Thursday, July 25, 2019

And Then the Critics

Image via The Clyde Fitch Report.

The way I received it, listening to the Judiciary hearing on the radio (unlike Chuck Todd, I don't get to criticize the "optics", and I didn't listen to the Intelligence hearing at all, though I've got the transcript in an open tab and I'm working on it), Mueller had a pedagogical task I thought he was living up to pretty well, with the intense cooperation of the Democrats on the committee. Namely, he wasn't going to read us the Report ("Hey kids, it's story time!"). He was going to make us read it, or the committee members on our behalf, because that's what you need to do in this class: if the professor spoonfeeds you the material, you're not going to get it, you have to master it for yourself.

And Mueller really wants us to read the Report. "The Report speaks for itself," he keeps saying, like Dorothy insisting she just wants to go back to Kansas. He's aware, I think, that nobody has read it, but he's put so much into it that he doesn't have much left for himself.

So he wouldn't give them a lecture, he gave them a "recitation", or what's called a tutorial in UK, in which the congresscritters read it to him, and he signaled to what extent he thought they were getting it right:
NADLER: But the president still refused to sit for an interview by you or your team?
MUELLER: True. True.
NADLER: And did you also ask him to provide written answers to questions on the 10 possible episodes of obstruction of justice crimes involving him?
NADLER: Did he provide any answers to a single question about whether he engaged in obstruction of justice crimes?
MUELLER: I would have to check on that. I’m not certain.
That's hilarious: he doesn't want to rule it out, Trump may have inadvertently given a straight answer or two, but it couldn't have been very important.

And so it went through the morning, each representative offering a report on the assigned reading and getting the responses ("true", "I'll stick with what's in the report", and "I would not characterize it that way") and working to a conclusion that began in the later part of the proceedings to sound like a refrain:
RICHMOND: But, in fact, it’s completely appropriate for the president’s staff, especially his counsels, to take notes during a meeting correct?
MUELLER: I rely on the wording of the report.
RICHMOND: Well, thank you, Director Mueller, for your investigation into whether the president attempted to obstruct justice by ordering his White House Counsel, Don McGahn, to lie to protect the president and then to create a false record about it. It is clear that any other person who engaged in such conduct would be charged with a crime. We will continue our investigation. We will hold the president accountable because no one is above the law.
RASKIN: Could you read it out loud to everybody?
MUELLER: I would be happy to have you read it.
RASKIN: OK, very good, we’ll read it at the same time. The evidence concerning this sequence of events could support an inference that the president used inducements in the form of positive messages in an effort to get Cohen not to cooperate and then turned to attacks and intimidation to deter the provision of information or to undermine Cohen’s credibility once Cohen began cooperating.
MUELLER: I believe that’s accurate.
RASKIN: OK. And in my view, if anyone else in America engaged in these actions, they would have been charged with witness tampering. We must enforce the principle in Congress that you emphasize so well in the last sentence of your report which is that in America, no person is so high as to be above the law. I yield back.
Also noteworthy that all the Democrats seemed to be managing their time particularly well and reaching a point of conclusion in their presentations. While the Republicans, rarely referring to the Report at all, making obscure references to peripheral figures like Joseph Mifsud or Lisa Page and the conspiracy theories current among the wingnuts that Mueller seemed not to have even heard of, couldn't seem to use their turns to do anything but sputter and murmur about some bad thing that they couldn't explain and was beside the point anyway.

So my thought, as it went on, was that a good deal was being accomplished: that the Democrats were clearly laying out a sequence of high crimes and misdemeanors, the charges Mueller was unwilling to make himself (or even describe in any way, because of his bizarrely strict concept of his duty), showing that they were nevertheless all implicitly part of the Report, as Mueller was generally unable to deny. Everybody got an A!

Then the TV critics came out and they didn't see it the way I saw it at all, from Chuck Todd
look, on the optics, this was a disaster. 
to the entire staff of Politico

flat Mueller performance

‘Bob Mueller is struggling’

Pelosi rebuffs Nadler on impeachment after Mueller flop

So the whole effort for the congresscritters to own the material is wasted on them (Twitter friend Cullen Martin said, "They wanted an Aaron Sorkin moment"), and possibly on Pelosi, too, though I continue to hope she's entirely focused on the budget and debt limit bill, which will pass the House today and then go to the White House for signature; once that's done, Trump's ability to blackmail the country by threatening shutdown or default will be curtailed until after November 2020, and her ability to fight him correspondingly enhanced. As to what they call "the American people", who knows, but I'm afraid Chuck Todd gets his way an awful lot of the time.

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

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