The marine who received a purple heart for his exemplary service in Vietnam and spent most of his life working for the American people, spoke today. My question is, did the American people listen?
The vast majority of the people in this country has not read the Mueller Report. Anyone expecting to learn a great deal more about the report from Robert Mueller’s testimony today was going to be sorely disappointed. My expectations were low, to begin with, and after watching the nearly seven-hour spectacle, that opinion has not changed.
Based on his nine-minute press conference a few months ago, which culminated in his resignation from the Special Counsel’s office, it wasn’t hard to figure out that if called to testify, he would do so reluctantly, and would not veer from the report in any substantial way. And that’s precisely how it went today.
It was also easy to predict how both sides of the political aisle were going to conduct themselves. The Democrats would try and pry information out of Mueller, and the Republicans would try and investigate the investigators. Again, both sides satisfied that notion.
But it doesn’t mean that today was an exercise in futility either. I believe there was merit to having Mueller testify if nothing else than to alert the American people that the current President of the United States has conducted himself in a manner that undermines the office itself. Plus, in case there are those out there who don’t think that the Russians had anything to do with electing Trump, I think today’s testimony from Mueller went a long way to establish that fact, even though the President himself is still in complete denial.
In the morning session with the House Judiciary Committee, we saw Mueller either decline to answer questions or deflect them, well over one hundred times. It was either, “I can’t get into that” or “That’s not within my purview” or “I’ll let the report speak for itself.” Rarely did he go into any detail, much to the chagrin of both Republicans and Democrats. It wasn’t for lack of trying, of course. In other words, he could have played his entire nine-minute press conference over and over, and we wouldn’t have learned much more.
At first, I was a bit concerned with Mueller’s mental capacity. I’ve seen him testifying to Congress before, mostly when he was FBI director, and back then was much sharper. He seemed to have a grasp of the facts and was willing to go toe to toe with his questioners. Perhaps it’s just the fact that he’s older now. Or, maybe he was nervous. Whatever the reason, some of his responses were very weak, and at times, he stammered or hesitated when trying to accentuate individual facts. It made for quite a few uncomfortable moments throughout the hearing.
But here’s what we do know: There were at least ten instances of obstruction of justice that Mueller laid out in excruciating detail in Volume 11 of the report. We also know that he was never going to indict the President, because of the so-called Office of Legal Counsel opinion on that matter. The testimony did nothing to pour cold water on those facts, regardless of the Republicans trying to do just that. It’s now up to the Democrats to either proceed with impeachment … or not.
The afternoon session went somewhat better. And I think we owe much of that to the Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff. His way of questioning with Mueller elicited quick yes and no responses, and the line of questioning itself revealed a presidential campaign that conducted itself in ways unprecedented in American history. The idea that nobody on the campaign, including the candidate himself, contacted the FBI after receiving overtures from a foreign adversary should alarm every single person in the United States. Sadly, we know that there is roughly 40% of the population who will ignore such facts.
Schiff and the other Democrats on the committee were also able to establish with Mueller how the countless lies and obstructive acts from those involved with the campaign, impeded the investigation to such an extent, that he could not rule out that he may have reached a different conclusion if people had been more forthcoming.
Whereas the morning session overall did not rise to the level of anything dramatic as far as Mueller’s testimony, I do believe there were compelling sequences in the afternoon session.
When asked whether he agreed with the President that his investigation was a “witch hunt” or “hoax,” Mueller responded accordingly, “It was not a witch hunt, and it was not a hoax.” Hearing a direct rebuke to the President from the man himself cannot be underestimated. It goes to the countless tweets, constant insults, and outright disrespect the President has shown toward Mueller throughout the entire process.
Mueller also responded to Trump’s many references and promotions of WikiLeaks during the campaign. When informed that then CIA Director Mike Pompeo referred to WikiLeaks as the adversarial equivalent to a foreign intelligence service, Mueller did not disagree. He admonished Trump’s repeated touting of the illegally obtained material. The word he used was “problematic,” which in Mueller’s view, was an understatement.
Finally, we learned a bit about Mueller’s attempt to interview Trump himself. The whole process took about a year, finally resolved when Mueller agreed to send written questions to the President. A sit-down interview was the chosen outcome that Mueller sought, but in the end, a long and protracted court fight over a subpoena to compel his testimony was considered a waste of time.
Mueller confirmed to the Committee that Trump’s written responses to the written questions were, “incomplete, insufficient, and inadequate.” He expected more. There was no way Trump’s attorneys wanted him on that stand. We know why–the President doesn’t tell the truth.
As the hearing drew to a close this afternoon, Chairman Schiff finished with a flourishing round of questioning and statements that I feel put an exclamation point on the whole day. Some of the words he used to describe the Trump campaign’s actions were “disloyal,” “unethical,” “betrayal,” and “unpatriotic.” The view from those in the Trump camp and his supporters seem to be that unless there was actual criminal behavior that rose to the level of an indictment, nothing else matters. That could not be further from the truth.
And on this, Schiff was able to get Mueller to agree that yes, receiving help from a foreign adversary and not reporting it to the authorities, should NOT be the norm. He agreed that public officials must be held to a higher standard of integrity and trust. He would know, of course, because that’s how he has conducted himself throughout his lifetime of public service. It’s too bad that the current President will never reach this level of public decency.
As much as I wanted to reach through the television screen today to yell and scream at Mueller to defend his report more vigorously, I cannot bring myself to criticize the man. Who am I to tell a man of such stature that he should do such a thing? In the end, the former Vietnam Vet, prosecutor, and FBI Director did us all a favor, for the last time I’m sure. He took on the job because he was asked to do so. It’s that simple.
We will get the spin tonight, from both sides. I’m sure the President will declare victory, as he always does. Fox News will declare the whole testimony a disaster. The Democrats will proclaim differently of course. After all, it’s politics is it not?
If nothing else though, besides the troubling actions of Trump and his minions, we should take to heart what Mueller has said, in his report, and his testimony from today: The Russians attacked our electoral process and democracy itself and is doing it again as we speak. If this doesn’t wake up Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to finally allow a vote on election security measures, what’s it going to take?