What's the fallout from Mueller's testimony?

Dylan Stableford
Senior Writer

The 360 is a feature designed to show you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories.

Speed read

What's happening: Former special counsel Robert Mueller made his highly anticipated appearance on Capitol Hill Wednesday, testifying for more than six hours before two House committees on his two-year investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia and President Trump’s efforts to derail the probe.

Democrats who have been calling for Trump’s impeachment hoped Mueller’s appearance would help animate his 448-page report — which most Americans and even members of Congress admit they haven’t fully read and convince weary lawmakers and a skeptical public to pursue impeachment proceedings.

The president and his supporters pointed to the former special counsel's decision not to charge Trump with a crime, saying the country is ready to move on from what they have repeatedly referred to as a “witch hunt.”

Why there's debate: Mueller’s testimony mostly just confirmed the findings of his report, which found numerous instances of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia and numerous actions by the president that met the definition of obstruction of justice.

But his performance left those hoping Mueller would deal a more damaging blow to the Trump presidency disappointed. The 74-year-old former FBI director frequently asked lawmakers to repeat questions, answered haltingly or with just one or two words, and offered no response to harsh attacks on his integrity and impartiality by some Republican members.

What's next: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Mueller's appearance was “a crossing of a threshold,” but continued to resist calls from some members of her caucus to launch impeachment proceedings. Pelosi said multiple House investigations of Trump, his finances and negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow during the campaign will continue. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said his panel will file lawsuits to compel other witnesses — including former White House counsel Don McGahn — to testify.

Trump, meanwhile, declared victory. “The Democrats lost so big today,” he told reporters. “This was one of the worst performances in the history of our country.”

Perspectives

Mueller failed to move the needle on impeachment.

“House Democrats hoping that former special counsel Robert Mueller would trigger momentum for impeaching President Trump were met with resistance Wednesday from a witness who often wouldn’t even answer lawmakers’ questions. Unlike Mueller’s May remarks on his report on Russia’s election meddling, his testimony Wednesday did not spark any new major wave behind the movement to oust the president.” — Cristina Marcos and Mike Lillis, The Hill

If Democrats expected the former FBI director to galvanize the nation in favor of impeachment, however, they sorely misread the man and the moment. Approaching the hearings with all the enthusiasm of a dental patient scheduled for root canal, Mueller stoically refused to shed new light on the dense, 448-page report his office issued in April. — Editorial board, USA Today

The Mueller movie disappointed Democrats.

“The movie Americans tuned into on Wednesday was not the blockbuster Democrats had sought nor was Mr. Mueller the action star they had cast. Dignified but shaky, and at times struggling to keep up, he largely stuck to ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and ‘refer you to the report’ answers, steadfastly refusing to dramatize his conclusions as President Trump’s critics wanted him to do. By the time he finished nearly seven hours later, Democrats were disappointed they did not get the made-for-TV accusatory moment they wanted.” — Peter Baker, New York Times

Mueller failed us.

“Americans needed a definitive, plain-language, nonlegalistic statement from Mueller about one and only one question: Did the President and his henchmen and women commit a crime? ... Instead of answering any of the questions we Americans had hired him to answer, Mueller pleaded ‘no contest.’ This was not a ‘neutral’ political move. It provided Republicans good reason to argue that the investigation was a two-year, multimillion-dollar waste of time.” Drew Westen, CNN.com

Mueller didn’t fail us — we failed him.

To spend hours of airtime and write hundreds of print and online reports pontificating about the “optics” of Mueller’s performance — when he confirmed that President Trump accepted help from a hostile foreign power and lied about it, that he lied when he claimed exoneration, that he was not completely truthful in written answers, that he could be prosecuted after leaving office and that he misled Americans by calling the investigation a hoax — tells me that we have become untrustworthy guardians of democracy. The ‘failure’ is not of a prosecutor who found the facts but might be ill-equipped to make the political case, but instead, of a country that won’t read his report and a media obsessed with scoring contests rather than focusing on the damning facts at issue. — Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post

Entertainment wasn't the point of Mueller's testimony.

“Anyone hoping for or expecting loud outbursts and emotional testimony has perhaps spent too much time watching fictitious courtroom dramas. This isn’t the WWE, it’s the United States Congress. But while the substance of Mueller’s testimony was often less than entertaining, it was an important moment in the saga that has been Donald Trump’s presidency.” — Kurt Bardella, NBC News

Mueller let his message be the star.

“Mueller was not cut out to play the superhero role in a blockbuster film. But his steadiness in the face of repeated Republican provocations and his unwavering confirmations of his report’s genuinely scandalous findings about Trump sent a message: Only a country that doesn’t care about the rule of law, has given up on holding presidents accountable and is too cowardly to stand up to foreign interference in our elections would simply let all of this go. Wednesday provided a mandate for pressing on.” — E.J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post

The attacks on Mueller were shameful.

“I was struck and saddened by the way some Republicans lashed out at Mueller and tried to discredit him. After all, Mueller is a lifelong Republican, a decorated veteran and a longtime law enforcement leader — precisely the kind of person one might expect Republicans to show respect for. It seemed that once Republicans had gauged Mueller’s refusal to push back hard, they chose to toss out conspiracy theories about the origins of the investigation. They didn’t contest the specific points made about Trump trying to foil the justice system, but they did try to distract from them.” — Nicholas Kristof, New York Times

Democrats can't beat Trump at his own game.

“The Mueller circus offers us one lesson and one lesson only: The Democrats still believe they can defeat the star of ‘The Apprentice’ in a reality-show election. Ain’t nobody gonna beat Donald J. Trump in a goat rodeo. The Democrats are running a scorched-earth, high-drama spectacle campaign against President Trump, who specializes in scorched-earth, high-drama spectacles and who today has the power of the presidential bully pulpit to amplify the drama and magnify the spectacle. Put another way, the Democrats apparently are intent on fighting Trump on his own ground, challenging him to a duel in the one thing he’s actually pretty good at: putting on a show.” — Kevin D. Williamson, National Review

The Mueller ‘show’ fizzled.

“The show was such a bust that we wonder why Democrats were willing to put Mr. Mueller on the public spot. They know he is slowing down, as his halting and sometimes confused performance demonstrated. Democrats gambled that they could outsource an impeachment probe to Mr. Mueller, who would give them the public drama they needed to proceed. Instead they embarrassed Mr. Mueller and dashed their own impeachment dreams.” — Editorial board, Wall Street Journal

Democrats don’t want to impeach Trump.

“Democratic leadership has no intention whatsoever of opening an impeachment inquiry unless they are literally forced to do so. They know that Trump deserves to be impeached, but principle is being made to take a back seat to politics. They are scared of unsettling the people who voted for their newly elected moderates. They are scared that they might upset the white people who voted for Trump’s racism but might be open to considering a Democrat.” — Charles Blow, New York Times

Democrats should focus on the 2020 election.

“Trump may well have committed crimes, and maybe he’ll face prosecution after he leaves office. (He’ll probably commit a few more before it’s all over, because, you know, that’s just how he rolls.) But as long as the public remains divided, impeachment is a dead end, legally and politically. That’s how it’s designed to work. The way to remove Trump from office is to beat him when he’s on the ballot. It’s an eminently achievable goal right now — and impeachment would only get in the way.” — Matt Bai, Yahoo News

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