Charles P. Pierce sums up yesterday’s two-fer marathon in the House.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, Nuisance of the Nation, was gaggling outside the chambers of the House Judiciary Committee, and he was fairly glowing with the kind of radioactive glee common to shady used-car dealers and the peddlers of aluminum siding to infirm widows.
“Republicans,” Gaetz burbled, “are taking a victory lap.”
This is curious, indeed. In the first of his two appearances before congressional committees on Wednesday, former special counsel Robert Mueller testified that a) he didn’t indict the president* on obstruction at least partly due to that godawful Office of Legal Counsel opinion that a sitting president cannot be indicted, an opinion that should be burned and have its ashes scattered on Sam Ervin’s grave; b) that a president*—like, say, this one—can be indicted once he leaves office, thereby implying that there is something there for which he could be indicted; c) that his report did not exonerate the president*; d) that there was a concerted effort on behalf of the White House to hamstring his investigation into the Russian ratfcking of the 2016 presidential election; and e) that Russia definitively wanted the president* to become the president*. And, remarkably, two of these statements came as answers to Republican senators [sic]. If this is a victory lap, I don’t know what a crash-and-burn would be.
(An aside: if Chuck Todd uses the word “optics” ever again in connection with American politics, I am going to raise William Allen White from the dead and make him put Todd on the night rewrite desk until Jesus comes home.)
Otherwise, the hearing was a matter of having Democratic members of the committee soliciting damaging, “Yes,” answers while Republicans yelled at Mueller, called his actions un-American, waved at him so the folks at home got the notion that Mueller was doddering, and basically loosed all the pent-up soundbites that they hadn’t yet gotten to deliver on Sean Hannity’s program. There ever was a citing of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s email procedures. I mean, when you can line up Louie Gohmert, Padishah Emperor Of The Stupid People, Jim Jordan, and Gaetz, you have firmly set up headquarters in the Land of the Lost.
At one point, Jordan just started rattling off names that may be familiar to people in 4Chan chatrooms, but that were otherwise baffling.
THEY DIDN’T GO TO THE COURT. THEY USED HUMAN SOURCES. FROM THE MOMENT PAPADOPOULOS JOINS THE CAMPAIGN YOU’VE GOT ALL THESE PEOPLE AROUND THE WORLD STARTING TO SWIRL AROUND HIM. NAMES LIKE HALPEL, DOWNER, MEETING IN ROME AND LONDON, ALL KINDS OF PLACES. THE FBI EVEN SPENT A LADY POSING AS SOMEBODY ELSE WHO AND DISPATCHED HER TO LONDON TO SPY ON MR. PAPADOPOULOS. IN ONE OF THESE MEETINGS MR. PAPADOPOULOS IS TALKING TO A FOREIGN DIPLOMAT AND HE TELLS THE DIPLOMAT RUSSIANS HAVE DIRT ON CLINTON. THAT DIPLOMAT THEN CONTACTS THE FBI AND THE FBI OPENS AN INVESTIGATION BASED ON THAT FACT. YOU POINT THIS OUT ON PAGE 1 OF THE REPORT, JULY 31ST, 2016, THEY OPEN THE INVESTIGATION BASED ON THAT PIECE OF INFORMATION. DIPLOMAT TELLS PAPADOPOULOS THE RUSSIANS HAVE DIRT — EXCUSE ME, PAPADOPOULOS TELLS THE DIPLOMAT THE RUSSIANS HAVE DIRT ON CLINTON, THEY TELL THE FBI. WHAT I’M WONDERING IS WHO TOLD PAPADOPOULOS? HOW DID HE FIND OUT?
Beats me. I fell out of the train back on “Downer.” I’m sure these conjuring words make sense to the initiates but, to me, it sounded like Jordan’s hard drive was downloading at warp speed.
The Democratic approach was best exemplified by Rep. Karen Bass of California, who led Mueller through a damning yes-no litany regarding the president*’s attempts to get Mueller fired through his then-White House counsel Don McGahn. Bass asked:
COMMUNICATING THROUGH HIS PERSONAL ATTORNEY, McGAHN REFUSED, BECAUSE HE SAID, QUOTE, THAT THE TIMES STORYWAS ACCURATE IN REPORTING THAT THE PRESIDENT WANTED THE SPECIAL COUNSEL REMOVED. ISN’T THAT RIGHT?
ON PAGE 113 IT SAYS, QUOTE, THE PRESIDENT THEN DIRECTED PORTER TO TELL McGAHN TO CREATE A RECORD, TO MAKE IT CLEAR THAT THE PRESIDENT NEVER DIRECTED McGAHN TO FIRE YOU, END QUOTE. IS THAT CORRECT?
AND TO BE CLEAR, THE PRESIDENT IS ASKING HIS WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL, DON McGAHN, TO CREATE A RECORD THAT McGAHN BELIEVED TO BE UNTRUE WHILE YOU WERE IN THE MIDST OF INVESTIGATING THE PRESIDENT FOR OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE. CORRECT?
OKAY. BUT THE PRESIDENT STILL DIDN’T GIVE UP, DID HE? SO THE PRESIDENT TOLD McGAHN DIRECTLY TO DENY THAT THE PRESIDENT TOLD HIM TO HAVE YOU FIRED. CAN YOU TELL ME EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED?
WELL, ON PAGE 116, IT SAYS THE PRESIDENT MET HIM IN THE OVAL OFFICE, QUOTE, THE PRESIDENT BEGAN THE OVAL OFFICE MEETING BY TELLING McGAHN THAT THE “NEW YORK TIMES” STORY DIDN’T LOOK GOOD AND McGAHN NEEDED TO CORRECT IT. IS THAT CORRECT?
Mueller answered, “Correct,” or “True,” or, “I refer you back to the report,” to all of these. And if that isn’t plainly an obstruction of justice, I don’t know what you’d call it. And the fact that Mueller wasn’t exactly Richard Pryor while delivering his answers doesn’t matter a damn. He said the president* is a crook. Everyone in Congress knows it, and they knew it before Wednesday even had dawned. But now there’s video.
I watched/listened off and on throughout the day, and while Mr. Mueller was not exciting and seemed at times to have trouble hearing the questions (hey, lighten up, the guy’s 74), he basically did his job.
It’s no surprise that the Republicans are trying desperately to turn the turds he handed them into gold ingots and mass mailing material for 2020. No one ever doubted they would spin it like that. The fact that they are doing it furiously just proves that they know that they are up a certain creek.
Not that this will give rise to an impeachment hearing or anything. John Cassidy in The New Yorker:
The tragedy is that this might not matter. Even as Mueller was still testifying, some media commentary was intimating that his appearance wouldn’t change anything. “Those who wanted to begin impeachment proceedings needed bombshells from the former special counsel,” Politico’s Playbook newsletter said. “Mueller gave them nothing besides affirmation about what was in his report, and a series of sidesteps when he did not want to answer questions.” Later in the afternoon, the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake wrote, “If Democrats hoped this would be a seminal moment, they will apparently leave sorely disappointed—in large part because their star witness was no star.”
It is now up to the House Democrats. Leaving a meeting of her caucus on Wednesday afternoon, Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters, “The American people now realize more fully the crimes that have been committed against our Constitution.” But, in a subsequent press conference, she indicated that a move toward impeachment wasn’t imminent. “We still have outstanding matters in the courts,” she said.
Moving from here to impeachment with any hope of actually succeeding it like trying to carry a grand piano up the stairs by staring at it. But what it does — if anything — is lay out a clear choice for the country in the next election cycle: do we want more of this, or do we want to return to what has passed for our quirky version of an honest and largely decent civilization.