The Mueller Hearings Wasted More Time

Watching the House hearings with Robert Mueller was like watching extra innings in a tedious, sluggish midseason baseball game. Each inning presents the possibility of a breakthrough that could end it. And each inning ends without a decisive change, leaving us frustrated, fatigued and aching for a resolution.

The difference is that in the case of the Donald Trump malfeasance spectacle, it was hard to picture what could bring about a finish. No one expected Mueller to hit a three-run homer for either side, and he didn’t. On the contrary, he did the equivalent of leaving his bat in the dugout.

Democrats saw the hearing mostly as a chance to introduce Americans to the incriminating facts laid out in Mueller’s report, in an easily digestible form. Whether anyone persuadable was paying attention is yet to be determined.

Not that it would matter if Mueller did suddenly elect to rub the public’s face in the president’s filthy laundry. Republicans in the House — and more important, the Senate, which they control — have shown at every juncture that they could not care less what Donald Trump has done to disgrace himself, soil his office or betray his country.

Mueller could produce a binding agreement signed by Trump promising to carry out every order received from the Kremlin, and his partisan allies would shrug it off. “So what?” they would say. “We know from his business career that he doesn’t abide by contracts.”

Impeachment is the crucial remedy for serious misconduct by a president. But it requires a commitment to decent standards that congressional Republicans have abandoned.

The GOP members on the Judiciary and Intelligence committees took great comfort from the special counsel’s conclusion that there was no conspiracy. But there were certainly attempts at collusion by the people around him.

The June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, which Donald Jr. set up in hopes of getting dirt from Russians on his opponent, did not amount to criminal conspiracy mainly because the Russians failed to come through — not because Trump or his son rejected foreign interference in a U.S. election. Promised material from Russians that “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” Trump Jr. salivated, “If it’s what you say I love it.”

The Trump campaign was a bubbling vat of sleaze. Those who celebrate Mueller’s finding of no collusion ignore his conviction of campaign manager Paul Manafort, deputy campaign manager Rick Gates, campaign aide and future national security adviser Michael Flynn, campaign aide George Papadopoulos and personal lawyer Michael Cohen.

Cohen, remember, pleaded guilty to a campaign finance violation — paying $130,000, which he says Trump authorized and reimbursed, for Stormy Daniel’s silence about her alleged sexual encounter with him. Had her story come out before the election instead of after, Trump might not be president today. It was an illegal act that subverted our democracy.

The Russian collusion issue was just half of the special counsel’s report — and the other half was even more incriminating. It cataloged a brazen host of steps and statements by Trump as he labored to prevent the facts about his conduct from coming out.

Among them: pressuring then-FBI Director James Comey to spare Flynn, demanding that Attorney General Jeff Sessions reverse his recusal and take charge of the investigation, and ordering White House lawyer Don McGahn to remove Mueller and lie about it.

The report declined to conclude whether the president’s efforts to derail the investigation were crimes. But it said, “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.” On Wednesday, Mueller said, “The finding indicates that the president was not exonerated for the act he allegedly committed” (my emphasis).

In one respect, at least, Mueller’s testimony went further than the report did. Asked whether the reason he “did not indict Donald Trump is because of OLC opinion stating that you cannot indict a sitting president,” Mueller replied, “That is correct.” His answer directly contradicted the assertion made in May by Attorney General William Barr, whose fealty to Trump exceeds his commitment to honesty.

So far, Trump has prevailed in spite of his scandalous habits and contempt for established norms. Nothing Mueller said is likely to induce Congress to hold him to proper account. That task, it appears, will be performed by voters, or not performed at all.

Steve Chapman
Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune. His twice-a-week column on national and international affairs, distributed by Creators Syndicate, appears in some 50 papers across the country.