On Sunday morning, the House Judiciary Committee let it be known that Special Counsel Robert Mueller will likely testify on May 15th. By Sunday evening, Donald Trump was tweeting that Mueller “should not testify.” This has led a number of observers to suspect that Trump might try to stop Mueller from testifying. But can he even do that? Here are the facts.
There are a few different angles from which Donald Trump can approach this. Trump, in his capacity as President of the United States, and William Barr, in his capacity as Attorney General, have no ability whatsoever to stop someone from testifying before Congress. None. Zero. There is literally nothing Trump can do as President to stop Mueller from talking. That said, there are other angles.
Robert Mueller’s spokesperson confirmed in the middle of last week that Mueller was still technically a DOJ employee. In that regard, Trump and Barr are his job supervisors. So they could instruct him not to testify before Congress. But Mueller could easily defy this, and the worst that they could do is fire him. Considering that his Special Counsel work is done anyway, firing him would cost him nothing. But there is yet another angle.
Trump could file for an emergency injunction and ask a judge to rule that Mueller isn’t allowed to testify – but since Trump would have zero legal standing on this, it would likely be instantly shot down. If Trump wanted to try a less ambitious approach, he could ask a judge to rule that Mueller wasn’t allowed to discuss specific, isolated aspects of his work, on the grounds that they were DOJ secrets that remain the property of the DOJ. But even in Trump’s very best case scenario, Mueller would still be allowed to testify about everything that’s in the redacted version of his report, as the DOJ has already publicly released it – and this would give Mueller plenty to work with.
We have no way of knowing what Donald Trump will or won’t try to do when it comes to Robert Mueller’s testimony, particularly considering that Trump’s frustration level and fear about the matter are clearly evident from his tweets. But when it comes to the factual question of whether Trump can stop Mueller from testifying, the answer is no, not really.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report