If they expected to get the impeachment ball rolling, not so much…
Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller in his opening statement at hearings today made it clear Democrats aren’t going to get what they want (a clear statement that Trump would’ve been indicted if he was not President — he actually seemed to say that at one point, but then came back and clarified); Republicans aren’t going to get what they want either (a condemnation of the FBI or other investigators, and/or origins of the investigation).
Here’s video of that statement (click on the photo to watch):
Mueller took a lot of care in answering questions from both sides. A very “just the facts” approach. With the focus on getting the facts right rather than expanding upon what his report determined. He made a point of defending the FBI, investigators, attorneys and analysts as acting with highest integrity. Also emphasizing this is about Russia interfering in the 2016 election to the benefit of Trump more than anything else, and that’s what’s getting least attention.
Democrats made their point most forcefully in their first 5 minutes of questioning, by House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler (D) NY. Here’s that clip (click on the photo to watch):
We think we can say with some measure of objectivity that Republicans did seem to be doing more hair-splitting and grasping at straws. While Democrats simply got Mueller to say out loud conclusions that were already in the report, and anyone who read the report already knows to be crystal clear. You can get a feel for this by forwarding through Mueller’s entire testimony before the House Judiciary Committee.
As usual, Democrats and Republican alternate questioning, and Republicans do seem to be approaching this with a slightly hysterical tone as epitomized by this exchange with Rep. Louie Gohmert (R) TX, which we’ve linked to here (again, click on the photo to watch):
Mueller did “open up” a little more in an afternoon session before the House Intelligence Committee. When asked about the many times President Trump praised Wikileaks (whose founder is now under indictment), Mueller replied: “problematic is an understatement.” And also when asked to discuss an issue that even in his report was something that seemed to raise Mueller’s ire. And that’s the fact that the President refused to testify in person (despite saying multiple times he’d welcome it), and only offered written answers, which the original report calls “inadequate”. When asked if Trump “wasn’t always being truthful” even in the written answers he did provide, Mueller replies “generally”. Here’s that exchange with Rep. Val Demings (D) FL, (click on the photo to watch):
Republicans, meanwhile, deliberately and in a very premeditated way, attempted to establish during their questioning that Mueller did not have the power to exonerate the President. (Even though Trump has claimed many times — until today — the Mueller report “fully exonerated” him). What’s the point? If Mueller does not have the right to exonerate Trump, then saying his report “does not exonerate” Trump cannot be read as an indirect or any kind of condemnation of the President.
Here’s Rep. Mike Turner (R) OH, using a lot of props to try to prove that point. Mueller doesn’t bite but that really doesn’t matter much. (Click on the photo to watch):
We think we can say with no risk of being wrong that Trump will continue to say everything’s a hoax, and he’s fully in the clear. Even though Mueller has now said out loud, not just on paper, that he’s not. (And in fact the President did just that when he appeared briefly outside the White House shortly after Mueller’s testimony concluded, saying it proved the Mueller investigation was a “phony cloud”).
People who support Trump will continue to believe the President. People who don’t, still won’t. Trump is even likely to attack Mueller as doddering or something similar (and now also has), given the number of times he asked questions to be repeated and the like.
Trump concludes: “the Democrats lost so big today”.
So if all we just described is pretty much the net outcome of Mueller’s testimony, how important is it?
Mueller made a point of emphasizing something he tried to emphasize as well when he first released his report. Perhaps even more strongly today, concluding his opening statement by saying:
“Over the course of my career, I have seen a number of challenges to our Democracy. The Russian government’s effort to interfere in our election is among the most serious….This deserves the attention of every American.”
But Republicans don’t seem to care about that at all, (they didn’t ask about that at all as far as we observed), and while some Democrats followed that line of questioning a little, they were more interested in hammering on the fact that Trump was not “fully exonerated”, which is necessary, we guess, but also continues to distract from what Mueller is practically screaming is the central issue, especially as he kept emphasizing he would not have been permitted to indict the President even if he wanted to. But ensuring the integrity of future elections seems a totally separate and secondary issue to refuting Trump’s Tweets declaring himself totally free and clear, which again we guess is necessary. But sad. And more importantly, dangerous.
Maybe clearing lingering questions about Mueller’s investigation away today will get politicians to move on to the important work of fixing the very real threat of election interference. But somehow we doubt it. Especially since Mueller made it clear in his report, and today, Russian efforts were all aimed to accrue to the benefit of Trump. And there’s no reason to believe they won’t be in 2020. (Even though Trump has repeatedly said Russia actually colluded with Hillary Clinton. But that’s part of his usual strategy of when getting caught in something, accusing the other side of actually doing it, even if there’s zero evidence).