The Reluctant Witness

Okay, so Democrats managed not to turn Robert Mueller into a hostile witness after all. Good for them. Unfortunately, they were unable to turn him into a willing one. I haven’t watched all of his testimony from the Judiciary and Intel committees, but from what I was able to view, Mueller looked about as eager to be in that building as I would sitting in a dentist office chair awaiting a root canal.

Anybody who held out hope that Mueller was going to deviate from what he said in his report obviously wasn’t paying attention to him at his press conference on May 29. The report was going to be his testimony, he said at the time. And, true to his word, that’s what we got from him. With a few rare exceptions, Democrats did not accomplish what they set out to accomplish: namely make the report come to life.

In hindsight, compelling Mueller to testify was a bad idea. Given what we know of the man, the best anyone could’ve hoped for would’ve been a reiteration of what was in the report; in other words a tie. And that’s what the Democrats got: not a win but a tie. And, even worse for them, the prospects of an impeachment inquiry now appear to be slim to none. Based on what transpired in those six hours, there is no way in hell that Nancy Pelosi is going to allow it to happen, no matter how much pressure Jerry Nadler applies.

But while Mueller’s testimony was anything but riveting, it was hardly, as Chris Wallace stated, a disaster for him or Democrats. For instance, for a country gripped by tribal politics, it was refreshing to see a professional who would not be used as a prop by either party. He made a promise to stick to the facts in his report and he kept that promise. As more than a few pundits have opined, had Mueller been the FBI director in 2016 instead of James Comey, it is quite possible that Hillary Clinton would’ve won the presidency.

And he did, after all, confirm that this president engaged in multiple acts of obstruction of justice; confirmed that the Trump campaign welcomed Russian interference in the 2016 election and even benefited from it; and in perhaps the best exchange of the day, confirmed that while Trump himself may be immune from criminal prosecution while in office, that protection would not extend to him once he becomes a private citizen. In other words, as Mueller wrote in his report and reiterated several times in his sworn testimony, Trump was not exonerated.

Which brings me to one particular exchange between Mueller and John Ratcliffe of Texas that has gained some traction. Ratcliffe pointed out that the word exonerate is not a legal term and that it is not the job of a prosecutor to exonerate a potential subject or target of an investigation. While Ratcliffe is correct in pointing out that everyone is presumed innocent, he conveniently forgot to mention that prosecutors, like all attorneys, are officers of the court, meaning they are bound not just by an incentive to convict a suspect, but to go where the facts may lead them.

Often prosecutors, while investigating a potential crime, may find sufficient evidence to prove the underlying elements of it while still not being able to establish the guilt or innocence of a particular suspect. The fact is Mueller found at least 10 instances of obstruction of justice that are undeniable.

Had it not been for the OLC memo, which guided his decision-making process, Trump might well have been indicted. And as I noted above, he is not out of the woods, not by a long shot. Trump isn’t just running for a second term in 2020; he’s literally running for his life. Don’t kid yourself: behind all that bluster lies a very frightened little man who knows full well that what he did was wrong and is acutely aware of the fate that could befall him.

The simple truth of Wednesday’s proceedings is that while Democrats may not have gotten the bang for the buck they were hoping for from Mueller, Republicans still have not successfully refuted the essential conclusions of his report. It’s as though having been made aware of a bank robbery, they seem more concerned that the person who called the cops wasn’t particularly fond of the robbers.

The good news that Democrats can take out of this is that they know they can no longer rely on anyone else but themselves. Mueller wasn’t the superhero they’d hoped he be. In fact, he was always a crutch. The idea of calling a prosecutor as a witness in a criminal conspiracy case seems rather farcical when you think about it. That they were hanging their hats on what he said in order to determine whether to move forward with an impeachment inquiry only shows how desperate they were.

With a presidential election in just over fifteen months, Democrats have a lot of work to do. The second debate is less than a week away, and a crowded field will have its hands full trying to make the case that one of them is best qualified to be the next commander in chief.

For the sake of the free world, he or she better be up to the challenge.

Author: Peter Fegan

Progressive but pragmatic. Lover of music, die-hard Giants' fan and reluctant Mets' fan. My favorite motto? I'd rather be ruled by a smart Turk than a dumb Christian.