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BIG DAY

Robert Mueller Delivered the Goods. Will Dems Feast On Them?

Our system of government as it now exists is just not equipped to handle someone who lies with blasé alacrity.

Michael Tomasky7.24.19 4:58 PM ET

So Mueller Time has arrived, and here are the big five takeaways that I saw:

1. No, real life isn’t the movies, and there was no staggeringly emotional moment that will transfix the country and create an immediate groundswell for impeachment. And Robert Mueller was—well, see point 2. But even so, plenty was put on the record, on video, from the man (a Republican) who led the investigation:

Those are the main points, and they add up to a lot. That’s the news here, not the “optics.” This was all put on the table. Not in the way impeachment aficionados would have preferred, but it’s there. If the DNC has a clever video-editing team, these five-and-a-half hours can be reduced to a  killer five minutes.

Top questioners among the Democrats in my eyes? Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler, Sean Patrick Maloney, Val Demings, Hakeem Jeffries, Ted Lieu, and the aforementioned Krishnamoorthi. Schiff, who led off the afternoon session, was key—he totally recentered and refocused after a morning hearing that for the most part had gone quite badly for the Democrats.

Those are the main points, and they add up to a lot. That’s the news here, not the “optics.” This was all put on the table. Not in the way impeachment aficionados would have preferred, but it’s there. If the DNC has a clever video-editing team, these five-and-a-half hours can be reduced to a  killer five minutes.

Top questioners among the Democrats in my eyes? Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler, Sean Patrick Maloney, Val Demings, Hakeem Jeffries, Ted Lieu, and the aforementioned Krishnamoorthi. Schiff, who led off the afternoon session, was key—he totally recentered and refocused after a morning hearing that for the most part had gone quite badly for the Democrats.

•Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

•It clearly did so to help Donald Trump.

•The Trump campaign welcomed that help.

•Some of its officials lied about welcoming that help.

•The president obstructed the investigation.

•If he weren’t the president, he’d probably have been indicted.

•He still could be after he leaves office. It’s only the presidency that protects him.

•Fascinatingly—and this was news—the FBI counterintelligence case that started this whole thing is still ongoing. Major props to Democrat Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois, the very last questioner of the day, for pulling that hen’s tooth out of the reticent prosecutor.

•And by the way, Russia is still at it, right now as we speak, and there’s every sign it’s going to interfere for Trump again next year.

Those are the main points, and they add up to a lot. That’s the news here, not the “optics.” This was all put on the table. Not in the way impeachment aficionados would have preferred, but it’s there. If the DNC has a clever video-editing team, these five-and-a-half hours can be reduced to a  killer five minutes.

Top questioners among the Democrats in my eyes? Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler, Sean Patrick Maloney, Val Demings, Hakeem Jeffries, Ted Lieu, and the aforementioned Krishnamoorthi. Schiff, who led off the afternoon session, was key—he totally recentered and refocused after a morning hearing that for the most part had gone quite badly for the Democrats.

2. All that said, Mueller was for the most part extremely frustrating. We all understand about ongoing investigations, but honestly. This is by far the most important question before this nation. This is the public’s one shot to learn these things. And all day it was: Won’t speak to that. Can’t say that. Wouldn’t accept that description. Outside my purview. Can’t get into our deliberations. I can’t answer that question. And I refer you to the report, I refer you to the report, I refer you to the report.

Come on, man. No, it’s not his job to say Donald Trump belongs in jail. But the American people, aside from having paid for this investigation, are entitled to certain information that can allow them to make reasonable, democratic judgments about this situation. There are things about his charging decisions and certain aspects of how he conducted the investigation that the people have a clear right to know. I noted exactly one time that he didn’t hide behind “read the report,” about Trump egging on Wikileaks. And that was it. I know, war hero, great public servant. He’s a more honorable man than I’ll ever be. Still, there were long stretches where Mueller’s posture was basically “republic collapsing? Hey, not my problem!”

3. The Republicans got plenty of their own fodder out of this to feed the right-wing alternate facts narrative. If you can bear it, watch the first 15 minutes of Sean Hannity tonight. He’ll pick up the stray pieces and try to form them into a story. 

I thought some of the Republicans during the morning session especially were, though in a different galaxy, effective at advancing their conspiracy. Ranking member Doug Collins did seem to clearly catch Mueller contradicting himself on whether collusion and conspiracy were the same thing. John Ratcliffe’s riff about “exoneration” not being a real thing actually seemed like it might well be true. Jim Jordan asking him why he didn’t indict George Papadopoulos probably looked effective to a blank-slate observer.

In the afternoon session, the Republicans folded. Devin Nunes couldn’t get Mueller to bite on anything and, offered a few minutes by Schiff at the end, said the hell with it. All that crowing they were doing at the lunch break quieted considerably by the day’s end.

4. Trump will, of course, continue to crow no collusion-no obstruction, witch hunt, and all the rest (it was good of Mueller that he said explicitly, “It is not a witch hunt”). And 35 percent of the people will keep on believing him. Always remember with him: The crazier the tweets, the more worried he is. And judging from his tweets before and during Mueller’s testimony, he’s plenty worried.

5. Our system of government as it now exists is just not equipped to handle someone who lies with blasé alacrity. The media are too interested in gotcha moments, and several of the representatives were likewise mostly trying to get that viral-video moment. 

But more than that, this is not anybody’s idea of how justice ought to be pursued. Under the Constitution, the branches of government are supposed to take their duties seriously. Members of Congress—of whatever party—are supposed to defend their branch, and our system, against executive abuse. This actually happened in 1974. But now, one of our two parties has no interest in that.

Where does this leave us? Nothing much has changed as a result of today. Yet. We’ll see how TV news decides to present this to people over the next few days, and what they absorb. And we’ll see how well the Democrats pick up the important threads and push them forward. Today’s hearing didn’t fundamentally change everything, but there was enough, if the Democrats use it well.

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