Nets Tout ‘Drama,’ ‘High Theater’ of Mueller Hearing as Win for Dems

On Wednesday, all three network morning shows touted news that former Special Counsel Robert Mueller would testify before Congress on July 17th as a win for Democrats who hope to make the event a “blockbuster television event” filled with “high theater.” Reporters seemed giddy as they listed the questions House Democrats would likely ask Mueller about the Russia investigation.

“For House Democrats investigating the President, having the Mueller Report’s drama play out in front of the cameras is a critical piece of their battle to win over public opinion,” correspondent Kasie Hunt proclaimed on NBC’s Today show. She channeled “Democrats still livid at Attorney General William Barr’s attempt to clear the President of obstruction of justice....Even though Mueller explicitly did not.”

 

 

Following the report, co-host Savannah Guthrie wondered: “So Kasie, how does this all fit into this question of impeachment hearings which some Democrats want to see and some Democrats, most notably House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, do not want to see?” Hunt eagerly portrayed the hearing as an opportunity to sell impeachment to the American people:

That’s really a key question here because for Democrats who have been weighing whether or not to support impeaching the President, this really could make a huge difference. This is all about public opinion. If this really swings public opinion in favor of impeachment, I think that you could see a real shift here. You know, they’re counting on it being a blockbuster television event.

Echoing Hunt’s sentiments on ABC’s Good Morning America, justice correspondent Pierre Thomas breathlessly announced: “Mueller had been reluctant to testify but it appears the Democrats will get that dramatic moment they’ve been hoping for, a chance to question Mueller about his Russia investigation in open session, live, with the world watching.”

Continuing the sensationalism, Thomas promised viewers: “On July 17th, high drama expected as Bob Mueller enters those crowded congressional hearings teaming with reporters and cameras and Democratic House members eager to grill him.” He framed the testimony as “a showdown between some Democrats who want to impeach the President and Republicans who will defend him.”

Wrapping up the piece, Thomas noted that Mueller “did not want to testify because he was concerned Democrats and Republicans would make it a spectacle.” He then explained why liberal lawmakers wanted the media circus anyway: “Democrats clearly believe that Mueller being questioned in public will help the nation focus on what the Russians did and how the President’s campaign responded. They’re hoping for high theater and a breakthrough.”

After the report from Thomas, co-host George Stephanopoulos turned to senior national correspondent Terry Moran and seemed to revel in the developments: “And, Terry, at the White House they thought this bullet had been dodged.” Moran replied: “They did. But no such luck.”

Unlike NBC’s coverage, ABC at least briefly highlighted what Republicans were “eager to hear from Mueller.” Thomas pointed out: “Many Republicans will want Mueller to expound on his conclusion that there was not evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians and there likely will be questions about Mueller’s team and whether they were Democrats biased against Trump.” Moran observed that the GOP “could use Mueller’s testimony....as a political opportunity to say Democrats can’t get over the 2016 election and get into some of what they claim are the conflicts of interest in the Mueller team and the origins of the investigation itself.”

On CBS This Morning, co-host Tony Dokoupil declared: “Mueller’s report, you may recall, found the President and his campaign did not collude with Russia, but it did not clear him of obstruction of justice, and Democrats want to know why.” Correspondent Nancy Cordes recited the questions Democrats would likely ask:

Democrats want to ask him about the ten ways the report says the President tried to interfere with the investigation....They also want to know why Mueller stopped short of recommending Mr. Trump be charged with obstruction of justice. Another topic expected to come up is Mueller’s letter to Attorney General William Barr in which he complained that Barr “did not fully capture” the substance of his report.

She noted that “Some Republicans have questioned the need to hear from Mueller at all,” which was followed by a soundbite of South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham’s reaction: “It is case is closed for me, so they can do anything they want to in the House, and I think it’ll blow up in their face.”

As the segment came to a close, Dokoupil was curious: “...what are Democrats hoping to get out of this?” Like her NBC and ABC colleagues Cordes outlined the true purpose of the hearing:

Well, they see his testimony as vital to their investigations of obstruction of justice, even if he isn’t able to go much beyond what he has already laid out in the report. And beyond that, Democrats think that having a neutral arbiter like Mueller answer questions in public about obstruction is gonna help them make their case to the American people that the President broke the law and potentially, Tony, should be impeached.

First, the media promised Mueller’s completed report would lead to President Trump’s undoing, then it was the Special Counsel’s press conference that was supposed to be the death knell for the administration, now Mueller’s forced congressional testimony is being promoted as the beginning of the end for Trump. Do journalists ever get tired of being wrong?

Here is a transcript of the June 26 coverage on NBC’s Today show:

7:04 AM ET

(...)

KASIE HUNT: For House Democrats investigating the President, having the Mueller Report’s drama play out in front of the cameras is a critical piece of their battle to win over public opinion.

REP. JERRY NADLER [D-NY]: Our interest is for the American people to hear it from him. There’s been a campaign of misrepresentation by Attorney General Barr.

HUNT: Democrats still livid at Attorney General William Barr’s attempt to clear the President of obstruction of justice.

WILLIAM BARR: Evidence developed by the Special Counsel is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction of justice offense.

HUNT: Even though Mueller explicitly did not.

ROBERT MUELLER: If we had had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.

HUNT: Barr also insisted the Special Counsel found no evidence of collusion, but Mueller simply said –  

MUELLER: There was insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy.

HUNT: Overnight, the President’s lawyer Jay Sekulow insisting Mueller’s testimony won’t change a thing.

JAY SEKULOW: There was no collusion conspiracy with the Trump campaign. That was the legal conclusion reached by Bob Mueller. As it relates to obstruction of justice, as Bill Barr said so perfectly correct legally, no obstructive intent. I don’t think you’re going to see anything different in his testimony than what’s in his report.

GUTHRIE: So Kasie, how does this all fit into this question of impeachment hearings which some Democrats want to see and some Democrats, most notably House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, do not want to see?

HUNT: That’s really a key question here because for Democrats who have been weighing whether or not to support impeaching the President, this really could make a huge difference. This is all about public opinion. If this really swings public opinion in favor of impeachment, I think that you could see a real shift here. You know, they’re counting on it being a blockbuster television event.

Now, of course, the White House and the President, they’re trying to downplay it, insist that’s not what’s gonna happen. Rudy Giuliani, the President’s lawyer, telling NBC News, “Who cares?”

(...)

Here is a transcript of the coverage on ABC’s GMA:

7:02 AM ET

(...)

PIERRE THOMAS: Mueller had been reluctant to testify but it appears the Democrats will get that dramatic moment they’ve been hoping for, a chance to question Mueller about his Russia investigation in open session, live, with the world watching.

On July 17th, high drama expected as Bob Mueller enters those crowded congressional hearings teaming with reporters and cameras and Democratic House members eager to grill him. Among the critical questions, what did Mueller mean by this statement concerning whether the President obstructed justice?

ROBERT MUELLER: If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.

THOMAS: Democrats likely to press Mueller on those ten episodes in his 400-page report where the President is pushing back against the investigation. After Mueller’s press conference, the president accusing Mueller of being biased.

DONALD TRUMP: I think Mueller is a true never-Trumper.

THOMAS: And he’s repeatedly claimed the report clears him.

TRUMP: No collusion, no obstruction.

THOMAS: But critics say Mueller’s report does not exonerate the president. The hearing expected to be a showdown between some Democrats who want to impeach the President and Republicans who will defend him.

Last night, anticipating Mueller’s testimony, the President’s attorney on the attack.

JAY SEKULOW: First thing he’s going to need to answer is his own conflicts of interest. The whole report is incoherent.

THOMAS: Mueller has been blunt, making clear his investigation into Russian interference in a 2016 election was no witch hunt.

MUELLER: There were multiple systematic efforts to interfere in our election and that allegation deserves the attention of every American.

THOMAS: But Mueller had hoped his brief press conference after two years of silence would be enough.

MUELLER: The work speaks for itself and the report is my testimony.

THOMAS: Mueller did not want to testify because he was concerned Democrats and Republicans would make it a spectacle. But the Democrats clearly believe that Mueller being questioned in public will help the nation focus on what the Russians did and how the President’s campaign responded. They’re hoping for high theater and a breakthrough, George.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Yeah, Pierre, some House Republicans also say they’re eager to hear from Mueller.

THOMAS: That’s right, George. Many Republicans will want Mueller to expound on his conclusion that there was not evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians and there likely will be questions about Mueller’s team and whether they were Democrats biased against Trump. George?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Okay, Pierre, thanks. Let’s bring in our senior national correspondent Terry Moran for the view from the White House. And, Terry, at the White House they thought this bullet had been dodged.

TERRY MORAN: They did. But no such luck. Although they’re seeing it in a way as an opportunity. The President’s legal team, as we heard in Pierre’s piece, saying that Robert Mueller has agreed to testify. He said his testimony will be the report and it will be the report. But they’re also seeing this possibility that they could use Mueller’s testimony to open up what President Trump in a two-word tweet overnight, that very familiar presidential refrain called “presidential harassment” and use it as a political opportunity to say Democrats can’t get over the 2016 election and get into some of what they claim are the conflicts of interest in the Mueller team and the origins of the investigation itself. So expect a fierce counterattack as usual from this White House.

(...)

Here is a transcript of the coverage on CBS This Morning:

7:04 AM ET

(...)

TONY DOKOUPIL: Mueller’s report, you may recall, found the President and his campaign did not collude with Russia, but it did not clear him of obstruction of justice, and Democrats want to know why. Mueller had said the report speaks for itself and he previously resisted calls for him to testify. Nancy Cordes is on Capitol Hill. Nancy, Robert Mueller made very clear he did not want to do this, so how did it happen?

NANCY CORDES: Well, it took months of negotiations and in the end a pair of subpoenas to force Mueller off of the fence and into the witness chair. And so now, in a few weeks time he will appear before two committees, taking questions from Democrats and Republicans in public about his two-year investigation.         

(...)

CORDES: Democrats want to ask him about the ten ways the report says the President tried to interfere with the investigation.

ROBERT MUELLER: If we had had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.

CORDES: They also want to know why Mueller stopped short of recommending Mr. Trump be charged with obstruction of justice. Another topic expected to come up is Mueller’s letter to Attorney General William Barr in which he complained that Barr “did not fully capture” the substance of his report.

WILLIAM BARR: The letter’s a bit snitty, and I think it was probably written by one of his staff people.

CORDES: In an exclusive interview last month, Barr told Jan Crawford he wouldn’t object to Mueller testifying.

BARR: As I said, you know, it’s up to Bob. But I think the line he’s drawing is that he’s going to stick to what he said in the report, is the proper line for any department official.

CORDES: CBS News has learned that the White House will not try to block or limit Mueller’s testimony, and the President’s attorney hopes Republicans take the opportunity to question the credibility of Mueller’s team. Some Republicans have questioned the need to hear from Mueller at all.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM [R-SC]: It is case is closed for me, so they can do anything they want to in the House, and I think it’ll blow up in their face.

(...)

DOKOUPIL: Well, about those questions, Nancy, as you point out, Robert Mueller previously said, “The report is my testimony,” and he said he wouldn’t go outside the four corners of it, so what are Democrats hoping to get out of this?

CORDES: Well, they see his testimony as vital to their investigations of obstruction of justice, even if he isn’t able to go much beyond what he has already laid out in the report. And beyond that, Democrats think that having a neutral arbiter like Mueller answer questions in public about obstruction is gonna help them make their case to the American people that the President broke the law and potentially, Tony, should be impeached.

(...)

NB Daily Congress Mueller Report ABC Good Morning America CBS CBS This Morning NBC Today Video Kasie Hunt Pierre Thomas Nancy Cordes

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