While former special counsel Robert S. Mueller's "performance" yesterday before two House committees was not good television, America would be wise to pay attention to much of what he had to say.
Yes, his speech was halting, and he seemed at times unsure of his facts. In fact, it appeared to many that this septuagenarian who took a bullet in his thigh in Vietnam, who led the FBI through the dark days of 9-11, and whose integrity has always been above reproach, may have lost his mojo.
But they were not listening to his words. Instead, they were paying attention to the "optics," to use one of Washington's favorite words these days. They were lulled by his hesitancy, his one word answers and his constant dodges, "That was beyond the scope of our investigation," or "That was beyond our purview," or "I can't get into that."
However, if you listened, you heard Mueller assert that Russia attacked America in the 2016 presidential election through a cyber-campaign aimed at sending Donald Trump to the White House. He confirmed that Trump welcomed that assistance and said he feared that such action by candidates in the future might "become the norm."
In fact, Mueller warned that Russia, as well as other countries, are preparing to interfere in the 2020 presidential election.
"Over the course of my career, I have seen a number of challenges to our democracy," he said. "The Russian government's effort to interfere in our election is among the most serious." He continued, "They're doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it during the next campaign."
If you listened, you also heard Mueller clearly state that his two-year investigation was not, as Trump has described it, an "illegal and treasonous attack on our country," and that Trump's claim that his report exonerated him from wrongdoing was incorrect.
"That is not what the report said," Mueller said flatly.
And, contrary to Trump's constant assertion, the investigation was "not a hoax" and "not a witch hunt," Mueller stated.
"The president was not exculpated for the acts that he allegedly committed," Mueller declared.
Moreover, the silver-haired, seemingly frail former special counsel said efforts by Trump to obstruct his investigation strike "at the core of the government's effort to find the truth and to hold wrongdoers accountable."
Mueller also was critical of Trump's comments in support of WikiLeaks, which leaked private emails from the Democratic National Committee prior to the 2016 election. "I love WikiLeaks," Trump said, adding that its action provide a "treasure trove."
Asked about those comments, Muller said, "problematic is an understatement in terms of what it displays, in terms of giving some hope, or some boost, to what is and should be illegal activity."
That is very close to saying his comments gave aid and comfort to the enemy, since the government alleges those emails were stolen by Russian agents and given to WikiLeaks.
While Mueller was scrupulously careful not to expand his comments beyond the contents of his massive report, he said its findings should provide "a signal, a flag to those of us who have responsibility to exercise that responsibility, not to let this kind of thing happen again."
And, he said it was Department of Justice policy that the president could be prosecuted for obstruction of justice after he leaves office.
So, no, Mueller's performance was visually weak. He stumbled some as age seemed to have caught up with him. But his words should not be ignored.
While Democrats may not have received the boost towards impeachment that some hoped for, and while Trump said Mueller's testimony "was a disaster," it remains to be seen to whom that word will apply when the votes are counted in November 2020.