MOP-UP DUTY: CNN Defends ‘Bombshell’ Mueller Hearing as ‘Big Deal,’ ‘Really Bad’ for Trump 

While others in the liberal media conceded that Wednesday morning’s House Judiciary Committee hearing with former Special Counsel Robert Mueller didn’t go as swimmingly as planned, CNN largely operated in an alternate reality concocted by Marvel’s Doctor Strange.

Instead, the analysts and hosts triumphantly hailed the hearing’s contents as a “big deal,” a “bombshell,” and “really bad” for Trump that it was “almost like an opening argument in an impeachment proceeding” with Democrats asking real questions while Republicans had illegitimate ones.

 

 

Like to the delight of boss Jeffrey Zucker, Situation Room host Wolf Blitzer set the tone from moment it ended (click “expand”):

More than three and a half hours after Robert Mueller walked into that room, is he walking out. They’re going to take a break for a little while. The next session will be the house intelligence committee. We expect another two hours there. You know, it's very interesting, Jake. On three major issues, he did make some significant news. He said that the report that he prepared, 448 pages did not totally exonerate the President, as the president has claimed. He said the President could be charged after leaving office, a sitting president, according to current Justice Department guidelines, can't be charged or indicted but after leaving office could potentially be charged and also that he wasn't charged specifically this time in response to questions from Ted Lieu, Democratic congressman from California, because of the Office of Legal Counsel opinion that a sitting president can't be charged. That's going to be pretty significant, that statement that he made there. 

Chief legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin made note of how Mueller immediately began undermining the President while, as he would do throughout this break prior to the Intelligence Committee’s hearing, The Lead and State of the Union host Jake Tapper made sure other points were raised, such as how “there was no collusion, at least according to the report.”

Soon after, however, legal analyst Laura Coates steered back to assisting the impeachment cause (click “expand”):

He walked through each of the elements to proof what it took to cause an obstruction of justice to be raised against a human being. He went through each of them, Mueller followed along and said yes but for this report I would have indicted the President. I know people think it's ambiguous, but the idea here is I walked through each of the elements. The OLC opinion tied the hands of the special counsel's office. It's not a — it’s not a common occurrence to say you have all the tools in your belt but you cannot use the ones that actually involve the hammer being thrown down. That's what Mueller was up against here. He said very clearly, walking through all the elements, I did not indict because of the OLC opinion. That, along with every other element he actually raised and, of course, Lieu was talking about the intent without saying the word intent, contextual clues that show a pattern of behavior, that says somebody had the correct intent. 

Former U.S. Attorney and fellow legal analyst Preet Bharara replied to Coates that Mueller’s OLC comments were “the closest thing to something that was bombshell, both legally and politically” because “[t]he purpose of this proceeding for the Democrats is to make some case that they need to take some additional action.”

Mueller would burst their bubbles at the onset of the Intel Committee hearing by stating that, no, he did not conclude that the President would have been charged if not for the OLC opinion on sitting presidents. Whoops!

Nonetheless, CNN was very jazzed at the time. Toobin told the panel that Mueller’s exchange on the OLC opinion with cable news darling Ted Lieu (D-CA) was “a big deal” because that meant the President “would be awaiting criminal trial” if he were “any other person.” Bharara agreed, ruling that this wall was “really bad” for the Trump administration.

While some of his colleagues didn’t seem keen on hearing it, Tapper emphasized that, at times, Mueller seemed to not have his A-game (click “expand”):

TAPPER: And there were times in the hearing he was sharp as a tack. But we can't avoid the fact that there were times in the hearing he was not. There were times in the hearing when he didn't seem to either — he couldn't hear what the questioner was asking, and sometimes they spoke very quickly and they were not particularly polite to — and respectful of the fact that this was a 74-year-old who obviously was having trouble —

BLITZER: Let's ask Garrett. He has written a book about him. 

TAPPER: But what I was going to say is, often times it seems he was unfamiliar with parts of the investigation. He didn't seem familiar with the name -- with the GPS. Right? 

BASH: Or Corey Lewandowski. 

TAPPER: Or when the name — the name Lewandowski was mentioned he didn't seem familiar with that. Now, I don't know if he couldn't hear or actually he is not as well versed with this report as many of the people on this panel are right now. 

GARRETT GRAFF: Yeah and I think I also saw a slightly different Robert Mueller in the second half of the hearing than we did in the first, where you sort of almost wonder whether there was a half time, locker room talk to tell him to be a little bit more forceful, a little bit more — to take issue with some of the questions that Republicans, particularly, were lobbing at him. Because in the first hour, first hour and a half, he was very reticent to say more than a one or two-word sentence. But really when you saw that second half of the hearing, he began to sort of punch back a little more in the second half. 

JIM SCIUTTO: I was keeping track of some of standard charges against Bob Mueller. Granted, if you were looking for a made for TV kind of character, Mueller was not that, perhaps, to that, but on those issues, over time, if you kept track, he hit back the 14 angry Democrat, which we heard frequently from Republicans. He said, no, I only chose based on ability and he said in very clear terms, I never asked their party affiliation. That's not done. On the idea that he wanted FBI job, something that the President has repeated without founding, that that’s the reason he was conflicted, he said no. I was asked to give input on what that job would take. He contradicted that charge.  

Even though she later admitted Democrats sometimes appeared “very disjointed,” chief political correspondent Dana Bash proclaimed that, on obstruction being “a high crime or misdemeanor,” “the Democrats got pretty meaty answers.”

 

 

Here’s two other long pieces of where Coates and CNN Newsroom host/former Obama official Jim Sciutto carried water for both Mueller and the impeachment crowd (click “expand”):

COATES: In the nine minutes we heard from him the first time, that was his singular focus. The idea of essentially, look, this is a big problem, we’ve got a 2016 election, 2020 election coming forward. Today, he began opening statement focusing again on this very issue. I would predict — and I hate to predict but I predict Mueller would actually show his zeal about something that congress had an opportunity to legislate about. The ideas of whether impeachment is the word Voldemort to him or not. I just don’t know.  It appeared to be, but the idea of whether congress called him here to today to give them information about what he can do about an issue. This is where he should come alive, this is where the bipartisanship should be on full display, if it's not and is where I think his mind should not be challenged. 

(....)

SCIUTTO: You know what you saw them do today? One-by-one, and clearly in coordination, they practiced for this. A succession of members, piece by piece, making the case to the American people. Sounded almost like an opening argument in an impeachment proceeding. Ticking through the instances, the attempt -- getting McGahn to fire Mueller, getting sessions to unrecuse. The Lewandowski, the witness tampering, and then you saw Hakeem Jeffries, of instance, running through the three requirements for obstruction of justice, an obstructive act, that it is to be done in connection with an official proceeding, that there has to be corrupt intent and that saw it repeated throughout the Ted Lieu testimony. They were making their case there. Now, you’d to be an astute listener to these proceedings, also interested in listening, to be convinced by that and right now, the public polls show public support for impeachment proceedings going in the opposite direction.

Before the panel shifted to previewing the second hearing, Bharara (who was fired by President Trump) defended Mueller because “[p]eople have great moments and less great moments, no matter how old you are, how young you are” and that he too will seem “less sharp” later today on TV.

He also stated that Mueller only appeared off because “some folks” (read: Republicans) “were rattling things off with him in word salads” to start “another dimension of character assassination” against “a guy who is a military hero for being — and a Republican, and appointed by a Republican multiple times.”

Before going to the second hearing, Bash and White House correspondent Pamela Brown offered their wish lists (click “expand”):

BROWN: What I’m looking for is if he talks about anything regarding whether the President, then-candidate Trump or anyone on his campaign was compromised by Russia, given all the context back and forth. 

BASH: Yeah, and I also think that if you look at the kind of partisanship that we've seen, maybe, I'm going to say something optimistic and hopeful, which is take away the collusion and all the questions about how they interacted. Maybe we'll actually see Republicans asking legitimate questions about how to keep the voting and democratic systems safe from interference from Russia and other countries for the 2020 election. I know I'm probably going to be disappointed. 

To see the relevant transcript from CNN’s coverage of the Mueller hearings on July 24, click “expand.”

CNN’s Robert Mueller Hearing coverage
July 24, 2019
12:10 p.m. Eastern

WOLF BLITZER: More than three and a half hours after Robert Mueller walked into that room, is he walking out. They’re going to take a break for a little while. The next session will be the house intelligence committee. We expect another two hours there. You know, it's very interesting, Jake. On three major issues, he did make some significant news. He said that the report that he prepared, 448 pages did not totally exonerate the President, as the president has claimed. He said the President could be charged after leaving office, a sitting president, according to current Justice Department guidelines, can't be charged or indicted but after leaving office could potentially be charged and also that he wasn't charged specifically this time in response to questions from Ted Lieu, Democratic congressman from California, because of the Office of Legal Counsel opinion that a sitting president can't be charged. That's going to be pretty significant, that statement that he made there. 

(....)

12:13 p.m. Eastern

JEFFREY TOOBIN: Because if you remember how this report became public, it was put forward not by Mueller himself, but by Attorney General Barr in the context of a letter that he wrote that gave the very strong impression that this gave the President a clean bill of health and the President, since March, has been saying over and over again that there was no obstruction, there was no collusion and that there was a total exoneration. Right at the beginning of this hearing, the director Mueller said that is not true. This was not an exoneration and I think that is a very significant statement, since he's the one who ran the investigation. 

JAKE TAPPER: Although he did underline that the no collusion does seem to be generally correct. At one point, a congressman pointed out that even though the report distinguishes between conspiracy and collusion at a different part it says that conspiracy and collusion colloquially can mean the same thing and there was no collusion, at least according to the report.

TOOBIN: There was no criminal activity, specifically —

TAPPER: Prosecutable. 

TOOBIN: — prosecutable criminal activity involving the relationship between the trump campaign and Russian interests. That is clear. There was no crime committed there, according to Mueller. We'll hear more about that this afternoon.

(....)

12:15 p.m. Eastern

LAURA COATES: He walked through each of the elements to proof what it took to cause an obstruction of justice to be raised against a human being. He went through each of them, Mueller followed along and said yes but for this report I would have indicted the President. I know people think it's ambiguous, but the idea here is I walked through each of the elements. The OLC opinion tied the hands of the special counsel's office. It's not a — it’s not a common occurrence to say you have all the tools in your belt but you cannot use the ones that actually involve the hammer being thrown down. That's what Mueller was up against here. He said very clearly, walking through all the elements, I did not indict because of the OLC opinion. That, along with every other element he actually raised and, of course, Lieu was talking about the intent without saying the word intent, contextual clues that show a pattern of behavior, that says somebody had the correct intent. 

TAPPER: And though there are people saying that Mueller cautioned after that answer saying the only thing I want to add is I'm not — I'm going through the elements with you. That does not mean I subscribe to what you're trying to prove through those elements. He did say that, but you think it was pretty clear? 

PREET BHARARA: I thought it was the closest thing to something that was bombshell, both legally and politically. I mean, what’s the purpose of this proceeding? The purpose of this proceeding for the Democrats is to make some case that they need to take some additional action and so the question is, is someone above the law or not? And if it is true that Bob Mueller thought there was no crime, then there's no argument to be made necessarily that the Democrats do anything. In response to Ted Lieu's question, which is pretty clear. He didn't say it was a reason. He said the reason, the reason why he didn't indict Donald Trump was the OLC opinion and Bob Mueller, who sometimes paused and sometimes hesitated and didn't go along with lots of things put to him by both Democrats and Republicans, answered immediately, that is correct. Now, if it's the case that there's some ambiguity there, you would think some Republican, given how, I think, significant that is, and how much of a basis it will give Democrats to decide we can't have someone above the law. The only reason the President is not indicted is because of the OLC opinion, you have to hold him accountable and we have impeachment as something of a backup as that. A Republican might have gone in, had plenty of opportunities to go back to that and say, you know, one member, I think, tried —

TAPPER: Congresswoman Lesko — Lesko from Arizona, I think.

BHARARA: — and didn't succeed. There seems to be some conflict between this testimony that he gave to Ted Lieu and a statement put out by Bill Barr, in which Bill Barr said the special counsel assured me it was not but for the OLC opinion. I don't know how you square that, but I didn't see any Republican go in and try to, you know, muddy it up, given how clear this was and if they really thought that Mueller didn't mean to say this, you think they would have asked that question because as it stands now — as the record stands now, the reason he wasn’t indicted — one reason: the OLC opinion. 

DANA BASH: And the Democrats didn't want to touch it because they didn't have — they didn’t want to ruin a good thing.

(....)

12:20 p.m. Eastern

BHARARA: In a real courtroom, you would have more background. In a real courtroom, you might have a judge intercede and say let me make sure I understand this and that you're saying what it sounds like you're saying. The other point I would make is of all the things that people wondered what Bob Mueller thinks, of all the things he was prepared for, of all the things that have swirling around and confusing people, the central one was this: Is the President not indicted because of that opinion, or is it something else? So it's hard to — it’s hard to imagine that on this one question where you would be the most prepared, you would misunderstand the question. 

TOOBIN: And can I just say why this is a big deal? Why we are focusing on this exchange with Ted Lieu? What it means is if any other person had committed the acts that Robert Mueller identified, that person today would be awaiting criminal trial. 

TAPPER: Well and — yeah.

TOOBIN: It's because of the OLC opinion, the opinion of the Department of Justice that presidents are, in effect, above the criminal law while they are in office, he didn't — he didn’t and that's a big deal.

(....)

12:23 p.m. Eastern

BHARARA: The other thing I would say is right now, the Attorney General of the United States does not like this testimony that was given. It contradicts what he said that Mueller told him, it contradicts what the attorney general told the public and it really undermines the position of the president. What is he doing right now between the time that first hearing ended and the next hearing of the Intel Committee is beginning? Is he reaching out to Bob Mueller and asking him to clarify? Is he putting out a letter? Is he putting out a statement, is the President telling bill Barr to put out a statement? Because this testimony as it stands is really bad.

(....)

12:24 p.m. Eastern

TAPPER: And there were times in the hearing he was sharp as a tack. But we can't avoid the fact that there were times in the hearing he was not. There were times in the hearing when he didn't seem to either — he couldn't hear what the questioner was asking, and sometimes they spoke very quickly and they were not particularly polite to — and respectful of the fact that this was a 74-year-old who obviously was having trouble —

BLITZER: Let's ask Garrett. He has written a book about him. 

TAPPER: But what I was going to say is, often times it seems he was unfamiliar with parts of the investigation. He didn't seem familiar with the name -- with the GPS. Right? 

BASH: Or Corey Lewandowski. 

TAPPER: Or when the name — the name Lewandowski was mentioned he didn't seem familiar with that. Now, I don't know if he couldn't hear or actually he is not as well versed with this report as many of the people on this panel are right now. 

GARRETT GRAFF: Yeah and I think I also saw a slightly different Robert Mueller in the second half of the hearing than we did in the first, where you sort of almost wonder whether there was a half time, locker room talk to tell him to be a little bit more forceful, a little bit more — to take issue with some of the questions that Republicans, particularly, were lobbing at him. Because in the first hour, first hour and a half, he was very reticent to say more than a one or two-word sentence. But really when you saw that second half of the hearing, he began to sort of punch back a little more in the second half. 

JIM SCIUTTO: I was keeping track of some of standard charges against Bob Mueller. Granted, if you were looking for a made for TV kind of character, Mueller was not that, perhaps, to that, but on those issues, over time, if you kept track, he hit back the 14 angry Democrat, which we heard frequently from Republicans. He said, no, I only chose based on ability and he said in very clear terms, I never asked their party affiliation. That's not done. On the idea that he wanted FBI job, something that the President has repeated without founding, that that’s the reason he was conflicted, he said no. I was asked to give input on what that job would take. He contradicted that charge.  

(....)

12:27 p.m. Eastern

BASH: We're missing the interim time, which is now, which is the whole point of Congress and the house Democrats wanting this hearing and wanting him to come testify, which is the Constitution says it is the House of Representatives first and then, of course, Senate, who will take up the issue. That's why the OLC says is that it is not a court of law. It is the Congress that can decide whether the President commits a high crime or misdemeanor. And those questions, the Democrats got pretty meaty answers to, like you talked about, Jeff, on the issue of no, I didn't exonerate the President. Yes, he did try to get me fired and it was only stopped because the White House counsel said no, I'm not going to do this and several other examples, the five examples of obstruction of justice the Democrats did go through. It took them a while. It wasn't obvious, but they did it. 

(....)

12:29 p.m. Eastern

TAPPER: And one other thing I want to bring up, which is we’ve talking about the substance of this hearing, the three-and-a-half-hour hearing. Obviously, there will be another one in a few minutes. We've been talking about the fact that Mueller very clearly said the report does not exonerate the President. He’s been — he laid out a case that there was obstruction of justice, that he couldn't bring charges no matter what he would have wanted to do because of the OLC memo. Or perhaps he was saying as directly as that that he didn't because of the OLC memo and he also made the argument that they could not find any prosecutable evidence between the Trump team and the Russians. That said, there is another reality out there. This is the reality of the President's fans and they deal in memes and they deal in edited videos and I think that there is a lot happened today when it comes to Mueller refusing to answer questions and acting perhaps a little befuddled at times and, look, again, all of us should look so good at 74. I mean, whatever, but nobody at 74 is the same person he could at 35. It seemed he couldn't hear. I'm not making light of it and I don’t mean to be ageist or disparaging but those will be used against Mueller to try to undercut him, to try to discredit him. 

PAMELA BROWN: They already are.

(....)

12:33 p.m. Eastern

COATES: In the nine minutes we heard from him the first time, that was his singular focus. The idea of essentially, look, this is a big problem, we’ve got a 2016 election, 2020 election coming forward. Today, he began opening statement focusing again on this very issue. I would predict — and I hate to predict but I predict Mueller would actually show his zeal about something that congress had an opportunity to legislate about. The ideas of whether impeachment is the word Voldemort to him or not. I just don’t know.  It appeared to be, but the idea of whether congress called him here to today to give them information about what he can do about an issue. This is where he should come alive, this is where the bipartisanship should be on full display, if it's not and is where I think his mind should not be challenged. 

(....)

12:36 p.m. Eastern

SCIUTTO: You know what you saw them do today? One-by-one, and clearly in coordination, they practiced for this. A succession of members, piece by piece, making the case to the American people. Sounded almost like an opening argument in an impeachment proceeding. Ticking through the instances, the attempt -- getting McGahn to fire Mueller, getting sessions to unrecuse. The Lewandowski, the witness tampering, and then you saw Hakeem Jeffries, of instance, running through the three requirements for obstruction of justice, an obstructive act, that it is to be done in connection with an official proceeding, that there has to be corrupt intent and that saw it repeated throughout the Ted Lieu testimony. They were making their case there. Now, you’d to be an astute listener to these proceedings, also interested in listening, to be convinced by that and right now, the public polls show public support for impeachment proceedings going in the opposite direction.

BASH: Going down. And what you just said was very cogent and very clear. And it definitely did not come across that way in the totality of today because it was very disjointed and very hard to —

TOOBIN: I can't imagine that the polls will change much about impeachment. 

(....)

12:41 p.m. Eastern

BHARARA: People have great moments and less great moments, no matter how old you are, how young you are. I imagine that when I'm on later today I'll be a little bit sharper — less sharp because I haven't gotten — 

TOOBIN; What is it? Sharper or less sharp? 

BHARARA: I think less sharper. 

TAPPER: What page were you citing? 

BHARARA: I mean, less sharp than I was just a moment ago. Maybe I'll take the rest of the day off. When he was asked a question that was logical and sensible and was grounded in reality, and was asked at a reasonable pace, he knew exactly what was going on and answered clearly and 

BASH: Yes. 

BHARARA: There were some folks who were rattling things off with him in word salads, and he had to ask the question, I’m sorry can repeat it, and didn't immediately understand what was being asked and I think a lot of people would be in that position. And what's going on here is another dimension of character assassination that’s going on for two years now and they have another front that they're opening up. After trashing a guy who is a military hero for being — and a Republican, and appointed by a Republican multiple times. 

(....)

12:46 p.m. Eastern

PAMELA BROWN: What I’m looking for is if he talks about anything regarding whether the President, then-candidate Trump or anyone on his campaign was compromised by Russia, given all the context back and forth. 

BASH: Yeah, and I also think that if you look at the kind of partisanship that we've seen, maybe, I'm going to say something optimistic and hopeful, which is take away the collusion and all the questions about how they interacted. Maybe we'll actually see Republicans asking legitimate questions about how to keep the voting and democratic systems safe from interference from Russia and other countries for the 2020 election. I know I'm probably going to be disappointed. 

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