House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said Wednesday that former special counsel Robert Mueller, who was tasked with investigating claims of “collusion” between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia, is currently experiencing a “heartbreaking” cognitive decline.
Mueller, 76, was appointed in May 2017 after then-President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey over issues related to the bureau’s investigation into 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified emails during her time as former President Barack Obama’s secretary of state.
In a new book, Schiff said that while he pressed Mueller to give testimony before the committee in July 2019, in reality, it was “heartbreaking” to see him struggling to answer basic questions about his post-investigation report.
“Had I known how much he had changed, I would not have pursued his testimony with such vigor — in fact, I would not have pursued it at all,” the chairman wrote in an upcoming book, “Midnight in Washington,” CNN reported.
Schiff, who pushed the Russian collusion narrative for years, even after Mueller’s probe turned up no evidence of it, also admits that he told fellow Democrats on the Intelligence Committee to simplify their questioning of Mueller due to his mental decline.
“No questions calling for a narrative answer,” Schiff says he told Democratic members, according to his book. “No multipart questions. If you think your question may be too long, it is. Cut it down.”
At the time, several onlookers speculated that Mueller was having cognitive issues during his testimony.
“This is delicate to say, but Mueller, whom I deeply respect, has not publicly testified before Congress in at least six years. And he does not appear as sharp as he was then,” former Obama White House strategist David Axelrod wrote on Twitter roughly 45 minutes after Mueller’s nationally televised testimony began.
“Bob Mueller is struggling,” Glenn Kirschner, a former federal prosecutor who worked for Mueller in the Washington, D.C. office of the U.S. attorney, added. “It strikes me as a health issue. We need only look at footage of his earlier congressional appearances to see the dramatic difference in his demeanor and communicative abilities.”
Others simply speculated that Mueller was trying to be short and precise with his answers and not stray far from his lengthy report.
“He was clearly a reluctant and tentative witness, and wanted to say as little as he could beyond the report,” observed Julian Epstein, a former Democratic counsel for the House Judiciary Committee. “I think this big event will leave us with a political Rorschach test. Both sides will take away from it what they want to and we will be left tomorrow exactly in the same place we were today.”
Rumors in D.C. began to swirl about Mueller’s cognitive health after he was approached by an NBC reporter and gave stilted responses in the weeks before his appearance before Congress.
“About five weeks later, Mueller tripped on his words a few times as he delivered his first public statement since taking the appointment in May 2017,” Politico reported.