This article is part of TPM Cafe, TPM’s home for opinion and news analysis.
There was no knight on a white horse yesterday. He delivered exactly what he promised he would. Bob Mueller’s long-awaited and highly anticipated testimony didn’t provide any information that he hadn’t already provided in his written report.
Both sides were hoping for more. And each was disappointed.
Democrats had hoped there might be a smoking gun; or at a minimum, some sensational new revelation that would revive and perhaps stoke the interest of an American public that seems ready to move on from the Mueller Report and potential impeachment proceedings.
Republicans had hoped that they could embarrass or discredit a man who had spent his career in service to this country — beginning as a young man fighting in wars that many of them dodged or avoided.
Mueller told us before it all started he wouldn’t go beyond the Report; I think it is fair to say now that his was the understatement of the year. He’s a prosecutor’s prosecutor, and this was a political fight — one he repeatedly refused to join. Many of us were hoping to see the Marine that Bob Mueller had once been. A soldier who was prepared to go toe-to-toe with the apologists for Donald Trump. We were hoping to see someone defending the report with gusto. But Bob Mueller wouldn’t even read from the report itself, instead requiring members of Congress to do so for him, so that there would be no sound bites that could be taken out of context or used in political ads. On almost all issues he either deferred to the written report or absorbed body blows from Republicans, responding that he “took their question.”
The basic information did come out. But it was information we all knew from the written report months ago. Some nuggets were highlighted:
- the President’s “no obstruction, no collusion” line was obliterated;
- Mueller made even more clear that didn’t make a finding about the President’s guilt because of the OLC opinion;
- the President refused to be interviewed and was uncooperative;
- the campaign welcomed Russian help;
- lies by Trump officials hurt the investigation;
- the elements of obstruction of justice have been satisfied.
The obvious question is, now what? If the hearing this week is prologue, I’m afraid I have some bad news: Trump is going to get away with it.
House Democrats had weeks to organize this hearing and figure out a way to tell the arc of this basic story. It’s the kind of story prosecutors tell every day, and it would go something like this: in the first chapter, the Russians attacked our democracy. Next comes the recruitment of Trump loyalists. Then the repeated contacts with the campaign and family. And finally, the Cover-Up, the lies and the outright obstruction of justice.
But that’s not the story they told. Instead, the first hearing addressed obstruction, and the second one was about the cyber crime and collusion.
Anyone who’s ever spent time in a courtroom knows you can’t tell a story by starting with its ending. You don’t open your case with the cover-up of a crime — you have to start with the crime itself.
House Democrats have spent the last two years waiting for someone else to solve the Trump conundrum. Flynn is going to flip! Stone knows everything and he will flip! Corsi knows a lot more than he is saying … the pressure on him is immense to flip! Papadopolous’ mother is pressuring him to come clean! Manafort is coming, Manafort is coming! Pay attention to Gates! Assange has no choice! Mueller will indict the President (even though it was always clear the DOJ memo did not allow it). And now, if they could just get Don McGahn…
What became clear Wednesday is that there is no savior here, no knight in shining armor is going to ride in and save the day. It is now up to them, and to them alone, to determine whether they follow the polls or whether they follow the evidence. House Democrats are uniquely given the power to remove a President. No one else can do this job for them. And if Wednesday’s hearings proved anything, no witness, not even a living legend like Bob Mueller, can make the political difficulties of the case go away.
The legal case is obvious: the President welcomed Russian assistance in the 2016 election. Neither he nor anyone in his campaign told the FBI or any law enforcement authority about the Russian offers to assist his campaign. He then obstructed the investigation and lied to cover it all up.
The facts and witnesses are well known at this point. If President Trump were anyone else, he would be indicted, as over 1,000 former prosecutors stated in a recent letter. But today, this is no longer a legal case, it is a political one.
Speaker Pelosi must make the decision about whether or not she wants to spend political capital to begin an impeachment proceeding, knowing it will ultimately fail in the Senate. And eventually, the full House may have to decide whether to impeach or not. Nothing that happened on Wednesday is going to change that, and no witness, no matter who, is going to ride in on a white horse and save them from the most difficult political decision that any of them will ever have to make.
Bob Mueller did what he said he would do. Now it’s up to Nancy Pelosi to decide what to do next.
Cynthia Alksne is a career federal prosecutor, MSNBC Legal Analyst, and expert on criminal law, grand jury and police investigations and confrontational interviewing techniques. She has tried more than fifty cases to verdict and analyzed thousands more — as a prosecutor in the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice, as an Assistant US Attorney in the United States Attorney’s Office in Washington where she worked for former Attorney General Eric Holder and alongside former FBI Director Robert Mueller, as Assistant District Attorney in the Brooklyn, NY District Attorney’s Office, and as Assistant Attorney General for the State of Texas. She has investigated and secured or negotiated guilty pleas and/or plea agreements in hundreds of criminal cases.