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Late-night hosts handily tackled Thursday’s biggest news story — the redacted Mueller report released by the Justice Department, the result of a two-year investigation and the subject of endless speculation — with jokes in their opening monologues and discussions with special guests that broke down the details of the report.
The report, which redacted sensitive information and details related to ongoing investigations, revealed, among other things, that President Trump feared that the appointment of a special counsel to lead an investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election meant “the end of [his] presidency” and argued that the president on multiple occasions tried to convince people to influence or stop the investigation.
Of the report’s conclusion that the Trump team acknowledged that they would benefit from possible Russian interference but didn’t actively collude with the foreign power, Late Show host Stephen Colbert joked, “They were like the little dog on the kitchen floor waiting for the big dog to knock the steak of democracy off the counter. After they went on national television saying, ‘Big dog, if you’re listening, please release the steak.’ “
Colbert then took Attorney General William Barr to task for stating in a press conference about the report that Mueller did not make his decision on obstruction based at least in part on the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel ruling not to indict a sitting president, as the report mentions the OLC ruling as a factor in the conclusions. “So Barr knowingly sat up there and said a baldfaced lie,” Colbert said. “The president must be so proud.”
“It would really make Barr look like a feckless stooge if Mueller had written on page 220, ‘The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of powers of office accords with the constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law,”‘ Colbert quoted.
After the audience applauded, Colbert used his Trump impression to tell them to quiet down. “‘I never said I was above the law. I’m behind the Barr,'” he said. ‘Protect me, Bill.'”
Colbert also took on Trump responding to Barr’s press conference with a Game of Thrones meme. (HBO responded.)
“If you needed any more proof that this was just a thinly disguised coordinated campaign event, the instant Barr’s press conference ended, Trump tweeted this Game of Thrones-themed image saying, ‘No collusion. No obstruction. For the haters and the radical left Democrats — Game Over,”‘ Colbert read the tweet, which included an image of Trump walking through smoke. “That picture, by the way, is Trump posing next to all the smoke William Barr just blew up his ass.”
Colbert also commented on the fact that the report was delivered on CD discs. “I’m disappointed,” he said. “Everybody knows obstruction sounds more authentic on vinyl.”
He next took on Trump’s statement that the Mueller investigation would lead to the end of his presidency. “I’m guessing that’s not how an innocent person reacts,” he said.
Colbert also discussed the report with guest, and fellow late-night host, Samantha Bee, and he spoke to former Acting Solicitor General of the United States Neal Katyal, who wrote the rules on special counsel investigations. “I think I run the most creative legal team in the country but I have never heard of that defense which is, ‘You’re so incompetent that you couldn’t obstruct justice.’ What does that say about our President?,” Katyal said.
Late Night host Seth Meyers joked that “the Mueller report is out and so is the printer,” in reference to the marked-up document.
Meyers first shared Trump’s statement that the Mueller investigation is “the worst thing to ever happen” to him. “Said Eric, ‘Yes! Out of last place,'” joked the host.
The report also said that Trump didn’t like that his former White House Counsel Don McGahn took notes during their meetings because he never had a lawyer jot down notes during meetings. “Only because his old lawyer always wore a wire,” said Meyers as a photo of Michael Cohen appeared onscreen.
Meyers also touched on the subject during his “Closer Look” segment.
Before he dove into what the redacted report said, Meyers emphasized the public’s interest in the document. “There was even the time Mueller was spotted at the airport at the same gate as Don Jr. and pundits speculated about everything from his clothes to where he was going,” he said before he shared CNN’s coverage that included a dissection of the tie he wore.
Meyers added that the media also speculated about when the investigation would end.
“Now the report is finally here, but before he had any idea of what was in the report, Trump spent weeks declaring victory and setting incredibly high expectations for how the full report would totally and completely vindicate him of everything,” he continued. A montage of interviews followed of Trump stating that he was happy with the results of the investigation, though he also did not care about the report.
‘”The Mueller report is great. It exonerates me. I’ve never read it. I don’t care about it,'” Meyers said with a Trump impression. “You’re like a terrible boyfriend who keeps giving mixed messages.”
Meyers also spoke about the press conference where “Barr spun all the conclusions before reporters or the public actually had the chance to read the report.” He added that some people had read the report before the press conference, including Rudy Giuliani. “From the looks of it, he was trying to open his eyes wide enough to read all 400 pages at once,” joked Meyers.
During the press conference, Barr repeatedly said that there was no evidence found that Trump conspired with Russia during his 2016 campaign. “Halfway through that press conference I started expecting Barr to rip off his mask and reveal it was Trump the whole time,” joked Meyers.
The host also noted that the report was sent on a CD. “Was it a report or did they just send Congress a mixtape?” he joked.
Meyers then said that the report is much “more damning and nuanced and legally dense than Barr made it sound,” before he touched on Trump’s comments that the Mueller investigation may end his presidency. “The one time we wanted you to be right and you weren’t,” he said.
“The report is detailed. There’s a lot to go through and it will take time for journalists and political systems to process it,” said Meyers. “It’s worth keeping in mind that after Barr’s first letter, Republicans said that it was a major political win for Trump.” On the other hand, a CNN poll revealed that Democrats felt different about Russia following the initial letter.
“Now it’s up to Congress to do their job. I don’t know if they will, but if they did the Trump presidency will be,” said Meyers before a number of clips showed broadcast journalists saying the phrase “wrapping up” and “winding down.”
Later in the episode, Mayor Pete Buttigieg explained his reaction to the Mueller report. “I mean, I guess it confirmed a lot of things that we were worried about; that we have a President who acts in a self-serving way, that there was a lot of behavior that was at-best unethical and legally unethical to put it charitably, and the way that the Attorney General conducted himself as though he were the personal Attorney to the President was incredibly troubling too.”
“At the same time,” he continued, “I think politically I’m not sure it will change much. It’s one more reminder that if we really want to send Trumpism into the history books, the best way we can defeat it decisively is at the ballot box in 2020.”
Host Meyers went on to ask Buttigieg about his military background and how he feels about Trump’s dismissal of military intelligence and simultaneous boasting about what a great supporter the military is.
Over on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, the namesake host had fun with the length of the Mueller report, which is 448 pages long. “As you probably know, the Mueller report is out. It is 448 pages long,” he said. “Say what you will about this president, [but] he has Americans reading again.”
Kimmel also addressed Barr’s “very curious” press conference. “He looks like if Elton John had conversion therapy,” the host said of Barr. He added that Trump’s attorney general painted “an unusually rosy picture” of the report during the conference.
“He blotted a lot of the report out. There were almost a thousand redactions. I’m not sure what this page was about,” he said as a document that read “The Pee Tape” appeared onscreen with most of the text crossed out.
The host added that he wasn’t surprised by Barr’s support of Trump during the press conference. A clip followed of Barr pulling off a mask and revealing himself to be Sarah Huckabee Sanders. “There’s a reason that Bill Barr is so determined,” he said. “Anyway, sometimes the Mission Impossible movies just write themself.”
Trump’s former lawyer McGahn gave the most “interesting” testimony, according to Kimmel, which was that Trump ordered him to fire Mueller and he refused. “The reason Donald Trump is still in the White House is because no one in the White House is listening to him,” Kimmel said. “In terms of obstruction, the report makes it abundantly clear that yes, the president did repeatedly lie and asked others to lie, and this is the important thing, he didn’t lie to investigators. He only lied to us, the American people. And let’s be honest, we deserve it.”
He then touched on “the most explosive” part of the report, which said that then-attorney general Jeff Sessions told Trump that a special counsel had been appointed. According to the report, Trump responded that he was “f—ed.” Kimmel continued, “He said, ‘This was the worst thing that ever happened to me.’ And I assume that includes Donald Jr. being born.”
Kimmel said that some people had a difficult time understanding what it means to have the documents redacted. In order to help people understand what the redaction means, the team at Jimmy Kimmel Live! put together “an informative and musical explanation.”
A Schoolhouse Rock-theme clip followed. A young girl told a floating pen called Redaction Jackson that she was delivering the Mueller report to Congress. “Blanking out words and phrases and clauses,” the character sang about the redaction process. “So the POTUS doesn’t wind up behind bars.”
Late Late Show host James Corden also took on the report Thursday. He noted that “it was hard to keep from zoning out” during the press conference and pointed out that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was staring blankly into the camera as Barr spoke.
“This is how seriously they are taking the report,” said Corden. “Even Rod Rosenstein’s facial expressions have been redacted. The only other time I’ve seen a face like that is when my toddler suddenly doesn’t have to use the potty anymore.”
Corden also joked that the release of the redacted report was like CNN’s Avengers: Endgame. While the network originally had nine people on air to discuss the reports, he joked that the panel eventually grew to 40 people.
The host then summarized some of the points made in the report. “Let’s put it this way. Trump got into the White House about as legitimately as Lori Loughlin’s daughter got into USC,” he said.
He added that Trump didn’t get charged with obstruction for his efforts to interfere with the Russia investigation because his aides wouldn’t follow his instructions. “Trump is so ineffective, he somehow managed to make his own campaign follow the law,” he said. “Forget colluding with the Russians. Trump couldn’t even collude with his own staff.”
The host next took on the report’s statement that Trump believed his presidency was over when Mueller was brought onto the investigation. “Clearly the words of an innocent man,” he said. “Trump thought it was the end of his presidency. Unfortunately as usual, he was completely wrong.”
Corden also shared a video that Trump had tweeted earlier that day in which the late-night host appeared as he announced that the investigation was over. “I don’t know what I was expecting on Mueller report Thursday, but it definitely wasn’t this,” he responded. “I guess this explains why I got an amazing job offer from Fox News today.”
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