Watching the Mueller hearing today, I was surprised to find that he was declining to answer some questions. Although many questions could be rightfully answered by saying "I refer you to the report", many others seemed like useful requests for clarification or expansion but were greeted with "I'm not going to go into that."

What's the point of a congressional hearing if the witness can just decline to answer any and all questions? Is a servant of the government not obligated to answer questions from the elected ruling body representing the country? If not, why?

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    Compared to the congressional testimony of almost everyone else who has worked or is working for the Executive branch, Mueller was an unrestrained chatterbox. Commented Jul 24, 2019 at 16:32
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    "servant of the government" BTW, Mueller is not employed by the government, he is a private citizen. You might want to edit your Q as to exclude your incorrect presumption.
    – BobE
    Commented Jul 24, 2019 at 16:51
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    While Mueller may be a private citizen now, he is being asked about actions he took while he was employed by the government, which continues to pay him (a pension).
    – Brythan
    Commented Jul 24, 2019 at 17:00
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    As stated, he wasn't an employee of the legislature but of the executive and thus is not absolutely obligated to answer all questions they pose to him.
    – hszmv
    Commented Jul 24, 2019 at 17:17
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    @Brythan - Q attempts to link servant and obligation, servant is no longer true. Former employees have no greater "obligation" than another other citizen.
    – BobE
    Commented Jul 24, 2019 at 17:26

3 Answers 3


Yes, and for many a reason.

It could be that the answer to the question is classified and that Mueller will be happy to answer the question behind closed doors. It could even be that merely offering this on the grounds of classified information, would give up something that needs to be protected.

Another reason is that similarly there are some elements of the report Congress is not allowed to see. I know one contention is that Grand Jury Testimony is can't be disseminated to congress as it could discuss specific charges that were not upheld by the Grand Jury as well as general information not meant for public dissemination (such as documents with information that is private to a specific individual. Bank accounts, social security numbers, ect.

In both cases, these matters can be discussed in closed door sessions much more freely and Meuller was scheduled to have a number of closed door testimonies. If he was to publicly testify, he would have committed a crime, and he does have a right to not testify to anything that could cause him to violate the law.

Finally, Mueller may have been asked his own personal opinion on a matter which is not relevant or he is not in any position to give. Mueller's personal opinion on any individual is not something he needs to respond too as he's here to discuss factual statements and not what he thinks should happen. Questions about his opinion on the President's personal character or whether or not he would recommend impeachment are political and opinionated in nature. The former does not speak to any factual finding in the report and the later is not an opinion Mueller is in a position to give as he is not a member of congress. He can only speak to, e-hem, "Just the Facts, Ma'am" and only then to the facts he found and reported. It's important to remember that Mueller is an agent of the executive power of the government and thus subject to the Hatch Act (which limits what Executive agency employees can say with respect to politics while in a duty status) and Executive Privelege which is a limitation on which deliberative communications internal to the executive branch) so while he is a servent of the government, he may be obligated to not answer certain political questions and may not be obligated to answer questions about discussing matters with his supervisors and employees when they are posed to him by congress, which is a different branch of the government that is not superior to the executive.

It would be helpful if you could give specific questions he answered in such a manner.

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    Might want to also include the letter DOJ sent to Mueller that outlines the DOJ position on his testimony. Please consider my answer as an addendum to your A.
    – BobE
    Commented Jul 24, 2019 at 17:35
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    @BobE: I had been working all day and answered this while taking a break and using personal connections familiar with House procedure. By the time I saw mention of the letter in your comment.
    – hszmv
    Commented Jul 25, 2019 at 12:38
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    @BobE: One other thing is that I believe Mueller is testifying out of his own free will and not under a subpoena and thus he can set some limits of the scope of testimony. If he refuses, or the House doesn't like his terms for giving testimony, They can subpoena but then the DOJ and the White House may attempt to exert executive privilege to block it. Whether or not it works, Congress will want to take a limited scope set by the witness over lengthy court battle that could result in no testimony at all.
    – hszmv
    Commented Jul 25, 2019 at 12:44

Yes... in addition to hszmv answer, see the following exerpt of a letterfrom DOJ to Mueller 7/22/2019 relative to his testimony before Congress: enter image description here

Letter reported by Fox News DOJ 2 Mueller, includes embedded actual letter available on Scribd

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    Moreover, Mueller had already said he would abide by this request before it was even made, as he well knows the department policies and implications, and he reiterated his intent to comply after it was sent, as well. He's a consummate professional, and the only time he's stepped out of that is with the statements that if they could exonerate him, they would (but didn't). That's become an implication minefield, with some upset he would even say such a thing in the first place, while others upset he seemed to be talking in riddles rather than talking straight. Commented Jul 24, 2019 at 18:45

Congress can refer the individual (Robert Mueller in this case) for prosecution for contempt of Congress. As used modernly, this is the equivalent of contempt of court for congressional questions.

The downside of contempt of Congress is that its prosecution is done by the executive. They would ask the Attorney General to prosecute. Traditionally Attorneys General have been reluctant to prosecute when it is not to the executive's advantage.

In this particular case, it is thus unlikely that Mueller will be prosecuted for not answering Democrats' questions. It is a little more likely that he would be prosecuted for not answering Republicans' questions. But it is quite possible that the Republicans will prefer to let things end rather than try to score short term political points by prosecuting Mueller.

If Republicans had been interested in prosecuting Mueller, they would have asked sharper questions, e.g.

  1. If it is inappropriate for a special counsel to make an impeachment recommendation because the targets have no way of defending themselves, isn't it equally inappropriate to say things like "If we had evidence that he did not do it, we would have exonerated him."

  2. If you knew that the Trump campaign had not worked with the Russian government's interference in the 2016 election in 2017, why didn't you report that then rather than waiting until 2019.

  3. Wasn't the perpetuation of that portion of the investigation through the 2018 election an example of interference in the election? And therefore a violation of the Hatch Act?

  4. The long term goal of Vladimir Putin would seem to be to weaken the United States government. Don't your actions and those of the Democrats who peddle innuendo to the media instead of impeachment also serve to weaken the United States government? Aren't you thereby contributing to Putin's efforts. Shouldn't you either recommend impeachment or recommend against it so as to bring that portion of Putin's effort to an end?

  5. Are you an agent of the Russian government? I ask because your actions seem to fit their aims so well.

  6. Do the indictments of the Russians involved in the interference make it less likely that the Russians will send those individuals back to the US where they could be arrested? Because the Russians now know that we know that those individuals were involved. As such, don't such indictments make it harder to investigate the interference? Shouldn't you have waited to indict until after you had the individuals in custody?

Since the Republicans did not ask those questions, we can guess that they would prefer to let the inquiry end rather than extend it by prosecuting Mueller.

Note: please do not take these questions as claims about Mueller's conduct. That's not the point, and I'm not interested in arguing for or against their accuracy. The point is that the Republicans could have made such claims (even if they are untrue) and did not. That suggests to me that they don't want to prosecute Mueller.

  • The first two paragraphs are solid enough, but the speculative "sharper questions" portion appears to answer some other as yet unsolicited question. Also confusing is the ending note which implies that questions can both be claims and possess the attribute of accuracy. (If it this answer is relevant, maybe there's some intermediate step that's missing, obvious to its author, but skipped in enthusiastic haste. Anyway, I know I've left out steps like that sometimes...)
    – agc
    Commented Jul 24, 2019 at 18:02
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    Well, obviously claims can be accurate. But a downvote from me, too, because this looks like an attempt to slip in some insinuations about the Mueller investigation with plausible deniability, due to the length and specificity of these purported Republican claims.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Jul 24, 2019 at 18:07
  • @agc The question is about whether Mueller can be compelled to answer questions. I describe a mechanism whereby he could be compelled. Then I explain why it is unlikely that Democrats can use it. Then I explain why it's unlikely that Republicans will use it and how we can tell in this particular case. All this relates naturally to the question about compelling Mueller to answer. There is a mechanism, but it is unlikely to be used here. Because Republicans have shown no interest in laying the groundwork for it.
    – Brythan
    Commented Jul 24, 2019 at 21:35
  • @Brythan, The step-by-step part is good. What's needless is wild speculation about what type of strategically paranoid leading Q.s the Republicans could have asked. They might have done that, or then again they might not have -- it's just as easy to imagine Republicans asking uncontroversial Q.s for the purpose of clarifying well-founded facts otherwise left vague.
    – agc
    Commented Jul 25, 2019 at 20:40

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