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How to Question Robert Mueller

SHANIN SPECTER       JULY 23, 2019

Preparation for the Robert Mueller questioning is underway by Democrats and Republicans serving on the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees. Having taught the course “How to Ask a Question,” I suggest the central importance of correctly framing a question.

The starting point is: know the facts. Members must know the facts about which they are asking. If they are going to ask about the report, they have to know the report.

Second: know the rules. Members only get five minutes to question, which is not enough to get into anything deeply. Members should consider asking a colleague to yield their time so that they are able to have 10 minutes of questioning. They should work together to divide the key questions among several members and apportion them by topic or chronologically. Ideally, the Committee would change the rules and allow one skilled Member to question without interruption for at least an hour or two.

Third: know the witness. Robert Mueller won’t say anything about the contents of the report that is beyond the “four corners” of the report. And he won’t say anything political. Members should consider reaching out to Mueller directly or indirectly before the hearing to get a sense of what he might say on a range of possible questions.

Along with preparation, each question must be formulated properly. First, ask brief questions that are narrowly focused and call for a “yes” or “no” or brief answers. Second, the words that are used in the questions should be short words not long words, old words not new words, and all should be easily understandable words. Don’t use legalese or jargon. Don't ask questions that ask for details that bury us in the weeds. Only ask questions whose answers may affect policy, law or public perception. Remember that your audience is the American public.

Observe the witness and the answers closely, both the body language and the words spoken. Let the answer and the witness’s demeanor help guide your next question, instead of being reflexively stuck on asking the next question on your list. If he doesn't answer the question, politely ask it again.

Some important questions to ask include these:

(1) Should a President be indictable?

(2) But for the policy against indictment, would you have sought to indict the President?

(3) How can it be unfair to say someone
probably committed a crime when that
person has a nearly infinite capacity to
defend himself in the court of public

(4) In what manner, if any, do you disagree
with how Attorney General Barr has characterized your work?

This is the Members’ only shot at Robert Mueller. Make it count.