A congressional hearing on Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election turned into probe of the special prosecutor instead, as Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee questioned his motives, his patriotism, and his competence.
Often, their questioning of the US Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War, onetime FBI director, and lifelong Republican appeared condescending, snide, or defamatory. From Steve Chabot of Ohio, to John Ratcliffe of Texas, Republicans used their five minutes of questioning to roll out veiled accusations.
Their approach shouldn’t have been surprising—Donald Trump used a D-Day appearance in France to trash Mueller as “fool,” and Republicans have been coordinating their hearing strategy directly with the White House.
But coming as it did from men who were also Republicans, decades younger then the 74-year-old Mueller, many of whom had never served in the military, much less completed anywhere near Mueller’s half-century of public service, it was particularly unsettling to watch.
Ken Buck of Colorado went as far as saying that Mueller “failed” as prosecutor. He also inadvertently did the most damage to Trump, by pressing Mueller to answer whether the president could be prosecuted for obstruction of justice after he leaves office. (Yes, he can, Muller said).
Pennsylvania’s Guy Reschenthaler called Mueller “unAmerican,” and liked the idea so much he tweeted it from his public account.
Louie Gohmert got so carried away while shouting at Mueller that his time ran out mid-question.
What Trump is doing “is not obstructing justice, he’s pursuing justice,” Gohmert yelled. It was unclear what justice he was talking about.
Jordan implied that the whole investigation may have been prompted by a lie that the FBI decided not to prosecute. (Mueller was appointed by deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, and the investigation was based in part on a conclusion that Trump’s own intelligence appointees agree with—that Russia interfered in the 2016 election with the aim of helping Trump).
Ben Cline of Virginia, a 47-year old first-time congressman who previously worked in a private-law practice and for a marketing company, accused Mueller of “creative legal analysis,” and implied that because one of the lawyers he worked with had once lost a case, the Trump investigation must be flawed.
Mueller’s long service to his country started when he enlisted in the Marine Corps in August 1966, weeks after graduating from Princeton University, as Quartz noted earlier.
He served as an active-duty officer in the Vietnam War for four years, departing as a captain, the Washington Post detailed in a deep dive into his military records. Mueller was shot in the thigh, awarded the Bronze Star for bravery, and inducted into the Army’s Ranger Hall of Fame in 2004.
Nearly 60,000 Americans died in the Vietnam War, which lasted longer than any other American conflict before Afghanistan. Veterans who returned home were often greeted by protests and scorn and then struggled to get medical care, housing and education support from the government.
Today’s Republican assault was clearly a political strategy, not a logical one. On the one hand, Republicans accused Mueller and the FBI of bias during the investigation, of hiring people who hated the president, and supported opponent Hillary Clinton.
On the other, however, they asserted that since Mueller didn’t charge Trump, this must be the final chapter of the investigation, and he must be innocent. This would presume sound, unbiased judgement on Mueller’s part. In other words, they were both undermining Mueller and relying on his integrity to support their arguments.
Minutes after the hearing ended, right-wing news outlets and coordinated Twitter accounts were declaring victory for the Republicans. “Watch! Jim Jordan puts Robert Mueller on BLAST!” declared a pro-Trump political coordinator. “Savage destruction of Mueller from Rep. Gohmert,” declared a Turning Points advisor.
The declarations of victory seemed as far-removed from reality as some of the questions themselves. Still, they clearly hit their target audience. After the judiciary committee hearing, Trump re-tweeted one Jordan video clip that declared “Boom! Jim Jordan just blew the lid off the Hoax as Mueller cowers & refuses to answer important questions.”