WASHINGTON — The picture that spoke far more words than former special counsel Robert Mueller uttered during last week's hearings was taken by renowned photographer David Hume Kennerly.
The close-up of Mueller's face was a portrait of rare depth, the sort one is more likely to find on a Leonardo da Vinci canvas with all its shadows, hollows and his soulful, nearly weeping eyes. I found myself thinking of paintings of the Agony in the Garden, showing Jesus' upturned face as he prayed. No doubt, Mueller, too, was praying that this all would soon be over.
On Instagram, Kennerly captioned his photo: "Weary warrior."
The tag was fitting and perfect. Mueller, a Vietnam War hero and recipient of a Bronze Star, has fought nobly throughout a life of distinguished public service. Whether defending his country on the battlefield or as director of the FBI, he has by all accounts been a man of honor, dignity and careful judgment.
After two years of draining the swamp of several of its slimiest occupants — all associates of the president of the United States — Mueller had to present himself one final time for the benefit of politicians bent on showboating at his expense. Democrats wanted to get him on record saying that he did not exonerate President Trump of possible obstruction of justice, which everyone who cared already knew. This they did by reading excerpts of Mueller's 400-plus-page report and asking him to confirm that they were correct.
Mueller kept the bulk of his responses to "yes," "no," "true" and "correct." The rest largely consisted of "I refer you to the report," "It's outside my purview" and, best of all, "I take your question," which apparently is a polite way of saying, "I rue the day you were born."
Both party's members had their agenda. Republicans wanted to get themselves on record as Trump sycophants, apparently, while also proving that they could be just as nasty as Democrats were to Brett Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court nomination hearings last year. You may now check your boxes and get back to phoning your donors.
It was painful to watch as Republicans yelled at Mueller, pounding the table and throwing their best tantrums, even as Mueller was clearly not at his best. Whether he was merely tired — or just sick and tired — or perhaps even giving in a bit to age, he surely deserved more of their respect.
Most egregiously obnoxious was Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee. After saying that he is often accused of speaking too fast and promising to slow it down, Collins then proceeded to imitate an auctioneer, shoving as many words into a split second as is humanly possible. This was plainly deliberate and seemed intended to confuse Mueller or make him seem not fully cognizant. More than once, Mueller was forced to ask him to repeat the question. It was one of the most arrogant, self-important performances I've witnessed in decades of political reporting. Can we send Collins back to where he came from, please?
Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, shouted so much I was afraid he might choke on his tongue. And Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, got worked up over Volume II of the report, which he said broke regulations, and yelled that Trump wasn't above the law but somehow shouldn't be below it either.
One notices that you don't truly know people until they have power. For a few hours last Wednesday, members of the Judiciary and Intelligence committees had power over Mueller, and several revealed themselves to be unworthy of the audience. Mueller isn't a perfect man, but he is a gentleman. He exercised his own power during the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election by never speaking a word publicly.
In starkest contrast to Trump, who bellowed his non-exoneration, Mueller isn't an attention-seeker. This man of few words surely had aplenty to say in the privacy of his own space with an audience of his own choosing. Or, perhaps, he had nothing more to say, having completed the job he was asked to do with his usual tenacity and humility.
This is what I saw in his face as I watched the proceedings — a humble man who has seen enough of life and kept his own counsel through most of it. A weary warrior, indeed. For his forbearance throughout his investigation — and his patience through last week's insufferable hearings — he deserves a Medal of Honor.