Former special counsel Robert Mueller just answered one of the biggest lingering questions of his investigation: Why didn’t he interview President Donald Trump?
During Wednesday’s House Intelligence Committee hearing, Rep. Sean Maloney (D-NY) asked Mueller if the reason he didn’t ultimately push to sit down with Trump was because he “flinched” — in other words, that he backed down in the face of Trump’s onslaught of criticism of the investigation.
But, Maloney continued, “You don’t strike me as the kind of guy who flinches.”
“I hope not,” Mueller answered.
Mueller then went on to explain the real reason he chose not to force Trump to submit to questioning: Subpoenaing Trump and fighting his likely inevitable challenge to a subpoena would’ve taken way too long.
“At the outset, after we took over the investigation and began it and pursued it, quite honestly, one of the things we anticipated wanting to accomplish was getting the interview of the president. We negotiated with him for a little over a year,” Mueller said.
“Finally, we were almost toward the end of our investigation and we’d had little success in pushing to get the interview of the president,” he continued. “We decided that we did not want to exercise the subpoena powers because of the necessity of expediting the end of the investigation.”
Mueller explains why he didn’t subpoena Trump: “We decided that we did not want to exercise the subpoena powers because of the necessity of expediting the end of the investigation … if we did subpoena POTUS, he would fight the subpoena & [the investigation would go on].” pic.twitter.com/Siskwb3X5I
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) July 24, 2019
“If we did subpoena the president,” he concluded, “he would fight the subpoena and we would be in the midst of the investigation for a substantial period of time.”
Mueller’s answer mirrors what he wrote in his report released in April.
Still, hearing Mueller explain his decision — in person, in front of Congress, on live TV — was important. Mueller’s decision not to force Trump to submit to an interview may be one of the special counsel’s most controversial moves.
Mueller acknowledged that Trump did respond to written questions the special counsel eventually ended up sending him, but conceded that the president’s responses were “certainly not as useful as the interview would be.”
Some may see it as a prudent choice, especially since Trump surely would have pushed back hard, potentially launching a legal fight that could drag on for weeks, months, or even years.
Others, though, will likely still believe that Mueller did indeed “flinch,” and that the president essentially succeeded in cowing the special counsel.