They’re both silver-haired septuagenarians, Vietnam veterans, Ivy League–educated public servants for Republican and Democratic presidents alike, with reputations for unswerving rectitude. But Robert Mueller and William Taylor could not have made for more different congressional witnesses. On July 24, in the glare of television lights, Mueller, the former special counsel, came across like a statistician, a dry reciter of data. But Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who testified this morning, was a storyteller, the natural-born narrator of a compelling tale. Both witnesses talked about President Donald Trump, but only today’s was made for TV.
As a concept, the Capitol Hill hearing may no longer be quite the same riveting spectacle it was in the days of Watergate, Iran-Contra, Clarence Thomas’s contested Supreme Court confirmation, or Bill Clinton’s impeachment—if only because today’s media environment is so fragmented and fractured. But it is still a time-honored ritual—“true history unfolding” as Wolf Blitzer put it on CNN today—and to one degree or another, America stopped to watch.
Purely as a show, it was pretty strong stuff.
In his half day of testimony before the House Intelligence Committee over the summer, Mueller refused to so much as read aloud from his own voluminous report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. By contrast, appearing before the same body today, Taylor repeatedly recited his terse, incredulous text-message exchanges with diplomatic colleagues about Trump’s attempts to condition American military aid to Ukraine on that country’s promise to investigate the family of one of the president’s political rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden.