Mueller’s Testimony Was Mostly a Disaster. But He Proved There’s No Way He Conducted a Witch Hunt.
As a longtime advocate, if only for the sake of historical precedent, of President Donald Trump’s impeachment, I had long ago become resigned to the reality that the timing of events here were not conducive to that happening. It was clear that parts of the audience of this reality television show had simply moved on, and that Robert Mueller would have to hit a grand slam home run in his testimony to change that equation. But, thanks in largely to Attorney General Bill Barr’s disgraceful PR campaign of deceit, this was impossible. The bases were no longer even loaded.
But even with very low expectations for Mueller’s testimony to Congress, what happened today was a near disaster for the cause of spreading the truth about Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 election. There are many causes of this, but the primary reason is that Mueller himself was simply not up to this difficult task in any sufficient way.
Part of this is because Mueller, clearly a good man who has served his country well, is a cultural dinosaur who just does not understand modern media and how the political game is played in this reality-show era. What wasn’t clear until today, however, was that Mueller’s age made it impossible for him to even properly swing, or maybe even find, his baseball bat.
Mueller’s unwillingness to discuss key elements of the investigation for fear of breaking rules and protocols, or to even fight back in the slightest against outrageous and inaccurate Trumpian attacks on his credibility, played right into the hands of the president and his sycophants, who do not feel at all bound by basic standards of human decency. But even given these severe limitations, there was an elephant in the corner of the room — which most observers were unwilling to do more than hint at.
Mueller was just too old and, frankly, lacking in testosterone, for a job that required a Superman (I warned liberals many times during all of this that they were wrong to imbue him with magical powers). At times, he appeared to not even be a competent witness.
While there were a few moments that were theoretically damaging to the president, and Rep. Adam Schiff’s presentation in the afternoon was powerful, the very last chance to educate the American people about why Trump should rightly be impeached was largely squandered. Mueller, who I have continually argued has unwittingly been the best friend of the very same president who has constantly lied about his integrity, was largely to blame, though misguided politicians from both parties certainly helped cause this sad result.
Here were the fundamental problems with Wednesday’s hearings:
- Mueller wasn’t kidding around when he said that he wouldn’t go beyond what was in his report, and was clearly intimidated by the DOJ instructing him to severely limit his answers, even though Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler said that was unnecessary. His refrain of “I’m not going to get into that,” and his constant hedging on things that demanded declarative answers, was boring, frustrating, and at times appeared, at least to the Trump fan, evasive.
- Even I expected Mueller to embarrass Republicans striving to kiss Trump’s rump by attacking him with their ridiculous “deep state” “witch hunt” conspiracy theories. Because he was feckless, confused, forgetful, and seemingly chemically castrated, however, Mueller, having reduced himself to a punching bag, did nothing of the sort. That’s despite being given several opportunities to easily slam-dunk this insanity.
- Because Mueller seemed weak, out it, and to not even in command of the basic facts (at one point he didn’t even know which president had first appointed him a U.S. Attorney), the little bit he did say lost its power and credibility.
- Democrats got too deep into the weeds with their questioning. Two of primary facts the American public needs to know about all of this (1. That Trump was trying to build a project in Moscow during the campaign, lied about it, and likely suborned Michael Cohen’s perjury about it, and 2. That he fired his attorney general for the purpose of hiring Barr so that the Mueller investigation could be systematically muted) were not mentioned at all in the morning session, and never adequately dealt with in the second one.
- The decision to have the Judiciary Committee go before the Intelligence Committee was a major mistake. Rep. Schiff was excellent in his questioning of Mueller leading off the afternoon session, but by that point, in our pathetic short-attention-span media culture, the narrative had already been set. If you are trying to tell a crime story, you don’t begin with the attempts to obstruct the wrong-doing, you start with why there was a need for obstructing justice in the first place.
Ironically, Mueller’s weak testimony did more to disprove Trump’s absurd “witch hunt” mantra about his investigation than almost anything he could have said about it. The Mueller America saw today, who appeared barely able to function at the level of an average senior citizen, was simply not capable of engaging in such conspiratorial behavior, even if it was in his self-interest or DNA, which it was clearly not.
The truth here is that Mueller conducted the exact opposite of a “witch hunt.” He gave a clearly guilty target every possible benefit of the doubt, dramatically limited the scope of his investigation and findings, naively allowed Bill Barr to misrepresent his work, and then, when given one last chance to clean up this mess, he chose to meekly hide behind antiquated notions of proper decorum.
It is so tragically typical of our upside-down times that Trump will survive possibly the worst scandal in presidential history largely because he, a life-long liberal, was able to wrongly convince conservatives that a life-long Republican engaged in a “witch hunt” against him. In reality, with a prosecutor better suited to this daunting challenge, and with a little less luck on his side, Trump would have been removed from office, and maybe even sent to prison with his former personal lawyer and campaign chairman.
[Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.