“She made me look ridiculous. And a man in my position can’t afford to be made to look ridiculous!” — Jack Woltz, The Godfather.
A man in Robert Mueller’s position can’t afford to be made to look ridiculous.
Per House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, opening Wednesday’s long-awaited hearing, Mueller’s five-star personal brand was all about “responsibility, integrity, and accountability.”
A decorated Marine officer, former head of the Justice Department Criminal Division and Director of the FBI. The quintessential “straight shooter.” Stern, silver-haired, central-casting prosecutor looks.
And one day, someday, maybe today: Savior of the World against that Evil Orange Usurper occupying the White House.
A brand trashed in mere minutes into the hearing.
“Responsibility?” Mueller took utterly none for the contents of his own report (with which he was clearly unfamiliar), the letter to Attorney General Bill Barr complaining about the latter’s characterization of said report (which he clearly didn’t write), or the conduct of his own investigation (which he clearly didn’t lead, by his own admission, except as a figurehead).
Every sentient adult being in the United States of America by now knows who Fusion GPS is. Except, apparently, Robert Mueller.
“Integrity?” In Captain Georg von Trapp’s words in another silver screen classic, the hearings brought into sharper focus Mueller’s “deplorable lack of curiosity” when it came to pursuing critical elements of the Russia collusion narrative that would have created the appearance of balance, not to mention propriety.
This was the no-holds-barred bulldog who ruined another military hero, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, hounded the unfortunate George Papadopoulos, and dispatched a SWAT team to arrest Roger Stone over “process crimes” amounting to precisely zip in the end analysis.
Yet he wouldn’t offer frustrated GOP questioners a scintilla of insight as to why he played pussycat vis-à-vis the figure who launched the collusion witch hunt, Joseph Mifsud — called out thrice in his report for misleading investigators.
And in remarkable exchanges with Ohio Republican Steve Chabot and Florida’s Matt Gaetz, refused to discuss why he didn’t spend equal time on ties among Fusion GPS, the Clinton campaign and the Russian lawyer in the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting. Prompting Chabot to explode that the discrepancy caused some to “view your report as a one-sided attack on the President.”
Accountability? Dodging 128 questions during the session, Mueller chiseled himself a four-word career epitaph that will go down in America’s political lexicon under the heading “evasion” next to the phrase “it depends what the meaning of ‘is’ is:”
“Not in my purview.”
Mueller pointed to other investigations into the origins of the entire probe. Except as Byron York of the Washington Examiner pointed out, two of these investigations started even as the collusion probe was winding down.
Red State rightly queried, “Is the special counsel seriously making the claim he didn’t look into Fusion GPS or the Steele dossier because he knew, via some future telling power, that it would later be subject of a DOJ investigation by an AG who wasn’t even appointed yet?”
It was left to Rep. Gaetz to lay bare the utter ludicrousness of Mueller’s circumventions: “It’s not your purview to look at whether or not Glenn Simpson was meeting with the Russians the day before and the day after you write 3,500 words about the Trump campaign meeting?”
To sum it all up: Bob Mueller was made to look ridiculous.
But it wasn’t nearly all Republicans’ doing. Because the most critical element of the Mueller brand, not mentioned by Nadler, was also detonated: capability.
The Special Counsel was exposed as a toothless tiger, a defanged and perhaps even — the word surely whispered by observers around the world — demented dinosaur. Asking to have questions repeated. Not just unwilling, but seemingly unable to parry Republican attacks. Not just unprepared, but lost in the woods on his own report and investigation.
In particular, tongue-tied, confused and ultimately inconsistent when it came to the one question everyone in the room knew absolutely had to be asked and answered: how he could justify, under Justice Department policy or precedent, the new standard that his investigation “did not exonerate” the president.
The world now saw that when it came to the course and outcome of the mysterious investigation that had all of America on tenterhooks for two years, the man, the myth, the legend Robert Mueller was either an out-of-touch fool, a tool of forces beyond his control — or both.
There goes that brand — and book contract.
Bob Maistros, a messaging and communications strategist and crisis specialist, is of counsel with Strategic Action Public Affairs, and was chief writer for the Reagan-Bush ’84 campaign, three U.S. Senators, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.