Anyone focusing on substance over style could see that Robert Mueller’s testimony gave Donald Trump a very bad day. Many in the media share the blame for any public perception to the contrary. Stephen Colbert called them out:
The numerous critics of Mueller’s appearance might consider how directors make a movie. For hundreds of hours over many weeks, they film individual scenes. The director then works with editors — slicing and splicing to create a coherent motion picture. Their goal is to create a finished product that will entertain an audience for a couple of hours. The final movie includes only the good stuff. If it contained all of the rough footage, no one would watch it.
For more than five hours on July 24, viewers saw rough footage as the House began the process of creating the most important documentary in American history. But buried in those hours of testimony was some important stuff — including riveting “Mueller moments” that refuted Trump’s favorite lies.
The Truth About Trump’s Key Talking Points
For example, at the outset, Mueller confirmed that Trump’s central rhetorical talking points — “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Total Exoneration” — are lies. Without hesitation, he refuted each of them:
He similarly dispatched “Witch Hunt” and “Hoax”:
But those moments didn’t gain as much media traction as Mueller’s demeanor. So Trump continues undaunted — repeating the lies. Three days after Mueller’s testimony, he strung them all together yet again in a July 27 tweet:
The Truth About Collusion
Likewise, when Trump claims that Mueller found “no collusion,” most Americans believe it means that Mueller cleared Trump and his campaign of accepting Russia’s help to win the 2016 election. But this exchange between Mueller and House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) made clear that the Trump campaign did exactly that:
SCHIFF: Russia committed federal crimes in order to help Donald Trump?
MUELLER: When you’re talking about computer crimes in the charge…
MUELLER: … in our case, absolutely.
SCHIFF: The Trump campaign officials built their strategy – their messaging strategy around those stolen documents?
MUELLER: Generally that’s true.
SCHIFF: And then they lied to cover it up.
MUELLER: Generally, that’s true.
The sequence came at the end of Schiff’s first round of questioning. Take four minutes and watch all of it:
The Truth About Obstruction
Regarding obstruction of justice, Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee focused on just a few of Trump’s obstructive efforts that Mueller’s report detailed:
— Trump’s direction to then-White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller,
— Trump’s subsequent efforts to get McGahn to deny that he had issued such an order,
— Trump’s efforts through former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to get then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions (who had recused himself from the Mueller investigation) to curtail Mueller’s probe, and
— Trump’s repeated efforts to dangle pardons to Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort, and Michael Cohen.
As Mueller confirmed stunning facts and findings that Trump tried to interfere with the investigation, no Republican on the committee disputed any of them. Rather than focus on Mueller’s alarming message, most media pundits critiqued the style of the messenger.
The Truth About Russian Interference
Mueller’s opening statement before the House Judiciary Committee emphasized the gravity of Russia’s election interference — and then he repeated those concerns verbatim to the House Intelligence Committee:
“[O]ver the course of my career I have seen a number of challenges to our democracy. The Russian government’s efforts to interfere in our election is among the most serious….”
In response to Rep. Will Hurd’s (R-TX) questions, Mueller added: “They’re doing it as we sit here. And they expect to do it during the next campaign.”
Yet the next day, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) led efforts to block two bills that would strengthen election security. One would require campaigns to alert the FBI and Federal Election Commission about foreign offers of assistance. The other would allow the US Senate’s sergeant-at-arms to offer voluntary cyber assistance for personal devices and accounts of senators and staff.
The Truth Should Matter
The testimony of eyewitnesses will help the many scenes in Mueller’s report coalesce into a digestible narrative. But it will take time. For example, in June 1973, Richard Nixon’s former White House counsel John Dean first testified to the Senate Watergate Committee about a “cancer on the Presidency,” but it still took more than a year for the House to vote articles of impeachment.
What happens next depends on the House of Representatives issuing subpoenas and the courts enforcing them. It depends on the media focusing on depth rather than sound bites and valuing substance over style. And it depends on the public’s patience and attention span. In the end, truth can prevail if it is seen and heard.