“It’s Mueller time, so crack open a can of that sweet, sweet congressional procedure juice and chug it down your face hole until you’re drunk on democratic norms, you party animals,” TBS late-night host Samantha Bee said in a teaser ahead of her Wednesday show. “Oh, it’s going to be a total rager — of carefully worded legal questioning.”
But while the highly anticipated event was, as Bee predicted, roughly six hours of “carefully worded legal questioning” interspersed with Mueller’s brief, often vague answers, it was far from the climactic moment many hoped it would be. The Washington Post’s reporters who covered the hearings described Mueller as a “reluctant and at times uncomfortable witness” who gave a “halting, faltering performance” that “seemed unlikely to change the political dynamic.”
“He gave his testimony with all the enthusiasm and passion of a recently fired basset hound,” Bee quipped Wednesday night, later adding, “Mueller’s testimony was like watching depressed paint dry.”
Bee wasn’t the only late-night host to take notice of Mueller’s largely lackluster performance as Jimmy Kimmel, Stephen Colbert and Trevor Noah all found his testimony deeply anti-climactic.
“Anyone hoping for the ‘Mueller of Dragons’ was disappointed,” Kimmel said on ABC. “He was pretty low-key.”
When Mueller wasn’t deflecting questions or limiting his answers to a single word, the 74-year-old “spoke softly, stumbling over his words, occasionally trailing off, as if he’d lost his train of thought,” The Post’s Marc Fisher reported. Mueller was grilled by members of the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees in back-to-back hearings that began at 8:30 a.m.
“The only way Mueller could have looked less interested in testifying this morning is if he spent the testimony wearing glasses with open eyes painted on them,” Bee said. If Mueller wasn’t completely focused on the hearings, the host wondered, then what was he thinking about?
The show cut to edited footage from Wednesday of Mueller in front lawmakers looking distracted.
“Ugh, I hate this so much,” a man says in a voice-over. “I could be watching ‘JAG’ reruns right now. Did I leave the garage door open? I am beautiful no matter what they say; words can’t bring me down.”
For Colbert, at times it looked like Congress was “talking to its grandpa.”
“I’m afraid you’ll have to speak up, these old ears aren’t what they used to be and neither is our system of checks and balances,” the host joked after playing several clips of Mueller asking for politicians to repeat their questions. “Now, go fetch me some peanut brittle and there’s a shiny buffalo nickel in it for ya, ya whippersnapper.”
The CBS host also tore into how Mueller answered questions, highlighting the moment he was asked by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) to explain what the report meant when it said President Trump was not exonerated “in plain terms . . . so the American people can understand.” Stammering, Mueller responded, “The president was not exculpated for the acts that he allegedly committed.”
“Exculpated?” Colbert said incredulously. “Did you not hear the guy say, ‘So the American people could understand it?’ Did your granddaughter give you a word-of-the-day calendar? Come on.”
Colbert continued: “Just use America talk, by which I mean emojis: Orange, handcuffs. We need simple slogans. You know, Nike: Just Do It. Wheaties: Breakfast of Champions. Trump: The Worst a Man Can Get.”
Noah, however, argued on Comedy Central that people should have foreseen Wednesday’s events, especially the Democrats who hoped Mueller would give them “juicy sound bites beyond a simple yes or no.” In May, Mueller made it clear that if he were called on to testify he “would not go beyond our report” because “the report is my testimony.” On numerous occasions during the hearings, Mueller referred politicians to the report and declined to read aloud from the document.
“He’s like the world’s least cooperative audio book,” Noah cracked. “Chapter One: You know what? You know how to read. Go get the book. Read it yourself.”
Noah later praised Mueller for refusing “to play partisan games” and expressed sympathy for the former special counsel.
“The guy spent two years writing up an incredibly thorough document and now people are badgering him with questions he’s already answered,” the host said. “It would be like if Jesus came back and then we spent hours asking him to explain stuff that was in the Bible.”
Meanwhile, Colbert said Mueller’s reluctance to respond to some queries wasn’t a surprise because he had prefaced his testimony by saying, “I will not be able to answer questions about certain areas that I know are of public interest.”
“And since I cannot talk about anything the public is interested in, I also will not be addressing the behavior of Luke P. on ‘The Bachelorette,' the new collaboration between Jay-Z and Meek Mill, and I defer any questions about Jane as Thor to Nick Fury and my colleagues at S.H.I.E.L.D.,” Colbert said, impersonating Mueller.
On TBS, Bee took her criticism of the hearings a step further.
“You have everything you need to decide the question ‘Should Donald Trump be impeached?’ and the answer is, yes, yes, he should,” she said. “We don’t need to force the world’s grumpiest law daddy to read between the lines of his report when you could just read the lines.”