Not Journalism: CNN’s Blitzer Plays Rhetoric Footsie with Dems Nadler, Schiff

As my colleague Bill D’Agostino outlined last month, CNN’s The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer is not so much a home for news, analysis, and substantive interviews as it is a green room for Democratic members of Congress to pontificate with little or no pushback from Blitzer.

Tuesday’s show provided another illustration of that sad reality as arguably the most senior and prestigious CNN anchor allowed House Democrats Adam Schiff (CA) then Jerry Nadler (NY) to bloviate ad nauseam and, worse yet, with softball questions to assist them.

 

 

Schiff went first around 5:11 p.m. Eastern and, after Blitzer allowed him to connect the arrest of a Chinese national with a malicious thumb drive on the grounds of Mar-a-Lago to the Trump administration doling out security clearances, the CNN host simply wondered “what’s your response” to Trump criticizing him hours earlier.

“What about his point that nothing they release will ever be enough for you and Jerry Nadler,” Blitzer added. Hard-hitting!

When it came to the President mocking Schiff, Blitzer expressed concern (click “expand”):

BLITZER: When he calls you these names, what do you think? 

SCHIFF: You know, I guess when he first started calling me names, and I've had about eight nicknames now, it was surreal that the President of the United States would be so childish. I've had to get used to it. The country has had to get used to it. When you add up the amount of time he spends on this stuff, that he should be running the country, it's — it comes as a great cost, personally. I think he's losing a step here. The cardinal rule of nicknames is you pick one and you stick to it. 

BLITZER: Well, you've had several from the President. 

Schiff repeatedly demanded that the House be given the responsibility of having the full, unredacted Mueller report and Blitzer never took the opportunity to press him on how he and his allies have a reputation of leaking like broken levees.

And in both the Nadler and Schiff interviews, Blitzer never pointed out this point raised in a thread by The Wall Street Journal’s Kimberly Strassel concerning their insistence that even grand jury transcripts should be handed over to Congress. So much for Facts First at CNN!

The attention-seeking Hollywood-area Congressman wasn’t pressed on his conspiracy theory that there was still Trump-Russia collusion. Instead, Blitzer asked one question and then moved on. Here’s the lone exchange (click “expand”):

BLITZER: As you know, the Attorney General, Bill Barr, in his four-page summary of the 400-page Mueller report, he quotes this, the special counsel: “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” Do you have reason to believe that the full report, once we seem it, assuming we're going to see the whole thing, will contradict that conclusion? 

SCHIFF: I don't think it will contradict the conclusion that Mueller reached, presuming that's what he reached, that he could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt all of the elements of criminal conspiracy with the government of Russia., but whether it will itemize all of the interactions between the Trump campaign and Russian officials and Russian nationals, their willingness to accept the help of the Russian government, as reflected in Don Jr.'s e-mails, all of the clandestine meetings, all the lies about that, yes, I would imagine that will all be discussed and that may be part of why the President doesn't want the public to see it, but it's all the more reason why this needs to be transparent. 

A few minutes later, the most pathetic and slobbering question was this one about the House’s near-endless investigations into the President: “You've said you would specifically also like to investigate the President's financial ties with Russia. How's that going?” 

Seriously? What a disgrace.

On the Republican calls for him to be removed from his post, Blitzer fretted about whether he “continue to lead this committee, which historically has been very bipartisan, non-partisan, very cooperative, if almost half of the members are now openly rebelling.”

The final question was adversarial, but more inviting and open-ended that allowed Schiff to babble for over 170 words instead of challenging him from the right: “Do you worry at all that the Democrats with all of these investigations may be overreaching?”

To close out the interview, Blitzer flashed his partisan credentials, gushing to Schiff: “Clearly, elections have consequences as we've seen in the House of Representatives.”

Nadler was given his own 11-minute-plus interview after Schiff received 15-and-a-half minutes and, seeing as how he’s not as frequent flier, the CNN host’s questioning was a tad more adversarial, including three lead-off questions about whether Nadler is employing a double standard on his views concerning the Starr investigation versus the Mueller one.

In the case of Nadler, Blitzer allowed the Manhattan Congressman to suggest a conspiracy was afoot with Bill Barr becoming Attorney General to save the President from being guilty as part of the probe and that he’s a “political appointee,” so “he deserves...no benefit of the doubt.” Wonder what he thought about Barack Obama and Eric Holder.

Here are two other exchanges where Nadler’s partisanship wasn’t challenged by Blitzer in the name of balance (click “expand”):

BLITZER:  The Attorney General also says that Robert Mueller is helping him and the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein with the redaction process. Does that give you more confidence in this report? 

NADLER: No, because the Attorney General is in charge of it and Mueller can be giving advice and maybe that advice is taken some of the times and maybe it's not. But remember, Mueller ran a 22-month investigation in which he found considerable wrongdoing. The Barr letter itself says there were — there was a wrongdoing that was not mentioned in his letter, that it was not public and we have a right — we have a duty to know what that was. We have a duty to know what kind of obstruction of justice there was, what kind of non — what kind of collusion with the Russians that didn’t rise to a criminal conspiracy there was. So that we can protect the republic from it in the future. 

(....)

BLITZER: So tell us some of the biggest questions the attorney general right now needs to answer. 

NADLER: Well, the one question the Attorney General needs to answer and only one is, will he give to the Congress, to the committee, the entire Mueller report and all the supporting documentation? We have to make judgments, Congress has to make judgments, not the Attorney General. For example, the Mueller report, we are told, reached no conclusion as to the prosecutability, as to whether anyone should be indicted for obstruction of justice. Mueller decided no one — I'm sorry, Barr decided no one should be. That is not his job. It's up to Congress to hold the executive accountable, not the Attorney General. 

Now, THIS is CNN.

To see the relevant transcript from CNN’s The Situation Room on April 2, click “expand.”

CNN’s The Situation Room
April 2, 2019
5:11 p.m. Eastern

WOLF BLITZER: Joining us now, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff of California. Congressman, thanks very much for joining us. 

CONGRESSMAN ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): You bet.

BLITZER: And this criminal complaint in the U.S. District Court specifically says a preliminary forensic investigation of the thumb drive that she had determined to contain malicious malware. You've had a chance to read this what do you think? 

SCHIFF: Well, you know, there's one issue about her being able to be on the premises, and get through at least some rounds of security before she was stopped, but the other, you know, really perplexing question is what kind of malware is being referred to this in complaint. Is this malware that she was even aware she had on the thumb drive. Was it intended to be planted in some fashion? We don't know the answer to those questions. We do have profound concerns about the security protocols that are being followed or not followed by the President and his family. We see those security concerns manifest in the granting of security clearances to people that may not be entitled to them, but here, if there was an effort to somehow plant this malware, that would be the most serious thing from this complaint we just can't tell whether that's what's going on here. 

BLITZER: The good news is if she was making such an effort, she was stopped by authorities in the process and apparently, none of that planting took place. 

SCHIFF: We should hope so, yes. 

BLITZER: Let's hope that's the case. Let's talk a little bit about your being in the news, as you know, the President is going after you personally. I'll play the clip, this is the President in the Oval Office earlier today. He was sitting next to the NATO secretary general. 

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:: Nothing you give them, whether it's Shifty Schiff or Jerry Nadler [SCREEN WIPE] I will tell you, anything we give them will never be enough. 

BLITZER: Alright, what's your response to the President? 

SCHIFF: Well, the President seems to be changing his tune. Originally, it was, you know, let everybody see the report, I have nothing to worry about in the report, the report must exonerate me. He seems to now be concerned about what's in that report and not want the public to see all of it. But, look, we voted 420-0. There's little, as you can tell, that we agree upon in Congress about the Russia investigation, but we do agree on this. After two years of investigation by Bob Mueller and his team, the public has a right to see what he came up with. The President shouldn't try to hide it. Bill Barr shouldn't try to hide it. That needs to come out and we're going to have to use whatever compulsion is necessary to make sure that happens. 

BLITZER: What about his point that nothing they release will ever be enough for you and Jerry Nadler? 

SCHIFF: Well, look, every request we have made thus far, ever request, out of any of the oversight committees have been refused with a blanket refusal. They have given us no meaningful response to any inquiry, no matter how legitimate. Their strategy is basically to stonewall, as long as they can. This is a continuation of that. We saw with his treatment of Bob Mueller, what we are now seeing with his treatment of Congress, which is just attack people, he was attacking Bob Mueller, now he's attacking Chairman Nadler, myself, and others, try to stonewall, prevent an interview with the special counsel. He's trying to prevent providing Congress with information, as well. 

BLITZER: When he calls you these names, what do you think? 

SCHIFF: You know, I guess when he first started calling me names, and I've had about eight nicknames now, it was surreal that the President of the United States would be so childish. I've had to get used to it. The country has had to get used to it. When you add up the amount of time he spends on this stuff, that he should be running the country, it's — it comes as a great cost, personally. I think he's losing a step here. The cardinal rule of nicknames is you pick one and you stick to it. 

BLITZER: Well, you've had several from the President. 

SCHIFF: Several.

BLITZER: You're one of six House Committee Chairman who have just signed on to a letter demanding the full unredacted Mueller report be released by the Attorney General as soon as possible. But I want you to listen to what the former FBI Director James Comey told our Christiane Amanpour earlier today. Listen to this. 

JAMES COMEY: Bill Barr, our Attorney General, deserves the benefit of the doubt. You give him a chance to show us what he feels like he can't show us. I have to imagine that former Director Mueller wrote the report with an eye towards it being public some day. So I can't imagine a lot needs to be cut out of it. But let's wait and see. The Attorney General deserves that chance. 

BLITZER: Do you agree that the Attorney General deserves a chance? Let him release what he wants to release? Then you can make some decisions? 

SCHIFF: You know, Wolf, I'll tell you why I don't give this Attorney General the benefit of the doubt. If he came to the job clean, without any history in this investigation, I would say, yes, give him the benefit of the doubt. But he didn't. He wrote a 19-page legal memo which was basically a job application, saying, if you pick me for your AG, I will have your back on the obstruction of justice case and that's exactly what he's done. During his Senate confirmation, he would not commit even to following the advice of ethics lawyers. You cannot blind yourself to that conflict of interest. So, no, I'm not prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, I'm prepared to hold him to his commitment during the confirmation that he would be as transparent as law and policy allowed. He's not doing that. If he were doing that, he wouldn't be saying, I'm going to redact all the grand jury material. He would be saying, consistent with my promise, I'm going to go to the court and ask for court permission to release this material. That's what he would be doing, but he's not and I think it raises profound questions about what's in that grand jury material and why is there an effort to withhold it from Congress? 

BLITZER: But does it really make much difference if you wait two weeks and see what he does? 

SCHIFF: Uh, look, I think their intention is to play rope-a-dope, to drag this out, along with every other request, but the fact of the matter is, we can tell already, from the fact that he has given us his own summary, rather than a summary that may have been prepared by Bob Mueller, we can see where he's coming from. The fact that he is not seeking court permission to release the grand jury material tells us what we need to know. He is not trying to be as transparent and I think, quite the contrary. 

BLITZER: But if you wind up having to subpoena to get all of this information, that's going to wind up in the courts and who knows how long that process can take? 

SCHIFF: Well, it will be up to our leadership to decide when the time is right to subpoena and what that subpoena should look like. But I do think that ultimately, this is a fight we're going to need to have, because we cannot allow an Attorney General that comes into the job with a clear bias to make a decision about what the Congress or the country can see. We should see all of it. The fact that he wants to redact classified information, I would imagine, I do agree with James Comey, that Bob Mueller probably made an effort to segregate the classified information, knowing there was tremendous interest in making this public, but Congress gets classified information all the time. That is not a justification. 

BLITZER: So you would be okay if the so-called gang of eight, the top leadership of the intelligence committees and the leadership in the House and the Senate, Democrats and Republicans, if they alone got to see the most sensitive, classified information that was not made public. 

SCHIFF: I don't want the Attorney General to hide behind the gang of eight and say, we're not going to show the country what we have, but trust us, we briefed the gang of eight. There may be a small category of material that goes to sources and methods, that goes to the gang of eight. But I don't think that it's likely Bob Mueller would have put that in the main body of the report. That might be in an annex of some kind. But if those are the concerns, as Chairman Nadler has said in his letter to the Attorney General, talk to us about it. Work with us on it. But the Attorney General's not doing that. And that has us profoundly concerned. 

BLITZER: Because one of the other categories that the Attorney General wants to redact, to black out from the final Mueller report is information that could undermine ongoing criminal investigations being conducted now by other U.S. Attorneys, whether in New York or Washington, D.C. or Virginia or elsewhere. 

SCHIFF: Again, the Justice Department showed a ready willingness to provide that kind of information, even as to the Mueller investigation itself, while it was ongoing, to a Republican Congress in answer to subpoena, so they've been willing to do that. In fact, the last category that Barr mentions that he wants to redact is information that reflects on people who are not indicted. Well, they gave us 880,000 pages of material in the last Congress, to a GOP Congress, that was predominantly in the Clinton e-mail investigation in which no one was indicted. So they seem to be adopting a double standard here. We will provide all of this to a GOP Congress vis-a-vis a democratic candidate for President, but when it comes to a Republican President that had the sense to appoint me, that is Bill Barr, we have a different standard entirely. 

BLITZER: As you know, the Attorney General, Bill Barr, in his four-page summary of the 400-page Mueller report, he quotes this, the special counsel: “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” Do you have reason to believe that the full report, once we seem it, assuming we're going to see the whole thing, will contradict that conclusion? 

SCHIFF: I don't think it will contradict the conclusion that Mueller reached, presuming that's what he reached, that he could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt all of the elements of criminal conspiracy with the government of Russia., but whether it will itemize all of the interactions between the Trump campaign and Russian officials and Russian nationals, their willingness to accept the help of the Russian government, as reflected in Don Jr.'s e-mails, all of the clandestine meetings, all the lies about that, yes, I would imagine that will all be discussed and that may be part of why the President doesn't want the public to see it, but it's all the more reason why this needs to be transparent. 

BLITZER: Will your committee, the Intelligence Committee, subpoena Robert Mueller to testify before your committee? 

SCHIFF: I think it is inevitable that Bob Mueller is going to have to testify and I would presume that he may testify before multiple committees. The Judiciary Committee will be predominately interested in the criminal side. We are interested in how this investigation began and it may even be ongoing, we don't know, and that is, this began as a counterintelligence investigation over concerns that the President or people around him may be compromised, wittingly or unwittingly. We don't even know if that’s even going to be a part of the Mueller report. By law, the FBI are required to brief us on any counterintelligence activity. We will hold him to the law and whether that's Bob Mueller himself or others within the intelligence community or the FBI, I don't want to say at this point, that will be a leadership decision, but I think it's inevitable that he's going to need to testify before Congress. 

BLITZER: And when you say, by law, they have to brief you, you mean the gang of eight? 

SCHIFF: They have to brief Congress on any significant intelligence or counterintelligence activity. It’s usually done through the Intelligence Committee. Sometimes, very select material is given to the gang of eight. But we'll want to make sure those materials, that information, that report if it exists, but if it doesn't exist, those findings are briefed to the Congress. 

BLITZER: You've said you would specifically also like to investigate the President's financial ties with Russia. How's that going? 

SCHIFF: Well, it's very important that we understand and again the counterintelligence portion of this investigation may go to this or it may not, whether there is any financial inducement that is driving the President's Russia — pro-Russia policy. And probably the seminal example of that is Moscow Trump Tower. This real estate deal he was trying to consummate during the campaign, concealing from the public, something that might have been the most lucrative deal of his life. And they were seeking the Kremlin's help to make it happen. That is such an egregious conflict of interest that if that's driving policy, it's a problem. We do not know to this day whether the President still intends to pursue this. He may very well have the same attitude he had before, which is, hey, I might not get re-elected. Why should I opportunities. If that's the case, the congress will need to take additional steps to protect the country. 

BLITZER: As you know, the Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee, your committee, they've rebelled now, openly, publicly, against your chairmanship. They've sent a letter to you last week. “We have no faith in your ability to discharge your duties in a manner consistent with your constitutional responsibility.” So how do you continue to lead this committee, which historically has been very bipartisan, non-partisan, very cooperative, if almost half of the members are now openly rebelling against you? 

SCHIFF: Well, this goes back a couple of years, really, to the decision by Chairman Nunes to make his membership mission to be defend the President at all costs, act as the legal defense team for the President. That has continued, regrettably, into this session. The President says “jump,” and Mr. McCarthy says, “How high?” And unfortunately, all too often, the members of our committee on the GOP side have fallen in line behind whatever the President wants done. It's deeply regrettable. I can tell you, Wolf, on the positive side of things, the non-Russia work continues to go on in a non-partisan way. The meetings that we have in closed session are not like what you saw in open session, where I think the Republicans want it to be theatrical with this device, but it is — it is deeply regrettable that they chose this tactic and it can't help but have an impact on the committee. 

BLITZER: When Devin Nunes was chairman, he's now the ranking member of the Intelligence Committee, you criticized him for demanding information related to ongoing investigations, as well as classified materials. Now you're making very much the same demands. How do you explain that? 

SCHIFF: Well, because, as I told the Justice Department during the last two years, as they were providing these materials to Mr. Nunes and to the Republicans who, as I said, viewed their mission as defending the president, I said, look. You're setting a precedent here, which I don't agree with, but you need to know you'll have to live with this precedent. You're not going to be able to tell a Democratic Congress should the majority change hands that we only provide this to Republican congresses, but that is what happened here. I think they set a poor precedent. They reinforced that precedent with 880,000 documents, but now they do need to live with it. To do otherwise, I think, will only cause the public to have further skepticism about their impartiality. 

BLITZER: Do you worry at all that the Democrats with all of these investigations may be overreaching?

SCHIFF: We're not overreaching at all. We need to do our oversight. It's our constitutional obligation. You can't have a situation where the President, for example, is countermanding the professionals and granting security clearances to people who shouldn't them. You can't have a situation where the President of the united States is saying to Vladimir Putin, I believe you over my own intelligence agencies and look the other way. You can't hear allegations that the President is seizing notes from an interpreter about private conversations with Putin that affect our security and say, we're just going to ignore that. We need to make sure that the President of the United States is acting in our national interests, and not because of some hidden financial or other motivation. To do otherwise would be just plain negligent, but clearly, we’re going to have to fight to do our oversight, because this administration had two years of no oversight and they're determined to stonewall us, just as indeed, I think, they stonewalled Bob Mueller in allowing the President sit down for an interview. 

BLITZER: Clearly, elections have consequences —

SCHIFF: Indeed, Wolf.

BLITZER: — as we've seen in the House of Representatives. Congressman Adam Schiff, Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for coming in. 

SCHIFF: Thanks, Wolf. 

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