Robert Mueller

Mueller Hearings Another Summer Movie Disappointment

That did not quite go as expected

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

"Not everybody will read the book, but people will watch the movie," said a Democratic staff member on the Judiciary Committee, who requested anonymity to discuss preparations for the hearing.

Oops. Turns out adapting a book into a movie is hard.

In calling Special Counsel Robert Mueller to testify before the House Judiciary Committee, the Democrats had one job, but they could not quite figure out what that one job was going to be and they could not manage to do it. Ostensibly, the purpose of Mueller's testimony was to focus the public's attention on the findings of the Mueller report and thereby stoke the outrage that had failed to manifest when the written report was released. In principle, this is a reasonable goal since it is hard to grab the attention of average voters and deliver to those voters some complicated information about the doings of government officials. Public testimony might cut through the clutter.

If the Democrats wanted to make a movie, they did a pretty poor job of it. Giving in to the political interests of individual politicians, the committee divided its time up among the many members of the committee so that everyone could get a participation trophy. Since each member had very little time with Mueller, they had no interest in giving Mueller any time to develop lengthy answers to questions. There was less speechifying than often dominates hearings, but the questions tended to a less-than-edifying "yes or no" form that only managed to put things on the record that were already on the record. If the goal is to tell a coherent story about what happened in the months leading up to the election and the months after the inauguration, fragmenting the hearing into a multitude of short, disconnected exchanges is not going to advance that goal.

For some reason, the members thought it would be a good idea to ask rapid fire questions (the Intelligence Committee did a better job on this in the afternoon). There are circumstances where asking as many questions as possible in a limited time might be a useful thing to do, but this wasn't one of them. If the goal is to highlight, simplify and dramatize the damning details of a report that the general public has not read, speeding through a string of complex yes-or-no questions is not going to advance that goal.

Democrats hoped that Mueller would take the public stage and act more like former FBI Director James Comey. Mueller was no Comey, and Democrats should have known better. Mueller had done all that he could to signal to Congress that he would not be a dynamic witness at a public hearing, and legislators pressed on. Mueller had little interest in going beyond what had already been stated in the report, and he was not inclined to provide an oral summary for the television cameras. Mueller acted liked the cautious lawyer that he had been advertised to be, but the Democrats wanted and needed a more animated, less guarded partisan.

The Mueller hearing was another summer movie flop, and now Democrats will have to figure out whether and how to try to reboot the franchise.

NEXT: Robert Mueller's Testimony Convinced Everyone of Exactly What They Already Believed

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  1. Here’s hoping the studio goes bankrupt

    1. #MeToo!

      1. You guys figure this is the turning point, and Republicans (conservatives) will suddenly become competitive in the American culture war after a half-century of face-plants?

        I am skeptical.

        1. What you say is true, but is irrelevant to impeachment as it is normal political differences.

          It is also indicative of the real motive: to get rid of him for political reasons. This was the same motivation for Clinton in the late 1990s.

          It was bad then. It is bad now. Intimation of a problem is not evidence.

          1. I misread “intimation” as “imitation,” which is, as we know, the most sincere form of flattery. It was so good back in the 90’s that it was about time for a remake! NOT.

          2. I do not support impeachment of Pres. Trump, at least not on currently available evidence.

            Neutering him politically and operationally with investigation, litigation, and publication of his misconduct seems proper.

            1. How’s that working out for you?

              1. Trump’s approval is climbing, so it is working out for Arthur nicely.

                1. Yes, he’s really flying up the charts. Soon he should surpass -10% net disapproval.

                  1. There’s that 47% of Americans who can’t be helped. One of the very few times Mitt Romney was right.

                    1. Might want to work on that math.

            2. Politically motivated investigations and politically motivated litigation?

              Is that wise?

              1. Trump has punched his own ticket on every investigation with his shabby conduct.

                How is it going? I am enjoying the culture war and expect to continue to favor its course. How about you?

                1. So, you support politically motivated investigations and politically motivated litigation that is designed for the sole purpose of politically “neutering” an individual?

                2. That is some classic Cuckland!

                3. “I am enjoying the culture war and expect to continue to favor its course.”

                  I suppose you’ve been wanting to get those balls waxed for a while now.

                  1. Lol. Who thought they’d stop with forced cake baking? Nope. Forced ball waxing it is.

                    1. M2F trans people want to get their balls waxed, therefore straight men who don’t get their balls waxed must be transphobic.

              2. Politically motivated litigation? Are you talking about the ACA case.

                1. It’s quite important to differentiate here.

                  The cases against the ACA (largely) were not about “embarrassing or stopping” Obama. They were cases about the constitutionality and scope of a wide-ranging mandate forcing people to buy a product. While there are many ways to tell, one is that the cases continue past Obama’s presidency.

                  By contrast a number of the cases against Trump (for example, the tax return cases) are not about the stated need, but the driving desire to get information to embarass Trump.

                  1. I generally am disinclined to take pointers from the birther-bigotry-backwardness side of political debate.

            3. That is a misuse of government power. Much of the constitution, especially the 4th Amendment, is written to stop the king from hurting his political enemies.

              So, no, they aren’t supposed to be able to hurt him because they don’t like his politics, using criminal investigations. That’s exactly one of the things the Constitution forbids.

              Get in the way with legislation, even cheesily using courts to miraculously discover a new principle. But you can’t just filch through papers until you find something to tag someone with.

  2. “Since each member had very little time with Mueller, they had no interest in giving Mueller any time to develop lengthy answers to questions.”

    This scarcely seems to have mattered, since Mueller had no interest in giving lengthy answers if he had the opportunity. Saying, “I’m not answering that!” is pretty quick.

    1. To be fair, Mueller often didn’t know what the answer was. He didn’t seem to even know what happened during the investigation.

      1. Heck, he flubbed the issued of which president appointed him to which posts from back when he was a US Attorney.

  3. Wha ha ha ha ha!!!!!

    Perhaps if the Democrat party had just smiled when white people entered the room, ONE of those states would have flipped and the Hildabeast would have won.

    Or, you know … treated people equally?

    Too much, I know — haters gonna hate.

    1. “Or, you know … treated people equally?”

      Republicans appear to hate blacks, Muslims, gays, women, and people residing in educated, modern, successful communities (especially when trying to vote) equally.

      This hasn’t worked well with respect to shaping America’s trajectory, so it may be that the bigotry — gay-bashing, racism, misogyny, and anti-Muslim sentiment — animates conservative just because it feels right to them.

      1. Hey, who farted?

        *smells … recognizes shit … wrinkles nose*

        1. America’s electorate becomes less rural, less white, less religious, less bigoted, and less backward every day as elderly right-wingers take their stale thinking to the grave and are replaced by younger, better Americans of the liberal-libertarian mainstream.

          The continuing course of the culture war therefore seems predictable. And enjoyable.

          1. *checks bottom of shoe … scrapes on a rock just in case*

          2. There was a time when the factory worker in Akron, and the farmer in Nebraska were important parts of the Dhimmicrat constituency.
            I hope the DNC hires Artie and keeps trying to win elections with just the votes of people who live within 100 miles of a coast, and Cook County Illinois.

            1. Dhimmicrat? Really, Smooth?

          3. What’s wrong with rural people?

            1. They’re on the wrong side of generations of bright flight.

              They have stuck with declining communities and dying industries against all evidence.

              They tend to be poorly educated.

              They tend to be backward and insular.

              Other than that, though . . . who wouldn’t want to live in the can’t-keep-up backwaters?

              1. You sound a lot like Restore Western Hemegony there.

                I mean, he would put “Black people” where you put “rural people”, but other than that…almost identical.

                You’re both pretty bigoted like that.

                1. It is not bigoted to refer to desolate backwaters as desolate backwaters or poorly educated bigots as poorly educated bigots.

                  The ‘Mississippi is no worse than Connecticut’ and ‘Liberty and Regent are just as good as Harvard and Yale’ stuff seems to have addled some people.

                  1. You realize, Mississippi is 37% African American, with many of the poorest, rural areas, predominantely African American. What you would call “desolate backwaters.” Meanwhile the African American population of Connecticut is under 10%. We could do a similar analysis based on education.

                    It sounds a lot like you want to be racist, without being using “race” but using other placeholders for it. Just like RWH.

                    Personally, I value people not matter their race, education, or location.

                    1. You prefer Wyoming as an example of our can’t-keep-up backwaters, or Oklahoma as an example of a concentration of left-behind clingers? Fine by me. The important point is that bright flight creates desolate, dysfunctional, deplorable, red state communities.

                  2. You rely on poorly educated big city masses to accomplish social changes but also implement harmful economic policies, which is why people fle to this shining city on the hill.

                    Remember the Democrats were flabbergasted when Prop 8 passed in California — it turns out all the immigrants and children of immigrants failed to fall in with the mutual backscratching party line, being religious bigots and all.

                    Please make sure every new voter knows your exact policy with respect to religion, and what you think of them. Hint: it’s a mucb larger group than the “basket of deplorables”, defined as one half of one third of thd electorate.

                2. The difference is, that RWH has facts and science behind his positions, whilst Kirkland-bot has nothing but bigotry, hate, and envy of his betters.

              2. I think Cuckland is a bot….an example of how AI has yet to be perfected.

              3. Bright Flight… is that when colleges began grade inflation because they found out the people they accepted were too stupid to graduate under old standards?

                1. Bright flight is when all of the smart, ambitious young people leave rural and southern towns upon high school graduation in search of opportunity, education, and modernity to be found on strong liberal-libertarian campuses and in successful, educated communities, never to return.

                  This creates a depleted human residue of increasingly concentrated dysfunction, addiction, superstition, backwardness, alienation, and ignorance.

                  The Trump base, generally.

                  1. You haven’t looked at internal migration patterns in the US lately, have you?

            2. They do seem to want to be subsidized for breathing, while loudly proclaiming how tough and resilient and self-reliant they are.

              1. I know, right? They always want something for nothing.

                1. It turns out that regardless of party or ideology, most people agree about most things. The only big area of disagreement is who “they” are.

      2. What if I told you it was Russian troll farms pushing this crap, trying to so dissention by building an association between that and the general Republicans? Maybe they are trolls, maybe they are the handful who buy into it.

        1. …I’d say you have the start of a ESPN 30 for 30 documentary.

        2. “trying to so dissention”

          and doing a sew-sew job of it?

          1. Sow he made a typo. Big deal.

            1. Clingers should stick together.

              It is increasingly all you have left.

              1. Still sore from the ball waxing, I see.

      3. The entirety of this comment is easily the dumbest, most inaccurate set of assertions you’ve ever made, Art. That’s impressive because your usual MO is stupidity and inaccuracy.

      4. Which “successful communities” run by liberals are you referring to?

        1. Detroit, Flint and Chicago, of course. Shining exemplars of fiscal stewardship and effective and efficient delivery of monopolized public services such as water delivery that ensure the health and well being of citizens.

        2. Perhaps he is referring to SF where his educated Progressive serfs are crapping in the streets or maybe Chicago where more people are shot & killed than Americans in Iraq warzone!

  4. “Mueller had little interest in going beyond what had already been stated in the report”

    He couldn’t even meet that low bar:

    “Page 103. That’s correct- Volume II. When you talk about the firm that produced the Steele reporting, the name of the firm that produced that was Fusion GPS. Is that correct?”

    “I am not familiar with—with that, I—,” Mueller replied.

    That’s pretty bad. But maybe it’s a conscious strategy to avoid answering questions, like say “Your investigation was tasked with investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, did you investigate whether the Russian sources providing the unverified information to Steele, Fusion GPS, and the DNC were trying to influence the election?

  5. If the only tool you have is a hammer….everything looks like a Russian conspiracy.

    Two things are going to go down in history today. First, and foremost, the Democrats sealed in Trump as the President for another term. Second, Pelosi is going to go down as a political visionary for seeing that her party should abandon the whole Russia thing like it was bell bottom pants and disco combined.

    1. …with New Coke thrown in for good measure.

    2. “First, and foremost, the Democrats sealed in Trump as the President for another term.”

      It will be forgotten by Friday, its half forgotten already.

      1. I would tend to agree with that statement however Progressive Dems including the #FraudSquad will continue to bring it up.

    3. Trump as president for another term will essentially be sealed by whether or not the US has a recession between now and 2020 Nov.

  6. Please be polite to those here (Arthur, et. al) who are in mourning. They should not be held accountable, or responsible for the things they say while deeply in bereavement.

    1. I flipped on CNN when I got home just to see how they might be spinning it. And they weren’t even trying to spin it. MSNBC was trying but failing pretty well. The look on the anchor’s face was totally “hey isn’t their a blond white girl that was abducted today or some wildfire in California we can cover????”

  7. The problem isn’t Mueller. Mueller seems a peculiar, scrupulous formalist, who rightly objects to getting the Justice Department mixed up in politics. He doesn’t object to politics, mind you. He just thinks there isn’t any role for law enforcement in deciding political battles. Apparently that’s the code he plans to live by. I can’t fault him for that.

    The immediate problem is with the Democratic Party, and especially with whatever part of the Ds actually believes in whatever it is that Pelosi is serving up. Mueller says, hand it off to the politicians, because it’s a political job. Pelosi says, we’re too scared, we don’t want the job.

    Between the two of them, Pelosi and McConnell represent an astronomically rare conjunction of simultaneous irresponsibility in high office. Working together, these two promise wreckage on a historical scale. Folks who want to see American politics rebuilt almost from scratch should stick around. A few years hence they may get their chance.

    1. Pelosi is not scared, she is just trying to save her caucus from itself. She’s evil but not dumb.

    2. “The problem isn’t Mueller. Mueller seems a peculiar, scrupulous formalist, who rightly objects to getting the Justice Department mixed up in politics. He doesn’t object to politics, mind you. He just thinks there isn’t any role for law enforcement in deciding political battles. Apparently that’s the code he plans to live by. I can’t fault him for that.”

      Is this satire?

      Mueller has proven himself to be an intensely political animal. He prosecuted Trump allies for “process crimes,” yet, when he encountered Democrats, Clinton allies, who did the same thing, or worse, he ignored it. He pursued Trump allies for things completely unrelated to his orders, yet ignored even grievous transgressions he encountered when committed by Democrats of Clinton allies.

      He did not “think(s) there isn’t any role for law enforcement in deciding political battles,” he took sides!

      He did a really good Sergeant Schultz impersonation when asked about Christoper Steele and the dirty dossier, didn’t he?

      Holy Cow.

      1. Did you see the hearing? A partisan would have played it pretty differently, chief.

      2. Can you think of any difference between Trump and Clinton? Something which might warrant more scrutiny on Trump?

  8. Like FitzMas of old, another disappointing holiday for the faithful.

    Everyone in congress thinks they will be like Ervin and Baker in the Watergate hearings but they end up looking like the annoying Roberts Rule of Order quoting guy in the student senate.

  9. I didn’t watch. Did anyone ask the following questions (the first three likely to have come from Democrats, the fourth from Republicans):

    1) Have you privately reached a determination on obstruction, but are unwilling to share it because of the OLC opinion on not indicting a sitting president, or have you not even privately reached a determination on obstruction?

    2) Would you have reached and publicly shared a determination on obstruction absent the OLC opinion?

    3) Why wasn’t the OLC opinion a bar to reaching and publicly sharing your determination on conspiracy?

    4) On what date did you make your determination on conspiracy?

  10. I’m not sure where right-wing conspiracy theories get scripted. It might be right at Fox News. Anyway, that’s where they seem to show up first. Then, Republican politicians take notes, synchronize watches, and start spewing simultaneously. After which, Fox “covers” it all, as news. The Mueller hearings show an example.

    You guys who are all up in arms about the Steel Dossier? You’re getting played, by experts.

    Here’s a hint, about critical thinking and the news. Real information is almost never a perfect fit for any particular purpose. Real information comes from multiple sources. The sources have different takes on what they report. There is messiness, and contradiction, and extraneous detail, and loose ends, and unanswered questions. That’s what real information looks like. And actually, that is what the Mueller Report looks like, if you read it.

    Want a contrast? Try the Steele Dossier conspiracy theory. All clear as a bell. Same story no matter who tells it. Plenty of detail, and everything points to one conclusion. See the problem?

  11. People who think that the story is over are going to be very disappointed.

  12. It was sad to see that the Republicans often used the same bullying strategy when questioning Mueller that the Democrats used when questioning Kavanaugh:

    Ask a question. Interrupt him before he finished his answer. Then keep talking until time expired, so Mueller never did get to fully answer the question.

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