As Mueller’s marathon, nearly eight-hour testifying session came to an end, the #takes started coming in almost as quickly as his terse, yes or no answers to various questions. Some in the media viewed Mueller’s testimony as a disappointment, mostly centered around the “optics” of his appearance. Mueller was either sleepy, old, or he didn’t provide enough of a “blockbuster” to satiate the media and/or the American public who chose to stay home and watch congressional testimony on a Wednesday.
Commentators have offered plenty of criticism of this sort of media analysis; the substance of Mueller’s testimony — without considering his appearance or performance — is what should be the driving factor of all news coverage.
But in terms of substance, Mueller confirmed a lot of what was already known: Donald Trump is a crook who attempted to obstruct a legitimate investigation into him and his campaign. However, there were three elements of Mueller’s testimony that should be paid attention to before we even touch the obvious conclusion of his report: Trump attempted to obstruct justice.
1. Mueller confirmed that the Trump Campaign colluded with the Russian government.
Some of the most important testimony from Mueller was pulled out by Representative Peter Welch from Vermont. Welch touched on a key element from Mueller’s report often missed by media commentators: Mueller never said that there was “no evidence” of collusion; he simply stated that the evidence his team found did not meet the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” to prove a crime, as is required for an indictment.
In fact, Mueller’s report differentiates between the “evidence” found to support that the Trump campaign was engaged in a conspiracy with the Russians to hack and disseminate emails acquired by Wikileaks, and other evidence (or lack thereof) that they participated in the Russian’s social media campaign. Welch specifically touches on this in his questioning to Mueller:
Welch: You had to make a charging decision after your investigation, where unless there was enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable you wouldn’t make a charge, correct?
Mueller: Generally that’s the case.
Welch: But, in making that decision, that does not mean your investigation failed to turn up evidence of conspiracy?
Mueller: Absolutely correct (emphasis added).
In other words, Mueller’s answer to the question: “Was there evidence of a conspiracy between the Russian government and the Trump campaign?” is: “Absolutely correct.”
2. Mueller Confirmed that Trump Officials are “Currently” Being Investigated as Potential Blackmail Targets for the Russian Government
Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi elicited this testimony from Mueller towards the tail end of the second marathon and it was one of the few real “newsy” moments of the hearing, i.e., where the Press found out new information.
Mueller stated that while he couldn’t get into the details of the potential blackmail of certain Trump associates (Mike Flynn was the specific person mentioned), he could not do so specifically because the FBI was “currently” looking into “aspects” of that report.
Rep. Krishnamoorthi relayed that he was surprised by Mueller’s statement; “Yes, that is news,” he said.
3. Mueller Confirmed that the Russians Will Attempt to Attack us in 2020 and that the Actions of Trump’s Campaign Are Destined to Become the “New Normal.”
Going back to Mueller’s testimony with Representative Welch, Mueller stated that he hoped that the Trump Campaign’s conduct was not the “new normal,” but he feared that it would be (note that Welch’s questioning was directly related to the Trump Campaign’s activity).
In that same testimony, Mueller confirmed that the Russian government was currently trying to launch another campaign on the American electoral process. In fact, only a day later, the Senate Intelligence Committee confirmed that the Russian government not only attempted to infiltrate voter rolls in 2016: they launched another attack in 2018 on various states.
This report is signficant on its own, but it’s important to view it in this context:
- The Trump Campaign actively colluded with the Russian government’s attempt to disrupt the 2016 election.
- Certain Republican-led states were aware that the Russian government was attempting to hack their voting systems in 2018, and refused assistance from the Department of Homeland Security.
- Republicans in Congress have refused to support any bill establishing election security. On Wednesday, McConnell blocked two election security bills (i.e., protecting the election from Russian interference) after they were brought up by Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
The GOP — with the very rare exception — has proven to be wholly loyal to Trump, even after evidence has emerged that his campaign (and to an extent, his own Administration) worked in coordination with a hostile foreign government. Trump himself said in the Oval Office that he would (again) accept hacked materials from a foreign government, drawing a rebuke from his own FEC chair. The GOP has blocked any attempt to mitigate this interference or the potential for a new one. During Mueller’s testimony on Wednesday, some GOP members attempted to disabuse the notion that the Russian government was involved at all in the 2016 election interference.
As a result, there is a factual statement that is currently hard to rebut: The GOP remains actively hopeful that the Russian government will assist them with the 2020 election. Maybe that will change, but it is a substantial takeaway from Mueller’s testimony on Wednesday, and it goes beyond Trump.