Dear Mr. Mueller,
It probably hasn’t escaped your attention (in my mind, nothing escapes your attention) that I play a version of you on “Saturday Night Live.” As “Robert Mueller,” my character is intimidating because he is so honest and upright. I do it for comic effect — that’s the intention anyway — but there’s also a lot of truth to it. To put it another way — it’s good-natured fun, but not entirely good-natured.
There’s a level of satire, directed at the current administration. To be fair, not everyone appreciates the humor. The president has tweeted that there’s “nothing funny about tired ‘Saturday Night Live’” and that it’s “very unfair and should be looked into,” even “tested in courts,” and “this is the real collusion!” Though what or with whom the show would be colluding is unclear. But then I don’t have to tell you about problems with the term “collusion.” You barely mention the word in your report, and then only to explain why you’re not using it. That could be a punch line on “Saturday Night Live.”
As I prepared for my role on the show, I got to know you a lot better. I read about your lifetime devotion to public service and your respect for the rule of law. I watched how you presided over the special counsel’s office apparently without leaks. And you never wavered, even in the face of regular vicious attacks from the president and his surrogates.
While I and so many Americans have admired your quiet, confident, dignified response in ignoring that assault, it allowed the administration to use its own voice to control the narrative. And those voices are soloud and so persistent that they beat even reasonable people into submission. The loudest, most persistent voice belongs to the president himself, and under most circumstances, we want to believe our president.
There’s a lot of speculation about the president being tone-deaf to facts, but there’s not much disagreement about the tone. Whether you take delight in it as his loyal supporters do or you’re the unfortunate target of his angry rhetoric, the hostile way he expresses himself registers with everyone. Nor is there much credible disagreement that the president treats lies, exaggerations and bullying as everyday weapons in his communication toolbox. These onslaughts of rhetoric aimed at his opposition mostly leave his antagonists sputtering in response, but I don’t think an in-kind response will be very effective either.
Say what you will about the president — and I have — when it comes to that lying, exaggerating, bullying thing, no one can touch him. He has set up a world where it seems as if those disapproving of him can effectively challenge him only by becoming just like him. He’s bringing down the level of the entire playing field.
And here, Mr. Mueller, is where you come in — where you need to come in. In your news conference, you said that your investigation’s work “speaks for itself.” It doesn’t. It may speak for itself to lawyers and lawmakers who have the patience and obligation to read through the more than 400 pages of carefully chosen words and nuanced conclusions (with all due respect, as good a read as it is, you’re no Stephen King).
You’ve characterized the report as your testimony, but you wouldn’t accept that reason from anyone your office interviewed. Additional information and illumination emerge from responses to questions. I know you’re as uncomfortable in the spotlight as the president is out of it. I know you don’t want to become part of the political spectacle surrounding Russia’s crimes and your report on them. I know you will, however reluctantly, testify before Congress if called, because you respect the system and follow the rules, and I understand why you’d want to do it away from the public glare.
But the country needs to hear your voice. Your actual voice. And not just because you don’t want them to think that your actual voice sounds like Robert De Niro reading from cue cards, but because this is the report your country asked you to do, and now you must give it authority and clarity without, if I may use the term, obstruction.
We’ve learned our lesson about what can happen to the perception of your work when interpreted in rabid tweets by the president, dissected by pundits all over the map, trumpeted in bizarre terms by the president’s absurd personal lawyer and distorted by the attorney general.
And if, in fact, you have nothing further to say about the investigation, for your public testimony, you could just read from the report in response to questions from members of Congress. Your life has been a shining example of bravely and selflessly doing things for the good of our country. I urge you to leave your comfort zone and do that again.
You are the voice of the Mueller report. Let the country hear that voice.
With great respect,
Robert De Niro