2019-07-25 19:10:18 UTC
Mueller did not exactly exude charisma, but his testimony before Congress was
illuminating when distilled down to the key moments.
In the opening minutes of Wednesdays first hearing with former special counsel
Robert Mueller, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., pointedly asked,
Did you actually totally exonerate the president? Muellers one-word response?
It was one of the more climactic moments of Muellers many hours of testimony
before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees, which says all you need
to know about the rest of that time. Anyone hoping for or expecting loud
outbursts and emotional testimony has perhaps spent too much time watching
fictitious courtroom dramas. This isnt the WWE, its the United States
Congress. But while the substance of Muellers testimony was often less than
entertaining, it was an important moment in the saga that has been Donald
Trump reportedly was triumphant as he watched the event. But perceptions of
the testimony are likely to vary widely in the immediate aftermath. This isnt
surprising. Much like the 1960 Nixon-Kennedy debate, how you experienced this
hearing will likely color your impressions of it. In 1960, those who listened to
the debate thought Richard Nixon performed better, but those who watched it on
television seemed to favor John F. Kennedy.
If you watched the entirety of the days proceedings, you might be more fixated
on the optics of the performances. If you followed along via social media, you
likely saw a handful of key moments and exchanges and a lot of opinions. I
suspect most Americans will get their recap either via the old-fashioned way,
watching the evening news or by reading their news source of choice. Most people
will only watch a few minutes of testimony, if any of it, distilled down by
video editors into a handful of short exchanges.
For his part, Mueller did not exactly exude charisma. According to trackers,
Mueller refused to answer questions from Congress close to 200 times. According
to CNN, on 43 occasions, he simply referred the lawmakers to his report. But
this also means that when he gave a direct answer, it stood out, and those
answers are whats going to be replayed over and over and over again throughout
One such moment came when Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., asked, Could you charge the
president with a crime after he left office? Mueller replied, Yes. A
surprised Buck followed up, Could you charge the president of the United States
after he left office? Mueller answered again, Yes. (Mueller did not go so far
as to say Trump should be charged, of course.)
Another illuminating exchange came via Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., who asked
Mueller if it was fair to say that Trumps written answers were not only
inadequate and incomplete because he didnt answer your questions, but where he
did, his answers show that he wasnt always being truthful? Mueller replied,
Arguably the most devastating line of questioning was delivered by Rep. Adam
Schiff, D-Calif., who pointedly asked Mueller about Trumps repeated claims that
the investigation was a witch hunt. Mueller responded, No, it is not. Schiff
continued, When the president said the Russian interference as a hoax, that
was false wasnt it? Mueller, deadpan, replied, True.
Schiff asked if knowingly accepting foreign assistance during a presidential
campaign is an unethical thing to do? To which Mueller added, And a crime.
Schiff then replied, Can we also agree its also unpatriotic and wrong?
Mueller agreed. Returning to the report, Schiff stated, Your report describes a
sweeping and systemic effort by Russia to influence our presidential election.
Mueller noted that this description was correct. Then Schiff followed up
again: During the course of this Russian interference, the Russians made
outreach to the Trump campaign? Muellers response: That occurred.
When asked about Trumps seeming embrace of WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign,
Mueller broke new ground characterizing the presidents conduct as disturbing
and commenting that calling it problematic is an understatement, in terms of
what it displays, in terms of giving some hope or some boost to what is and
should be illegal activity.
And perhaps the most chilling exchange played out as Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas,
asked Mueller about Russian interference in the 2016 election. Mueller sounded
the alarm quite clearly. It wasnt a single attempt," he told lawmakers.
"Theyre doing it as we sit here. And they expect to do it during the next
Because Americans and the media are increasingly become accustomed to
politics being treated like a game, there will be lots of commentary this week
about who won and who lost on Wednesday. The bottom line is that the former
special prosecutor clearly and directly stated that he did not clear the
president of obstruction, that the president was untruthful and less than
helpful during the investigation, that inviting foreign interference was
disturbing and that efforts to undermine our elections are still happening right
But did Democrats get that made-for-TV moment that could help them ignite
impeachment proceedings? I guess it depends on whether Americans were really