Democrats are justifiably frustrated that the ballyhooed testimony of Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Wednesday added nothing to his published 448 page Report. Democratic members of both the Judiciary Committee in the morning and the Intelligence Oversight Committee in the afternoon had obviously prepared for the big show, assigning different subjects to various members. They tried repeatedly to get him to expand on the Report or even read parts of it aloud. Mueller declined stating in many different ways. “It’s in the Report.” For the most part the Democrats were reduced to reading excerpts from the Report and having Meuller acknowledge that they had read correctly.
The Republicans fared little better. They pressed him on the origins of the investigation, the Steele Dossier, FusionGPS and why some persons who lied who lied were indicted while others were not. To all he pretty much replied, “That’s deliberations” or “That’s beyond my purview” or “That’s related to a pending case” or simply “I’m not going to get into that.”
Perhaps the most effective line of questioning was pursued by two Republican Congressmen. They asked Mueller about the statement in Volume 2 of his Report about “Obstruction” that it did not “exonerate” the President. They properly got him to concede that he had never heard of the Department of Justice “exonerating” anyone but he said there were “special circumstances.” He declined to explain just what they were. Alas they never asked him the significance of the fact that the volume on “Collusion” did not contain such a statement of non-exoneration. They could have had a lot of fun at least asking him what the burden of proof was for Exoneration and who had the burden of proof.
That the Republicans got at least a draw, is actually a win for them. It was the Democrats who placed a lot of chips on “Mueller Report – The Movie.” They wanted to dramatize all Trumps threats to fire Mueller and Trump’s many false statements for the benefit of the people who never read the Report, that is, almost everybody. Unfortunately for them, the show was a bomb and closed the first night.
That Mueller added nothing to the contents of his report will not surprise readers here. As noted in “It’s Mueller Time 2: Obstruction,” at his May 29 press conference, the only time before Wednesday he publicly discussed his report, it was plain that, “Mueller did not intend ever to say anything on the subject to anyone that was not contained in his report.”
To make matters worse, those Congressmen who yearned for their 5 minutes in the national limelight did themselves no good at all. Most of them were plainly scripted and displayed the failing of the worst trial lawyers – too busy reading the next prepared question to listen to the witness’s answer and follow up. Those Congressmen would have been better off, if no one at home at actually seen them.
While trying to switch to CSPAN to avoid the partisan “news” people on all the networks, I came across the British “Prime Minister’s Question Time,” which was Teresa May’s last time at the Dispatch Box. The contrast between the American congressmen the witty, spontaneous British MP’s was stark,
The main thing those few of us who watched much of the hearings learned was that Mueller has apparently lost his fast ball. Granted, as we said above, he had decided to stick to his script – the Report. However, he often seemed not to understand the questions. He appeared remarkably unfamiliar with his own report, at one point having to backtrack on contradicting it on the question of whether his failure to recommend indictment was due to a DOJ policy against indictment of a sitting President. I read the Report just once over two months ago and felt I remembered it better than Mueller did. Moreover, he was often befuddled and forgetful.
While a helpful Democratic congressman was leading Mueller through his excellent resume, he asked the Special Counsel which President had appointed him U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts. Mueller seemed confused and then hesitantly ventured that it was “Bush One.” No, the congressman triumphantly corrected him, it was President Ronald Reagan. Actually they were both wrong. Mueller was never U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts. He was Acting U.S. Attorney, appointed not by the President but by the Attorney General under the statute to have someone in charge during a gap between appointed U.S. Attorneys. It doesn’t say much for the erring congressman that he recited a factual error on national television. It says less for Mueller that he didn’t know it.
The whole performance made it appear that Mueller had a very limited role in writing his Report, apparently leaving it mostly to his more partisan Trump-hating assistants. Far from helping it, Mueller’s sorry presentation severely damaged the case for those Democrats anxious to pursue impeachment.