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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Mueller's big close-up before Congress will serve dueling purposes

Special counsel Robert Mueller on May 29.

Special counsel Robert Mueller on May 29. Credit: AFP/Getty Images/Mandel Ngan

Maybe it helps to think of special counsel Robert Mueller's coming appearance before the House as a delayed publicity launch for a hot book that many insiders, and even some of its subjects, seem not to have read all the way through three months after its publication.

Tight-lipped Mueller's 488-page report documents in sharp detail numerous contacts between well-connected Russians and the 2016 Donald Trump campaign, hacking and propaganda efforts biased in his favor and ineffective White House efforts to derail an investigation of them.

Mueller has said the report speaks for itself and initially argued there was no need for him to testify. Many in Congress of course disagreed.

When Mueller shows up under subpoena July 17, some House members will see it less as a book talk and more as an opportunity for a sort of political rally in Q&A format.

Democrats in the majority look for Mueller to expand on pieces of the report to find what can support an obstruction charge. 

Republicans will seek to shore up their arguments akin to claiming that all Mueller's findings should somehow be called back on a penalty based on presumed political motives of Mueller's staff. 

Their challenge will lie in trying to reconcile conflicting post-Mueller GOP chants. Why would a pro-Democrat "rigged witch hunt" not allege an obstruction crime against the president and shoot down a Russia-Trump conspiracy?

Mueller's testimony probably won't help answer that question.

Mueller might not be the most revealing of witnesses anyway if obstruction is the question. Donald McGahn, the former White House counsel, might prove more significant. But the administration has kept him away from Congress so far. 

McGahn told the special counsel's office that Trump called him in June 2017 and directed him to have Mueller removed. McGahn said the president twice told him to call Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and “say that Mueller had conflicts that precluded him from serving as Special Counsel.”

“You gotta do this. You gotta call Rod,” Trump told McGahn, who according to the Mueller report was “perturbed” and “did not intend to act” on it.

The report says McGahn and other Trump advisers believed that the president’s “asserted conflicts were ‘silly’ and ‘not real.’ ”

Former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus said McGahn once told him the president had asked him to do "crazy" stuff, according to the Mueller report.

Congress might wish to ask: Were they talking about just the one request to get rid of Mueller, or was there other crazy stuff worth knowing? 

In a sense, coverage of the Mueller appearance could have an effect similar to the House testimony in February of former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen. He said a lot of what had already come out, but his own restatements and clarifications drove news coverage and made wider public impressions.

For much of the public, maybe this experience will be like skipping the book and waiting for the movie to come out.

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