Easy prediction: Many Democrats will be echoing this point this afternoon — anonymously — to reporters at the NYT and WaPo for tonight’s big wrap-ups about Mueller’s underwhelming performance. I suppose Dems got the bare necessities from him, an acknowledgment on camera that he hadn’t cleared Trump of obstruction and that a prosecutor could indict POTUS once he leaves office. But at the most basic level, what they wanted from this spectacle was for viewers to weigh Mueller’s fitness and command of the facts against the president’s and conclude that obviously it’s the former who’s to be trusted. In a best-case scenario for them, Mueller might succumb to the temptation presented by the forum to say something truly damning about Trump, maybe even a nudge to the House that they’d be well within their rights to impeach him. But at a minimum, they wanted Mueller to rout Trump in a contest of credibility.
I’m not sure it worked out for them. Not when even Democrats are saying stuff like this:
This is delicate to say, but Mueller, whom I deeply respect, has not publicly testified before Congress in at least six years. And he does not appear as sharp as he was then.
— David Axelrod (@davidaxelrod) July 24, 2019
Much as I hate to say it, this morning’s hearing was a disaster. Far from breathing life into his damning report, the tired Robert Mueller sucked the life out of it. The effort to save democracy and the rule of law from this lawless president has been set back, not advanced.
— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) July 24, 2019
“The years have clearly taken a toll on the Bob Mueller we used to see,” said Pete Williams of NBC, “and I think that’s affected his ability to be as facile with answering the questions, as perhaps both sides wanted him to be.” Rich Lowry thought Republicans should ask Mueller bluntly if he was really running the Russiagate investigation. Others noted that it made sense now why Mueller wanted aide Aaron Zebley close by. Chris Wallace, not one of Fox’s Trump cheerleaders, was bluntest of all:
I wonder if perceptions formed today about Mueller’s familiarity with the details of his own report (he didn’t know what Fusion GPS was?) will begin to color perceptions of the report itself. This new piece from the not-very-Trump-friendly Slate caught my eye, noting that Republicans at the hearing had a point in pressing Mueller as to why there was an investigation in the first place if it’s the DOJ’s position that a sitting president can’t be indicted. If impeachment is the only remedy, why wasn’t the investigation conducted by Congress? If the answer is that the DOJ might indict a sitting president once he’s left office, why not wait and let the Department decide whether to launch that probe once the president’s a private citizen again?
A mystery yet to be solved: Weren’t Dems warned in advance that Mueller wouldn’t make a good witness? He didn’t want to testify; surely someone in his network of staff or friends must have made it known to Jerry Nadler and Adam Schiff that this hearing wouldn’t go well for them if they insisted upon holding it.
Maybe Nadler and Schiff concluded that they had no choice but to call Mueller anyway, knowing that progressives would be out for blood if House Democrats declined to force the special counsel to sit for questioning. If it’s a choice between this sad spectacle and/or Nadler and Schiff getting primaried, they’ll take the sad spectacle every time.
Exit quotation from ABC anchor Terry Moran: “Impeachment’s over.” Which, I suppose, makes the hearing … good news for Dems? No one is less keen on impeachment than Nancy Pelosi, and today’s display should quiet all remaining talk about it, at least on the Russiagate front. Maybe that’s why Nadler and Schiff ultimately went through with it, in fact — either Mueller would be surprisingly strong, damaging Trump politically, or Mueller would be surprisingly weak, killing any lingering progressive momentum to drop the I-bomb.
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) July 24, 2019