Alternate headline: Attorney General makes a virtue out of the inevitable. This might be an interesting conflict if in fact William Barr had any realistic choice in the matter:
Attorney General William Barr still believes special counsel Robert Mueller should be allowed to testify before Congress, despite President Donald Trump’s apparent objection, according to a source familiar with the attorney general’s thinking.
As the head of the Justice Department and Mueller’s boss, Barr could attempt to block the testimony if he chooses.
Note the word “attempt,” and note well the conditional attached to it. The drama arises from Trump’s Sunday-evening tweet in which he declared that Mueller “should not testify” to Congress:
That statement is argument, not declaration. Trump didn’t say he was ordering Mueller not to testify, or ordering Barr to order Mueller to refuse to appear either. There’s a good reason for that, which is that there may not be anything either man can do to prevent it except for convincing Mueller that it’s a bad idea.
ABC calls Barr “Mueller’s boss,” but that is not a permanent state of affairs. The special-counsel office has completed its investigation and its report, and should be well in the process of closing up shop. They have transferred most if not all of their remaining prosecutions to the Department of Justice. At some point the special counsel himself becomes Ordinary Citizen Robert Mueller, and that will be sooner rather than later. If Mueller’s still special counsel later this month when he’s scheduled to testify, then Barr might be able to keep him from appearing. In September? October? Likely not.
On top of that, Barr would need to have a legal reason to prevent Mueller from responding to a subpoena. Executive privilege, which the White House claims with former White House counsel Don McGahn’s subpoena, won’t cut it for reasons I laid out yesterday. That might apply to some of the information from Mueller’s investigation — the House Judiciary Committee can’t use Mueller as a back door to McGahn’s testimony, for instance — but Jerrold Nadler really wants Mueller to testify about his declination non-decision on obstruction. If Mueller appears, he can answer those questions, and Barr won’t have much control over it.
Since Mueller’s testimony is inevitable, Barr and the White House have to ask themselves what they will gain by putting it off by forcing Nadler to go to court. The longer they stall, the closer it gets to election season. Even putting it off a month lands it at the start of the Democratic debates, where Trump’s opponents will grab every damaging sound bite and amplify it up to 11. Better to get it over with now, especially since in the end Barr and Trump don’t have much control over it anyway.