Of Mueller, Election Security, and Tribalism
Last week the nation finally got to see and hear Robert Mueller come before Congress to address the findings of his two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and any correlating involvement of the President and his advisors. As promised, Mueller adhered strictly to the bounds of his official published report. His responses made it clear that he was not going to fall prey to the political machinations of either party: He didn’t give the Democrats soundbites by personally reading aloud sections from the report or affirming their interpretation of his office’s findings. He also didn’t rise to the conspiracy theory bait repeatedly thrown at him by various Republicans. While he heatedly defended his team a few times, Mueller refused to give credibility to pre-investigation conspiracies by responding to them. He stuck to the report as promised; he let it speak for itself.
Robert Mueller looked tired. He has a hearing loss, and at times struggled to hear or understand the questions asked of him. He didn’t have the report memorized, either, which gave the appearance of a lack of familiarity with the material. But for the most part he just seemed tired. He has dedicated his life to the country, be it in the military or public service, and has suffered relentless personal attack for his efforts. He didn’t need to accept the request to serve as Special Counsel, but he did, and in return he was maligned in outrageous fashion. Yes, Mueller seemed weary.
His weariness reminded me of a story about George Washington at the end of the Revolution. A growing group of his officers planned to revolt against Congress for its failure to pay the soldiers. Upon finding out, Washington called a meeting and chastised them for conduct unbecoming of officers. He said he had a letter from a member of the Continental Congress addressing their concerns that he wished to read to them. Washington looked down at the letter, but then fumbled for a pair of glasses. He then said the now-famous lines, “Gentleman, you must pardon me. I have grown old in the service of my country and now find that I am growing blind.” With those words, his officers recognized the sacrifice that the great general himself had endured and the rebellion fizzled. Robert Mueller reminded me of this story. He gave up his privacy and comforts in order to serve, and in so doing grew old in our country’s service. For me, like Washington’s officers, it was a compelling sight.
Nowhere was an unhealthy partisan divide clearer than in these hearings. Truth was of less import than scoring political points. It was painful to watch.
It was clear that the majority of House members were sticking to party lines, either to praise Mueller or condemn him. There were only a few who tried to discover relevant new information. Most House members treated the hearing as a chance to push their own opinions. The pressing issue of breached election security, why and how it happened and avoiding a recurrence--was mostly ignored. Texas Congressman Will Hurd deserves a shout-out for his willingness to seek actionable solutions.
Congress needs to decide whether or not the President and the Executive Branch attempted to obstruct justice. Mueller wasn’t going to give anyone the easy out by making that decision for them. Although the President later went out and claimed that he was exonerated in every way by the hearings while some Democrats claimed that their side was vindicated in their calls for impeachment by Mueller’s testimony, neither side actually is accurate. Robert Mueller, within his report, laid out the facts on obstruction and left open to interpretation how those facts should be dealt with by Congress.
But what about election security? Mueller made it very clear that in 2016 our elections were compromised by foreign entities who wanted a say in the outcome. He also assured us that the threat of foreign involvement in our elections is ongoing. It is a real danger to the integrity of our electoral process, he stated.
This should have been a wakeup call to Congress and to the nation.
Instead, outside of the hearings the party tribalism continued. On Friday, the Senate blocked passage of two election security bills. And instead of having another proposal that they thought was better,.they merely dismissed the severity of the threat and blocked these commonsensical bills that had been proposed by Democrats. These election security bills had already faced political tribalism in the House, where they passed, but essentially along strict party lines.
Election security should not ever be a political football. It should be taken seriously on both sides of the aisle.
So, what is the bottom line from the Mueller hearings? Neither side got what it wanted. Robert Mueller, a faithful and now-weary public servant, submitted his report and let it stand on its own merits at the hearings. It didn’t make for great television, but allowed those with eyes to see and ears to hear beyond the political maneuverings of the day understand the seriousness of the issues. The Mueller Report is a clarion call for us to protect our elections. It also is a serious condemnation of the lack of ethical conduct from those in positions of leadership. The hearings also gave a very sad look at the decline of Congress. Representatives have ceded their personal responsibility to the demands of political parties. Solving problems and finding truth cannot and will not happen as long as members of both major political parties refuse to look outside of the take-no-prisoners competition and insist on scoring points for the sheer sake of saying that they won. Until America and those who live within her bounds are put first, we will continue seeing a greater and greater divide that continues to put this nation at risk.