The reaction to Mueller’s remarks on Wednesday was mostly what you would expect from Fox News. One host after another attacked the special counsel. Sean Hannity said he “doesn’t know the law and is full of crap.” Tucker Carlson proclaimed that he is “sleazy and dishonest.” Laura Ingraham compared him to a “mean girl.”
What drew their ire in every case was Mueller’s statement that, in the case of obstruction of justice, “if we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.” That one obviously challenged the false narrative they have been trying to construct and sparked a whole series of ad hominem attacks on Mueller’s character rather than the substance of what he said.
In that chorus of spin, one voice on Fox News stood out: Bret Baier.
Baier’s takeaway was that the case Mueller made was much more nuanced than the president’s suggestion of “no collusion, no obstruction.” He specifically noted that “they couldn’t find evidence sufficient to move forward with a crime on the issue of conspiracy.” He also referred to the statement that other hosts zeroed in on: “if they had found that the president did not commit a crime on obstruction, they would have said that.” Baier ended by suggesting that Mueller’s statement “was not anywhere as clear cut as Attorney General Bill Barr. In fact, it was almost the exact opposite.”
That could be the first time Fox News viewers got an accurate report on Mueller’s findings, which is a critical step. What is also worth noting is that neither of the statements Baier zeroed in on were new. They were recitations of the exact language contained in the Mueller report. On page 9 of Volume I, it states that, “while the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign, the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges.” Similarly, on page 8 of Volume II, the report states that, “if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment.”
Given the way that Mueller’s remarks challenged the false narrative Fox News was trying to spin, combined with the fact that they spurred Bret Baier to finally report what he said accurately, it is worth thinking about the value of spoken words over those that are written. These Fox News personalities either didn’t read the written report or were content to ignore what it actually said until the special counsel spoke the words out loud.
That provides some powerful evidence for why Democrats should call Mueller to testify. Contrary to what has been reported in some places, he did not refuse to do so. Instead, he indicated that he was reluctant, but laid out the parameters for what he would and would not discuss.
Now, I hope and expect this to be the only time that I will speak to you in this manner. I am making that decision myself. No one has told me whether I can or should testify or speak further about this matter. There has been discussion about an appearance before Congress. Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report. It contains our findings and analysis and the reasons for the decisions we made. We chose those words carefully, and the work speaks for itself. And the report is my testimony. I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress.
What we have witnessed, at least from Fox News, is that if Mueller were to testify about what is written in his report, it won’t be as easily ignored. Given that almost no Americans are going to read a 400+ page document, they will only know what it contains when it is reported in the news. That is precisely why Attorney General Barr attempted to get out in front of the media to provide his spin both before and after the report was released. That sufficiently muddied the waters with the contradictions Baier referenced. Congress should call Mueller to testify, knowing that the media will report what he says and Americans will actually learn about his findings.