Mulling on Mueller

“It wasn’t a single attempt. They’re doing it as we sit here. And they expect to do it during the next campaign. …I hope this is not the new normal. I fear it is,” former Special Counsel and FBI Director Robert Mueller, regarding Russian election interference attempts, during his U.S. House testimony on 7/24/2019.
 
Robert Mueller wrapped up his nearly four decades of service to our nation with a less than glorious farewell appearance on July 24, before two U.S. House committees, answering their queries about his Special Counsel Report on Russian interference attempts throughout the 2016 presidential election. 

Some view Mueller as a patriot and war hero, with two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart among many honors from his Vietnam era service in the Marines, or his later work as a U.S. attorney, deputy attorney general and F.B.I. director, appointed and then re-appointed by three very different presidents from both major political parties. Others see a biased partisan tool of congressional Democrats and/or the Democratic Party, and still others see something in between.

 Regardless, Mueller’s track record, accomplishments and career legacy include the successful prosecution of former Panamanian dictator Gen. Manuel Noriega, the Libyan terrorists responsible for the Pan Am Flight 103 (Lockerbie bombing) and John Gotti, crime boss of the Gambino family. Mueller was unanimously confirmed (98-0) as FBI director, following his nomination by President George H. W. Bush in July 2001, despite a then deeply divided Senate.

 Mueller also revealed what is a well-known “secret” in Washington, D.C., despite his name being atop the 450-plus page tome delivered to the U.S. attorney general in late March 2019, he clearly didn’t write, or possibly even read every word. In the view of some, he may not have even read his own report closely. 

But Mueller should have expected questions about the legal meaning of collusion and its similarity in lay language to the legal term of conspiracy, as the special counsel often made points on such finer distinctions in the rule of law, as well as Justice Department standing policy, so that he not conclude his second report –focused on potential obstruction of justice concerns, with a nonlegal term such as exonerate. 

And based on the ground rules securing Mueller’s appearance and testimony, the skilled lawyer and bureaucrat gave himself a series of outs.

Mueller did not answer, replied he did not recall or was unaware, or suggested the answer to a questioning member’s probe was “in the report”…more than 200 times during six hours of testimony. And though I’m not a daily C-SPAN watcher, I’ve sat through a few decades of congressional hearings and can remember no other witness simply saying, “pass,” when encountering a question, he did not like or chose not to answer. For a moment I thought I was watching an old episode of The $64,000 Pyramid. 

Mueller stuck to his report and seldom veered from its conclusions, and yet despite his long-known preference for the GOP, he clearly does not like the current president. He responded to one congressional query, asked several times, regarding whether a president no longer in office, who has previously committed potential crimes, may later be further investigated or prosecuted. There goes that White House Christmas card list for 2020. 

But sadly, America tends to focus on the flubs more often than the hard news. When being served up a low-inside softball, to further establish Mueller’s conservative credentials, a GOP congressman, after reciting his sterling military service record, smiled and asked Mueller which U.S. president appointed him assistant U.S. attorney in the hard-left leaning state of Massachusetts. Mueller first bobbled the ball, asking “Do you mean which senator?” Before starring into space and guessing that the answer was President George Bush (without specifying which Bush). The congressman, unprepared for this memory gap himself, swallowed, smiled nervously and said, “According to my records, you were appointed by President Ronald Reagan.” Oops. 

I was reminded of Reagan’s own troubled video testimony before Congress during the 1984 Iran-Contra hearings, when Reagan’s most repeated phrase was “I don’t recall.” Hopefully, just as Reagan’s full record, highs and lows, are now more fully viewed in context, Mueller can hope that historians and the long view may later give him similar perspective. But in the near term, he can expect more mockery and comparison to the backbone and consistency of the famed pasta which shares his name, and we all know what happens to overcooked pasta. It devolves into rubbery, sticky mush. Bob Mueller deserves better.

Bill Crane also serves as a political analyst and commentator for Channel 2’s Action News, WSB-AM News/Talk 750 and now 95.5 FM, as well as a columnist for The Champion, DeKalb Free Press and Georgia Trend. Crane is a DeKalb native and business owner, living in Scottdale. You can reach him or comment on a column at bill.csicrane@gmail.com. 

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