Then Mueller suddenly appeared at a podium in Washington to announce that the special counsel’s office was being disbanded.
He also outlined the key findings of his 448-page report — including his conclusion on whether Trump committed obstruction of justice.
«If we had confidence the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,» Mueller said. «We did not.»
This was essentially what Mueller wrote, word-for-word, in his report. But hearing him say it out loud was damning for Trump, who has continued to falsely claim that Mueller reached a verdict of «no collusion and no obstruction».
Although we live in a digital age, this was a vivid reminder of the power of television. Most Americans still get their information from the nightly news or cable TV; only hardcore politics obsessives have even attempted to read the full Mueller report.
In the wake of Mueller’s appearance two prominent presidential contenders — Cory Booker and Kirsten Gillibrand — came out in favour of impeachment for the first time.
One thing Mueller did clarify was that his decision not to explicitly accuse Trump of obstruction of justice was heavily influenced by Department of Justice guidelines stating that a sitting president can not be indicted.
Attorney-General William Barr had previously said that Mueller made his decision independent of the guidelines.
Mueller made clear on Wednesday that he doesn’t want to testify before Congress, but his brief press conference showed why Democrats are desperate for him to appear. Even if he simply reiterates his report’s findings it will make for captivating television and cause Trump damage.
Trump’s response was to reiterate his position. He tweeted that «nothing changes,» adding that, «in our Country [sic], a person is innocent».
Mueller’s appearance hasn’t yet convinced the people who really matter — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler — to pursue impeachment. They responded by saying only that impeachment must be «on the table».
Pelosi and Nadler remember how impeaching Bill Clinton backfired on Republicans when they did it in 1998. Clinton’s approval ratings shot through the roof and Republicans lost control of the House.
And they know that impeachment is unpopular with the American public. A poll earlier this month by Harvard University found that most Americans oppose impeaching Trump and want to move on from the Russia probe.
Impeachment hearings would put Trump exactly where he likes to be — at the centre of a partisan brawl — and the Republican-controlled Senate would almost certainly decline to convict him.
Yet events are creating an intense and perhaps irresistible momentum for impeachment. First there was the White House’s refusal to comply with congressional subpoenas and now Mueller’s appearance.
Pelosi is a wily operator who is right to be wary of the «I word», but she may not be able to resist the pressure for much longer.
Matthew Knott a reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age based in the United States.