It was the game-changer that quickly wasn’t. And, according to Rep. Ted Lieu, the reason that it wasn’t was because someone “got to” Robert Mueller.
If you were watching Wednesday’s testimony from the former special counsel, only one thing could have piqued your interest. In between all of the single-word responses, halting missteps and boilerplate answers such as “I refer you to the report” and “I take your question” — was when Mueller seemed to tell Rep. Lieu, a California Democrat who’s been beating the impeachment drum since the moment Trump got elected, that the only reason the president wasn’t charged with obstruction of justice was because he was in office.
“The reason again that you did not indict Donald Trump is because of the [Office of Legal Counsel] opinion stating that you cannot indict a sitting president, correct?” Lieu asked.
“That is correct,” Mueller said.
Lieu seemed to emerge victorious and Mueller’s answer quickly became a talking point: “What we established today in the hearing is that we have a felon sitting in the White House. Donald Trump committed multiple crimes of obstruction of justice,” Lieu said after the hearing, the first of two Mueller would testify in on Wednesday.
And then came the beginning of the second hearing:
Mueller adding a correction to his testimony this morning…
“I want to go back to one thing that was said this morning by Mr. Lieu who said, and I quote, ‘you didn’t charge the president because of the OLC opinion.’ That is not the correct way to say it.” pic.twitter.com/H0iUJ03nyi
— Andrew Clark (@AndrewHClark) July 24, 2019
“I want to add one correction to my testimony this morning,” he said as he opened the second hearing of the day, this one before the House Intelligence Committee.
“I want to go back to one thing that was said this morning by Mr. Lieu who said, and I quote, ‘You didn’t charge the president because of the OLC opinion.’ That is not the correct way to say it. As we say in the report, and as I said at the opening, we did not reach a determination as to whether the president committed a crime.”
Well, that didn’t end well, at least if you were Rep. Lieu. Appearing on CNN on Thursday, according to The Washington Free Beacon, Lieu insisted to Wolf Blitzer that Mueller had understood his question, had given the right answer to begin with and that, in the interim, something had — well, why don’t you let him explain it?
“This is what’s so odd about that exchange,” Lieu said.
“Special Counsel Robert Mueller agreed that the OLC opinion prevented a sitting president from being indicted. And then the Republican member after me asked him a series of questions to try to get him to walk it back. He did not do that. And then it doesn’t, until there was a recess with the Intel committee that he started to walk some of that back. I don’t know who got to him, I don’t know who talked to him, but that was very odd.”
“What are you suggesting? Because he said he misspoke,” Blitzer said. “He didn’t understand, or whatever it was. That’s why he wanted to clarify and walk back his response to your question. Are you saying he only did that because of pressure from someone?”
“I don’t know,” Lieu said. “But he clearly answered the way he answered to me, and then he had numerous times to walk that back by the next Republican member who asked him a series of questions on the exact same issue trying to get him to walk it back.”
Yes, apparently, in between the two hearings someone “got to him.”
Maybe a Republican pulled Mueller into a dark alley somewhere in the Capitol Building and roughed him up until he agreed to give the answer they wanted.
Or maybe — and I think this is a better guess — much like a lot of things Mueller said during the hearings, what he told Lieu was ill-considered and based on a fundamental misunderstanding of his own investigation. In between the hearings, one of his aides who had considered it more thoroughly “got to him” and explained that, no, the impression he had given Lieu was not what the ex-special counsel had found and that he might want to power-walk that one back with all due haste, especially given what Lieu was going to do with the answer.
For Lieu, however, that couldn’t possibly be the reason, especially since it doesn’t give him the ammunition toward impeachment that he so desperately desires. Here’s a tip for Rep. Lieu, a lesson that I’ve gleaned from years of CNN viewing in respect to Robert Mueller’s investigation: When even Wolf Blitzer isn’t willing to go where you’re going to further the obstruction of justice narrative, it’s time to give it up.
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