Skip to main content

Is it any wonder they were exultant over at the White House?

The congressional testimony Wednesday by former special counsel Robert Mueller was a six-hour bore-athon, an old-news rehash served up by an inexcusably evasive witness who repeatedly let President Donald Trump off the hook.

Democrats had hopes the Mueller testimony would be a Hindenburg moment for incriminating the overweening Oval Office gasbag. And with some sharply incriminating testimony on obstruction of justice, Mr. Mueller could have ignited impeachment proceedings.

But as a witness, Mr. Mueller showed no such fortitude. Rather than injecting new force into his report, he sucked the remaining lifeblood out of it, stonewalling from start to finish.

Pussyfooting Democratic interrogators let him do so. Instead of reminding him he was a witness under subpoena, instead of pressing him hard and demanding answers, they patted him on the back. They thanked him for his service in Vietnam as if that had anything to do with anything.

Mr. Mueller had complained that Attorney-General William Barr’s mild summary of his report didn’t capture “the context, nature and substance" of it. The Democratic fanboys didn’t even bother to badger him on why that was so.

While doddering and forgetful, Mr. Mueller was at least emphatic in warning about the ongoing Russian menace to the electoral system. But it was a point he had made before. He seemed more concerned about this than whether the President was a lawbreaker.

Open this photo in gallery:

Judiciary committee chair Jerold Nadler speaks alongside Intelligence committee chair Adam Schiff, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Committee Chairman Rep. Elijah Cummings at a press conference after former Robert Mueller's testimony on July 24, 2019 in Washington.Getty Images

After the underwhelming testimony, some Democrats were still claiming that they wanted to move ahead on impeachment. But that’s a pipe dream now. More likely, this story has run its course. More likely, it’s the Democrats who could be running for cover.

As Republican committee members reminded everyone, the Justice Department is probing the origins of the Russia investigation, looking at how law enforcement agencies during the Obama administration were allegedly spying on the Trump campaign and also at how the Democrats funded research for the Steele dossier, a document chock-full of unsubstantiated allegations about Mr. Trump’s Russia ties.

Asked about the dossier, Mr. Mueller wouldn’t even say if he had read it. He said he was “not familiar” with Fusion GPS, the opposition research firm that was behind it. That was a stupefying response, but Democrats didn’t follow up.

The critical question was on obstruction of justice. Mr. Mueller reiterated that Justice Department policy held that a sitting president could not be indicted. But Democrats didn’t go after him on whether he would have indicted Mr. Trump if not for that policy. This despite Mr. Mueller having said after the release of his report, “If we had confidence the President did not commit a crime, we would have said that.”

He had in fact warned that in his testimony he would be sticking to what was said in his report. Republicans hoped he would follow through on that promise – and they got their wish.

There was no crystallizing soundbite. Mr. Mueller’s harshest words concerned the extent of co-operation of some on the Trump team with the Russians. He was asked about Mr. Trump’s past praise for WikiLeaks, which was used by the Russians as a conduit for their meddling. He said that to call the praise problematic "is an understatement.” He agreed when asked by Democrat Adam Schiff, whom Mr. Trump derides as a “pencil neck,” if the Trump campaigners lied to cover up the contacts. “Generally, that’s true,” Mr. Mueller responded.

But voters don’t appear to be overly worked up about the Russian threat. Republicans certainly aren’t. If the Russians helped them win the election, why would they be? Also to be considered is whether the whining Democrats would have taken dirt from the Russians on Republicans if offered. It’s very possible.

Following the hearings, Mr. Trump was predictably vindictive. “This was a devastating day for the Democrats,” he said, adding, “The Democrats had nothing. And now they have less than nothing. And I think they are going to lose the 2020 election very big, including congressional elections.”

Of the overall impact of Mr. Mueller’s testimony, Mr. Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani said, “It’s not going to move any needles.”

He was right. A day that was supposed to be momentous turned out to be a dud. Donald Trump was in a jam and, as per usual, got away.

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe