Trump Mueller
Robert Mueller. (Image: official White House photo/Pete Souza, )

Mueller… Mueller… Mueller…

Last night, Australian time, the former special counsel, and progenitor of the, erm, Mueller report, testified before the judiciary and intelligence committees of the US House of Representatives, as to the contents of his investigation of possible collusion with foreign powers — OK, Russia. Those hoping for a smoking pistol to be laid on the table were disappointed, but they were always going to be.

Mueller, the punctilious, even fussy, former ex-FBI head — he has an appearance of being finely drawn, as if he were an Oliphant cartoon of himself — wasn’t going to offer up any new material. The hearing was made possible by the Democrats’ takeover of the House in the 2018 midterm elections, and thus their control of the House’s myriad committees. The rehearing by the legislative wing of the author of a report commissioned in the executive branch — by the attorney-general, who also has a judiciary function — is either a triumph of power-separation, or a travesty of it, your politics dependent.

Mueller had already made it clear that he had no great desire to testify, but, as a good public servant, would not shirk it for a moment. The Democrats’ game was to try and get some new angle on the obtaining of a vast tranche of Hillary Clinton’s emails, via multiple channels, something Mueller resisted by keeping his answers, where possible, to single-word length. The Republican minority on the committee wasn’t much interested in Mueller speaking at all, using the opportunity to speechify against him, trying to portray his unwilling appearance as a continuation of an FBI/establishment conspiracy, and the report itself as a first stage of such.

Much of the testimony was “meta”, focused on what the special prosecutor could and couldn’t do, and the question of whether Trump had obstructed justice during the subsequent investigation. Mueller initially told the judiciary committee that he had determined that Trump could not be prosecuted for implied criminal activity — due to the current constitutional interpretation by the Justice Department that a sitting president can’t be indicted — before later saying that he hadn’t determined whether or not Trump had committed what would be, by anyone else, illegal activity. Mueller made it known that he ultimately hadn’t sought testimony from the president himself, because of the likelihood it would have been resisted and tied up report delivery for a substantial time which is, hmmm, well.

The Republicans, in trying to portray Mueller’s investigation as the conspiracy itself, had to spend a lot of time blustering. That was always going to be risky and so it proved, with a gotcha/own goal by Colorado Republican Ken Buck, who followed up Democrat inquiries about presidential privilege by allowing Mueller to clarify that the president could be prosecuted once he had left office. Hardly earth-shattering, but it blew a hole in the “nothing to see here” strategy that the GOP were trying to put forward as a unified front, and acknowledging that potential criminality was present, which let in the notion that there might be an actual real world out there somewhere, not two competing conspiracy theories.

In that respect, for those progressives and leftists who have somehow made FBI officers the vanguard of the resistance, Mueller’s seeming implication that merely reading WikiLeaks “should be illegal”, may chasten. Or y’know, may not. The progressives in the knowledge class are so far along the road to class power as to now affix themselves to the national security state, as the reactionary insurgent nature of the right makes itself clear.

Politically, for the left, Mueller’s testimony was underwhelming — in the words of some, a “disaster”. Giving neither a clear indictment nor absolution of Trump, it thus failed to solve the Democrats’ clear problem: a growing number of reps, and the party’s base, believe impeachment to be both a duty and a political imperative. They also see ducking it as a return to old bad Dem practice. The party centre believes that such a course, absent an actual dead body, would burnish Trump’s anti-elite credentials ahead of the 2020 election and distract from holding him to account for a lack of full-time job creation, wage stagnation etc in the rust belt, and racism and anti-immigrant/Latinx sentiment in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, etc.

Currently, around 95 Dem reps are pro-impeachment, thus splitting the party fairly evenly on the question. Mueller’s testimony has only deepened that division. Still they only have themselves to blame for relying on what turned out to be Special Mueller’s Off Day.

Peter Fray

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