Surely, Chairmen Nadler and Schiff had both been warned that forcing Mueller to testify was a really bad idea. It was worse than a bad idea. It was a terrible idea. Mueller had clearly signaled that he wasn’t going to perform for the Democrats. The report was his testimony. We suspect members of Mueller’s investigative staff also signaled that it was not a good idea.
We don’t know what Chairmen Nadler and Schiff were thinking, but here’s a pretty good guess. All polls show that pushing impeachment is a dicey course for Democrats. Just shy of two-thirds of voters are either opposed to impeachment or are undecided. Republicans (27% of voters), as might be expected, are overwhelmingly opposed, just as Democrats (29% of voters) are overwhelmingly in favor, but over 40% of the country’s voters now identify as Independent, and nearly half of them are opposed to impeachment proceedings at this time. So, it seems apparent that the Democrats wanted to tease a higher level of support from those independent voters. It didn’t work. Next-day polling by the POLITICO/Morning Consult poll shows little impact on support for impeaching President Trump, with a substantial plurality of voters still opposed to impeachment.
Here are the cold, hard facts the Democrats are facing. Only 37 percent of voters say Congress should begin impeachment proceedings against Trump. More voters, 46 percent, say Congress should not begin impeachment proceedings. Sixteen percent of voters just shrug, that is, they are undecided.
The Democrats did their cause no good. By the end of the day Trump was gloating (shamelessly we thought), and the Democrats were exaggerating (ridiculously, we thought) how former Special Counsel Mueller provided devasting evidence in favor of moving forward with impeachment. Well, he didn’t.
The high point, actually the only almost-high-point, for the Democrats came shortly before the break for lunch, when Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Cal.) asked, “The reason, again, that you did not indict Donald Trump is because of the Office of Legal Counsel opinion stating that you cannot indict a sitting President. Correct?”
“That is correct,” Mueller replied. And for a moment, it seemed Rep. Lieu had hit the proverbial ball right out of the park. But it was not to be. Immediately, after the break, Mueller returned to correct the record by walking back his earlier answer. “As we say in the report, and I said at the opening, we did not reach a determination on whether the President committed a crime.” Now, this is not a distinction without a difference. In fact, there is a huge difference. He was not only correcting Lieu’s interpretation of what the report implied, he was at the same time correcting what nearly all news commentators and anti-Trump prognosticators have been saying ever since the Mueller report was released. That is, that but for the Office of Legal Counsel guidance, Trump would have been charged with obstruction of justice. And that is simply not what the report says. The report simply says that they made no determination as to the President’s guilt or innocence with respect to obstruction.
Now, to be sure, the report is quite damning regarding President Trump’s tantrums and calls to White House Counsel McGann and former campaign manager Lewandowski regarding replacing Mueller. Nonetheless, the fact remains and is now, once again, clearly established for the record that the Mueller Report did not conclude that President Donald Trump had obstructed justice. It made no determination on that critical issue, leaving plenty of room for what would ordinarily be prosecutorial discretion.
The Democrats would have been far better off leaving the widespread impression intact that Mueller would have indicted the President but for the standing policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted. Now, thanks to Rep. Lieu, Mueller has made it clear that he and his investigators reached no conclusion on that point. While it is true that Mueller didn’t exonerate Trump, which the television news outlets headlined all day, it is equally true that his report didn’t conclude that Trump had obstructed justice or had committed any other crime.
The Mueller testimony was a major setback for the impeachment crowd. Their star witness came across as a rather fading star. It saddens us to write this assessment of the hearing. Mueller has had a remarkable career. He is a true American hero. He’s a former marine who won a bronze star for bravery in Vietnam, and also received a purple heart because he was wounded and nearly killed fighting there. He’s smart, very smart, having graduated from Princeton and NYU and the University of Virginia Law School. Mueller served with distinction as the Director of the FBI during the aftermath of 911. Republican and Democratic Presidents have called upon him to serve and he has, always, with distinction.
But the hearing this week was a sad affair. Mueller declined to answer questions over 200 times during the hearing. And, over and over again, he asked if the questioner was reciting something from the report. When the answer was affirmative then he essentially said he supported what was in the report. This was the Mueller Report, but Mueller did not always seem certain what the report had concluded.
We admire Bob Mueller…greatly. It was painful to watch President Trump gloating over “the horrible job” Robert Mueller did at the hearing. The hearing will go down as a colossal unforced error by the Democrats. It did their cause no good. We suggest they start seriously focusing on policy and stop trying to force impeachment on a largely unwilling electorate.