The American History Podcast

A Program Of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities


The Mueller Hearing: What You Need to Know

Robert Mueller sits at desk testifying in front of Congress. Colorized. Mueller is in front of a microphone in a suit and tie.

FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing on oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Photo credit: James Berglie/Alamy Images.

Former special counsel Robert Mueller is set to break his silence tomorrow morning. After almost two years of tight-lipped investigations and one brief press conference, Mueller is testifying in front of the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees at 8:30am. The testimony comes three months after Mueller’s 448 page report detailing his team’s investigation into Russia’s 2016 election tampering and allegations of President Trump’s obstruction with witnesses during the federal investigation. His appearance on Capitol Hill is highly anticipated after both House Democrats and the general public have pressured the former special counsel to provide more insight into his report.

Here’s what you need to know for tomorrow morning including the modern history behind the individuals who have served as special counsel, anticipated questions during the hearing, and a guide to names in the investigation. 

Memorable Special Counsel in History

  1. Archibald Cox, President Nixon

    • The first well-known special counsel was appointed by President Nixon’s Attorney General in 1973 to investigate the break-in and burglary of the Democratic National Committee Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in 1972. The Watergate Scandal, fueled by a rise in daytime television, sparked national interest in the role of independent counselors. Newly appointed special counsel Archibald Cox soon clashed with President Nixon over the pending release of 10 hours of recorded audio from the Oval Office. Cox’s repeated investigation into the audio recordings prompted the President to instruct the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General at the time to fire Cox. Both men resigned rather than fire the Special Counsel and the unprecedented fight between the Department of Justice dubbed that night “The Saturday Night Massacre.” Eventually, Nixon fired Cox through the Solicitor General but the power struggle prompted public outrage. Cox’s successor was Leon Jaworski who, much to Nixon’s displeasure, ended up charging several White House officials and uncovering evidence that eventually led to Congress filing impeachment proceedings against President Nixon. The confusion and upset after Nixon’s dismissal of Cox caused Congress to convene and pass the Ethics in Government Act of 1978. The Ethics Act provided new standards of appointment for special counsel and gave counsel more independent means to carry out investigations.
  2. Ken Starr, President Clinton

    • The Office of Special Counsel was called upon several times before President Clinton was sworn in, namely to investigate President Bush’s sale of illegal weapons to Iran during the Iran-Contra affair. However, public opinion drastically changed for the second time during Ken Starr’s investigation of President Clinton. In an effort led by Congress, Ken Starr published his investigative report of President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky to the public. The report was considered by the public and government officials to be excessively lewd, some newspapers even citing Ken Starr’s investigative report as more like a gossip novel than an official report. This influenced the federal government to place restrictions on special counsel when making their investigations accessible to the public. However, no concrete policy was put into place to restrict the publishing of special counsel’s reports.

      Black and white photo. Ken Starr has his right hand up and is swearing in before Congress. Numerous cameras and Congressmen look at Ken Starr. Picture is from behind Ken Starr and facing the Congressional committee.

      Independent counsel Ken Starr being sworn in prior to testifying about his investigation of President Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Photo: Library of Congress.

Your Questions about the Mueller Hearing

  1. Who has been charged during special counsel’s investigation?

    1. Michael D. Cohen

      • Potentially the person on this list that the public has heard the most about, President Trump’s former lawyer was charged with lying to Congress and sentenced to three years in prison in late 2018. Cohen is most famous for his emotional statement in court implicating president Trump and stating “He is a racist. He is a conman.”  Cohen was involved in covering a sex scandal betwen Trump and a former Playboy model before his election campaign.
    2. Paul Manafort

      • President Trump’s former campaign chairman was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison in March 2019 for a variety of federal crimes including bank fraud and witness tampering. After Cohen, Manafort was the highest-profile prosecution of the Trump presidency.
    3. Roger J. Stone Jr.

      • Stone has been a lifelong advocate for President Trump, even saying that he would make a good presidential candidate in the 1990s. Stone has been charged with making false statements and witness tampering.
    4. George Papadopoulos

      • Another of Trump’s former campaign advisors was sentenced to 14 days in prison after lying to the F.B.I. about statements made by people he believed were colluding with Russians.
    5. Michael Flynn

      • One of the most surprising charges, the former national security advisor plead guilty in late 2017 to lying to the F.B.I. about conversations with a Russian ambassador. 
  2. How long will Mueller testify?

    • This was a heated debate among House Democrats and Mueller’s team. After long negotiations, Mueller has agreed to testify for five total hours. Three hours will go to the House Judiciary Committee with two hours left over for the House Intelligence Committee. Effort will also be made to split time equally between both the Republican and Democrat members of both committees. Originally, the committee wanted to expand testimony over two separate days, allowing for one full day of questioning for each committee, but that number was eventually negotiated down by Mueller’s legal team.
  3. What questions will the committees ask Mueller?

    • Democrats are going to ask questions specifically regarding the likelihood of President Trump obstructing justice during the special counsel’s investigation. Congressional members have voiced hope that Mueller will shed light onto his findings regarding President Trump and perhaps give evidence that could lead to an impeachment filing by House Democrats. Democrats will have to limit their time, however, in cooperation with GOP questioning, so expect questioning to be direct and leading very early on in the hearing.
    • Republicans are going to be more concerned about the origin of the Russian inquiry. Specifically, it’s possible that we’ll hear questions from the GOP asking whether any methods were employed by the federal government to spy on the Trump administration. In this way, investigation by special counsel can be proven to have prior motives and the entirety of the Mueller report would be discredited.
  4. What has Mueller said about his hearing?

    • Robert Mueller and the special counsel team have been notoriously silent during and after their investigations into President Trump. The most famous break in silence occurred when Mueller gave a short nine minute speech in which he upheld that his report is the full extent of his testimony. So far, Mueller has stuck with that statement, and hasn’t given any indication that he’s going to stray from anything explicitly written in the report. Congress and the public have prepared for Mueller to avoid saying anything new during testimony. Originally, Mueller was scheduled to testify on July 17, but that date was extended last week.
  5. Which section of the special counsel report (Mueller Report) will Mueller be asked about?

    • There’s no formal restriction over which volume of the report Mueller is allowed to answer questions about, but elementary discussions have made it clear that Congress is mainly concerned with the second volume. The second volume was an investigation of potential obstructions of justice by President Trump during the handling and federal investigations of Russian election interference. This includes investigations into the motivations behind his interactions with James Comey and President Trump’s former real estate dealings in Russia along with interviews by his peers. This is the main part of the report where Mueller hinted that obstruction by Trump may have occurred, but that he was leaving further investigation open to another federal prosecutor.
  6. Why is the Mueller hearing important?

    • This hearing has the potential to reshape public opinion around the Trump Administration. This comes at a key time for both the Democratic primaries and for Trump’s reelection campaign. Both parties stand to either benefit or lose based on Mueller’s testimony. In addition, the public has been waiting for possible clarification from Mueller’s team about his report considering the general silence from the investigators and the confusion on whether Trump possibly obstructed justice.