Most of us have experienced it – the painful moment when we realize that someone we love or deeply respect has aged and, in aging, declined – sometimes slightly, sometimes greatly. Perhaps we’ve seen this in an elderly relative, or maybe a cherished teacher or coach. Initially, we may deny there has been any change; but there comes a point when we accept the reality, painful though that may be.
In the early minutes of the first Mueller hearing, it became evident that the Special Counsel, this highly respected, almost iconic public servant, was no longer the crisp, focused, in command presence we had come to expect from his many previous congressional hearings. There were moments when Mueller seemed unsure of the contents of his own report. There were other times when he hesitated in answering questions that would seem to elicit an easy and quick response.
Across the nation, lawyers and pundits who had followed Mueller’s storied career observed that he seemed less steady, less certain. Much of the media coverage following the hearings featured people who knew Robert Mueller well, many of whom had worked with him, admired him, and who, in sadness, conceded that this great American was no longer at the top of his game. Mueller had aged, they said, and it showed.
No doubt there will be those who attempt to diminish the findings of the Mueller Report because Mueller himself revealed some decline at the hearings. That would be a mistake. The Mueller Report, though bearing Robert Mueller’s name, was not the product of one man.
Rather it was the careful result of two years of industrious effort by a team of exceptionally bright, extremely hard-working and highly principled prosecutors and investigators. Its findings are documented to a fare-thee-well.
As to the key conclusions of that report, Mr. Mueller’s testimony was crystal clear: Russia wanted Trump to win the election and offered help to that end; Trump and his campaign welcomed that help, used it, and lied about it; Russia’s attacks on our republic were widespread and systematic, and — most troubling — they are ongoing. And despite Trump’s incessant bleating to the contrary, the report did not exonerate the president as to the crime of obstruction of justice.
Mr. Mueller may not have as keen a memory or as quick a recall as he once did. But he has always been an unabashed patriot and is almost universally regarded as a man of sterling character. He has a reputation for cutting square corners and consistently upholding the rule of law. Nothing about his testimony before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees suggests a diminution of his integrity or honesty.
Do I wish Mueller had testified with the vigor and clarity with which he testified before Congress in prior years? Yes, certainly.
But I have no doubt whatsoever that, even in his frequent reticence, Robert Mueller spoke the truth. And the truth, no matter how haltingly delivered, was devastating to Donald J. Trump.