When Vice President Mike Pence sat down for interviews with all three broadcast networks early Thursday morning, just moments after greeting three American detainees who had arrived back in the U.S. after being released from North Korea, he was logically peppered with questions about the Korean peace process. However, unlike her ABC and CBS colleagues, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell only asked a couple questions on the topic before moving on to grill Pence about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
After noting that Pence thought the prisoner release “could signal real breakthroughs to come” with North Korea and asking what he thought “made the difference” in diplomatic relations with the rogue regime, Mitchell quickly turned to criticism of President Trump: “Why did the President call him [Kim Jong-un] honorable some weeks ago? Is the President praising him too much and raising expectations too high?...This is still a dictator, sir, who’s – he’s enslaved millions of his own people.”
The network’s Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent then abandoned discussion of foreign policy altogether as she turned to the media’s favorite topic – the Russia investigation. “Bob Mueller. You knew him. He must have briefed you when you were a member of Congress. He’s a Marine, he’s a life-long Republican. Do you think he can be trusted? Do you think he’s a bad guy?,” she pressed.
As Pence responded that “Our administration has been fully cooperating with the Special Counsel,” Mitchell interrupted: “Do you think his investigation is a hoax?”
The reporter continued her interrogation by asking about allegations leveled against the President’s personal attorney Michael Cohen by Michael Avenatti, the attorney for porn star Stormy Daniels: “You now have the President’s lawyer getting millions of dollars from companies that he says he can get access, including one company that had a Russian connection. Is that draining the swamp?”
Following the taped exchange, Mitchell briefly reminded viewers why she sat down with Pence in the first place: “Officials say that the return of the American prisoners, which, of course, is the story of the day, clears a major hurdle for the upcoming summit.”
Mitchell’s insistence on bringing up Mueller and Daniels echoed CNN’s live coverage of the detainees arriving at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington D.C. overnight, when correspondent Jeff Zelany assured: “The Mueller investigation is indeed alive and well.”
Unlike Mitchell, ABC’s Jon Karl began his interview with Pence, aired on Thursday’s Good Morning America, by actually asking about the welfare of the three American citizens who had just survived North Korean imprisonment:
You were out there with those prisoners just as they set foot on American soil again. How are they? I mean, how were they treated?...One of those three prisoners had spent three years in hard labor in North Korea. What’s your sense of how he’s doing and then to come out to this scene?
The remainder of the conversation focused on the peace process and the President’s upcoming summit with Kim Jong-un.
On CBS This Morning, Face the Nation moderator Margaret Brennan also began her sit-down with Pence by wondering: “What condition are these prisoners in?” Moments later, she even asked about the Vice President talking with family of Otto Warmbier, the American college student who imprisoned in North Korea before being returned to the U.S. in a coma and later dying.
While Brennan focused largely on the Korean peace process, at the end of the discussion, she took time to grill Pence on the President’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal:
BRENNAN: There are also other families suffering. In Iran, at least four American prisoners are still being held there.
PENCE: Yes, that’s right.
BRENNAN: One of their family members was at the White House yesterday. Is the Trump administration open to a prisoner swap?
PENCE: I believe we are always interested in opportunities to bring Americans home, but –
BRENNAN: And that means talking to Iran right now about doing that?
PENCE: Well, I think we sent a pretty strong message to Iran this week when the President made the decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.
BRENNAN: And that’s why the families are worried, that their family members may be held hostage now to this diplomacy that’s been torn up.
PENCE: We felt it was important to withdraw from this deeply flawed Iran nuclear deal, but now we’re engaging on –
BRENNAN: But nothing on the prisoners?
Connecting the issue to North Korea, she fretted: “And you don’t think that hurts your diplomacy with North Korea?”
While Karl and Brennan took the time to show concern for the health of the detainees and then kept the focus on foreign policy, Mitchell was in too much of a hurry to hammer the Vice President on the Mueller investigation.
Here is a transcript of Mitchell’s questions to Pence during the May 10 segment on the Today show:
7:06 AM ET
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: And as we just saw, the Vice President, Mike Pence, was also there overnight [greeting released detainees from North Korea]. And he sat down with NBC’s Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell. Andrea, good morning to you.
ANDREA MITCHELL: Good morning, Savannah. The administration clearly hoping to capitalize on what they see as a major diplomatic success. The homecoming that the Vice President says could signal real breakthroughs to come.
[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Vice President Pence Speaks Out; Talks North Korea, Detainees & Mueller]
MITCHELL: Well, even since the Olympics, when you were there, it was so tense. And what do you think made the difference?
MITCHELL: Why did the President call him [Kim Jong-un] honorable some weeks ago? Is the President praising him too much and raising expectations too high?
MITCHELL: This is still a dictator, sir, who’s – he’s enslaved millions of his own people.
MITCHELL: Bob Mueller. You knew him. He must have briefed you when you were a member of Congress. He’s a Marine, he’s a life-long Republican. Do you think he can be trusted? Do you think he’s a bad guy?
MIKE PENCE: Our administration has been fully cooperating with the Special Counsel.
MITCHELL: Do you think his investigation is a hoax?
MITCHELL: You now have the President’s lawyer getting millions of dollars from companies that he says he can get access, including one company that had a Russian connection. Is that draining the swamp?
MITCHELL: Officials say that the return of the American prisoners, which, of course, is the story of the day, clears a major hurdle for the upcoming summit. And the biggest challenge now, though, is to see if Kim Jong-un is really ready to deliver on his promise to denuclearize. Savannah and Hoda?
GUTHRIE: That would be a biggie. Andrea, thank you very much.