer Barr with accusations he’s been misleading the public.
Mueller’s report states his investigation could not make a determination of collusion between Trump and the Russians to influence the 2016 election, and also that the special counsel could not determine whether Trump obstructed justice to thwart this investigation.
Democrats suspect, however, that there is more to this story: specifically, that Barr is trying to put a sunnier spin on Mueller’s findings, which, Democrats believe actually suggest that Trump went through some lengths to try and contain the investigation, even if he emerged from the inquiry without being charged with a crime.
Democrats also want Mueller to testify before Congress to say whether he agrees with Barr’s interpretations of the findings — and if Barr is lying.
During the final minutes of the hours-long Barr hearing on Wednesday, Graham signaled he’d be willing to let Mueller address the committee in some form, but only if it were to dispute Barr’s recollection of their conversations regarding the report.
“I’m gonna write a letter to Mr. Mueller and I’m gonna ask him, is there anything you said about that conversation he disagrees with,” Graham told Barr, “and if there is, he can come and tell us ... Mr. Mueller will have a chance to make sure that the conversation relayed by Attorney General Barr is accurate, and I’m gonna give him a chance to correct anything you said he finds misleading or inaccurate. And that will be it.”
Rather than be heartened by a possibility that Mueller could come before the committee, Democrats were dismayed.
“My dear friend from South Carolina, please rethink your position,” U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a speech on the Senate floor on Wednesday. “Back off this idea that Mueller shouldn’t testify or should only testify if he meets certain conditions only set by you, and call special counsel Mueller in to testify.”
On Friday, Graham made clear his position was final.