Mueller Takes the Video Stand

Former special counsel Robert Mueller made it clear at the outset of his Hill testimony Wednesday (July 24), which was roadblocked across broadcast and cable outlets, that he would continue to let the report on Russian election meddling be his testimony, but that included that the President was not exonerated of the charge of obstruction of justice charge.

Mueller provided swift and sound-bite friendly affirmative answers to questions from Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), and other Democrats, including that exoneration question, as well as ones on whether he committed acts capable of obstructing, was not "exculpated" of the acts he was accused of committing, and could be indicted after he left office. 

It was the first of two Democrat-led hearings Wednesday into Mueller's report.

Republicans treated Mueller as a hostile witness, with ranking member Doug Collins (R-Ga.), peppering him with his own questions, but ones that Mueller had to repeatedly ask to be repeated, and Rep. John Ratcliff (R-Texas) slamming the report, which he said "Democrats and socialists" were doing "dramatic readings" from.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) tried to get short answers, but Mueller said he had to find a citation in one case, or said something was not clear, or asked where Sensenbrenner was reading from, and to repeat the question, or that it was one of those areas he declined to discuss and directed him to the report.

Anchors and commentators had spent the minutes before the first hearing began in the Judiciary Committee, began suggesting the questions they would like answered, though many said they expected Mueller not to answer them.

The hearing began with a heckler being escorted out of the hearing room as Mueller entered. 

Nadler, in his opening statement, said the themes were responsibility integrity and accountability, embodied by Mueller, who is a decorated Vietnam War veteran and former FBI director whose investigation of Russian election meddling secured 37 indictments.

He laid out a case of obstruction against the President using findings from the report, which he said brought the committee to the hearing Wednesday (July 24).

He said Congress needed to address the evidence he had uncovered and formally accuse the President of wrongdoing, which begins with the committee. "We will consider all appropriate remedies," giving the clear suggestion that could be a recommendation of impeachment.

Collins pointed out in his opening statement that the President did not shut down the investigation because he knew he was innocent. Russia meddled and the President didn't shut the investigation, and nothing in the hearing will change those facts, he said. 

He said the takeaways form the hearing should be that Russia meddled, that the President did not collude in that effort, and that the country should not weaponize its power against private citizens--in this case candidate Trump.

But Collins said the hearing was long overdue to the degree that it should bring closure, something it did not appear to be doing at press time.

Of Mueller's testimony, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said: “The last three hours have been an epic embarrassment for the Democrats. Expect more of the same in the second half.”

The second half was the House Intelligence Committee hearing that began a little before 1 p.m.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.