Mueller Day was a day of shame for the former party of national security. Republicans rehashed fever-swamp theories aimed to please Trump and Fox News.
Robert Mueller has finally testified before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees. We learned nothing new about Mueller’s report, but we learned a lot about the Republican Party — and especially how low elected Republicans are willing to go in order to defend President Donald Trump.
There were no surprises from Mueller, who tried to warn the congressional Democrats weeks ago that he would not resolve their paralysis on impeachment. The format of the hearings, with five minutes apportioned out to each of the members, was predictably awful and exhausting. Some of the Democratic members wasted their time trying to coax Mueller into giving them the go-ahead on impeachment; others, however, took a more productive walk with Mueller through the evidence in the report. Rhode Island Rep. David Ciccilline, for example, hammered on Trump’s attempts to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions, while California Rep. Adam Schiff recited the roster of Trump cronies who are now known liars.
But it was the Republicans who put on a real show — attacking Mueller while rehashing the fever-swamp theories that they know will land them prized moments on Fox News.
Finding the truth was not the goal
Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert, always a reliable embarrassment for the GOP, started by putting into the record a hit job he wrote on Mueller, Robert Mueller: Unmasked. He railed at Mueller about perpetuating “injustice” to the point where the usually stoic former FBI director broke his Joe Friday demeanor, held up his hand, and said dismissively: “I take your question.”
Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan did his usual Everyman-in-shirtsleeves act, trying to get Mueller to explain why he didn’t indict Joseph Mifsud, the shadowy Maltese academic identified in Mueller’s report as “connected to Russia” and who told the hapless George Papadopoulos about the Russians having Hillary Clinton’s emails. “Is Mifsud Western intelligence or Russian intelligence?” Jordan asked — as though Mueller could, or should, answer a stupid and loaded question like that in public by revealing sensitive information.
Trump, of course, is the president of the United States, and could get this answer himself any time he wanted it. Jim Jordan knows this. But Jordan wasn’t trying to get to the truth, he was trying to imply that Mueller was doing the bidding of dark forces aligned against the White House. Jordan then blasted Mueller for indicting “13 Russians no one’s ever heard of, no one’s ever seen” — as though spies from Russian military intelligence aren’t real unless they’re personally known to the U.S. congressman from Ohio-4.
Auditions for an audience of one
Other Republicans, however, were more polished than Gohmert and Jordan. Admittedly, that’s a low bar to clear, but Texas Rep. John Ratcliffe, a relatively new member of Congress, took a clever run directly at Mueller’s refusal to exonerate Trump of wrongdoing.
Ratcliffe accused Mueller of violating Department of Justice rules from the start, noting that the president is not above the law, but “he damn sure shouldn’t be below the law.” He then proceeded to insist that the entire question of exoneration was above Mueller’s pay grade: “Nowhere does it say that you were to conclusively determine Donald Trump’s innocence or that the special counsel report should determine whether or not to exonerate him.”
President Trump immediately picked up this talking point on Wednesday afternoon in a meeting with reporters that was angry and panicky even by the usual standards of the president’s hostile relations with the press. After claiming Mueller had exonerated him, he then irrationally pivoted to Ratcliffe’s claim that Mueller “didn’t have the right to exonerate” him in any case.
Ratcliffe must have been pleased since, according to administration sources cited by CNN, he’s apparently under consideration for an intelligence or national security position in the Trump administration. If his questioning was meant as an ostentatious show of loyalty, it hit the mark.
And then there was California Rep. Devin Nunes.
Babbling to cover Trump’s tracks
He did not give an opening statement so much as he regurgitated the full Deep State catechism. He welcomed the room to the “last gasp of the Russia collusion conspiracy theory,” and then launched into his own cover versions of Trump’s greatest hits: Hillary Clinton, Bruce Ohr, Fusion GPS, Peter Strzok and “his lover,” Mifsud, and on and on. It was five minutes of cringe-inducing capering that was aimed, like every other Republican’s performance, at the millions of gullible Trump supporters who refuse to believe what’s in front of their eyes.
More important, Nunes was speaking to an audience of one at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Like Ratcliffe, Nunes is possibly up for a senior job in the administration, and one can never be too obsequious when looking for a job from Donald Trump.
The Republicans once prided themselves on being the toughest opponents of America’s enemies. They have now been reduced to inane babbling about conspiracy theories, excusing the Russians, whitewashing the hostile foreign intelligence service called WikiLeaks, and attacking a man of indisputable honor and probity — a fellow Republican, no less — all in the name of covering Donald Trump’s tracks.
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