Robert Mueller’s testimony before two congressional committees last week amounted to a rehash of his lengthy published report and failed to provide Democrats with new ammunition for pursuing impeachment of President Donald Trump for alleged obstruction of justice.
Over and over, this is how Mueller replied to questions about the report and his investigation:
“I can’t answer that question.”
“I’m not going to get into that.”
“I don’t recall.”
“I’ve got to pass on that.”
“I refer you to the report.”
“I can’t speak to that.”
Mueller confirmed that his report did not “exonerate” Trump from obstruction of justice and added that Department of Justice policy prohibited the indictment of a sitting president. Mueller reiterated that his investigation “found that the Russian government interfered in our election in sweeping and systematic fashion.” On that point, he said again the investigation “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” As for “collusion,” he said that was not addressed since it is not a legal term. Mueller stuck with what his report said as Democrats and Republicans came at him from opposite directions.
Democrats seized on Mueller’s reiteration of the report’s finding that Trump was not cleared of obstruction of justice. Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee which grilled the special counsel first, said, “Mueller made clear that the president is not exonerated.” Nadler said Trump “went to great lengths to obstruct the special counsel’s investigation” and the president could be indicted for obstruction of justice after leaving office. The hearing brought out that the statute of limitations is five years, and thus if Trump wins a second term, he would not face prosecution for obstruction of justice. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said an impeachment inquiry remains a possibility but did not commit to pursuing it, saying the decision depended on what House committees came up with in the ongoing House investigations of Trump’s finances, which she said the Mueller investigation was prohibited from doing.
Trump called Mueller’s performance “one of the worst” in this country’s history. “He did a horrible job,” Trump said. “He had no material. There was nothing done wrong.” Likewise, the reaction from both the right and the left was negative. Fox News’ Chris Wallace said Mueller’s performance was “a disaster for the Democrats” and “a disaster for the reputation of Robert Mueller.” Likewise, NBC News political director Chuck Todd called the optics of Mueller’s testimony before the Judiciary Committee a “disaster.” He said the special counsel “did nothing to advance the cause for impeachment.” MSNBC national security analyst Jeremy Bash said, “far from breathing life into the report,” Mueller “kind of sucked the life out of the report.” David Axelrod, former adviser to President Barack Obama, tweeted, “This is very, very painful.”
The Judiciary Committee hearing was enlivened by Ohio Republican Rep. Mike Turner challenging Mueller’s use of “exoneration,” a non-legal term. Driving home his point, Turner asked if there was a “Department of Exonerations” in the Justice Department, pointing out that the power of exoneration does not exist within the criminal justice system. “The statement about exoneration is misleading,” Turner said. “And it’s meaningless, and it colors this investigation. One word out of the entire portion of your report, and it’s a meaningless word that has no legal meaning, and it has colored your entire report.” It was a point well taken concerning the long overused term.
Mueller’s second round of testimony came in the House Intelligence committee and it opened with Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, accusing Trump and members of his election campaign of “disloyalty to country.” Schiff, long a vociferous opponent of Trump, said the 2016 campaign was also a story about “money, about greed and corruption” by the campaign leadership. But Republican Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah brought out the string of leaks about Mueller’s investigation, pointing to 25 examples — all “designed to weaken or embarrass” the president, while no information favorable to Trump was ever leaked.
At the end of a long day, the situation was status quo with Democrats moving ahead with multiple committee investigations into Trump’s finances, taxes and businesses. Republicans looked for light to be shone on the genesis of the special counsel investigation, heartened by Attorney General Barr’s already having begun a probe into that question.
So the investigations, charges and counter charges will continue with no end in sight. With the Democrats getting no “bombshell” boost from Mueller’s testimony, it now appears that impeachment by the House is unlikely. What is abundantly clear: the unrelenting attacks on Trump by the Democrats and their media partners will continue ad infinitum with the objective of defeating him in next year’s election.