“A mystery yet to be solved: Weren’t Dems warned in advance that Mueller wouldn’t make a good witness?” I asked in the last post, noting the special counsel’s confusion at times this morning. According to Politico, they were. Or at least, that’s what some in their ranks are now eager for the world to believe.
You would think they might have waited until the poor guy was done testifying for the day before starting to knife him in the press but I guess the clean-up effort couldn’t begin soon enough. In fact, this afternoon’s session before the House Intel Committee began with Mueller having to correct himself on one of his biggest admissions of the morning before the Judiciary Committee, when he claimed that he hadn’t indicted Trump because of the DOJ policy that sitting presidents can’t be indicted. That wasn’t the correct way to say it, Mueller noted in hindsight hours later, adding, “As we say in the report, and as I said at the opening, we did not reach a determination as to whether the president committed a crime.”
And so a new mystery presents itself. If Mueller isn’t “up to” testifying, presumably he also wasn’t “up to” spearheading a two-year-long investigation. So who was in charge of the Russiagate probe day to day?
House Democrats caught wind of Robert Mueller’s reluctance earlier this year: the special counsel may not be “up to” testifying after he concluded his Russia probe.
The chatter was second-hand and cryptic. Staffers negotiating to get Mueller to appear on Capitol Hill weren’t sure where the messages were originally coming from. Were people close to Mueller sending a signal? Or was it just Justice Department officials who didn’t want the blockbuster hearing to go forward? Were there fears that Mueller’s reputation would be savaged in the hyper-partisan political circus of 2019? Were there stamina concerns?…
“Take a break and listen on the radio, or close your eyes for a couple of minutes. He sounds much older — his starched, tall, distinguished physical appearance helps a great deal,” a former senior FBI official told POLITICO.
“He is clearly struggling a little, especially with long, convoluted questions. Having said that, even Mueller at his peak would be playing it very conservatively and would be giving short, curt answers,” added a second former FBI official.
He asked for questions to be repeated 23 times this morning by Politico’s count and even flubbed one about his resume at one point. People who used to work for him back in the day also noticed something amiss:
Bob Mueller is struggling. It strikes me as a health issue. We need only look at footage of his earlier congressional appearances to see the dramatic difference in his demeanor and communicative abilities.
— Glenn Kirschner (@glennkirschner2) July 24, 2019
There were bad moments at this afternoon’s hearing too:
Wow, Mueller was just asked about "no collusion" and he struggled to remember what word the report used instead, trying to find it in the report. That was pretty brutal to watch.
— Philip Klein (@philipaklein) July 24, 2019
I offered one theory of why Nadler and Schiff called Mueller to testify in my last post: Progressives demanded it, and thus they were duty bound to haul him in whether he was “up to” it or not to prove their loyalty to The Cause. They weren’t about to say, “We can’t have him testify because he’s lost a step.” That would have undermined the credibility of the investigation, not to mention impugned Mueller. Better to bring him in and cross their fingers that his answers would sound cogent. Another theory, if you’re into skullduggery, is that they wanted to cool the left’s impeachment ardor and were counting on a bad performance today by Mueller to do that. Certainly, the House is less likely to impeach now after listening to this than they were a month ago, no?
One House Democrat who’s undecided on impeachment and asked not to be named said Mueller “was terrible in what I saw of him.” This lawmaker insisted that wouldn’t sway his decision, but admitted, “It sure didn’t help.”
Whichever way you slice it, the fallout will be ugly. Dems are going to savage him — politely, with all the requisite caveats of praise for his years of distinguished service to the country, but insistently in the interest of disclaiming responsibility for today’s spectacle. And not all lefties will be polite:
A frail old man, unable to remember things, stumbling, refusing to answer basic questions…I said it in 2017 and Mueller confirmed it today — All you pundits and moderates and lame Dems who told the public to put their faith in the esteemed Robert Mueller — just STFU from now on
— Michael Moore (@MMFlint) July 24, 2019
NBC and MSNBC were pretty hard on him today too, with Chuck Todd calling the optics a “disaster” and analyst Jeremy Bash complaining that — well, just watch below. “Optics” sounds like a lame thing to grumble about, but as Julian Sanchez says, the whole point today was optics. Democrats wanted to turn the Mueller Report into a TV show, believing that average Americans who didn’t read it would only ever learn what’s really in it if they watched Mueller himself chat about it at length. They got their show. Just not the one they wanted.
Having said all that, Dems did occasionally extract useful soundbites from him. “Problematic is an understatement,” Mueller said when asked if it was problematic for Trump to trumpet Wikileaks’ release of hacked emails during the campaign. Asked by Republican Will Hurd if he expects Russia’s interest in meddling in U.S. campaigns was limited to 2016, Mueller countered that “They’re doing it as we sit here,” later adding, “I hope this is not the new normal, but I fear it is.” At the end of the day, all Pelosi wanted out of this was some attack ad material for next year. She got that. Now America moves on.
Jeremy Bash on Mueller: “Far from breathing life into the report, he kind of sucked the life out of the report. I thought he was boring. I thought in some cases, he was sort of evasive … He seemed lost at times.” pic.twitter.com/CdJaSdHeqd
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) July 24, 2019