BOSTON (CBS) – If you follow politics at all, by now you are quite familiar with the experience of a highly-politicized congressional hearing.
And in this case, familiarity breeds contempt.
These events are prone to extreme posturing, partisan speech-making masquerading as questions, and inept interrogation techniques.
Reportedly, Democrats on the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees have been working with experts to focus their questioning and avoid the usual pitfalls; I’ll believe it when I see it. Even if they do, you can be sure the notoriously-blustering likes of Republicans Devin Nunes and Jim Jordan will keep the congressional clown-show tradition alive.
But the pols aside, the expected five hours of testimony by Robert Mueller will – even if he sticks religiously to recitation of the facts and conclusions spelled out in his original report – provide valuable information to those who come to this with an open mind.
Former Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal put it best in an article for the New York Times outlining the “three simple yes-or-no questions Congress should ask” Mueller, in light of the president’s oft-repeated declaration that the report found “no collusion, no obstruction, complete and total exoneration”:
• “Did your report find there was no collusion?”
• “Did your report find there was no obstruction?”
• “Did your report give the president complete and total exoneration?”
Watch for these questions to be asked, and whether or not Mueller goes beyond the basic answers: no, no and no.
If you read the Mueller report without blinders on, you will see there were strenuous efforts made to hamper the investigation into potential campaign collaboration with the Russians, including encryption or deletion of communications that left Mueller’s team unable to corroborate facts or properly question witnesses.
The interaction between Trump world and Putin operatives involved far more than the exploitation of the stolen DNC emails and the disinformation campaign that Mueller estimates reached 126 million people. For instance, Kirill Dmitriev, a Russian businessman with close ties to Putin, co-wrote a “reconciliation plan for the United States and Russia, which Dmitriev implied had been cleared through Putin,” which was then forwarded by Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and close advisor, to Steve Bannon and incoming Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
The evidence of obstruction by the president is also overwhelming. Instead of seeking the truth, he lied and manipulated people in a desperate effort to short-circuit the probe, a campaign that continues today.
Expect the Democrats to ask Mueller to spell out as much of this detail as they can cram into five hours, while the Republicans press their deep-state conspiracy theories. And while you will hear plenty about Mueller’s failure to prove certain key facts that meet the evidentiary standard for the alleged crimes under scrutiny, keep in mind this key quote from the report: “A statement that the investigation did not establish particular facts does not mean there was no evidence of those facts.”
What will it all mean politically?
Millions will watch at least part of the show – how many will do so with an open mind is anyone’s guess. And absent the subsequent emergence of a videotape, audiotape or photo that incriminated the president or someone very close to him, I wouldn’t expect the whole sordid affair to play much of a role in the 2020 election.
But for those interested in the truth, watching Wednesday morning (live on WBZ-TV at 8 a.m.) and sinking a few hours into actually reading the report will be an eye-opening, eyebrow-raising act of good citizenship.