After Special Counsel Robert Mueller gave his final word on the completed Mueller report Wednesday morning, all three networks broke in with live coverage demanding that it was now the Democrats' chance to impeach Trump. ABC was the most heavy-handed in their coverage, with anchor George Stephanopoulos bringing up the impeachment topic at least eight times in a thirteen minute segment.
Immediately following the press conference, ABC anchor George Stephanopoulos reiterated that Mueller didn’t talk about collusion or obstruction. ABC’s Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl hyped that Mueller had “implied” it was up to Democrats to impeach Trump. “That’s certainly does seem to be an implication,” Stephanopoulos agreed.
The reporting got more forceful as it progressed. ABC’s Senior National Correspondent Terry Moran at one point gushed, “This is Robert Mueller saying to Congress do your job. It is time to take this up.” Stephanopoulos also suggested this was something Congress “couldn’t ignore,” to legal analyst Dan Abrams:
“Dan, let's take it to the next step then and look at the ten or so incidents that Robert Mueller did outline in his report laying out possible evidence of obstruction of justice. Is this something Congress can ignore?” he said earnestly.
Impeachment was mentioned in at least five more instances beyond that by the ABC team.
At NBC, Today anchor Savannah Guthrie touted the hidden meaning behind Mueller’s statement. “He’s without using that word reminding folks that there is a process and it’s called impeachment,” she gushed.
NBC News legal analyst Mimi Rocah was excited by the idea that Democrats could now take over where Mueller left off, saying, “And I hope that now Congress picks up that mantle more and does it in a more effective way. And I think that’s what Mueller was asking them to do.”
Over at CBS, Chief Washington Correspondent Major Garrett also emphasized that Mueller was pressuring Democrats to start impeachment proceedings, ASAP:
MAJOR GARRETT: What was the special counsel saying to Congress, particularly House Democrats? There is evidence, if you believe this is sufficient to empanel an impeachment committee, that’s the Constitutional remedy that I’m outlining when there is a Justice Department regulation forbidding an indictment of a sitting president.
Essentially Bob Mueller said there is a process. It’s called impeachment. It’s in Congress’ hands now. This report speaks for itself. It can’t amplify it, I will not amplify it in testimony to Congress. So now House Democrats it’s up to you. What are you going to do with the evidence laid out in this report?
ABC also fretted over the “pressure” Nancy Pelosi now faced to impeach Trump. White House correspondent Cecilia Vega hyped “calls for impeachment have been growing louder each day” and this conference would be “ammunition for Democrats” to do just that.
Stephanopoulos agreed there was “building pressure” to “consider impeachment” while Terry Moran touted Democrats wanting to “vindicate the Constitution to investigate and impeach Donald Trump.”
Read partial relevant transcripts from ABC, CBS and NBC’s special live coverage below:
ABC News’ Special Report
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: What we did not hear from the Special Counsel right there in his first and final words are those four words we’ve heard so often from the President, no collusion, no obstruction.
JON KARL: Absolutely, George. You point out he said that prosecuting the President was not an option he had because of DOJ policies. He could not have drawn up an indictment against the president.
The second thing he said was very significant. He said if we had confidence the president did not commit a crime, we would have said so. So what you did not hear as you point out -- he did not say that the president was exonerated. He did not say no collusion, no obstruction. George, he also referred to other processes that would be -- that would take place beyond the criminal justice system to hold a president accountable. He didn't use the word impeachment. But it seemed to me the implication was that this would be a matter for Congress to decide, certainly not the Department of Justice.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: That certainly does seem to be an implication.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: He chose to summarize that report today and the points he thought were most important. Among them doesn’t have enough sufficient evidence to file conspiracy. Couldn't make a final decision on obstruction. Then as Jon Karl pointed out earlier, also said there are other processes available that is Congress, increases the pressures on the House Speaker for impeachment.
CECILIA VEGA:Oh it certainly does. These calls from Democrats for impeachment in the House have been growing louder by the day. Many of these Democrats have been saying they were waiting to hear from Mueller specifically to decide on impeachment so this certainly increases the pressure on Nancy Pelosi.
I’ve got to say, you talked about way that Mueller summarized this, I think one of the big take- aways here and the president is not going to be happy because you now have the investigator on camera for this time in a clear concise soundbite saying we did not determine whether the president committed a crime. That doesn't look good for him. That’s certainly going to be ammunition for the Democrats going forward.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: You essentially have a building series of pressures on the House speaker to consider the impeachment because it's not simply the report in isolation.
TERRY MORAN: Absolutely. Nancy Pelosi will face more and more pressure from that part of her party. Significant, but not a majority of her party saying we have to do this. We have to move forward to vindicate the Constitution to investigate and impeach Donald Trump.
Live Special Report on Robert Mueller press conference
May 29, 2019
MARGARET BRENNAN: Special counsel Robert Mueller speaking for the very first time publicly about his two-year investigation and its conclusions regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election. He began and ended underscoring that there was a concerted attack on our election by Russian intelligence officers, the GRU. Reiterating again that this was sweeping and systematic interference, saying that is where the focus should be. Notably he did also explain where some of the questions that circulated lately, and that is around the obstruction of justice allegations and why he did not conclude or, in his words, “did not exonerate” the president on potential charges there. He said today “it was not an option we could consider,” really putting it in context to standing Department of Justice policy saying that it was essentially what constrained them from doing so, because you cannot do so to a sitting president. Paula Reid, she’s a lawyer, she;s been a reporter for two years on this. She’s with us at the Justice Department. Paula, what stood out to you from what Mueller said today?
PAULA REID: Margaret, this is so remarkable. Because this is the first time we’ve heard from the special counsel since he was appointed almost exactly two years ago. And we were told that the White House was notified that Mueller might make a statement. And a source suggested to me that this testimony – this statement may be in lieu of future testimony, because efforts to arrange a way for him to answer questions before Congress have, so far, stalled. You heard him in these remarks. He said that his testimony is his report. And if he was to answer any additional questions, they wouldn’t go beyond the findings in his report. But what I thought was so significant is what specifically he chose to highlight in this approximately eight minutes. Specifically on obstruction of justice. While the president likes to say that the Mueller report was total exoneration for him and his campaign, the fact is Mueller did not exonerate the president. He said he could not exonerate the president and laid out a lot of evidence that suggests the president may have committed obstruction of justice. But in his remarks today, the special counsel made sure to wed the fact that he couldn’t exonerate the presidentwith the fact that there is a policy here at the Justice Department that Rod Rosenstein who oversaw this investigation also believed should be upheld, which is that you cannot criminally charge a president. And I think that’s incredibly significant that he pointed out.
He said look “I didn’t exonerate him. There’s a policy.” He didn’t say he couldn’t exonerate him based on the evidence. But the majority of Americans, according to CBS News polls, do think Mueller should answer questions before Congress. So we’ll see if this statement today means he doesn’t have to testify or Democrats and others continue to push for him to answer questions before congress.
BRENNAN: Paula Reid at the Justice Department. We go now to chief Washington correspondent Major Garrett who is standing by at the White House. Major, do we know if the President was watching this statement today?
MAJOR GARRETT: Well we certainly suspect he was. White House officials tell us they certainly got notice yesterday that Bob Mueller would speak. Everyone here is curious about what he would say and how he would say it. And I think for the political atmosphere around this investigation, Margaret the most important thing the special counsel just said was the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system when you have this question of potential presidential wrongdoing, and the Justice Department forbids an indictment of a sitting president. Translated, what does that mean? What was the special counsel saying to congress, particularly House Democrats? There is evidence, if you believe this is sufficient to empanel an impeachment committee, that’s the Constitutional remedy that I’m outlining when there is a Justice Department regulation forbidding an indictment of a sitting president.
Essentially Bob Mueller said there is a process. It’s called impeachment. It’s in congress’ hands now. This report speaks for itself. It can’t amplify it, I will not amplify it in testimony to Congress. So now House Democrats it’s up to you. What are you going to do with the evidence laid out in this report?
BRENNAN: Major Garrett, thank you. I want to bring in for some analysis, CBS news legal analyst, Jonathan Turley who joins us now from Washington. He is a constitutional law professor at George Washington University. Robert Mueller essentially saying I went as far as I could go here. Why did the Justice Department allow him, why did they ask him to make this statement today?
JONATHAN TURLEY: Well It doesn’t sound like they asked him to make this statement according to him. But I have to tell you, he’s dead wrong on that DOJ memo. There’s nothing in that memo that prevents him from reaching a conclusion. Attorney General Bill Barr and the deputy attorney general told him to reach a conclusion, that there was not such a policy....
BRENNAN: Sorry, sorry. Can you clarify there? What we heard the special counsel say was the standard that you cannot indict a sitting president.
TURLEY: Right. But then he extrapolated from that. That is clear. He’s right about that. But he then extrapolated from that and said, if you can’t indict a president, you shouldn’t find evidence of a crime. Well that’s what a special counsel does. That’s what he signed up to do. Also there’s nothing that says he can simply refuse to answer questions before Congress. Congress has a good argument there. But one thing that came out of this conference is a direct contradiction now between Mueller and attorney general Barr. Bill Barr said that Mueller told him and Rosenstein clearly and repeatedly that the DOJ memos that you can’t indict a sitting president was not the reason they were not going to reach a conclusion on obstruction. He has now basically thrown down a very strong position contradicting that. He says that, that was the reason that, that was a well-studied decision of his team that they could not find evidence of crimes, even if they don’t indict. So that contradiction is very significant. Because Bill Barr’s recollection of that meeting is crystal clear. So the question now becomes Rod Rosenstein. He was in that meeting. And does he recall Mueller saying as well that he was not constrained by the DOJ memos.
BRENNAN: Very quickly, Jonathan, does the attorney general want the special counsel to testify before Congress?
TURLEY: I think he does. He has said that he has no objection to Mueller testifying. And that’s the reason I find this all rather strange. The attorney general says you can testify. Congress has an oversight -- legitimate oversight interest in your testimony. And what Mueller is saying is, that if you call me, I’m just going to read from the report.
BRENNAN: Alright let’s go to Capitol Hill now where we find Nancy Cordes. As you heard Major Garrett refer to there. House Democrats have been fighting for weeks to get access to the entire Mueller Report including some classified and grand jury material. Nancy, this is not going to satisfy them.
NANCY CORDES: No. But here is what Democrats who have been pushing for an impeachment inquiry to be opened will like from what they heard from Robert Mueller this morning. He said point-blank, that if had confidence that the President did not commit a crime, he would have said so in his report. So those Democrats are going to take that as a sign that he thinks that there is some there, there that should perhaps be moved away from the Justice Department and into the congressional realm in the form of some kind of impeachment inquiry. They’re also going to like the fact that he said – he didn’t say point-blank, Margaret, that he would not testify on Capitol Hill. He left that open. But here is what will probably discourage a lot of Democrats who have visions of the special counsel coming here to Capitol Hill, testifying in public and going into great detail about all these potential cases of obstruction of justice committed by the president. He said that, if he does testify, he won’t go any farther than he already has in the report.
BRENNAN: Nancy Cordes on Capitol Hill.
NBC News Special
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: This is gonna be a matter of analyzing what Robert Mueller chose to emphasize from his report. He gave a nine-minute statement and what he chose to highlight is important. One of the things he mentions and goes out of his way to say is that this DOJ opinion that says you can’t indict, you can’t criminally charge a sitting president. Says that, “The Constitution requires the process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.” He’s without using that word reminding folks that there is a process and it’s called impeachment.
CHUCK TODD: Well, Savannah, I think that’s the news out of here. Is that he, in case anybody wasn’t sure how to interpret the introduction to part two of the Mueller report, Robert Mueller now told you how to interpret it. Which is simply, “This report, it’s up to you, Congress. You’re the only one that can make the decision about whether or not a crime was committed here.” The Constitution essentially doesn’t permit the normal process. So, in some ways, this is a rebuttal to Barr.
And I think the single most important sentence he uttered is this, “We chose the words carefully.” Meaning about the report itself. But that’s also about Mueller’s statement today. He chose his words carefully. Notice how he described part one. Bill Barr described it as a total exoneration. He said, “Insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy.” Right? How you choose to word something says a lot, if you will. This is Bob Mueller simply saying, “There wasn’t enough to charge a crime here that doesn’t mean there wasn’t behavior, perhaps, that we found suspicious.”
But I think the larger headline in this is Bob Mueller is making it crystal clear to Congress, “I did this report assuming this was your call, not the Justice Department’s call. This was your call.” I t think he basically said it pretty straight forwardly.
MIMI ROCAH [NBC NEWS LEGAL ANALYST]: So I think all of these points are really important that he chose to emphasize and even if they’re in the report, it shows the importance of walking the American public through these very basic points. And I hope that now Congress picks up that mantle more and does it in a more effective way. And I think that’s what Mueller was asking them to do.
GUTHRIE: Well, that brings us from the lawyers, the expert in the law to the expert in politics, which is Chuck Todd. And, Chuck, what do Democrats do now? Because, you know, the issue is whether they want to force it with Mueller. Mueller could not have been clearer that he has no desire to testify before Congress. He has said there’s nothing to see here, the report speaks for itself. “The report is my testimony,” he said today. But Congress does have the power to subpoena and can try to force it.
TODD: Well, they can. But I think the larger issue they’ve got to deal with is this, right? Nancy Pelosi politically doesn’t want to do impeachment. I think she’s trying to buy time, get to the end of the summer, and say, “You know what, the presidential campaign is too far along, this is not healthy for the country. Let’s let the election and we’ll sort this out.”
Except she’s got a problem now politically, Savannah. And that is this. Yesterday you had a Republican member of Congress, granted it’s somebody that’s sort of seen out on his own island at times, Justin Amash, making the clearest case for impeachment that any member of Congress makes right now, and it happens to be a Republican. And now you have Robert Mueller, right? Who speaks for the first time, who – and again, what everybody noted here – what he chose to point out. His basically direct rebuttal to Bill Barr’s characterization of everything Barr has done to this point and him explicitly saying he believed only Congress could make this decision.
So, now, there isn’t a question of did Mueller intend Congress to do it. Mueller has said, “I intended you to make this decision.” And now you have Nancy Pelosi having to face the fact that she’s got a growing chorus of Democrats that say it’s time to impeach and the person making the clearest case publicly is a Republican member of Congress. I just think the political pressure now on the leadership of the House to open impeachment inquiry is only gonna increase.