Just a day ago, Lindsey Graham didn’t see the need to ask Robert Mueller to testify before his Senate Judiciary Committee. After Mueller’s surprisingly inept performance, especially at the House Judiciary meeting, Graham is a lot more curious about Mueller’s role in the special counsel probe. He told reporters that it’s become clear that Mueller was at best a figurehead in the investigation and pledged to “dig in” and get some answers:
Sen. Lindsey Graham: "It was clear to me that Bob Mueller was pretty much a figurehead of the investigation." pic.twitter.com/E8seY2iIiu
— The Hill (@thehill) July 25, 2019
Graham told reporters on Capitol Hill that the GOP-controlled Senate would continue efforts alongside Attorney General William Barr to investigate whether the probe into the Trump campaign was begun improperly.
“Yeah, I talked to him last night, we talked about…I told him I’ll try to find out how all this mess started, and went so long,” Graham said, apparently referring to President Trump.
“It’s clear to me that Bob Mueller was pretty much a figurehead of the investigation,” Graham added. “We’ll dig in and find what happened.”
If you haven’t already done so, be sure to read Allahpundit’s excellent analysis of the issue. In short: The New York Times reported that Mueller may have been nothing more than a tenuously connected point man for a probe he had little to do with directing, producing a report that he had little to do with writing. That would explain both why Mueller insisted on bringing Aaron Zebley as his wingman and why Mueller got tripped up on his own report. If you’ve spent 22 months investigating Russiagate, how can the name “Fusion GPS” not ring bells, after all?
Here’s that particular exchange with Rep. Steve Chabot, although it’s hardly the only disconnect Mueller displayed yesterday:
CHABOT: Thank you. Director Mueller, my Democratic colleagues were very disappointed in your report. They were expecting you to say something along the lines of he was (ph) — why President Trump deserves to be impeached, much as Ken Starr did relative to President Clinton back about 20 years ago. Well, you didn’t, so their strategy had to change. Now they allege that there’s plenty of evidence in your report to impeach the president, but the American people just didn’t read it. And this hearing today is their last best hope to build up some sort of groundswell across America to impeach President Trump. That’s what this is really all about today. Now a few questions: On page 103 of Volume 2 of your report, when discussing the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, you referenced, quote, “the firm that produced Steele reporting,” unquote. The name of that firm was Fusion GPS. Is that correct?
MUELLER: And you’re on page 103?
CHABOT: 103 (ph), that’s correct, Volume 2. When you talk about the — the firm that produced the Steele reporting, the name of the firm that produced that was Fusion GPS. Is that correct?
MUELLER: Yeah, I — I’m not familiar with — with that. I (inaudible)
CHABOT: (inaudible) It’s not — it’s not a trick question, right? It was Fusion GPS. Now, Fusion GPS produced the opposition research document wide — widely known as the Steele dossier, and the owner of Fusion GPA (sic) was someone named Glenn Simpson. Are — are you familiar with…
MUELLER: This is outside my purview.
Why would it be a big deal if Mueller didn’t do much of the work? Well, for one thing, Rod Rosenstein didn’t appoint Andrew Weissmann or Aaron Zebley as special counsel. He chose Mueller in large part because of his reputation for integrity and non-partisanship, hoping to dial down the tenor of the political conflict over Russian interference. Without Mueller, the probe would have been led by attorneys with significant Democratic Party connections, including Zebley’s legal work for the man who wiped Hillary Clinton’s server to keep investigators from reading her secret e-mails.
What will happen if Graham begins hearings into Mueller’s potential non-role as special counsel? We can expect Democrats to circle wagons around him, although it won’t do much good anyway. Mueller didn’t deliver what they wanted, and his poor performance on television likely eroded what confidence remained in the special-counsel investigation. So in order to defend Mueller from charges of being an absentee prosecutor, his allies will have to recast his performance as nothing short of brilliant.
And, lo! along comes Renato Mariotti to proclaim Mueller’s performance “awesome”:
I saw something completely different. From my perspective, after six hours of testimony, it was the 74-year-old career prosecutor and law enforcement officer who won the day. It wasn’t that close. …
Even if some think Mueller has lost a step since he last appeared before Congress six years ago, he still looked a step or two ahead of most of his questioners on Wednesday. Most importantly, he appeared above the fray, cautious, and fair in the face of bitter partisan rancor. That is what we should expect from prosecutors, and it is the legacy that Mueller leaves behind.
Who are you going to believe, Mariotti’s argument asks — me or your lying eyes? Don’t be surprised to see more of these “on second thought” takes coming from the media, either. Without Mueller’s full engagement, the report takes a mortal hit to its credibility.
But, frankly, that might only matter on Pennsylvania Avenue. The rest of America moved on from the Mueller probe in April after it became clear that there was no evidence that Trump colluded with the Russians. Graham knows that better than most, which is why his first impulse to move on is the impulse on which he will act. Don’t hold your breath waiting for Graham and his committee to dig in rather than move on. Michael Horowitz’ report on the FBI’s Operation Crossfire Hurricane actions will come soon enough and crowd out this issue.
For now, though, it’s fine to dunk on Mueller. Here’s Graham last night with Sean Hannity having fun with it. “I had more to do with the Mueller report,” he tells Hannity, “than probably he did.”