If the Democrats Think Mueller Is Going Senile, Will They Start Subpoenaing His Deputies?

Former special counsel Robert Mueller testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 24, 2019, before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on his report on Russian election interference. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

I did not watch the two separate congressional hearings with Robert S Mueller III testifying about his report on his 22-month investigation. I was enjoying my vicarious vacation in the French countryside by watching the Tour de France. Those were a couple of happier days, as Julian Alaphilippe retained the yellow jersey, which, Alas! he lost in Friday’s Stage 19 in the Alps.

But, multitasker that I am, I paid attention through Twitter, and read that some on the left were claiming that Mr Mueller had provided ammunition for the impeachment of President Trump, while many conservatives were saying that he closed the door on that.But one claim was making it’s way through, that the special counsel’s performance was one halting and poor. From The Washington Post:

Mueller’s team is said to have told Congress his acuity was not an issue. Some lawmakers privately worry it was.

By Matt Zapotosky and Rachael Bade | July 27, 2019 | 6:21 PM

The whispers started in 2018, though where they originated remains unclear: Robert S. Mueller III, the taciturn Marine veteran leading an investigation of the president of the United States, might not be as sharp as he once was.

At least some members of Mueller’s team rejected the insinuation out of hand. Yes, Mueller was 74 years old. But he worked nine to 10 hours a day, attended every meeting with the team leaders he appointed and appeared focused and engaged in those interactions, two people familiar with the special counsel’s investigation said.

When congressional staffers, prompted by repeated media inquiries, asked Mueller’s team about his cognitive acuity, they were told — three separate times — that he was okay.

“They were unequivocal,” according to one congressional official familiar with the talks.

So, the people who worked with him most closely over the past two years said that he was fine, no problem, could still do the job.

After Mueller’s halting, sometimes confused testimony before two congressional committees Wednesday, some lawmakers are privately wondering whether there was some truth to the rumors — and whether they were right to force him to testify against his wishes.

But some involved in Mueller’s work insist he was an attentive leader throughout the sprawling, 22-month investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and President Trump’s attempts to impede the special counsel’s work. They say he is being held to an unfair standard because his performance disappointed those who hoped to use his testimony for political gain.

Let’s be clear here: “those who hoped to use his testimony for political gain” means Democrats. Republicans had no reason at all to want Mr Mueller to testify a second time, because his first round of testimony did not completely exonerate the President but also provided nothing against him that wasn’t already in his report. For the GOP, the best situation would have been to have Mr Mueller simply fade away.

Well, fading away is, reportedly, exactly what he is doing. Is that “reportedly” part true? Who knows; at least thus far, neither Mr Mueller nor his former team have stated that he is somehow losing things.

But there’s an obvious ploy here for the impeachment-minded among the Democrats: hold that Mr Mueller is going senile, and either bring in his top deputy, Aaron Zebley,¹ in to testify, hoping that he will provide more ammunition than exists in the written report, or declare that the whole investigation has been undermined by Mr Mueller’s increasing incapacity, and demand a new investigation, from the beginning.

The second alternative is a rather silly one: if it takes the same 22 months the original one required, it wouldn’t be concluded until well after the winner of the 2020 election takes office, so it wouldn’t lead to any impeachment possibilities. (If President Trump is re-elected, the notion that the Democrats would impeach him for something during his first term campaign is pretty silly, in that the voters will have already passed judgement. If a Democrat is elected, Mr Trump will be a private citizen, and impeachment is off the table.)

So, what will they do? It’s clear that the Democrats were dissatisfied that the Mueller investigation did not provide any red soy-burger to spur impeachment, but the time is winding down for any serious impeachment investigation. Unless the Democrats can get Mr Zebley and some of the other Democrats on Mr Mueller’s staff to testify to some beliefs that the Report failed to include existing evidence of criminality, there’s really nowhere else for them to go.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi does not want to proceed on impeachment, because she believes it to be a political loser for the Democrats right now, but some of the committee chairmen, including Jerrold Nadler (D-NY 10th), support it. They’ve tried everything they could so far, so trying something new is hardly out of the realm of possibility.
¹ – Though most of Mr Mueller’s deputies are Democrats, and none are known to be Republicans, Mr Zebley himself is registered to vote without designating any political part affiliation.
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