Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Wednesday morning appearance before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee provided a whole host of congressmen and women an opportunity to address the man behind the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Fort Walton Beach resident Matt Gaetz, Florida’s First District Republican congressman, was among the committee members granted the opportunity to speak to Mueller. A news release issued not long after Gaetz addressed the special counsel at around 9:30 a.m. Central Time boasted that the local representative had “grilled” Mueller.
“Congressman Gaetz asked about the origins of Mr. Mueller’s investigation, as well as several notable omissions from the report,” the release said. “Mr. Mueller refused to answer several pertinent questions about this investigation, saying they were ‘outside his purview.’ ”
A review of the conversation, however, indicates that Mueller really didn’t have much time to respond to anything Gaetz and several others on the Judiciary Committee had to say, much less answer questions.
With each representative limited to five minutes of talking time, the exchanges between Mueller and committee members of both political persuasions tended to be rapid fire, and Mueller wasn’t the one doing most of the talking.
Mueller spoke for a total of about 30 seconds when Gaetz had the floor, and a single stumbling response took up more than half of that time.
When Gaetz did allow Mueller an opportunity to talk, he did, as the congressman’s news release notes, typically use the time to tell Gaetz the matters he wanted answers to were outside of the purview of his investigation.
Gaetz hammered at a theme echoed by Republican representatives speaking both ahead of and behind him. He wanted to know why Mueller’s investigation of possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign focused on President Donald Trump and his allies and didn’t take into account possible bias against the then-candidate on the part of investigators.
The thrust of Gaetz’s initial questioning of Mueller was whether the so-called Steele dossier, a document prepared by a former British spy that many Republicans believe to be the originating source of the investigation Mueller headed, could be linked to the Russian disinformation campaign launched against the American electorate in 2016.
Mueller responded to Gaetz’s first question by stating that the Steele dossier “predated me by at least 10 months.” This response gave Gaetz the opening he needed to launch into the first of a handful of lengthy dissertations.
“Christopher Steele’s reporting is referenced in your report. Steel reported to the FBI that senior Russian foreign ministry figures, along with other Russians told him, and I’m quoting from the Steele dossier, “extensive evidence of conspiracy between the Trump campaign team and the Kremlin” Here’s my question; Did the Russians really tell that to Christopher Steele, or did he just make it all up and he was lying to the FBI?”
Mueller responded that the Steele dossier did not fall under his purview, and Gaetz was off and running again.
“No, it is exactly your purview Director Mueller and here’s why. Only one of two things are possible, right? Either Steel made all this up and there were never any Russians ever telling him of this vast conspiracy that you didn’t find. Or Russians lied to Steele,” he said.
“Now , if Russians were lying to Steele to undermine our confidence in our duly elected president that would seem to be precisely in your purview … But you weren’t interested in whether or not Russians were interfering through Christopher Steele, and if Steele was lying, you should have charged him for lying like you’ve charged a variety of other people.”
To the surprise of no one who watched Mueller’s testimony before Congress, Gaetz, as with the great majority of those speaking before and behind him, got in the last word before running out of talking time.
“Here’s what I am kind of noticing Director Mueller, when people associated with Trump lied, you threw the book at them. When Christopher Steele lied, nothing. So, it seems to be when Glenn Simpson (an associate of Steele) met with Russians, nothing. When the Trump (team that included Donald Trump Jr.) met with the Russians, 3,500 words.”
“Maybe the reason there are these discrepancies in what you focused on is because the team was so biased … and pledged to stop Trump,” he said in conclusion.
Though he wasn’t by a long shot the only Republican on the dais targeting the Steele dossier, Gaetz the media magnet managed to find his words quoted in several news publications following the Mueller testimony before Congress. The New York Post, MSNBC and the National Interest, a news magazine, all ran portions of his comments in articles posted after the event.
While Gaetz and fellow Republicans pounded on Mueller about the Steele Dossier and his methodology in investigating Trump’s alleged obstruction of the Russian allegation, Democrats on the Judiciary Committee tried to clarify their case that the president had obstructed justice during the Mueller investigation and had committed crimes for which he should be prosecuted.
Phil Ehr, a retired U.S. Navy officer who has worked in intelligence and is running in District One as a Democrat opposing Gaetz, issued a response to the congressman’s questioning of Mueller.
“Gaetz is unable to look at the evidence and make objective assessments and let the chips fall where they may,” Ehr said. “He was attacking the origins of the investigation without a firm basis and in doing so he deliberately ignored the outcomes of the investigation. It appears to me he has no respect for the counter intelligence aspect or the serious allegations of financial crimes normally associated with foreign espionage."