Mueller’s Testimony: Substance Matters

On July 24, 2019, Robert Mueller gave his long-anticipated testimony before the House Judiciary Committee and the House Intelligence Committee. It’s been nearly two months since Mueller resigned from his position as Special Counsel from the Department of Justice. During Mueller’s resignation statement, he said if he were called before congress, he would only testify to the content in the Mueller Report. Mueller wasn’t being fictitious –that’s exactly what he did. 

While some in the media were hyping up his testimony, others were more measured in their forecast. Mueller is not –and has never been– one for theatrics or hyperbole. He built his reputation on professionalism, integrity, and objectivity.

As some media analysts foretold, there were no new bombshells that erupted from the congressional hearings. Mueller generally didn’t testify to anything that wasn’t already documented in the Mueller Report. Mueller didn’t stray from the confines he had set for himself. His answers were carefully worded and concise, and his demeanor was unassuming and measured.

As a result of Mueller’s by-the-book and short-winded answers, many members of the media were quick to characterize the hearings as “devastating,” a “disaster,” and some even described his demeanor as “weary.” It’s irresponsible for the media to spin such an important event in this way. This is something to be expected from most right-wing media outlets. Frankly, they were going to attack his testimony, as they’ve attacked his report, one way or the other. However, a fair share of the irresponsible framing of the testimony came from some pundits and analysts from the left-to-center mainstream media. 

We’re living in a unique time in American history. Before becoming President of the United States, most Americans knew Donald Trump from watching him on reality TV. Unfortunately, the manufactured drama and sensationalism of Trump’s reality-TV persona has never gone away. The only thing that changed was the set location: the White House. This kind of hyper-drama has become part of the media’s coverage of this administration. With Trump being loud and bombastic, it’s as if Mueller was expected to put on an act reflective of Trump’s reality TV-esque performances. If Mueller’s testimony is being judged mostly on his performance instead of its substance, then the public is not being adequately informed. 

This was never going to be something out of an episode of a courtroom drama or a scene from A Few Good Men. This is real life and this is serious. The implications of the Mueller Report and Mueller’s testimony –which essentially reiterated and emphasized facts from the report– couldn’t be more serious for our national security, as well as the future of our system of government.

The United States was, and still is being, attacked by the Russian Federation. The Russians are still actively engaged in acts of cyber-warfare against the United States. This is 21st-century warfare: instead of using traditional weapons of war to cause damage, the Russians are attacking us with hackers and sophisticated cyber weapons and assets. These cyber weapons of war are being used to create public discord by amplifying an already polarized political climate. They want Americans to not only distrust the electoral process and democratic institutions, but want to make Americans distrust one another by infecting the hearts and minds of millions of Americans by infiltrating our social media environments. 

This is a national security threat that’s being ignored by the Trump administration, as well as the overwhelming majority of the Republican Party. The Republican-controlled Senate has continuously dismissed legislation aimed to safeguard us from future cyber attacks. 

During his testimony on Russian interference in our elections, Mueller said “[Russia is] doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it in the next campaign.” When he was asked about the Trump campaign accepting support from the Russains and the fact that contacts from a foreign adversary in a political campaign went unreported, he said: “I hope this is not the new normal, but I fear it is.”

There was only a single Republican congressman who even bothered to ask about Russian interference. A foreign adversary interfering in our elections and stoking division amongst Americans shouldn’t be a bipartisan issue. The fact that it is demonstrates that Republicans are putting their own self-interest over the country’s. 

Mueller also reiterated the evidence he uncovered on the part of his report that focused on obstruction of justice (Volume II) committed by Trump. In his report, Mueller found ten instances of possible obstruction of justice. Trump and his political supporters have spun the narrative that Mueller exonerated Trump of any wrongdoing. Trump has said repeatedly that he was “totally exonerated” by Mueller. While Mueller never had the power to hold Trump criminally accountable for the crime of obstructing justice, he did emphasize that he was unwilling to clear him of any wrongdoing. Mueller said, “The president was not exculpated for the acts that he allegedly committed.” Mueller was also asked if Trump could be prosecuted for crimes when he leaves office, in which he replied “True.”

Mueller did answer a question that wasn’t in the report, such as Trump’s characterization of the Mueller investigation being a “witch hunt.” Trump has been calling the Mueller investigation a “witch hunt” from the beginning. He’s used the “witch hunt” phrase well over a hundred times, all in an attempt to corrupt the integrity of the investigation. When asked about this by a member of the House, Mueller said: “It is not a witch hunt.”

When the day’s long testimony concluded, Trump claimed a false victory. He lied and directly contradicted Mueller’s testimony. He said Mueller totally exonerated him, then later contradicting himself, said Mueller didn’t have the right to exonerate him. Trump was asked by a reporter about Mueller’s testimony pertaining to the fact Trump could be prosecuted for obstruction of justice when he leaves office, Trump lied and said Mueller corrected himself “…later on in the afternoon.” Trump then snapped at the reporter, saying “…you’re fake news. And you’re one of the most.” Trump’s political allies also engaged in this form of gaslighting. Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted, “Didn’t take long for Mueller to once again vindicate President [Trump]. No collusion. No obstruction. And now Mueller all but admits it was all along a total witch hunt.”

This is where we are as a country. The Mueller investigation concluded Russia did in fact interfere in our election, found at least 140 contacts between Russia and Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, and uncovered ten criminal acts of obstruction of justice by Trump. And Mueller reiterated and emphasized the details of his findings during his testimony. It was unfairly framed as a failure because some members of the media expected Mueller to turn into Jack Nicholson’s character in A Few Good Men. However, if you take a step back and really reflect on the substance of Mueller’s testimony, there were numerous bombshells worthy of a dystopian blockbuster movie.

Russia is a national security threat to the United States. In fact, investigators are finding that their interference in the 2016 presidential election was even worse than previously suspected. In a Senate Intelligence Committee report released just yesterday, investigators determined that Russia targeted election systems in every state in America. This includes hacking into voter registration systems, as well as state voting databases. 

Nonetheless, we have a president who refuses to even accept or acknowledge that the Russians interfered in the lifeblood of our democracy: the electoral process. He has taken the word of Vladimir Putin, a brutal dictator, over our own democratic institutions (intelligence agencies, Department of Justice, congressional investigators, etc). And the Republican Party continues to shamelessly support Trump’s position on Russian interference. They know it helped get him elected, and if the Russian’s want Trump in office, they also want Republicans in congress to support him. They’re allowing a foreign adversary to destroy us from within so they can preserve their own power. If an entire political party is unwilling to address, or even acknowledge, Russia’s interference and continued interference, then the party is rotten at the core. 

The House Democrats should be initiating impeachment proceedings. While it’s unlikely the Republican-controlled Senate will ever even hold a trial if the House passes Articles of Impeachment, that’s not an excuse for not holding Trump accountable for his criminality and accepting the assistance of a foreign adversary. Mueller provided an abundance of evidence –the House needs to put his words into action. There has to come a point where political maneuvering takes a back seat to carrying out their sacred oath of office: to protect and defend the constitution.  

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