Here’s the investigation we need now: a blue-ribbon panel revealing who in the world thought Robert Mueller’s testimony would be a good idea.
Was it Jerry Nadler and Adam Schiff, the chairs of the two committees that dragged this poor man through this needless hell? Was it Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in a last-ditch effort to gin up a narrative for impeachment? It surely was championed by the media culture as a day of history, a high-stakes moment in time that would surely resonate.
Well, it resonated, all right, echoing across a landscape filled with expectations based on political interests. President Trump’s supporters expected a validation of their dismissal of the Mueller probe as an empty exercise. His enemies breathlessly sought, at long last, something to bolster their years of telling us that his downfall is just around the corner.
Many of those in media and elected office who had pinned so much hope on Mueller’s testimony sat crestfallen before their Twitter screens, forced to admit that the movie was not in fact better than the book. That snappy line encapsulated what all the smart kids said would happen: the issues described in the dry pages of the report would spring to life, they assured us, with the words of the man who would reveal the sordid truths of this lawless president.
Those words instead fell lifeless to the committee room floor, often in the form of non-answers, confused meanderings and sad befuddlement. I expected the Mueller performance to fall miles short of the left’s lofty hopes. I did not expect it to be such a pathetic showing that I felt profoundly sorry for him.
But my empathy has its limits. This is still the man who willfully dragged America through years of unnecessary and expensive drama. He is still the man who lamely tried to sell excuses about why he said he found no collusion but denied us that clarity on obstruction. And to this day, he seems to harbor the bizarre notion that he had the power to exonerate.
But didn’t Trump himself say the report exonerated him? He did, and according to the conversational definition, he was right. If a special prosecutor comes after you and finds no basis for further legal action, you may claim exoneration. But it is not strictly a legal concept. In fact, any counsel claiming to wield that power misunderstands a basic precept familiar to first-year law students: the presumption of innocence.
Innocence is the status we enjoy until we are convicted of something. It does not come from a prosecutor’s benevolence. Juries do not find us innocent, they find us guilty or not guilty, a binary choice based on evidence. Similarly, Mueller faced a yes or no question: Is there a basis for the prosecution of Donald Trump? If so, his report should have contained specific foundations for that finding and recommendations on how to proceed in court. If not, the report should have been clear in that regard as well, without hemming and hawing over what may or may not have rattled the sensibilities of an office brimming with Trump-haters.
And who ran that office anyway? The Mueller performance was so jarringly disjointed that this man offered up as a rock of virtue and competence has been reduced to the image of a figurehead, installed so that his brand could add heft to a futile undertaking. One is left to wonder whether Mueller himself has read the report that bears his name.
That name has now taken a beating in the reputational marketplace. Watching him go down in flames Wednesday, Democrat questioners took pains to remind us of his impressive résumé, as if past loyal service could erase the malfeasance of this lamentable chapter.
Democrats had best hope for the famously short American attention span. Their busload of 2020 hopefuls will hit the debate stage next week, with dashed hopes of a Mueller performance they could weaponize. I doubt that any of them will mention his name.
A nation merely fatigued by these pursuits may now grow outright hostile to any attempt to bury us in further fantasies. With Nadler and Schiff by her side, Pelosi sought to salvage her dark day with remarks that suggest they are unchastened. Will these people actually try to keep this dead horse on its feet?
This is a risky game. There are voters fairly lukewarm about Trump who nonetheless may recoil at the spectacle of more wasted time from politicians who refuse to devote proper time to issues people actually care about.
They may try to edit their neuroses into a more palatable pitch that dwells on Russian mischief in future elections. But none of that will implicate Trump in the offenses they have sought to pin on him.
As Mueller’s testimony day passes into memory, many will conclude that it was a dud, a zero, a misfire. It was far worse. It was a gut-punch to the entire Democrat storybook, a disaster that will drain the interest of all but their sharpest partisans. And it goes beyond the simple stain of failure; it casts doubt on the basic instincts of the promoters of this pitiful moment of political theater.
Say what you will about Democrats, they have enjoyed many successes of late: two terms of Barack Obama and his agenda, rapid advancement of their social goals, and even in the Trump era, the retaking of the House of Representatives and the return of Pelosi to the Speaker’s post. As a conservative, I believe them to be wrong on nearly every issue, but I have never found them stupid. I have often actually wished they were dumb and strategically inept in ideological battle. But in this Mueller episode, any objective observer has to wonder what kind of brain cramp led any Democrat to think the Mueller appearance would pay big dividends.
Did they not read the report, bereft of artillery for their arsenal? Did they not see his wobbly May 29 press appearance? Were they unaware that a free-wheeling dialogue might go much worse, and that actual Republicans would take part?
This was a catastrophe that no amount of spin can erase. Oddly enough, it may jar some Democrats into an epiphany that this gambit truly is dead, freeing up oxygen for actual issues of consequence. It will be instructive to see the different reactions afforded those who seek to move on as opposed to those who just can’t let go.
As for Mueller, I hope this is the last we see of him, for his own sake. I have proper regard for his past service, mixed with proper disregard for the costly distractions he has led. His noble biography does not forgive the useless dog and pony show we’ve endured, but nor do the last few years outweigh the good he has done in his life. I wish peace and good health for him. For our nation, I wish an end to this charade as he exits the stage.