The Democratic hard left did the nation a service by putting Robert Mueller on display earlier this week. It may also have done Nancy Pelosi a favor by dealing a blow to the “impeach Trump” movement, against which the Speaker stands.
But the Democratic hard left isn’t in the business of doing favors for the nation or for Pelosi. It’s in the business, among other enterprises, of trying to oust President Trump without the inconvenience of an election. Alternatively, because that goal seems out of reach, it’s in the business of putting Trump, and the country, through impeachment proceedings.
Clearly, then, Wednesday’s Mueller debacle constitutes a big setback for the Democratic hard left — an “own goal,” as some have described it.
How did this happen? Mueller had made it clear to the Dems that (a) he didn’t want to testify and (b) if he did testify, he would stick to the four corners of his report, giving Democrats no anti-Trump fodder they didn’t already possess.
But Rep. Nadler and his fellow Judiciary Committee Democrats made what seemed like a reasonable decision — maybe even a clever one. Because few Americans had read Mueller’s report, the Dems would put it on television. They would pull out those nuggets in the report that make the president look bad, and have Mueller affirm these semi-incriminating statements. The mainstream media would duly play the resulting sound-bites.
Democrats reportedly rehearsed this approach at length, using stand-ins for Mueller (apparently, they used a hostile, a cooperative, and a neutral version of the witness, but probably not a confused one) . They were well-prepared to implement their game plan and, when the big day came, they did so diligently.
But there is a certain threshold a witness must meet if a lawyer is to use him this way. If the witness isn’t credible, the strategy obviously will fail. In addition to being credible, the witness must display a certain amount of competence, presence, and familiarity with the subject matter. The witness need not be too impressive, but he can’t be highly unimpressive.
That’s especially true when the witness receives a big buildup. Robert Mueller had been built up for years. If he were to fall flat on television, that — not anything substantive he affirmed — would be the story. Those would be the sound bites.
And so it played out.
Did the Democrats realize what a poor witness Mueller would make? Should they have?
In hindsight, Mueller’s reluctance to testify could have been a signal. It’s understandable, however, that the Democrats didn’t pick up on it. There were other plausible explanations for the reluctance besides Mueller’s knowledge (or sense) that he would be a poor witness.
I wonder whether one of the Democratic partisans on Mueller’s team warned House Democrats that Mueller might well be a bust. His staff members must have realized there was a problem. Whether to protect Mueller’s reputation, to help the Democrats avoid an own goal, or both, it seems likely that someone on the team would have tipped off the Dems.
Did anyone do this? If so, why didn’t the Democrats heed the warning? Maybe Mueller’s people were too tactful in how they put the problem. Maybe the Dems just couldn’t believe Mueller could be as bad as he was.
Maybe their hatred runs so deep that Democratic committee members simply ignored the warning and decided to push full speed ahead, anyway. Or maybe Democrats weren’t warned.
I’m pretty sure that high-level Democrats, dismayed by the Mueller debacle, are trying figure out how it happened and who is to blame. They may already know.
Maybe one day the rest of us will.
UPDATE: Rep. Matt Gaetz says that some Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee had heard in advance that Mueller wasn’t up to being an effective witness. Sen. Lindsey Graham says he heard this, too.
I believe Gaetz and Graham, and if some Republicans knew, then surely word got to the Democrats, as well. Yet, they walked right into the disaster that was waiting to happen to them.