MSNBC Meltdown Over Barr Holding Mueller Report Press Conference

As news broke Wednesday afternoon that Attorney General William Barr would be holding a press conference Thursday morning on the release of the Mueller report, MSNBC reporters and pundits began rending their garments over the announcement. Anchor Nicolle Wallace and her panel of journalist guests denounced the Justice Department chief for the supposed outrage of planning to take questions from the press.

“This seems to me, and we don’t have this reported out just yet, to be a move that the President might think....will help shape the coverage of the Mueller report. This is extraordinary,” Wallace alarmingly declared as she reacted to the breaking news. Liberal Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson joined in the lamenting: “Yeah, it is extraordinary. But yeah, he wants to help – he wants to shape the coverage, he wants, as was said, to make it a partisan issue, and he wants to get out in front of it, if possible.”

 

 

Wallace warned:

But it’s no longer the Mueller report. It’s now the two guys, Barr and Rosenstein, who I’m told will join him, who put their finger on the scale and made the decision about obstruction that Mueller didn’t make, spinning the decision they made when they put the finger on the scale about obstruction, which Mueller wouldn’t do, the Mueller report. It’s no longer the release of the Mueller report, guys.

Moments later, she called the press conference an “extraordinary development” and talked about the Mueller investigation in religious terms: “But if the whole point was to take this sacred undertaking, the Mueller report, and release it as unredacted as they could, it seems to stomp all over any aims of being viewed as not involved in shaping that report, its end, its release, its spin, its perception to present it yourselves, no?”

Repeating her favorite phrase one more time, Wallace whined: “It’s extraordinary, though, this announcement made by Donald Trump in a radio interview that the country’s attorney general will present the 22-month-long Mueller investigation to the country.” She trashed Barr: “It’s just an extraordinary leap into not just the President’s political and legal prerogatives, I guess a leap Barr has already made. But to be a shill....he becomes the first cabinet secretary to plunge into the deep end of Trump’s conspiracy pool.”

Los Angeles Times White House reporter Eli Stokols agreed: “Right. And I think, you know, you want – if you want the public to take this report seriously and to believe that the Justice Department is credible, you would probably think twice about putting the head of the Justice Department out on TV to do spin for you.”

Though he at least had some self-awareness and sense of irony about the media complaining that Barr was going to speak to the media:

Now, we don’t know if that’s what he’s going to do, maybe he has something important to say, maybe they’re going to take questions and allow the White House say, “Only the media could take the AG coming out and answering questions and say that this is anything other than transparency. We’re just trying to answer questions and help you.” I mean, that’s what they will say.

Wallace even tried to get NBC News Justice Department correspondent Julia Ainsley to speculate on Barr’s motives: “Is it a sign of overcompensation for all the reporting on how potentially politically damaging that obstruction report could be? What is the motive behind Barr’s decision to go out and try to sell or present the Mueller report tomorrow?”

Ainsley deflected the question: “Nicolle, I don’t want to get into his intent, I don’t know it and I’m sure you have a lot of smart analysts who can divide that up.” Though she did argue that “the timing of this begs a lot of questions.”

Unlike Ainsley, former Obama administration official and NBC News National Security Analyst Jeremy Bash was eager to chime in as he summed up the mode of the panel: “We don’t need any more press conferences, we don’t need anymore summaries, we don’t need anymore spin, we just need to see the words of the report. We need to see the work of Special Counsel, period.”

Leave it to MSNBC to spin a press conference into national crisis.

Here are excerpts of the April 17 discussion:

4:27 PM ET

(...)

NICOLLE WALLACE: This seems to me, and we don’t have this reported out just yet, to be a move that the President might think – if he’s going to announce it himself in a radio interview before the Justice Department announces it – will help shape the coverage of the Mueller report. This is extraordinary.

EUGENE ROBINSON [WASHINGTON POST]: Yeah, it is extraordinary. But yeah, he wants to help – he wants to shape the coverage, he wants, as was said, to make it a partisan issue, and he wants to get out in front of it, if possible.

WALLACE: But it’s no longer the Mueller report. It’s now the two guys, Barr and Rosenstein, who I’m told will join him, who put their finger on the scale and made the decision about obstruction that Mueller didn’t make, spinning the decision they made when they put the finger on the scale about obstruction, which Mueller wouldn’t do, the Mueller report. It’s no longer the release of the Mueller report, guys.

(...)

WALLACE: It seems like an extraordinary development to have an attorney general who wasn’t there for the duration of the Mueller investigation, his deputy Rod Rosenstein will join him we understand. But if the whole point was to take this sacred undertaking, the Mueller report, and release it as unredacted as they could, it seems to stomp all over any aims of being viewed as not involved in shaping that report, its end, its release, its spin, its perception to present it yourselves, no?

(...)

WALLACE: It’s extraordinary, though, this announcement made by Donald Trump in a radio interview that the country’s attorney general will present the 22-month-long Mueller investigation to the country. It’s just an extraordinary leap into not just the President’s political and legal prerogatives, I guess a leap Barr has already made. But to be a shill that Dan Coats refused to be, that Jim Comey refused to be, that Gina Haspel has so far refused to be. To become part of the partisan clacking class that so far the national security figures – maybe Pompeo dips his toe in this pool more often than he should – but he becomes the first cabinet secretary to plunge into the deep end of Trump’s conspiracy pool.

ELI STOKOLS [LOS ANGELES TIMES WHITE HOUSE REPORTER]: Right. And I think, you know, you want – if you want the public to take this report seriously and to believe that the Justice Department is credible, you would probably think twice about putting the head of the Justice Department out on TV to do spin for you.

Now, we don’t know if that’s what he’s going to do, maybe he has something important to say, maybe they’re going to take questions and allow the White House say, “Only the media could take the AG coming out and answering questions and say that this is anything other than transparency. We’re just trying to answer questions and help you.” I mean, that’s what they will say.

But they are clearly going to fight over this political narrative because that’s the way the President views this above all else. He’s not worried about constitutional questions, separation of powers. He’s wanted loyalty, as you’ve said, he’s wanted a Roy Kohn, he believes that Barr is that Roy Kohn, and sending him out to do something like this fits within that role that the President has for him, whether or not it enhances or hurts his credibility with the broad public.

(...)
    
WALLACE: Julia, what is the possible motive for – say this was Barr’s idea. Barr just testified two full days up on Capitol Hill, Barr has told us everything that we know about the Mueller report. Is it a sign of anxiety? Is it a sign of overcompensation for all the reporting on how potentially politically damaging that obstruction report could be? What is the motive behind Barr’s decision to go out and try to sell or present the Mueller report tomorrow?

JULIA AINSLEY: Nicolle, I don’t want to get into his intent, I don’t know it and I’m sure you have a lot of smart analysts who can divide that up. But I will say, just from – based on the surface of it, Barr will then have to answer some questions about how this looks. He’s already had a chance to put his own spin on this report when he did his summary and his bottom-line conclusions, and he’s been to the Hill and said he would not answer any more questions until after the report was released, which gave the appearance that he wanted transparency and he wanted the public to have a chance to digest this. And now it’s seems like he will give very little time for any digestion of that information before he starts answering the questions the way he wants to. So I think the timing of this begs a lot of questions, but that intent is something that I will leave to others to discuss.

WALLACE: Jeremy?  

JEREMY BASH: What I think the DOJ should be doing is put out the full report unredacted, period, full stop. We don’t need any more press conferences, we don’t need anymore summaries, we don’t need anymore spin, we just need to see the words of the report. We need to see the work of Special Counsel, period. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn, Nicolle, if the President directed him or at least suggested to him that he have a press conference. That’s very Trumpian. It’s sort of like get out ahead of it, tell your story, “So we can have our narrative and then we can claim no collusion, no da, da, da, exoneration total, I’m good, let’s go.”

STOKOLS: It’s very believable. I mean, we don’t know that, but it fits within this pattern of Trump wanting all the people in his administration on television.

(...)

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