There are apt descriptions of an open Congressional hearing of America’s biggest political scandal.
Hardly was this event given adequate or even any attention at all by local media in the Philippines. Hence, I thought it worth the while to share my observations and impressions. Indeed such rare happenings do possess teachable moments and edifying opportunities for a body politic in dire need of maturity and for their elected representatives in need of improved performance standards. That means us!
What that political exercise impressed upon the world, as I saw it, was politics in America strives at integrity, responsibility and accountability. Those are indispensable in effective and beneficent democratic governance. Those were the avowed objectives of the hearings.
Did any of our Filipino legislators take the opportunity to view the
televised coverage? And perhaps, consciously attempted to improve themselves? I am certain that cyberspace archives (Google and YouTube) would already have replays available for those who might find the need to expand their horizons.
The day’s agenda had twin topics namely:
1) Russian intervention, intrusion and influence in the 2016 US elections that produced a Donald Trump presidency; and,
2) the alleged acts of obstruction by the President himself personally preventing affirmation of charges that would, with certainty, have been inimical to his legitimacy.
And, of course, on center stage is the one man whose personal testimony and affirmations the Congressional Committees sought to hear and then, share with the electorate. He was the duly designated inspector of presidential demeanor.
Robert Mueller, Special Counsel for the Department of Justice. A Princeton and NYU graduate, a decorated Marine Corps Vietnam War veteran, Director of the FBI, a lifelong Republican, an outstanding public servant with an impeccable reputation as a ‘rule of law’ individual. He was the man of this historic moment.
Under public scrutiny by Congress is the 448-page Mueller Report. Adding to the controversy and whetting citizen curiosity and concern was the intentional and deflectionary misinformation by Trump’s Attorney General, attended by accusations of and an initial effort at withholding its contents from the public, eventually releasing the report but still with blacked out redactions. Priming an audience, as it were.
The ‘book,’ the Mueller Report, thus became available but very few read it. Now, the ‘movie’ version!
This singular event happened last Wednesday, July 24. The Judiciary Committee in the morning followed by the Intelligence Committee after the noon hour. I sat through the real time, some seven hours of live-streamed television coverage plus hours more of ensuing commentaries. One of the benefits of retirement is the ability to devote unhampered time witnessing and observing an event one considers relevant to one’s interests.
I drooled with pained envy witnessing American history unfold. I was aware that the spectacle of a vibrant democratic exercise, displayed by that congressional hearing made available for the entire world to witness, could not happen in our Philippines.
One of the hearing’s defining moments which is of great significance to me as a Filipino observer was the undisputed verity that accepting foreign assistance in an election is not only unethical and unpatriotic, to which Special Counsel Mueller emphatically added: “and a crime!”
Ensuing discussions touched upon undisputed risks, faced by any candidate-recipient of such foreign assistance, of being extorted and compromised by the very source of assistance, the foreign entity. The instance alluded to is Russian interference, intrusion and influence that the Trump campaign allegedly allowed and accepted.
Doesn’t such scenario possess a ring of familiarity for Filipinos?
There is no denying, in fact it is unavoidable, that the Congressional hearing was indeed a truly partisan exercise. Democrats versus Republicans, most markedly in temperament and demeanor, apart from principles and platforms. I observed that in asking questions, while the Democrats behaved deferentially oftentimes expressing respect for Mr. Mueller, the Republicans on the other hand, some were scowling and even scolding. Most noticeably was one Congressman from Texas. He was almost lividly shrill at the top his tirade. High-pitched utterances were coming from the Republican flank.
But on the entire ritual itself, the process of 5 minutes allocated per committee participant to ask questions and propound a point, alternating between Democrat and Republican, was observed with order and discipline. It was a well-managed public affair. It was an admirable ritual worthy as a template for Congressional decorum anywhere else in the world. More so, for the Philippines!
Another observation. I do not recall any affirmed fact in the Mueller Report being disputed by the Republicans. Instead, a prominent thread in the Republican line of engagement was an obvious attempt to impugn the credibility of the Mueller Report. There were allegations that attempted to besmirch Mr. Mueller’s reputation.
The Democrats displayed a well-prepared script with a methodically distributed and distinctly delineated areas of concerns, in each of their questions. Unquestionable teamwork!
My other take-aways:
The Russian intrusion and interference in the 2016 US elections is not a hoax. The investigation undertaken for almost two years is not a “witch hunt.” Both contrary to daily Trump tantrums.
The Mueller Report discovered a substantial body of evidence sufficient to charge a crime against a perpetrator of the offenses so described and committed. Importantly, while a sitting President cannot be so charged, per prevailing Department of Justice guiding policy, such exemption will no longer hold after the President-potential indictee’s term is over. In other words, if Donald Trump is not reelected in next year’s elections, he faces the prospect of being indicted.
Allow me to accentuate what I think worsened this political imbroglio. Trump’s Attorney General (head of the Justice Department) Mr. William Barr. In patent defense and shielding of the President, Mr. Barr intentionally mischaracterized the Mueller Report conclusions. Such mischaracterization, in turn, gave basis for President Trump’s rants, incessantly chanting “No Collusion…No Obstuction,” declaring himself innocent. Furthermore, claiming the Mueller Report exonerated him! The Congressional hearing provided the opportunity for the President to be publicly disabused of his self-aggrandizing chants.
By reason of the twin Congressional hearings, Mr. Barr’s malicious interpretation of the ‘book’, authored by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, was debunked. The Attorney General was contradicted and straightened out by the very author himself! At the ‘movie’ version, the author spoke, in persona without equivocation.
On the interference by a foreign entity, there were pieces of evidence of conspiracy between the Russians and the Trump team, but for the present (some aspects continue to be under investigation), available indicia do not hurdle the “beyond reasonable doubt” threshold.
Categorically, the author stated under oath that his report did not exonerate the President Trump of obstruction of justice. Having been so stated, will this put a stop to Trump chanting “No Collusion….No Obstruction?”
This American political crisis did not end with the hearings last Wednesday. It is a developing story. There is still plenty to await.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.
In 1986, the then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.
During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.
After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.
He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.