WASHINGTON — Who won Mueller Day?
Republicans, including President Trump, are out gloating over former special counsel Robert Mueller’s shaky performance and the stark lack of any killer TV moments, let alone a smoking gun.
"The Democrats lost so big today," President Trump said outside the White House shortly after the congressional hearings ended Wednesday.
Mueller debunked Trump’s claim of “No collusion, no obstruction” in the opening moments of questioning, and made it clear that his report did not exonerate Trump. But after that, Democrats largely failed in their efforts to make great TV out of the 448-page report which few Americans have read.
Republicans said Mueller's stumbling and repeated requests for lawmakers to repeat their questions bolsters their arguments that there was no foundation to the initial investigation.
“Mr. Mueller appears quite intellectually disheveled from having to answer questions about Russian interference,” Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) told VICE News shortly after he questioned the prosecutor.
Gaetz added that from his perch on the GOP side, it looked like Democrats were squirming the whole time.
“Just look at their body language: They look sullen and demoralized on the dais,” Gaetz argued. “My favorite part of the hearing has been reading the body language of the Mueller associates sitting behind him. They look like they’re at a funeral.”
Mueller's poor performance as a witness, they say, did not move the needle closer to what many rank-and-file Democrats really want: impeachment.
“I think if you’re a Democratic member in favor of impeachment it was a terrible day,” Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) told VICE News while walking through the Capitol. “Mr. Mueller emphasized the fact that, and we put it to bed in our question line, with collusion and conspiracy being the same, there was no collusion and conspiracy.”
Democrats are painting the five hours of testimony as a huge win, and arguing Mueller was a good witness — even if he didn't churn out soundbites in this reality-TV era.
“I’m very pleased with the way today’s hearing went,” Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) told VICE News as she was leaving the Judiciary Committee hearing.
“We have to remember we were attacked by Russia, a foreign adversary,” she said. “The president’s campaign team knew about it, did nothing to warn the American public about it, benefited from it, and then the president tried to obstruct that investigation, and that’s what the American public saw today.”
Some argued Mueller was as forthright as he could be, given the Department of Justice directive to stay within the report.
“He stuck to the report and the report lays out enough. It laid out at least five crimes… There’s ten crimes of obstruction, they only had three hours,” Rep. Eric Swallwell (D-Calif.), one of two Democrats on both the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, told VICE News after leaving the hearing. “I don’t think you will see fewer people call for impeachment, and I don’t think anyone who’s called for it are gonna say ‘I’m changing my mind.’”
That’s why at the very least Democrats are hoping today’s drama will drive more average Americans to read the report for themselves, because – as Mr. Mueller has argued – the report speaks for itself.
“Depending on what you think is a good witness. I think, you know, because of his experience throughout the years, he knows how to respond,” Rep. Donald Payne (D-N.J.) told VICE News as he walked through the packed hall outside the hearing. “You know he’s been on the other side, so I think he has a great deal of skill in responding in the manner in which he wants to. Which is to give, you know, as little information outside of the report as possible.”
Cover: Robert Mueller, former special counsel for the U.S. Department of Justice, listens during a House Intelligence Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, July 24, 2019. (Photo: Eric Thayer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)