Some high level observations about Robert Mueller’s appearance today before the House Judiciary Committee and the House Intelligence Committee:
1. It was obvious – and this was predicted, that the GOP House members on both committees did not wish to discuss the actual findings of Robert Mueller’s report because they are very damning to the president, but instead attempted to use the hearings to message to Trump’s voters about their conspiracy theories about the origins of the FBI investigation itself.
Not surprising that Mueller refused to entertain any questioning along those lines. He consistently declined to discuss the Steele Dossier or its author, Christopher Steele. So – while the Republicans were scolding Democrats for wasting the committee’s time in even scheduling the hearings, they themselves wasted the committee’s time in veering off into claims that have been discredited, but remain the focus of far right radio and television personalities.
2. If we score the two hearings in terms of an 8 inning baseball games, it was my impression that the first four innings – the House Judiciary half of the game, produced no runs and little more than a few GOP players stranded on base. Mueller was extremely circumspect, precluding either side from producing political runs.
But the action ramped up in the afternoon, under the guidance of the Chairman of the House Intel Committee, Adam Schiff (D-CA).
Schiff set the stage for considerably more effective questioning from the Democrat members of the panel. The Democrat bats turned hot and produced runs on each at bat. They recited passages of Mueller’s report and simply asked him to confirm them, which he did. Ranking GOP member Devin Nunes seemed completely out of his depth as did the rest of his team players.
3. During the Intelligence panel’s questioning, the Democrats brought forth in considerable detail, engagements between the 5 men indicted in the Mueller investigation and Russian contacts and the fact that these individuals including Gates, Papadoupolos and Flynn lied about them and got caught lying about them, resulting in either convictions or plea deals.
Paul Manafort’s attempts to enrich himself by providing agents of the Russian administration of Vladimir Putin, was not only extremely damaging, but rendered by inference, the absurdity that Trump himself had no knowledge of Manafort’s conspiratorial activities.
4. Mueller confirmed in his testimony, several instances in which Trump openly invited Wikileaks and the Russians to interfere in the election and Mueller acknowledged that his report found that there was remarkably consistent timing between both Trump’s invitations to the foreign players and the resulting document dumps.
5. Also in the second half of my baseball analog, Mueller willingly concurred with his Democrat questioners that Trump and his campaign were obligated by the dictates of ethics, law and patriotism, to report any and all activities on the part of the foreign power to disrupt the election process – but that not only did they not do so, but they lied about them.
6. Mueller verified that even if attempts to obstruct the process of an investigation proved not to be ultimately successful, according to the pertinent laws – the attempt itself can legally be construed as a criminal act in and of itself.
Ted Lieu (D-CA) was able to wrangle out of Mueller that Mueller was factoring in a DOJ memo in his calculus to not issue an indictment of Trump on obstruction.
7. As expected, the Republicans on the panel, took a hostile approach to the questioning of Mueller whereas the Democrats, conversely, on many occasions, took pains to remind all in attendance that Mueller’s history of service to the country – his combat role in Vietnam, Bronze stars, Purple Hearts; work prosecuting federal crimes, his tenure as an FBI Director in three administrations and his reputation for competence and integrity – were exemplary.
8. Among the simplest, but most powerful at bats for the Democrats, were questions to Mueller about Trump’s serial characterization of Mueller’s investigation as “a witch hunt” and “a hoax”. Mueller strongly rebuffed those pretensions and slanders as false.
This is important. Republicans had no choice but to accede that Mueller has a reputation as a genuinely patriotic public servant, and therefore Mueller pushing back against Trump’s slurs, is an indictment of Trump’s behavior.
9. Much talk and analysis has centered around whether this set of hearings will “move the political needle” in one or another direction. That seems to be a conceit held only by the media – the legacy media and Trump’s propaganda organs.
The reality is that very few Americans actually watched the hearings in part or in whole. To most they will be of passing interest. Certainly nothing illuminated from the Mueller report today by the questions and answers, will have any impact on the thinking of Trump’s core voting base.
On the other side, the pre-existing general impression of the broad electorate that Trump is corrupt and that he has so far eluded consequences of his actions, was baked into the cake in terms of his dismal approval ratings – and that remains so after today’s events.
What does the future look like? The Democrats still have an internal debate among themselves as to whether to proceed with an Impeachment process. That remains static after these hearings, but nothing that took place today indicates that any current and planned congressional investigations will be curtailed.