On Wednesday, former Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified before two House committees. It was a grueling, marathon day of bad-faith Republican hysterics and confusing, sometimes contradictory testimony that ultimately damaged the case for impeachment.
The Democrats responsible for Mueller’s testimony-thon are just now realizing that this whole thing may not have been their best move, given Mueller’s age and general lack of vigor on the stand.
Take this report from the Washington Post last night (emphasis added throughout):
He [Rep. Jared Huffman] said it was a mistake for Democrats to rely on Mueller — a 74-year-old reluctant witness who had made clear that he would not provide the blockbuster moment the party craved — to make their case to the public.
Among Democrats, perhaps the most disappointed in Mueller’s performance were members of the Intelligence and Judiciary committees, who questioned the former special counsel, according to conversations with several who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak frankly. Many felt blindsided that no one warned them how much Mueller had aged — and regretful that they had forced a decorated Vietnam veteran and longtime civil servant into testifying when he was so reluctant in the first place.
“I was beyond shocked,” one lawmaker said of Mueller’s occasional confusion and seeming unfamiliarity with details of the report.
What did they expect? Time and time again, throughout the process and repeatedly in the report, Mueller made it explicitly clear that he was not going to provide the smoking gun the Democrats wanted. And yes, he’s a 74 year old dude! He hadn’t testified before Congress in seven years and was resistant to the idea, so the Democrats threw him into one of the most brutal formats possible for a witness.
The frustrating thing is this could have gone so much better. The committee hearing model lends itself to being far more of an interrogation than testimony. We’ve seen how well this format can work with witnesses who have actually committed wrongdoing, like AOC’s systematic dismantling of Michael Cohen in front of House Oversight. In Mueller, the Democrats had a reluctant witness who had little to no incentive to go beyond the confines of what he’d previously said, so putting him in a format where every slipup could only hurt them was a shoddy idea from the start. As the Post story notes, they knew this! They had a better idea all along!
Mueller’s six hours of testimony did not help their case, many Democrats said privately. Some wondered whether they had miscalculated in focusing so much on the former FBI director and less on subpoenaing witnesses in Mueller’s report and asking the courts to force them to testify.
Incredible. What if! Mueller indicted like 34 people during the process of his investigation, and any one of them probably would have been more useful to the Democrats’ case than he was. Getting them on the stand would have required a bit more political capital than the Democrats were willing to spend, so we forced a 74 year old retiree to get screamed at by these fucking guys for six hours. Super helpful process for everyone involved.