Mulling the Mueller Report

Today New Trier enjoyed picture perfect weather. So, how did I spend my day? I watched Robert Mueller responding to House Congressional committees on Capitol Hill. 

House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler, D-NY, and the House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff, D-Calif, presided over about seven hours of questioning from both sides of the aisle. Judiciary was in the morning, Intelligence in the afternoon. 

As we all know by now, last April’s release of the much-anticipated Mueller Report didn’t have the public impact we Democrats had hoped for. Four hundred pages of legal language, interrupted with blacked out sentences, paragraphs and pages, made it difficult for the public to get their heads around the truly bad behavior committed by Donald Trump and his shady crew. 

And beyond the uninviting bulk of the actual report, the newly appointed Attorney General William Barr had his own affect on the public’s perception of the report. He presented his Trump-friendly 4-page summary to the American people before Mueller’s 400-page report was officially released. He was brief and dismissive in his summation of events that covered several years, before, during and after the President’s capture of the White House. Barr’s approach reminded me of the policeman at the scene of a crime urging curious passersby, “Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.” 

For much of the public, A.G. Barr’s summation became their first (and only) impression of Mueller’s findings. So, even though there was plenty in the full Report that should, at the least, alarm Americans about the activities of President Trump and his operatives, Barr’s language led many to dismiss the report’s importance and move on to “bigger” concerns. 

Before today’s hearings began, I suspect congressional Democrats were hoping to get Mr. Mueller to read some of the most damning report findings in his own voice. Perhaps they envisioned headlines tomorrow like, “Mueller says President Trump took action to obstruct federal investigators!” But throughout the morning nothing like that happened.  

Instead, almost all of Robert Mueller’s morning responses used a minimum of words. The committee member would ask a question based on the report’s language and Mueller would respond with the briefest reply. There was a lot of “That is generally the summary…I rely on the wording of the report… I refer you to the report.” The result was the committee member ended up reading the report’s findings verbatim, with Mueller then agreeing with what he just heard. – This does not lead to blockbuster headlines. 

The Republican Representatives couldn’t have known how Robert Mueller would perform today. So, they had their well-rehearsed outrage ready when it was their turn to “interview” him. Virtually every Republican on each committee appeared to be in lockstep with a single message: Robert Mueller’s investigation was biased against Donald Trump from the start. On the one hand, they praised Mr. Mueller for his service to our country as a Marine war hero and longtime public servant, while simultaneously accusing him and his team of conspiring to “get” President Trump. Sometimes politics is pretty disgusting. 

It’s doubtful that anything the Republicans had to say changed the minds of any Democrats. But it did give those GOP legislators nice sound bites to play on local TV back home. And it did give us a preview of what their party’s official spin will be if revelations of Trump’s multi-pronged connections to Russia or his frantic efforts to obstruct justice, threatens to grow into a national scandal. 

The possibility of that happening increased a small bit during the afternoon House Intelligence Committee session. Mr. Mueller seemed to become more talkative after lunch. His comments concerning the veracity of witnesses from Trump’s circle were more frank. He agreed that some were outright liars. He also testified that some written responses to the questions he sent to President Trump were not completely answered.  

But he was especially vocal when the focus was on the security dangers presented by a foreign power meddling in our democratic processes. 

Mueller referred to “attacks against the United States such as what the Russians did in 2016.” He said he expected the Russians to do it again and said, “in fact, their doing it right now.” He spoke of wanting the public to be diligent against future meddling, saying much more needs to be done to protect against these intrusions…we need to harden our election infrastructure, make sure our voting procedures and methods are strengthened. He urged the congressional committee to use the resources we have to address this threat and stated that the FBI continues to be looking into foreign meddling. 

I believe the hearings underscored this is a real area of vulnerability in Trump’s 2020 campaign. A majority of Americans now accept the fact that Russians meddled in our elections. Even the most conservative voters don’t like that reality and don’t want it to ever happen again. The Russia-Putin-Internet efforts that aided Donald Trump in 2016 should be hung around Trump’s neck like a huge, shiny medal of shame.  

And here’s one last thought. If we hadn’t won the U.S. House in 2018 it’s highly unlikely these hearings would have even been held. Aren’t you glad you helped make that happen?

Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973