WASHINGTON — It was utterly delusional for House Democrats to think that compelling former special counsel Robert Mueller to testify before two House committees would change minds about impeaching President Donald Trump.
Democrats told themselves that because most Americans did not read the book — the 448-page two-volume report about Russian interference in the 2016 election and Trump’s attempts to put a lid on it — Congress should show the public the movie.
The movie was a flop — and not just because Mueller lacked the leading-man qualities that built his reputation as a top-drawer prosecutor.
The real problem was the rest of the cast — Congress. Members asked questions designed solely to bolster their party’s posture rather than glean information. They were never going to discover something new about Russia or Trump — and they knew it.
In a pathetic attempt to create the illusion of drama, some Democrats even tried to get Mueller to read from the report. Mueller would have none of it.
The other problem is that Mueller found no collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. His report stated, “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 election in sweeping and systemic fashion,” but also the inquiry “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
Another inconvenient truth: While the Mueller report explicitly did not exonerate Trump, Mueller wrote, “This report does not conclude that the president committed a crime.”
The fact that Democrats thought they had to hold hearings all but shouts that they don’t think that revelations about Trump’s attempts to bully White House staff and former campaign aides to do his dirty work were cause to impeach.
At one point, Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., prompted Mueller to affirm that he did not charge Trump because of an Office of Legal Counsel opinion that a sitting president cannot be indicted. But later Mueller took it back when he addressed the House Intelligence Committee. “That is not the correct way to say it,” Mueller said. The right answer was “we did not reach a determination as to whether the president committed a crime.”
For two years, Democrats have built up Mueller as a giant of rectitude. So if Mr. Righteous wouldn’t say Trump committed a crime, maybe there’s a reason.
And really, if House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler actually had the goods on Trump, you would think he could have come up with a better opening witness for his impeachment-lite hearings than Watergate alumnus John Dean.
Republicans asked Mueller about the questionable origins of the Russian probe — they believe some in the FBI knew that Trump associates were spied on based on information from tainted sources — and they, too, got bupkis.
Mueller offered that such questions are outside his purview.
It’s sad, really. The best GOP questioning at a congressional hearing in the past decade occurred when the GOP leadership drafted Rachel Mitchell, a sex-crimes prosecutor from Arizona, to question now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, the California woman who accused him of sexual assault when the two were in high school.
The Senate Judiciary Committee chose Mitchell because there were no female Republican senators on the panel — and they didn’t want to look like a bunch of old men picking on a lone woman who went public with a painful accusation. The unintended benefit was that Americans got to see a Senate hearing with questions asked by someone interested in understanding what did or did not happen.
Republicans should bring Mitchell in to do the talking at every hearing.
With members from both parties, the whole exercise seems so partisan and self-serving. They call it a hearing — maybe because nobody’s listening.
“Even when he was FBI director, he wasn’t all that talkative” during congressional hearings.
-Former Nevada U.S. Attorney Greg Brower on Special Counsel Robert Mueller