Schiff 'can't answer' whether cognitive decline disqualified Mueller from leading Russia investigation

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Schiff 'can't answer' whether cognitive decline disqualified Mueller from leading Russia investigation
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Should Robert Mueller have been in charge of the Russia investigation if he was experiencing cognitive decline? Rep. Adam Schiff, a vocal promoter of Trump-Russia collusion claims, refuses to say.

In his new book and interviews this week, Schiff opened up about how surprised he was with Mueller's shaky testimony before Congress in the summer of 2019 regarding his special counsel report.

The California Democrat says Mueller, a former FBI director who is now 77, was "not the same man I knew." However, he dodged when faced with multiple questions during an NPR discussion about Mueller and mental decline.

NPR's Michel Martin bluntly asked Schiff if he thought Mueller was experiencing cognitive decline at the time of his testimony.

The lawmaker refused to answer directly, focusing his response on his efforts to get a hesitant Mueller to testify, how he "watched in utter shock at the changes that had been wrought," and complimenting his public service.

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Mueller testified before two House committees in July 2019, but only after some resistance and a subpoena that broke the deadlock. One of the panels was the House Intelligence Committee, in which Schiff has been the chairman since early January 2019.

When Martin asked if Mueller should have led the Russia inquiry if he was experiencing cognitive decline, Schiff replied, "I can't answer that."

"I did understand immediately why his staff had been so protective and why they were so reluctant to have him testify," the congressman added. "And I immediately told our members, 'We need to cut down our questions. We can't ask for narrative answers. We need to be very precise in what we ask. We need to have the page references of the report ready.' And it was painful. Honestly, it was painful. And if I had known, I would not have pushed for his testimony."

On the question of why he did not know, Schiff pinned the reason on "this protective instinct among the people around" Mueller.

"It was difficult for them to convey," Schiff said. "Now we did get some inkling as we negotiated over the format of the hearing that we were better off with shorter periods of questioning. So there were signs."

Schiff said he knew whether to believe "some of the public rumors" because former President Donald Trump "had an incentive to malign" Mueller. He said people around Trump were "maligning him with all kinds of false and terrible ways."

Trump and many of his allies have long derided the investigation as a "witch hunt." As a result, there is now a different special counsel investigation by former U.S. Attorney John Durham seeking out any misconduct by the investigators.

Democrats have long criticized former Attorney General William Barr, who assumed control of the Justice Department in February 2019, for preceding the release of Mueller's report with a letter of "principal conclusions" in which he and then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said there was insufficient evidence to establish Trump obstructed justice.

Mueller’s mental acuity was heavily scrutinized after he testified to Congress about the Russia investigation and appeared not to know key facts about the inquiry. He was previously considered to be sharp and competent.

People "very close" to Mueller claimed they believed “something happened” to the former FBI director during the two-year Russia investigation, Washington Post reporter Carol Leonnig said in January 2020.

Leonnig, who was the co-author of the book A Very Stable Genius about Trump, described how difficult it was for some of Mueller's close family friends to watch his shaky testimony before Congress.

“Phil [Rucker] and I, my co-author, we are not medical professionals, but over and over again, John, we heard from people who are very close to Bob Mueller who found him a different person, a changed person, after two years of this investigation,” Leonnig told CNN host John Berman.

“They don’t know what that’s about,” Leonnig continued. “Some of them do and haven’t shared that with us. But they know that something happened. He’s a different person. He was stumbling over his words. You saw him in July in his testimony before Congress, there were people that I spoke to who are very, very good family friends of his who said, ‘I couldn’t watch the television anymore, I had to turn it off. It wasn’t the Bob I knew.'"

In their book, Leonnig and Rucker wrote that when Barr met Mueller before his report was released, Mueller read from his notes, and his "hands shook as he held the paper. His voice was shaky, too." Barr and his deputy, Rosenstein, "couldn’t help but worry about Mueller’s health.”

The Washington Post reported in July 2019 that Mueller's team denied rumors that the then-74-year-old's cognitive acuity was wavering, prompting Democrats to compel him to appear publicly. His resulting performance had some Democrats privately questioning whether Mueller was all there mentally.

“It was a painful reminder that age catches up to all of us,” one unnamed House Democrat who questioned Mueller said at the time. “Here you have this Vietnam hero and this post-Sept. 11 FBI director. You could tell he was having a hard time hearing, and it was like, ‘Ugh! This is not how I want him to be remembered.'"

Mueller was appointed special counsel in May 2017 after former President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. The FBI's counterintelligence investigation into links between the Trump campaign and Russia was wrapped into Mueller's special counsel effort, culminating in the release of a 448-page report with redactions in April 2019. Some of those redactions have since been lifted.

Mueller's team was unable to find criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, but the report described 10 instances of possible obstruction of justice that Democrats seized on as a road map to impeachment.

However, the investigation led to several convictions and guilty pleas from Trump's associates over charges unrelated to collusion with Russia.

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Mueller, a decorated Marine Corps veteran who served during the Vietnam War, is known for being a man of few words. In September 2020, Mueller defended the Russia investigation against criticism from former special counsel prosecutor Andrew Weissmann and others, arguing he ran the effort “without any interest in currying favor or fear of the consequences."

In early October 2019, it was announced that Mueller had returned to work at the private law firm WilmerHale.

Mueller appeared as a guest on season four of the Oath, a podcast hosted by Chuck Rosenberg, a former acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration and onetime counsel to Mueller at the FBI. In the February episode, he offered insight into why he accepted the role as special counsel.

"I found that I've gotten tremendous enjoyment out of public service," Mueller said. "And I find it hard to turn down a challenging assignment."

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Tags: News, Robert Mueller, Adam Schiff, Congress

Original Author: Daniel Chaitin

Original Location: Schiff 'can't answer' whether cognitive decline disqualified Mueller from leading Russia investigation