Robert Mueller’s Disastrous Testimony And Its Significance, Part One

A transcript of the testimony is here.

The amazing thing is that the Democrats held the hearings at all. Mueller, as a matter of legal ethics and client confidentiality, was severely limited regarding what he  could say beyond what was already in his investigation’s report. Desperate to gain some public relations traction in their endless, nation-rending determination to end a legal and duly elected Presidency without the inconvenience of an election, one can only surmise that Mueller’s ethically problematical press conference led them astray, and not only astray, but into a disaster of their own making.

The first hint that something was amiss was Mueller’s request that an aide sit by him and assist in his testimony. That was not only unusual but ominous, and the Republicans on the committee quickly rejected it. Once Mueller started answering questions, it was painfully clear why this request had been made. He looked disoriented and confused. The 75-year-old Justice Department veteran had to ask committee members to repeat their questions repeatedly, as if he was having difficulty focusing. He often did not know whether the representatives were asking him questions or if they were reading from his own report. In  the first 90 minutes of the hearing, Mueller asked for clarification of questions more than 10 times. Under questioning from Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), Mueller asked: “And where are you reading from on that?” “I’m reading from my own question” was the answer.  “Then can you repeat it?” Mueller asked. The audience laughed. By the end, the audience had stopped laughing. As Obama strategist David Axelrod tweeted, the performance was “painful” to watch.  Mueller asked Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee to restate her question three times.  Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) asked the 14 word question, “Attorney #2 in the Inspector General’s report and Strzok both worked on your team, didn’t they?” and Mueller appeared to be confused by it.“Pardon me?” Mueller replied. After Gaetz restated his question, Mueller replied: “And the question was?” Asked by Head Trump-hunter Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) to explain what his investigation  found “in plain terms,” Mueller answered: “Well, the finding indicates that the president, uh, was not, uh, the president was not exculping, uh, exculpated, uh, for the acts that he allegedly committed.”

Ah! Well thank you, sir, that explains everything! Nadler looked as if he wanted to start banging his head on the table.

This was the same alleged super-lawyer, remember, that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called “exactly the right kind of individual for this job,”  when he was appointed special counsel in 2017. For more than two years, the news media repeated the mantra that Mueller was an icon within the law enforcement establishment, master prosecutor, a trustworthy, dogged pursuer of the truth wherever it might lead,  the ultimate professional, and best of all, a Republican, so there would be no partisan bias.

So how was it that this ultimate professional came into a Congressional hearing completely unprepared to answer questions about the report that bore his name? For example, when he was asked if any senior White House official refused to be interviewed by himself or special counsel attorneys, Mueller first said, “I don’t believe so,” then reversed himself, saying, “Let me take that back. I would have to look at it, but I’m not certain that that is the case.”  This was a basic question he had to know or should have known would be asked, and it isn’t a difficult one.

Not only did Mueller make it clear that he hadn’t written the report (and despite the howling of right-wing pundits, there’s nothing wrong with that), he raised doubts as to whether he had even read it. House Judiciary ranking Republican Doug Collins of Georgia questioned Mueller regarding the non-legal term “collusion,” which the report stated was  synonymous with “conspiracy.”  Mueller said that the terms were not synonymous, and then was forced to contradict himself  when Collins read the words of his own report back to him. Being so unfamiliar with basic assertions in the report is a serious problem; indeed, if he did not read it thoroughly and still presented the report as his work, Mueller breached his duties of competence, diligence and honesty.

Many observers, not just on the Right, watching the fiasco unfold yesterday questioned the Special Prosecutor’s health and mental competence. I’ll say this: some of the moments I witnessed caused flashbacks of a horrible afternoon I spent working with an older friend and colleague who was beginning to exhibit signs of dementia.

When he wasn’t fumbling, missing questions or uttering confusing gibberish, Mueller was giving short, perfunctory “yes” or “no” answers, if he chose to  answer questions at all. Mueller repeatedly replied that various questions were outside his purview, touched on ongoing investigations, or had already been answered in his report.

Several critics of the hearing compared Mueller’s performance to a bad movie. Observed the editorial board of Issues and Insights,

Americans wouldn’t read the book, i.e,. Mueller’s report, but they’ll watch the movie. That was the Democrats’ bet in forcing Mueller to appear before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees. But they lost big, and Mueller’s appearance on screen is a shoe-in for the Golden Raspberry Award, right down there with the very worst investments Hollywood has ever made, such as “Heaven’s Gate,” “Ishtar,” and “Leonard Part 6.”

I would have added “The Pirate Move,” “Sergent Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band,” and “Won Ton Ton, the Dog That Saved Hollywood,” but otherwise its hard to disagree with that assessment.

More observations in Part 2…

25 thoughts on “Robert Mueller’s Disastrous Testimony And Its Significance, Part One

  1. I’m waiting for the spin: Mueller is a confused Republican that we never said was competent and he was clearly obstructed and intimidated by the President and his cronies.

  2. I did not see the testimony, only clips.

    But, I jumped back and forth between FOX and MSNBC and both sides suggested that his testimony was the greatest thing for their respective “sides.”

    Bunch of crap. (Have you ever had a three-word Comment of the Day?)

    -Jut

  3. I certainly would question his health with testimony like that. A major investigation like that often seems to be the final capstone on a career, but he didn’t get offstage before revealing retirement was overdue. (really old Washingtonians as a group should take note of how bad they look, and bow out gracefully. Especially if they’ve gone out on some limb and don’t see a way back. Getting senile would explain some bizarro twists, and party leaders need to accept that and encourage smooth transitions) Given that both parties have been gunning for the man recently for one thing or another, retirement from public life might be best. Let the witch hunt fail on its own.

    • Perhaps we need some sort of qualifying test for senility during public service?

      Nah, the progressives would fine tune the results to preclude 37 years old Republicans.

      They already think (and say) that conservatism (or simply opposing them) is a mental illness…

  4. I said yesterday that Mueller looked like a person who bought a PhD thesis, failed to understand what was in it and then tried to defend his thesis.

    Very sad.

  5. My question is why was Mueller unprepared? He no longer works for the government, and hasn’t for months. As far as I know, he’s either hung his shingle in a Big Law office, or he’s retired.

    So what else did he have to do for the last month other than prepare for this hearing? Tend his garden?

    The tea leaves say Mueller did not want to testify, and I think he’s said this many times prior. Maybe declining mental health was the reason. But that requires us to ask, “Why did he accept the position of Special Council in the first place if he knew his faculties were beginning to decline?” The answer may well be that he did not know at the time he was appointed, but when he discovered it, he should’ve stepped down. I don’t believe that discovery was three months ago.

    I’m troubled by the idea that Mueller did not seem to know the contents of that report. If I were in his shoes, I would’ve known it by memory, just in case I ever had to answer questions about it. But the larger question is, why did so many fundamental facts, like who Fusion GPS was, receive a “Whodat?” from him? Also, why would he be so careless as to agree with Congressman Lieu’s suggestion that but for the OLC ruling, he could’ve indicted Trump, then have to walk that back because his report said he reached no conclusion as to the sufficiency of the evidence for a criminal indictment?

    These are things that the Mueller of six or seven years ago would’ve handled with aplomb.

    I was also struck at how he was not forthcoming when asked about the political activities of his team. I can’t think of a single justification for not answering those questions, they are perfectly valid and critical to the issues that the President and his defenders have raised — namely bias. Now, it looks for all the world like Mueller was either unaware of the political activities of his assistants, or he knew but was untroubled by the appearance of impropriety their hiring created.

    Neither is a good thing, or even rationally defensible in a person appointed, effectively, to investigate the President of the United States.

    • It is possible that he was selected because insiders were aware of his declining capacity and he was there only to suggest balance.

      Keep in mind it was Rosenstein’s name is on FISA application swearing the information contained therein was vetted and truthful. It was Rosenstein who included obstruction by Trump to be included in the scope of what was supposed to be a counterintelligence investigation that morphed into a criminal investigation. So which is it – counterintelligence or criminal? From the outset the losing side stated Russia wanted Trump to win. As such Trump was forced to defend what he feels is a legitimate win. Had the investigation focused only on outside influence without suggesting Trump benefitted from or colluded with the Russians it is possible if not probable that Trump’s attitude toward the investigation might be vastly different. I know I would be antagonistic if it was suggested I cheated.

      Watch what Jerry Nadler and every other person do if someone falsely accuses him of wrongdoing. They will contest the allegation, diminish those alleging false facts and protest as much as possible. That is not obstruction of justice.

      • That’s exactly right, and why any obstruction claim in impeachment would fail to find majority public approval. I regard the entire investigation as a thinly veiled coup attempt, and since such a coup would be disastrous to the nation, the President had an obligation to do what he could within the law to oppose it.

        It would have been helpful if he could have articulated his duty better, of course.

        • If you think about it literally, shouldn’t Mueller and his team be accused of obstruction of justice?
          I mean appointing a bunch of partisan actors bent on overturning the democratic election of a President isn’t trying to get to the truth of the matter. Misrepresenting fake intelligence, surveillance of dubious legality, raiding an attorney’s office, a prosecutor planning private meetings with a trial judge, and leaking the files to the press aren’t the tactics of someone who is trying to uncover the truth. This is someone trying to subvert justice.

      • What is the real nature (if that is a valid term) of the power-struggle that has been going on now for a long time? A couple of years back I asked (because the term was common then, now it is not) what it might mean to the ‘deep state’ that Donald Trump was elected. What is the nature and scope of the power struggle? I still do not have any clarity here.

        If I look at the *surface* and if I believe the *surface reports* can this be said to help me to understand? Victor Davis Hanson has become a sort of philosophic apologist for Donald Trump and he explains him nicely. I always like what he says. And his demeanor is admirable. Common sense, non-complex, he explains DT and while doing so supports what DT does and has done (in terms of accomplishments).

        Has the Democrat establishment been *set up* in some way for a disastrous fall? You’d think that the Liberal-Democratic establishment was thundering forward to revolutionary victory. Now, at least if *surface* is viewed, whatever camp that opposes them seems to have — to have achieved, to have been given — a good deal of ‘moral authority’. Is this a part of some manipulation scheme? It is I admit a semi-conspiratorial thought . . . but I cannot trust the present, nor the mechanisms that reveal it to me. What is really going on here?

        What is going to happen in the country over the next 2-3 years? I realize that no one can predict. But the attempt at prognostication has importance. If the Progressive-Democrats are driven back to some degree, what will they then do? What does ‘victory’ mean for the specific camp surrounding Trump? And what does it all mean in the larger picture of geopolitics?

        Is breastfeeding really a viable option for our human futu—- Ooops. Sorry. That just jumped out, like a misbehaving mammary!

        I’ll take my answers off the air . . .

        • “You’d think that the Liberal-Democratic establishment was thundering forward to revolutionary victory. ”
          Well, they’re certainly thundering forward.
          As to your second question; yes, it is. In fact, I see it as the solution to Humanity’s most vexing problems; from war to World hunger, from rickets to road-rage.

      • It is possible that he was selected because insiders were aware of his declining capacity and he was there only to suggest balance.

        But why would Mueller, by all accounts a good and faithful public servant, be complicit in such a fraud? He would be the first one aware of any “declining capacity,” would he not?

        This is a very sinister suggestion.

        Had the investigation focused only on outside influence without suggesting Trump benefitted from or colluded with the Russians it is possible if not probable that Trump’s attitude toward the investigation might be vastly different. I know I would be antagonistic if it was suggested I cheated.

        I totally agree. I think Trump would’ve supported an investigation into Russian interference generally, without doing so with the obvious intention to hang the whole thing around his neck and impeach him with it.

        And of course Trump didn’t obstruct justice by standing up for himself — only a Democrat, and a terminally TDS afflicted one at that, could reach the conclusion that speaking negatively about the Special Council was “obstruction of justice.”

        Around these parts, it’s known as “Standing up for yourself.” Bush 43 should’ve tried that on for size instead of letting the Dems roll him in the last two years of his term.

        • Glen, people with declining capacity are the last to acknowledge it. Try taking your 75 year old fathers car keys away when you are concerned that his ability to focus on driving is manifestly diminished.

          • My dad had no problem acknowledging his creeping dementia. Certainly those of us around him were well aware of it. Are you telling me that none of the people around him noticed, or had the ethical comprehension to say something about a mentally infirm guy leading the team?

            Sorry, that seems unlikely to me.

  6. This morning I watched the news — which lately I have been avoiding — and it was hilarious to jump back and forth between CNN and Fox News. CNN (at first) spent more time on the CDC report about lower female fertility rates and the concomitant percentage drop in new births than on the Mueller testimony. When they got to it, they totally ignored Mueller on the stand and focused on “What next?” for the Democrats’ impeachment scheme. Fox, of course, wouldn’t let it alone: it was as if nothing else happened in the world yesterday that was worthy of reporting. CNN then went on with another human interest story and back again to “What next?” It was played this way: Though Mueller’s testimony was not the “whopping success” they expected it to be instead of a total disaster, no matter: the real question is “So what else can be done to impeach Trump?” Suggestion to the Democrats: Find a worthy candidate who can actually challenge Trump! If the Democrats who have declared their candidacy are really the best the party can do, they are in deep, deep trouble, and, by the way, so are we. I honestly believe that (1) professional politicians make the worst law- and opinion-makers, even if they’re not as corrupt and moronic as the current and recent ones (It is clear from my reading that the Founders’ never expected a permanent political class to exist) and (2) after the Kavanaugh debacle it is more clear than ever that the hateful attempts at character assassination by the ‘opposition’ — whichever one it is — is not worth it to the majority of those who would actually be good and effective legislators and leaders.

    My son’s evaluation of Trump’s election was that it was primarily a ‘spit in the eye’ of Obama and Hillary, and the presumptuous behavior of the Democrat Party. I agree. I also think we’re in the middle of a tipping point test of leadership and the future of our country. No dialogue on either side; no attempts at some reconciliation for the good of the country. I am not a Trump fan (I admit I wasted my vote and wrote in another name), but annointing Hillary and then losing should not have caused the Democratic Party to mewl and puke over the result and try to change it, but to focus on finding a really honest, smart, presidential candidate to run against him next time. Now all we have is ideologues on both sides. Some democratic republic…

    I am reminded of Nixon’s paranoia: he committed his crimes to ensure his re-election… Now the Democrats are simply working the reverse: How can we change the results?

    • “… annointing Hillary and then losing should not have caused the Democratic Party to mewl and puke over the result and try to change it, but to focus on finding a really honest, smart, presidential candidate to run against him next time. Now all we have is ideologues on both sides. . . .

      Exactly. How can we change the results? I have a facile response to this: “We” cant. That’s facile because I can’t see any hard facts delineating the future in the face of the chaos the progressives have created. By an accidental convergence of weaknesses in the political continuum, they found their simple (and simple-minded) rules of behavior uncommonly well- and widely received, grabbed the advantage, and continue with all due deliberation to cloud the self-anesthetized minds of the leaderless Democrats. However much Republicans wish to retain power, having half the country blitherblathering and wandering from candidate to silly candidate, unable to focus beyond the most trifling of details (that safe space at the intersection of race and sex), trying to wipe the sand out of their eyes and get their votes out of their asses is not good for the All of Us. It doesn’t feel like a Do Something situation to me. I’m thinking we may just need to ride this out

  7. A couple of years post 9/11, I heard Mueller as FBI Director speak at a regional (multi-state) law enforcement conference. He spoke eloquently and at length about the changing role of the FBI in the wake of 9/11,the Patriot Act and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and domestic law enforcement efforts against international terrorism. He gave an engaging keynote speech for the conference and even entertained a number of questions from conference attendees. He was impressive; polished and professional in every regard. I was saddened by his performance during the testimony yesterday.

  8. I would appreciate someone helping me understand the role of the Special Counsel.

    Mueller says that because of the OLC rule he did not make any determination regarding criminal wrongdoing. What then was his role. It seems to me that his role was to investigate and make decisions or at least recommendations to prosecute or not to prosecute. That is what I thought the new special counsel statute did. Given that he did charge some with process crimes why did the report not include reasons for declination of prosecution for Misfud and Trump himself. Why the hell not? He included Misfud’s lies but no rationale for his declination to prosecute. He never stated in the report that he makes no decisions on Trump based on DOJ policy on indictments of sitting presidents.

    If his role was to simply do an investigation and provide the AG with his findings in a confidential report then why did he complain that Barr misrepresented the “flavor” of his findings? This is a binary choice probable cause of wrongdoing exists or it does not. Is Mueller usurping the AG’s role?

    Mueller was an employee of the Executive Branch not Congress so does Congress automatically have a right to his investigations as they would with Inspector Generals?

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