July 25, 2019

Mueller Testifies

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“Former U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller testified on Wednesday to the U.S. House of Representatives about his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and any possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump.” Reuters

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From the Left

The left is disappointed that Mueller did not bolster the case for impeachment and criticizes Republicans for downplaying the threat of election interference.

“I can’t escape the feeling that Robert Mueller ultimately failed to do his job. Yes, he conducted a thorough, fair investigation of President Trump and Trump’s 2016 campaign. But when that investigation was over, Mueller ducked the tough decisions… He should have said that he found no evidence of several of the accusations that Trump’s critics have made: that Russia has salacious compromising material on him; that an aide held a secret meeting in Prague; that Trump was a Russian intelligence asset…

“At the same time, Mueller should have stated that the evidence strongly suggested that Trump committed obstruction of justice and campaign-finance crimes. Because Justice Department policy holds that sitting presidents can’t be indicted, Mueller could have explained that the right place to hear these cases was Congress… That approach would have been consistent with Mueller’s role as a prosecutor in this case. It would have been fair to Trump, and it would have been fair to the country.”
David Leonhardt, New York Times

Mueller was less than convincing or forceful… [He] struggled mightily on the appearances front. He seemingly struggled to hear the questions asked of him. He struggled to find citations within his own report being [used] by members of Congress. He was halting in his responses and occasionally looked befuddled. While he seemed to rise to the task somewhat as the day went on, the perception of him as nothing short of the perfect prosecutor took a hit.”
Chris Cillizza, CNN

Some argue that “at key moments, however, Mueller made himself perfectly clear… ‘Did you actually totally exonerate the president?’ Representative Jerry Nadler, the Democratic chair of the Judiciary Committee, asked. ‘No,’ Mueller replied…

“Some Republican lawmakers criticized Mueller for this phrasing, arguing that it inverted the presumption of innocence. They argued that if he couldn’t bring charges against the president, he shouldn’t have released his findings on the matter. That misunderstands the unique legal situation in which Mueller found himself. In the report, Mueller explained that he still investigated whether the president obstructed justice ‘in order to preserve the evidence when memories were fresh and documentary materials were available’… The special counsel’s performance simply made clear his unspoken message all along: I’ve done my job, now you do yours.”
Matt Ford, New Republic

“Nearly all Republicans on both committees failed even to acknowledge the threat posed by Russia and other countries. With significant exceptions like Will Hurd, representative of Texas, Republican lawmakers seemed much more focused on protecting Mr. Trump and deflecting any concerns about electoral security by impugning Mr. Mueller’s integrity, attacking the origins of an investigation that he did not initiate, and — in one particularly disgraceful jab by Guy Reschenthaler  of Pennsylvania — accusing his investigative process of being ‘un-American’…

“At least twice Mr. Mueller called for legislation to improve information-sharing and other coordination among intelligence agencies… But that kind of concerted legislative action seems unlikely. To this day, Mr. Trump refuses to acknowledge the seriousness of Russian intervention, and the Republican-controlled Senate is unwilling to consider legislation for enhanced election security — maybe because doing either could be seen as an admission that the election was tainted. Conceding the obvious might seem like a small price to pay. But the president appears more concerned with nursing his ego than safeguarding American democracy — and that puts us all, Republicans, Democrats and independents, at risk.”
Editorial Board, New York Times

“Instead of using the Mueller report to build a general case against Trump, and satisfy their base's demand to at least try to provide a check on his accelerating abuses, [Democrats] hauled Mueller before the House to summarize his own report back to them like it's kindergarten story hour… [their] plan appears to be to run out the clock in a defensive crouch, like some trapped rodent, hoping against hope that the voters rescue them from Trump in 2020.”
Ryan Cooper, The Week

“After Wednesday, the prospects for impeachment appear more remote, which means it will be left to the eventual Democratic presidential nominee, with the help of the party, to develop a comprehensive case against the president, one that can win 270 electoral votes. To date, that hasn’t happened.”
Dan Balz, Washington Post

Others argue that “Biden was almost the only one on the stage who talked like a normal person. There was a point near the end of the debate when he was talking about getting men involved in stopping domestic violence and he said that we need to keep ‘punching’ at it… I knew that the twitterati and the analysts would tut tut. Ol’ Joe is just out of touch! He doesn’t know you can’t use words like that. Meanwhile, every non-political junkie watching the debate thought there was nothing wrong with this. Biden was just using ordinary language, not worrying too much if it was fully approved by the woke brigade.”
Kevin Drum, Mother Jones

From the Right

The right believes Mueller’s testimony significantly undermined the case for impeaching Trump.

From the Right

The right believes Mueller’s testimony significantly undermined the case for impeaching Trump.

“Going into the hearing, impeachment advocates needed either explosive new claims or a compelling prosecutorial performance to generate meaningful new interest in impeachment. If they could get both new facts and a compelling performance, then the short-term demand to launch a formal impeachment inquiry would surge. They got neither…

“Make no mistake, impeachment requires changed minds. It requires changing Democratic minds about the political wisdom of attempting to remove Trump, and changing Republican minds about the wisdom of defending him. Politically, impeachment requires a bombshell. It requires a ‘moment.’ It needs its own Nixon tapes or Lewinsky dress. Instead, America got a legal brief. And no one reads legal briefs.”
David French, National Review

“The president is, of course, wrong to claim he was fully exonerated, but it’s also an absurd standard that seems to have been invented solely for Republicans. Prosecutors only have the authority to charge, not to ‘exonerate’ their targets. [Rep. John] Ratcliffe, in fact, asked Mueller if he could cite a single example besides Donald Trump where the DOJ ‘determined that an investigated person was not exonerated because their innocence was not conclusively determined.’ Mueller responded: ‘I cannot, but this is a unique situation.’ After lecturing everyone about how justice must be meted out equally to all Americans, we now hear that rules are malleable if we’re talking about Donald Trump.”
David Harsanyi, The Federalist

“You can argue that we should expect more from a president than to simply have refrained from directly conspiring with a hostile foreign power to reach the White House. Yetthat case becomes harder to make when that is precisely what you have conditioned rank-and-file Democrats to expect from the Mueller report. No dramatic reading of that report, least of all by a 74-year-old clearly no longer accustomed to congressional testimony, will deliver on those expectations.”
W. James Antle III, The American Conservative

“Mueller was slow to react to questions. He frequently asked for questions to be repeated. He sometimes appeared confused. He did not appear to be conversant with some issues in the investigation. He did not, or could not, put together detailed answers even to those questions he agreed to address… Mueller's performance raised questions that reached far beyond one appearance before one committee. It called into doubt the degree to which Mueller was in charge of the entire special counsel investigation

“If Mueller was not fully in charge, that would direct attention to the staff he assembled for the investigation — staff that President Trump has often derided as ‘17 angry Democrats.’ Some of Mueller's aides were Democratic donors, and a key aide, Andrew Weissmann, famously attended Hillary Clinton's 2016 election night event that was planned as a victory party.”
Byron York, Washington Examiner

Some argue that “it’s not the job of a special counsel, who under the regulations is supposed to act like a typical U.S. attorney, to give a dramatic, passionate, ratings-grabbing TV rendition of his work… It was always a mistake for Democrats to stake so much on Mueller, both by relying on his investigation to do the hard work of making the political case against Trump for them and by elevating him into an oracle who would pronounce authoritatively and unquestionably on the investigation… [Democrats] can investigate or not and impeach or not, as they see fit. For too long, Mueller has been their crutch. Maybe now, they will finally see that he has let them down, and as duly elected members of Congress they should never have tried to subcontract their responsibilities to an inferior officer of the executive branch, who, like all of us, is a mere mortal.”
Rich Lowry, Politico

The current impeachment efforts are similar to the failed Republican efforts to unseat President Bill Clinton. Then-independent counsel Ken Starr’s investigation also arguably uncovered crimes committed by Clinton; it remains undisputed that the president at the very least lied under oath, committing perjury. Democrats fought the impeachment, however, as a ‘vast right-wing conspiracy’ and rallied public opinion to their side. They succeeded because there had been a years-long effort by many conservatives to investigate the Clintons driven by partisan animus. The years of vitriol that have been directed at Trump are no different in their origin than those anti-Clinton efforts, and people across the political spectrum clearly see that.”
Henry Olsen, Washington Post

Others note, “I’d hate to be a Democratic member of Congress trying to convince Joe Sixpack that this is a whole new ballgame. The transcript shows Trump being Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky trying to ingratiate himself with the big dog by, for instance, mentioning that he stays at Trump hotels. Trump’s conversation is typically scattershot, wandering all over the field, leaving a reasonable listener puzzled about what the takeaways are supposed to be…

“I think Joe Sixpack’s response is going to be a hearty shrug. After all that has emerged about Trump so far, his approval rating is closely tracking Obama’s approval at the same point in his presidency. To get Mr. Sixpack’s attention you are going to have to do better than this.”
Kyle Smith, National Review

President Trump should be happy. As much as Warren is articulate, obviously intelligent, and energetically supported by Democrats, she would also be far easier to defeat than Joe Biden… Considering Trump's economy, the president is well placed to defeat Warren.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

A libertarian's take

“After adding in the ultra-millionaire’s tax and factoring in the other capital taxes Warren wants to levy — on financial transactions, on unrealized capital gains, on corporations — we’d be asking every billionaire to hand over more than two-thirds of their total wealth over a 10-year period. If the government actually managed to collect it, their fortunes would rapidly erode — and so would tax collections. The plan might be a good way to smash wealth, but it’s a terrible way to fund the nation’s health-care system…

“If Warren makes it to the White House, and tries to pass a plan, the Congressional Budget Office will eventually attach more reasonable numbers, with more defensible assumptions, sparking an even more spectacular political blowback than the one that greeted Friday’s announcement. Outside of the progressive Twitterati, there isn’t necessarily an enormous constituency for spending $20.5 trillion to herd every American into a national health insurance program; there would be even less support for spending what Warren’s plan would actually cost.”
Megan McArdle, Washington Post

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