The Mueller Hearing And The Theater Of The Macabre

Below is my column in The Hill on today’s hearing with former Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The hearing will no doubt be lively as a couple dozen members of the House Judiciary Committee struggle to stand out in less than five minutes to make the cut for a clip on evening news. That means that you have to be more outraged than every member who came before you. It should all prove to be a true theater of the macabre. I will be covering the hearing for CBS News and BBC.

I have previously published 3 questions, 5 questions, and 20 questions for Mueller. You can choose but none are likely to be answered.

Adding to the drama is the disclosure of a demand by Mueller that an aide be sworn in and allowed to testify with him. The move drew vocal objections from Republicans who suggested that Mueller may not have a good handle on the Report — reinforcing claims that his key staff aides actually controlled the investigation. It also has been reported that it was Mueller who asked for the letter limiting his testimony.

Here is the column:

Weeks like this make me regret there’s not a Wimbledon-like “performance rule” for politics, as when Australian tennis player Bernard Tomic was fined $56,100 for not trying hard enough to win his match against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.

For more than two years, I’ve written that congressional Democrats never had the slightest intention of impeaching President Trump and, instead, have been running out the clock while pretending to build a case against him. Now, with former special counsel Robert Mueller scheduled to testify before Congress on Wednesday, this match is getting even more embarrassing than Tomic’s fiasco at Wimbledon. The problem is that this match has lasted roughly 580 days rather than 58 minutes.

The Mueller hearing is shaping up to be more of an autopsy than an exploration. Committee members will ask Mueller about his findings, and Mueller will read the findings as if he is recording an audio book for the visually impaired. In the meantime, courts and prosecutors have left various allegations against Trump in legal tatters:

Collusion 

After two years of pundits and politicians assuring us that crimes linked to collusion were well-established, Mueller found there was no basis to bring a charge on any collusion-related grounds.

Pundits and trolls have engaged in open denial, claiming Mueller was holding such indictments and slamming those who state otherwise as “Trumpsters” or “apologists.” That group now includes Mueller, who stated after an exhaustive two-year investigation that he could “not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

Of course, this all began with collusion allegations and how Trump worked with Russians to undermine our democracy. Now members of Congress rarely discuss collusion.

Obstruction

Democrats reportedly plan to focus on obstruction, which Mueller surprisingly left unresolved. I will not repeat why Mueller’s position was incomprehensible and unsupportable. However, Attorney General Bill Barr and his then-deputy, Rod Rosenstein, accepted the entirety of Mueller’s report and evidence, yet still concluded there was no case for an obstruction charge.

The reason was simple: Mueller detailed non-criminal motivations behind Trump’s actions, a record that would create an easy defense case on the issue of intent. 

Democrats are now adopting their own version of “Lock her up!” chants, with promises of prosecution if only people will vote for them. For example, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) has declared her Justice Department would “have no choice” but to prosecute Trump if she is elected president. That, of course, will not happen, any more than Hillary Clinton was ever at real risk of incarceration.

Moreover, it would be implausible to remove a president under a criminal-obstruction theory rejected by the Justice Department — including Rosenstein, who was long lionized by Democrats.

Campaign finance 

Democrats have highlighted the fact that newly released court records show Trump and his aides were directly involved in the effort to pay money to porn star Stormy Daniels and former Playboy bunny Karen McDougal to keep them silent about affairs. For two years, there has been a constant cable-news drumbeat from legal experts, saying such payments were undeniably crimes for those involved, from Trump aides to Trump lawyer Michael Cohen to Trump himself.  

The problem is, those documents being exhaustively covered this week were released because there were no charges to be brought on campaign finance crimes. This is a bit of a surprise, since Cohen included the payoffs in his plea deal; the other alleged culprit in that exchange was Trump.

One could argue that an indictment against Trump may be waiting until he leaves office, under Justice Department rules. However, there have been no charges against any other person associated with the payoffs, including various Trump Organization figures. The fact is, campaign finance charges are rare and hard to prove, as shown by the failed prosecution of former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards.

Emoluments 

With the collapse of collusion, various Democrats and lawyers have pushed the claim that Trump’s D.C. hotel is a giant “emolument” magnet. 

Article 1, Section 9, prohibits emoluments, which cover compensation or gifts tied to a person’s public office, but it has never been well-defined. For example, Benjamin Franklin received a diamond-encrusted box from the King of France while serving as U.S. ambassador; Congress told him to keep it.

Arguments that the Trump family’s hotel constitutes an emolument are something of a stretch. Still, filings to that effect have been made by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) board chairman and vice-chairman Norman Eisen and Richard Painter, constitutional law scholars Erwin Chemerinsky, Laurence H. Tribe and Zephyr Teachout, and Deepak Gupta of Gupta Wessler PLLC.

While District Court Judge Peter Messitte unwisely ruled that these groups had standing and a meritorious claim, the Fourth Circuit recently dismissed the action as unsupportable. The court was equally dismissive of the theory that the hotel benefits from Trump’s name since many people, including diplomats, likely avoid it due to it association.

Judges in both Washington and New York also have rejected such lawsuits.

Since standing was never established, Congress could argue that there were unconstitutional emoluments lurking in these cases. However, there is no clear precedent to support that theory and, despite good-faith arguments, no president has been impeached on such uncontested legal grounds.

In the meantime, Congress again overwhelmingly rejected impeachment with a vote this week in which members tried to add bigotry as an impeachable offense. It failed, 332-95.

So if these crimes and impeachable acts have been largely negated, what is Congress planning to do on Wednesday? The answer is play … just not well.

Mueller has made it clear that he does not want to testify and will decline to give any information beyond his report. He has held up the hearing for weeks, first by declining to testify and then unilaterally maintaining that he would testify for only two hours before the House (an agreement was later reached on a longer format). Witnesses — particularly private citizens, as Mueller now is — usually are not given such leeway. One would think that after accepting the special counsel’s job and spending millions of public dollars, Mueller would have less, not more, ability to stipulate limits.

Yet, Democrats have yielded to his demands with only a slight increase in time, divided into the ridiculous five-minute segments of most congressional hearings.

Most members will prance and pose for four minutes in just introducing themselves. For his part, Mueller will continue his performance as the “American Sphinx,” even though there is much he should answer about his own conduct, let alone his conclusions (or lack thereof).

It will be nothing but “puddlers” — chip and drop shots — but it won’t matter. The same analysts who have been wrong for two years will give the same breathless courtside commentary. And the members of the congressional committees will scream like John McEnroe — while playing like Bernard Tomic. Of course, unlike Tomic, those members will continue the match despite it having been called weeks ago.

The play is and always has been for 2020. That is why there is no performance fine in politics because the score is entirely irrelevant — and you are never sure of what game is actually being played.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley

217 thoughts on “The Mueller Hearing And The Theater Of The Macabre”

  1. “Russians massively intervened”….oh just shut up you lying leaker unethical corrupt slimy POS Adam Schiff. You are a disgrace.

  2. Let’s talk about stonewalling, secrecy and refusing to answer questions by Mueller today:
    “I’m not gonna talk to that.”
    “Not in my purview.”
    “Not gonna answer that.”
    “Not gonna say.”
    “Not gonna get into that.”

    Cherry on top is Adam Schiff waxing on about “ethics” and “higher standards”….holy smokes! Adam Schiff sitting high on his hog talking about “ethical conduct”….hoo boy….what a hypocritical lying, leaking, crock of corrupt slime and sleeze Schiff is.

  3. Gaetz: “Can you state with confidence the Steele dossier was not part of Russia’s disinformation campaign?

    Mueller: “With regard to Steele…that’s beyond my purview.”

    1. “With regard to Steele…that’s beyond my purview.”

      Really? Loan applications, tax medallions,FARA were within your purview but a central figure to item (i) and FISA warrants were not? Did that question get asked?

      (b) The Special Counsel is authorized to conduct the investigation confirmed by then-FBI
      Director James B. Corney in testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on
      Intelligence on March 20, 2017, including:
      (i) any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and
      individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and
      (ii) any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation;
      and
      (iii) any other matters within the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a).

  4. Line of the day from Pinnocimueller:

    Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA): “When Donald Trump called your investigation a ‘witch hunt,’ that was also false, was it not?”

    Robert Mueller replies: “I’d like to think so, yes.”

    [But I don’t]

    1. Yes, Tribe is correct.

      “Lefty Larry”

      SMH.

      Trying to be cute, but failing…

  5. where’s the apologies for this farce? any of the usual Democrat apologists want to chime in with an excuse?

    1. No excuses. Yes, it’s a farce — like so much of what goes on in this country. But I’m just a Dem…and not a Dem apologist.

    2. You mean the farce of a bloated draft dodging racist misogynist liar xenophobe who cheated to “win” the presidency with the help of a hostile foreign government?

      1. Better get ready Natacha….he’s gonna win again. This time he’s gonna win with the help of Minnesota and New Hampshire. Get your Valium scripts filled now!

        1. If that happens in the next election with those states, Natacha will explain later, between electroshock treatments, how Trump and Putin ‘cheated” to win that next election.
          I don’t think the Prozac and Thorazine can alone will keep her from going
          irretrivably crazy.

          1. Crazy? Here’s an example of nutty and childish:

            Anonymous @ 3:10 PM wrote:

            “If that happens in the next election with those states, Natacha will explain later, between electroshock treatments…
            I don’t think the Prozac and Thorazine can alone will keep her from going
            irretrivably crazy.”

      2. No I meant the face of this hearings

        What did Prof Tribe say? He’s one of your idols i suspect

        “Laurence Tribe
        @tribelaw
        Much as I hate to say it, this morning’s hearing was a disaster. Far from breathing life into his damning report, the tired Robert Mueller sucked the life out of it. …”

  6. Anyone who ever believed Trump conspired with Putin(or obstructed justice) will forever be labeled a loon, a very low IQ individual, a useful idiot.

  7. “We did not reach a determination as to whether the president committed a crime.”

    –Robert Mueller III

    Say whaaaa?

  8. The Obama Coup D’etat in America is the most egregious abuse of power and the most prodigious scandal in American political history.

    The co-conspirators are:

    Rosenstein, Mueller/Team, Comey, Christopher Wray, McCabe, Strozk, Page, Laycock, Kadzic, Yates,

    Baker, Bruce Ohr, Nellie Ohr, Priestap, Kortan, Campbell, Sir Richard Dearlove, Steele, Simpson,

    Joseph Mifsud, Alexander Downer, Stefan “The Walrus” Halper, Azra Turk, Kerry, Hillary, Huma, Mills,

    Brennan, Gina Haspel, Clapper, Lerner, Farkas, Power, Lynch, Rice, Jarrett, Holder, Brazile,

    Sessions (patsy), Obama et al.

    1. What did Christopher Wray know and when did Christopher Wray know it?

      The entire 7th Floor has been annihilated. Where was Christopher Wray all that time; at Disneyland?

      If Christopher Wray did not know of the Obama Coup D’etat in America, he is incompetent.

      If Christopher Wray did know of the Obama Coup D’etat in America, his is corrupt.

    2. What did Gina Haspel know and when did she know it?

      Gina Haspel was Chief of Station in London during “Crossfire Hurricane” and when the “Steele Dossier” was created for Hillary Clinton.

      Why was Gina Haspel given such a cushy assignment, COS, London, and by whom; by Brennan, to whom she was “loyal.”

      If Gina Haspel did not know of the Obama Coup D’etat in America, she is incompetent.

      If Gina Haspel did know of the Obama Coup D’etat in America, she is corrupt.

    3. At what point will you add Barr and Horowitz to your list of coup d’eta co-conspirators? You do understand they are both Deep State operatives, don’t you? You might as well add Lindsey Graham, as well. He’s our naive president’s primary Deep State handler and likely suggested Barr’s appointment in the first place.

      1. I believe the comments conclude with et al.

        I understand that the task of taking back America is as immense and daunting as that of the American Founders in defeating the entire British Empire and taking possession and control of their colonies.

        Ben Franklin, 1789, we gave you “…a republic, if you can keep it.”

        Ben Franklin, 2019, we gave you “…a republic, if you can take it back.”

        Abraham Lincoln was elected with 38.9% of the vote and proceeded to seize power and rule by executive order and proclamation to “Save the Union.”

        Nothing short of that will suffice now in the current environment of hysteria, incoherence, chaos and anarchy in an America which has been subjugated by communism and communists.

        President Trump must seize power, neutralize the other branches and rule by executive order and proclamation to “Save the Republic,” annihilate and abrogate the communist American welfare state and to reestablish the dominion of the “manifest tenor” of the Constitution and Bill of Rights of 1789 – sans all subsequent unconstitutional and “injurious” amendments.

        1. I would much rather the People elect non-partisan thought leaders to reach a majority in the House and supermajority in the Senate. When House, Senate and WH are working in synchrony, no one individual “seizes power”.
          The People rule over the major policies.

  9. Ladies and Gentelemen — behold our elected Democrats/officials “governing” the affairs of the country. Hoo boy. With each passing moment of these hearings, I become more and more thankful and grateful that Donald J. Trump is president and Hillary Clinton is not.

    1. Well, I agree with you about Hillary. The Dems screwed the pooch with Clinton.

      Now if only Trump would start behaving in a presidential manner.

      1. Yes, because behavior is so much more important than results.

  10. Turley says: “However, Attorney General Bill Barr and his then-deputy, Rod Rosenstein, accepted the entirety of Mueller’s report and evidence, yet still concluded there was no case for an obstruction charge.” It wouldn’t have mattered what Mueller came up with–Barr was hired for the specific purpose of protecting Trump against being brought to justice, and that is what he did. Trump’s conduct would have landed anyone else in jail. Mueller confirmed today that the Attorney General is supposed to represent the American people, not Trump. Maybe someone should remind Barr and Trump of this simple fact.

    Turley says: “Mueller found there was no basis to bring a charge on any collusion-related grounds.” What you left out is :BASED ON THE EVIDENCE HE WAS ABLE TO OBTAIN. That evidence did NOT include deposing Trump or any Russians. There is a world of difference between the existence of NO collusion when all of the facts have been explored, and insufficient evidence to bring charges because key witnesses could not be deposed and because, as in this case, Trump’s campaign staff lied. Trump has always been a cheater and crook in all of his dealings. His campaign welcomed Russia’s help and it funneled key information to Russians for their use in helping Trump cheat via a social media campaign that put out falsehoods. Trump is not clean in this matter. Implying otherwise is disingenuous.

    Turley says: “The fact is, campaign finance charges are rare and hard to prove, as shown by the failed prosecution of former Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards.” The fact is, Jon, that Trump is an unindicted co-conspirator to crimes Cohen is serving time for, and an inveterate liar. You left out these facts, and they DO matter. The Stormy and Karen McDougal payoffs that Trump lied about DO constitute campaign contributions that weren’t reported, and this is a violation of campaign finance law.

    Trump has a hotel in Washington, DC that is frequented by foreign business people, politicians, etc, who pay huge amounts of money for sleeping rooms and for catered business meetings. Why is his lack of divesture of this business OK? Who is to say these business dealings don’t influence the White House? When Jimmy Carter was elected, he totally divested himself of any connections with his family’s peanut business, to avoid even the appearance of propriety. How about the private club at Mar-a-Lago, where people who can pay the high admission fees have unfettered and secret access to Trump? There was even a Chinese madam who was selling such access. Why is this OK? Boy, have we come a long way toward perdition since the days of Jimmy Carter.

    Turley tries to downplay all of the dirt on Trump by suggesting that Mueller himself has a lot to answer for. I am ashamed for you, Jon.

    1. Look at that….Natacha is now dealing the “shame card” …..

      You know what’s shameful? Turn on your television and watch the Mueller testimony and the shameful “performance” by our elected officials with a “D” after their name. For shame. Each and every one of them.

      1. Someone who complains about anonymous comments, but uses “Anonymous” when it suits…

        And to the Anonymous at 1:27 PM?

        There’s plenty of “shame” to go around. It isn’t just the Dems who are the problem.

        1. I admit that I have one of the first who posted comments under the username anonymous. And used other usernames to pretend like to all of my usernames were from a bunch of different people.
          Yet I take offense from others playing the same game that I like to play here.
          This is supposed to be MY game, to the exclusion of all others.

      2. Anonymous says: July 24, 2019 at 1:27 PM
        Look at that….Natacha is now dealing the “shame card” …..

        And…Anonymous @ 1:27 PM is playing the “anonymous card”…

    2. its completely false that mar a lago people have unfettered and complete access to trump in fact i just read it that the secret service said precisely that they do not

      and that was in an article about the chinese lady. miami herald

      you’re a fake Natch

      1. Who in the Secret Service said this? Where, when, name, please. Cite your source. Faux News doesn’t count.

        The Chinese woman was a madam, and I have seen reported her advertisements for access to Trump at Mar-a-Lago.

        1. I TOLD YOU LOUDMOUTH FOOL ITS IN THE MIAMI HERALD. GO DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH. IM NOT YOUR CLERK!

    3. When Jimmy Carter was elected, he totally divested himself of any connections with his family’s peanut business,

      No, he put his assets in a ‘blind trust’ run by one Charles Kirbo, who was….the Carter family lawyer. The management of the family business had been in the hands of his brother since 1963, btw.

  11. “The most serious attack on our democracy by a foreign power in our history,” Adam Schiff proclaims, referring, of course, to alleged Twitter trolls and Facebook memes, which were apparently more devastating than Pearl Harbor, 9/11, and the War of 1812.”

    10:00 AM – 24 Jul 2019 Michael Tracey

      1. Indeed. Here’s another….

        “Mueller gives the impression that he was hidden away in an assisted living home while other people conducted his investigation and wrote his Report”

        10:53 AM – 24 Jul 2019 Michael Tracey

    1. All the lawyers on the Mueller team were hired because they could “get the job done.”

      What was that “job” again? It’s not at all clear.

      1. zero republicans, all democrats. that’s from todays hearings. very bad appearance of impropriety and blatant failure by Meuller to follow recusal standards. pathetic fraud

  12. “Collusion” and “Delusion”. Mueller is a Missouri Mule without a saddle or a bridle. There is good and bad to that aspect. The Missouri Mule is one of the best species on Earth. But if a human has no means to guide then the Mule will walk the path that he or she wishes and eat the corn off the cob.

    1. “Missouri Mule” Muler aka “Grandpa Bob” can’t even remember which U.S. president appointed him head of FBI. Grandpa Bob told Dems he did want to testify and they refused to abide. And how many times do they have to thank him for his service? We get it, he is a “hero” and we should appeal to his authority. This sideways charade of a proceeding aint gonna move the needle in the direction that Fat Jerry and Penil Neck want.

  13. For your entertainment, an admission against interest from The Nation:

    “For two years, Democrats have waited on Robert Mueller to deliver a death blow to the Trump presidency,” The New York Times observed on July 20. “On Wednesday, in back-to-back hearings with the former special counsel, that wish could face its final make-or-break moment.” The very fact that Democrats had to subpoena Mueller in order to create this final moment should in fact be the final reminder of what a mistake it was for Democrats to have waited on him. If Mueller had incriminating information yet to share, or had been stymied from doing his work, or if Attorney General William Barr had somehow misrepresented his findings, then it stands to reason that Mueller would be welcoming the opportunity to appear before Congress, not resisting it. The reality is that Mueller’s investigation did not indict anyone on the Trump campaign for collusion with Russia, or even for anything related to the 2016 election. Mueller’s report found no evidence of a Trump-Russia conspiracy, and even undermined the case for it.

    1. What an embarrassment for the Democrats. What an embarrassment for the nation. No conspiracy, no obstruction.

      1. they keep on jamming the evidentiary harpoon in and out of themselves over and over again.

        it will play to their base but cost them dearly in the general election

  14. Expect this lead balloon to drop like live coverage of opening of Al Capone’s vault in the 1980’s.

  15. Adding to the drama is the disclosure of a demand by Mueller that an aide be sworn in and allowed to testify with him. T

    A Catholic blawger I correspond with offered after the report was released that he thought it likely Mueller was a figurehead and that Andrew Weissman and the Democratic Party donor crew were actually running the investigation. Looks like he called that one correctly.

    1. Courtesy Instapundit:

      “LIZ SHELD’S MORNING BRIEF: Mueller to Bring Wet Nurse Along for Congressional Hearings. “There was a last minute surprise from Mueller, a request to have a wet nurse present and sitting next to him during the hearings. The wet nurse is one Aaron Zebley, who you might remember was the attorney for the Hillary Clinton IT guy who set up the illegal basement server and smashed up Hillary’s Blackberry phones. Why was this guy on Mueller’s team since it seems like he has some very real conflicts of interest? Nevermind.”

      SMDH

      1. Gilda Radner on Saturday Night Live! show had a good way of saying: “Nevermind!” Was This Is Absurd thinking of her?

      2. HILARIOUS MISTAKE. the Republicans caught it and pointed it out. Wisely!

    2. hearings reveal all democrats and no republicans on the witch hunt lawyer team. wow

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