The special counsel, Robert Mueller’s testimony on Capitol Hill on Wednesday furnished no disclosure, fresh and startling, on Donald Trump’s election campaign, but was profoundly critical nonetheless.
Mr Mueller’s initial statement in response to a subpoena highlighted the impartiality and integrity of his team. There is little doubt that he did confirm Russian meddling in Election 2016. Addressing the question of obstruction of justice, he was sober and tight-lipped at the hearing, repeatedly returning to what has been described as “yeses and noes and the same non-answers”. While public opinion may or may not be influenced a year before Election 2020, the moves and counter-moves of the Democrats, pre-eminently the likes of House of Representatives Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, will be keenly observed.
Contradicting the Attorney-General, William Barr, Mr Mueller has let it be known that he had not reached a decision on indicting President Trump in view of the stand adopted by the Office of Legal Counsel ~ that indicting a sitting President would be unconstitutional. Yet he hastened to add that the President could be charged with obstruction of justice after leaving office, an eventuality that is not wholly improbable. Quite the most striking feature of Mr Mueller’s presentation was his robust contradiction of Mr Trump’s claims of exoneration.
“The President,” he said, “was not exculpated for the acts that he allegedly committed.” The report along with Wednesday’s presentation have already sparked a bout of shadow-boxing between the Democrats and Republicans. Mr Mueller hoped that his 448-page report would speak for itself, even after Trump’s “attorney general had misspoken on its behalf”. On closer reflection, the hearings were not geared to the discovery of new material, but about exploiting the existing facts as an electoral gambit.
The Democrats were seeking compelling data that might help to rouse the public and rally them behind the party. The Republicans have relentlessly been trying to damage the credibility of the investigation as “biased, unfair and even un-American”. The inquiry has been binned as a partisan witch-hunt. Yet both parties are acutely aware that Mr Trump’s standing is at stake.
Mr Mueller’s declaration that the President has not been exonerated resonates on Capitol Hill and the presidential echo chambers generally. The special counsel, it would appear, had reserved the baring of his angst for the second hearing. The Russian meddling, it needs to be underlined, was geared to forestall the election of Hillary Clinton.
On Wednesday, Mr Mueller referred to the document as a “flag”, couched in the caution to Americans not to let it happen again. Ergo, of far greater import is how to make sure the US is protected from further election meddling as 2020 approaches. Geopolitics can be quirky when not direly damaging for the nation’s man at the helm.