Mueller says he won't make any more public statements on the Russia probe, but his own words bolster the case for Democrats to have him testify before Congress
- Polls show that most Americans have not read the former special counsel Robert Mueller's report in the Russia probe and that a majority of Republican voters wrongly believe Mueller cleared President Donald Trump of all wrongdoing.
- Mueller, meanwhile, announced Wednesday that he does not want to testify before Congress. If he does testify, Mueller said he will not say anything beyond what was in the report.
- But many legal experts believe that even if Mueller doesn't reveal anything new, his spoken testimony could go a long way in informing the public about his findings.
- By speaking out on Wednesday, Mueller put a "face and a voice to these conclusions, which makes them far more salient than the written word," Paul Rosenzweig, who was the senior counsel in charge of the investigation into President Bill Clinton, said this week.
- Similarly, "if he testifies before Congress ... it will allow him to detail the extraordinary amount of evidence against Trump that he collected," Jens David Ohlin, a vice dean at Cornell Law School and an expert on criminal law, told INSIDER.
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The former special counsel Robert Mueller's eight-minute public statement on Wednesday spotlighted a conclusion that many Americans seem to have missed in the coverage of his investigation and landmark report - that he didn't clear President Donald Trump of wrongdoing.
"If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so," Mueller said.
The statement likely surprised some viewers: nearly 3 in 4 Republican voters recently told pollsters that the report had cleared Trump of wrongdoing.
Mueller intended the remarks to bring closure to the investigation he led into Russian election interference, and to perhaps serve as a substitute for congressional testimony.
But the clarity of Mueller's words - and the news coverage they generated - has prompted some legal experts say that Mueller's public statement provides an even stronger case for House Democrats to have him testify to help set the record straight.
Mueller did not exonerate Trump, but most Republican voters are unaware
Most Republican voters believe Mueller's report exonerates President Donald Trump, despite the fact it states specifically that if prosecutors had confidence that Trump did not [emphasis ours] commit a crime, they would have said so.
Mueller's report also explicitly stated that the special counsel's office "does not exonerate" the president.
But Republican voters, and even a small portion of Democratic voters, didn't get the message, and experts say it's partially because most people outside the legal and political sphere likely didn't read through the 448-page document.
Indeed, just 3% of Americans have actually read Mueller's entire report, according to a recent CNN poll.
Many Americans got their rundown of the Mueller report from the media. And the prominence of social media and the spread of disinformation, particularly in right-wing circles, means a significant portion of the country could have been misled about Mueller's findings.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll from late April found that based on what they'd heard and read 61% of Republicans and 6% of Democrats believed Mueller's investigation cleared Trump of "all wrongdoing." The poll found that one-in-three Americans overall believed the same.
Similarly, a Quinnipiac poll from early May found 76% of Republicans and 11% of Democrats felt Mueller cleared Trump of "any wrongdoing." Overall, 38% of Americans thought Mueller had competely exonerated Trump, the poll found.
Trump is succeeding in pushing a false narrative on Mueller's findings
The polls indicate that Trump's and his allies' messaging on the Mueller probe appears to be working. To be sure, the president claimed before the report was even released that it was a "total and complete exoneration" of him, despite Mueller saying the opposite.
At a town hall for Republican Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan on Tuesday night - who recently emerged as the only member of his party to call for Trump's impeachment over Mueller's findings - a GOP voter named Cathy Garnaat told NBC News it the first time she heard Mueller did not totally exonerate the president.
"I was surprised to hear there was anything negative in the Mueller report at all about President Trump. I hadn't heard that before," Garnaat said. "I've mainly listened to conservative news and I hadn't heard anything negative about that report and President Trump has been exonerated."
Prior to Mueller's Wednesday statement, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler was pressuring the special counsel to testify as the committee continues to investigate the obstruction issue.
After Mueller spoke, Nadler danced around whether he would ask Mueller testify, stating that the former special counsel "told us a lot of what we need to hear today."
But the public wants more: 73% of Americans would like to see Mueller testify to Congress, according to a recent Monmouth University survey.
'An executive summary right from Mueller's mouth'
Paul Rosenzweig, a senior fellow at the R Street Institute who served as a Senior Counsel in the investigation of President Clinton, said on the Lawfare podcast that Mueller's public statement was effective in putting a "face and a voice to these conclusions, which makes them far more salient than the written word."
But Rosenzweig told INSIDER he's of "two minds" on whether Mueller testifying would be helpful.
"As a general matter [testifying] would enhance the performative aspects of his work and that would be valuable," Rosenzweig said. "But I have the sense that he is so resistant to the idea that he really would make it miserable for the Congress and for the viewing public. I suspect it would be like him reading a phone book … and might actually backfire."
But Jens David Ohlin, a vice dean at Cornell Law School who is an expert on criminal law, disagreed.
Ohlin told INSIDER Mueller's Wednesday appearance was "important because it finally gave the public an executive summary right from Mueller's mouth."
"If he testifies before Congress, whether in public or in private, that will be significant because it will allow him to detail the extraordinary amount of evidence against Trump that he collected," Ohlin added. "Although he won't go 'beyond' what's in his report, what's in his report is sufficiently damning that hearing it directly from Mueller's mouth will help alter the public discourse."