Robert Mueller's testimony did not provide the fireworks the Democrats were after – impeachment is still unlikely

The only chance that Democrats now have to remove Trump is via the ballot box in 2020

Chris Stevenson
Thursday 25 July 2019 15:11
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Mueller says he 'generally' agrees with sentiment that Trump officials lies inhibited his investigation

Democrats got the answers they needed out of Robert Mueller when it came to the case of impeaching Donald Trump – but it's doubtful that the answers will lead to action.

No, Mueller’s report did not exonerate the president of potentially obstructing the Russia investigation. And yes, the Trump campaign knew they would likely be the beneficiaries of interference in the 2016 election from Moscow.

Unfortunately, Washington is increasingly becoming a city where style matters over substance. Mueller did what he was always going to do at his hearing: stick rigidly to the report, refuse to answer a number of questions and offer answers that, while extremely technically proficient, lacked the emotion that many Democrats were after.

Republicans were able to muddy the waters of some responses by offering at best tangential questions - about the Steele dossier, the conduct of some FBI officials. That, mixed with the more hesitant answers from the former special counsel, which is to be expected from a 74-year-old man who is used to working in the background, meant that President Trump and many GOP commentators were quick to paint the hearings as a “disaster”.

It certainly wasn't that. Ted Lieu, a Democrat congressman from California, said that for the likely many Americans who have not read Mueller's 448-page report, his testimony “should have blown their minds” with what it reveals about Trump's behaviour.

That was always the spin that Democrats were going to put on it, particularly those after impeachment like Lieu. The point stands that Mueller's probe highlights actions that have few precedents in the White House.

However, Democrat leadership is reluctant – in particular House Speaker Nancy Pelosi – to begin impeachment proceedings without a slam-dunk case in place. Since the party needs to protect Democrats in moderate districts in 2020, Mueller's testimony is unlikely to have shifted the opinion of either the public or a majority of Democrats towards impeachment.

Both Pelosi and the 90 plus Democrats who support impeachment have said that there are still other routes to go down, such as compelling former White House lawyer Don McGahn to appear in front of House committees and also using the courts to get hold of the sealed evidence Mueller out before a grand jury.. Another California Democrat, Karen Bass, said on Thursday morning, “I think we have a lot further to go” in terms of helping build a case for impeachment, but there is no new smoking gun on the horizon.

McGahn's testimony is another element where impeachment supporters have high hopes. Mueller's report shows that Trump asked McGahn to inform then-deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein that Mueller was too conflicted to serve, which McGahn took to mean that Trump wanted rid of the special counsel. The president has denied this.

While Mueller proved a disappointment to some and lacked the required fireworks, there is nothing to suggest that McGahn will act in a more revealing manner.

The vast majority of Democrat presidential candidates looking to face Trump in 2020 have swung behind the impeachment efforts. But it is an easy policy to support when you aren't making the decisions yet. It keeps the issue in the public eye, provides an important platform for attacking the president – and if impeachment happens it likely increases your chances of getting into the White House.

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But in the latest round of Democrat debates set for next week, candidates need to find a way of crafting a new message, as talking about impeachment without taking decisive action will only harm their positions in the long run.

The only chance that Democrats now have to remove Trump is via the ballot box in 2020. It has essentially been that way for months with many high-profile Democrats looking to Mueller more in hope than in expectation. Unless Pelosi suddenly changes her tune from wanting “the strongest possible case” for impeachment, it is the end of that particular road before the presidential election.

Now, Democrats need to start plotting the path their nominee will take to victory in November 2020. Anything else is just going to be bluster.

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