Louie Gohmert's exchange with Robert Mueller revealed an uneasy relationship

The stage was set.

Sitting behind the mic, fingertips touching tentlike above the table, forearms on the table, special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerBarr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting MORE waited, along with millions of Americans who tuned in to their TVs to hear him speak before Congress about collusion, obstruction of justice and lies.

Finally, the question and answer we’d all been waiting for.


“Mr. Mueller,” asked Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), “who wrote the nine-minute comments you read at your May 29 press conference?” 

Mueller: “I’m not going to get into that.”

“That’s what I thought,” Gohmert replied. “You didn’t write it.” And then he launched into a written-out statement that eventually turned into a question, skillfully done. Skillful enough, anyway, for Mueller to say, “Mr. Gohmert, who wrote your question? … Thought so.”

Of course, calling someone out would have been out of character for Mueller, a straight-laced former Marine. It’s more likely he’d answer Gohmert’s hypocrisy by saying that Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) guidance and the evidence suggest that he did not not write his own speech. 

OK, maybe it wasn’t the moment that had politicos and pundits holding their breath. But to the small group of writers who do this for a living, that exchange moments before Gohmert asked about Mueller’s relationship with former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyCarter Page sues over surveillance related to Russia probe Top Republicans praise Trump's Flynn pardon The new marshmallow media in the Biden era MORE goes to the heart of what our book calls the “uneasy partnership” between speakers and writers.


We understand why acknowledging writers makes speakers uneasy. They think that voters would distrust someone reading material prepared by others.

They’re not entirely wrong. Those arguing that speechwriters impart eloquence that speakers don’t necessarily possess have a point. But isn’t that equally true of the legislative aides and lawyers who prepare hearing questions, devise the language of a bill or even advise on substance?

Politics is a team sport. Would anyone prefer that Gohmert spend two days preparing questions instead of having a staffer do it?

Whether for Mueller or Gohmert, speechwriters don’t minimize the achievement of their bosses. They enhance it. They allow both to do something pretty important. Something summed up by an anecdote we remember about Jon Favreau, now of "Pod Save America" fame. When he got the job as chief speechwriter for Barack Obama, he gulped and said to Obama’s communications director something like, “Why? He’s a great writer.” 

“That’s right,” came the answer, “but since he has to run the country, you get to write the speeches.”


Yes, in an election cycle, politicians need time to raise money for their campaigns — and to actually campaign. They also need time to think, to legislate and, on occasion, to govern. It’s not as if Mueller and Gohmert had nothing else to do. With important debates about immigration, health care, and war and peace, would you have wanted the members of the House Judiciary and Intelligences committees chained to their computers for an entire week just thinking up “gotcha” questions? 

Writers give politicians time. Writers also give their talent. People often ask us for tips on how to capture a speaker’s voice. We tell them that’s only half the job. A speechwriter should work to capture the voice and make it better. Few people would tell a roofer or a heart surgeon, “Hey, I could do this as well as you. I just don't have time.” There’s no shame in hiring people with skills we don’t have. Politicians shouldn't hide their reliance on experts.

Nobody writes for a House member because they’re getting rich. They do, though, have expertise, valuable skills. They accept anonymity and work 60-, 70-, 80-hour weeks for the privilege of playing a role they usually believe is in the public interest. We don’t agree politically with Louie GohmertLouis (Louie) Buller GohmertCapitol physician advises lawmakers against attending dinners, receptions during COVID-19 spike Capitol's COVID-19 spike could be bad Thanksgiving preview GOP Rep. Dan Newhouse tests positive for COVID-19 MORE, but whoever wrote those questions for him believes he is doing something admirable, and he should.

We’d like to see a future where Mueller could comfortably answer, “I had some help. Did you like it?”

“Hated it,” Gohmert might shoot back. “But you got a talented writer. Now I’ll read some questions my writer helped develop. They’re pretty good.”

Both Mueller and Gohmert would be, well, totally exonerated. The republic would be in safe hands or at least a writer’s. 

Former White House speechwriters Bob Lehrman and Eric Schnure teach speech writing at American University and are co-authors of the soon-to-be-released second edition of “The Political Speechwriter’s Companion” (SAGE, 2019).