I’m not saying that Robert Mueller’s testimony this Wednesday, to be given before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, is guaranteed to be the biggest disappointment suffered by we Trump-haters since the Mueller report itself. I can’t say that for sure. Maybe the taciturn and reluctant former G-man will be scintillating. Maybe his testimony will be the blockbuster TV event of the 21st Century. Maybe it’ll make the Watergate hearings look like episodes of Mr. Dressup. But I’ve learned my lesson. I hope for nothing from this buttoned-down, square-jawed, squinty-eyed relic of a quieter, more principled time. He’s obsolete. He still behaves as if this isn’t a knife fight, as if the old rules still make sense in an era of lawless institutions.
This is a man who thinks it’s a breach of natural justice to accuse Donald Trump of crimes when the President can’t be charged and get his day in court. This philosophy makes sense only when the decision to charge is a matter of prosecutorial discretion; it is indeed unfair to decide as a prosecutor that you can’t make a case, yet publicly smear the accused anyway. Fine. However, hewing to this ethic when the President can’t be charged, owing to an internal Justice Department policy – a policy which is not the law, and not particularly well-grounded in the Constitution – is simply ridiculous. Even Bill Barr thought so, and opined in public that he believed it was within Mueller’s remit to reach a conclusion on criminality. Instead, all we got was a weak-kneed statement amounting to “I can’t say he did it, but I’m not saying he didn’t do it either”, which is nothing, frankly, but an intellectually dishonest dodge. What should we expect from a guy who consoles himself with a tap dance like that when the rule of law, and maybe the fate of the Republic itself, are on the line? I mean, Jesus, Bob. You don’t stick with the Marquis of Queensbury when the other guy brought brass knuckles and a crowbar to the fight.
Remember, too, that Mueller has already announced that his strangely toothless report is his only testimony, and he won’t go beyond the four corners of what’s already been published, despite anything his questioners might ask. Yet there’s so much more we need to know. Did Barr pressure him to wrap up the investigation early? Why didn’t he interview the President, and instead let Donald’s lawyers supply evasive written answers to a sheet of still largely unanswered questions? Was Barr’s decision to do what Mueller wouldn’t, and declare there was no obstruction of justice by the President, improper? What about that song and dance Barr put on before the report went public, misleading everyone as to its contents? What’s Mueller’s view on that? What about the decision not to charge Don Jr. for campaign finance crimes – was young Donny really so ignorant of the law that he gets a pass? Why should that be the law anyway – does the witness have any view on whether Congress should change that? Is the “no collusion” mantra consistent with the dozens upon dozens of contacts the report documents between Russians, their cut-outs, and members of the Trump campaign? Did the obstruction that the President and others engaged in prevent his investigators from substantiating criminal conspiracy? Did the team investigate Roger Stone’s possible interactions with Julian Assange? What was going on when Manafort met with that minion of Russian oligarch Konstantin Kilimnik to hand over polling data? What’s the logical inference? Why wasn’t Trump’s long history of financial skullduggery at least investigated – are we sure that Russian money wasn’t laundered through the Trump campaign? Follow the money, right?
Mueller is likely to sit there, sphinx-like, in response to all such questions.
Besides, it’s not simply a matter of scruples – he’s pissed. He doesn’t want to be there. He’s made that clear. It won’t be at all surprising if he’s tight-lipped and monosyllabic. Don’t expect him to go off on tangents, elaborate, or offer theories.
Then there’s the problem of who’ll be conducting this enquiry. They’re politicians. Not all of them are terribly bright, but they all get their turn, and their questions may ramble and miss the point, while the temptation to grandstand may be irresistible. The Republicans on the committees, certainly, will do their best to turn the hearings into carnivals of abject, flailing, mouth-breathing stupidity. Some of the biggest numbskulls to ever serve in the legislative branch sit on the Judiciary Committee, among them Freedom Caucus leader Jim Jordan:
…and his ridiculous henchman Louie Gomert:
They’ll be in there hammer and tongs, trying to discredit Mueller, his report, and the notion that Dear Leader could be a conniving criminal who consorts with America’s enemies to rig elections. Why, the very idea! Calumny! How dare you! Expect lots of bellowed non-questions about the Steele Dossier, Peter Strzok, Mueller’s own anti-Trump bias, and the Deep State conspiracy to depose the Donald by what amounts to a coup. A coup, nothing less!
Freedom Caucus. God save us. I’m always reminded of Jon Stewart’s quip that these guys have taken to referring to bomb craters as “freedom holes”.
I don’t know, maybe, given that nobody ever read Mueller’s report, it might be of value to get the witness to do nothing more than read passages from his written findings. At least then the public will hear some of it. A lot of pundits are saying that. Maybe. I guess.
Don’t think I’ll be tuning in, though.
Oh, who am I kidding. Sure I will.
POST-TESTIMONY UPDATE: Mueller did, as it turned out, offer some answers to the questions I thought he’d probably say were outside the scope of his report; he stated that he was not pressured to wrap up his investigation, and that he gave up on interviewing Trump because the subpoena fight would have taken years to resolve. See subsequent blog for my more sympathetic reaction to Mueller himself, having seen him testify.