Waiting for Mueller

The Mueller report is coming. Maybe. Last night, CNN, NBC, and MSNBC were abuzz with speculation that the special counsel has all but wrapped his findings and is getting ready to deliver them to the Justice Department. Across the networks, the words “any time now” did a lot of work. On Anderson Cooper’s show, John Dean—the White House counsel who turned on Nixon during Watergate and has, consequently, seen this all before—said that he doesn’t think Mueller is done yet; the White House, Dean speculated, could have started the rumor that the report is imminent to make the process look drawn out. In the studio, Shimon Prokupecz, CNN’s crime and justice reporter, disagreed. “I don’t think we would be told a report is coming any day now if there were other indictments,” he said. Who was right? Who knows?

Over the past few weeks, we’ve heard, on several occasions, that the Mueller report was about to drop. In its continued absence, reporters on the Mueller beat have been busy interpreting signs. Andrew Weissmann, a top prosecutor for Mueller, is stepping down. What does that mean? Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who was stepping down, is now staying a bit longer. What does that mean? Staff are carrying boxes out of the special counsel’s office. Yesterday’s speculation felt particularly feverish. But it’s hard to tell, at least from the outside, whether that reflects a change in reality or the bored angst of journalists.

ICYMI: The Washington Post publishes problematic op-ed

Triangulating clues seems necessary because Mueller’s investigation is “hermetically sealed,” as The New York Times put it. His office has been remarkably impervious to leaks; when he communicates, it’s almost always through court documents. In recent weeks, the most useful journalism has stuck to what we know for sure: The Washington Post and the Times, for instance, produced graphics linking important figures to key events. Last month, Chad Day and Eric Tucker of the Associated Press explained that we already know a great deal about Mueller’s findings; his collected court filings, they wrote, are a report hiding in plain sight. Yesterday, Jonathan Karl, chief White House correspondent at ABC News, struck a similar note, pointing to a “potential road map” in the form of a letter that Rosenstein sent to the Senate last year. “The bottom line,” Karl said, “do not expect a harsh condemnation of President Donald Trump or any of his associates if they have not been charged with crimes.”

Still, major news outlets are ready to move. According to Vanity Fair’s Joe Pompeo, the Times, the Post, and The Wall Street Journal already have stories, B-roll, interactives, and graphics “in the oven”; news trucks have been camped outside the Justice Department; the home of William Barr, the attorney general; and other places. Yesterday, photographers snapped pictures of Mueller driving to his office.

Whatever happens next, and whenever it happens, the clearest truth we have is that the report will not be the end of the Mueller story. Since 2017—when the investigation was authorized, to determine whether Russia interfered in the election of Donald Trump to the presidency—it’s been talked about in dramatic terms: as an epic mystery leading up to a big final reveal. But that’s never been realistic. As Jeffrey Toobin wrote last month for The New Yorker, Watergate “was like Shakespeare—a drama that built to a satisfying climax,” but Mueller “is more like Beckett—a mystifying tragicomedy that may drift into irresolution.” It’s a compelling analogy. Then again, who knows? A Hollywood ending could come today.

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Below, more on Mueller:

  • Pregnant with expectation: The Mueller speculation has inspired more than its fair share of baby-watch analogies. Early this month, The Daily podcast from the Times released a three-part podcast series, “What to expect when you’re expecting (the Mueller report)” featuring interviews with Neal Katyal, a former government lawyer who drafted the special counsel regulations; Michael S. Schmidt, who has covered Mueller for the Times; and Jerry Nadler, chair of the House Judiciary Committee. The takeaway? This is only the beginning.
  • Wait and see: According to CNN’s Jeremy Diamond, “The White House press shop is on alert, but has largely kept its distance from preparations related to the Mueller report.” The White House may respond, when the report is filed, via a formal statement issued by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the press secretary, or Trump himself. Or, Trump may just tweet about it.
  • Lashing out? Trump’s attacks this week on George Conway and the Senator John McCain, who died last summer, prompted some observers to speculate that he’s worried about the impending Mueller report and is lashing out to distract attention. Such behavior is hardly unusual. “Another explanation is he’s just the same guy he’s been since June 16, 2015,” Axios’s Jonathan Swan tweeted. “Or before that. Long before that,” the Times’s Maggie Haberman added.
  • Receipts: Where Mueller is wrapping up, the House Judiciary Committee is just getting started with its own Trump probe. It recently requested documents from 81 parties; the deadline for delivery was this week. Hope Hicks—Trump’s former communications director, who is now an executive at Fox—plans to cooperate. Julian Assange—the founder of WikiLeaks, who posted hacked Democratic Party emails during the 2016 campaign—has said he will not, citing the First Amendment and his role as a journalist.

Other notable stories:

  • Jeanine Pirro, who was suspended by Fox News for suggesting that Representative Ilhan Omar, a Muslim, is un-American, will be off-air for a second consecutive weekend but is expected to return, CNN’s Brian Stelter reports. Yesterday, Joseph Azam told NPR’s David Folkenflik that he quit as a senior Murdoch executive in 2017 because of the xenophobic slant of Fox News and other of the family’s properties. For The Washington Post, Sarah Ellison profiles Lachlan Murdoch, son of Rupert, who is in charge of Fox News’s new parent company and who may be less committed to the news arm than his father.
  • New polling by Democratic groups suggests that Republicans who watch Fox News have radically different views from non-Republicans and Republicans who don’t watch Fox—a phenomenon known as “the FoxHole.” The survey, The Daily Beast’s Maxwell Tani writes, shows why many in the Democratic Party have “written off the network’s viewers as a lost cause.” John Delaney, a former Maryland congressman who is running for president, is not among the naysayers: he says party bosses made “a bad decision” when they told Fox they wouldn’t host a debate on the network.
  • For CJR, Tony Lin charts the spread of Islamophobia on Chinese social media following last week’s mosque shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand. “The enormous power of Chinese social media platforms is enabling the global circulation of extremist and alt-right discourses—and China’s Great Firewall might, counterintuitively, be helping the circulation,” Lin writes.
  • Dan Peres, the former editor of Details, a men’s fashion magazine that was shuttered in 2015, will be editor in chief of the new Gawker. Peres told the Timess Julia Jacobs that Gawker 2.0 would not be as brash as Gawker 1.0: “There was a lot of gratuitous meanness and sort of misguided decision-making,” he said. Carson Griffith, the controversial editorial director hired to help launch the reboot, will stay on under Peres.
  • For The Atlantic, Taylor Lorenz writes that “the next great battle against misinformation” will be on Instagram—a platform that has largely gone under the radar compared to its owner, Facebook. “Instagram is teeming with conspiracy theories, viral misinformation, and extremist memes,” she writes. “Accounts intersperse TikTok videos and nostalgia memes with anti-vaccination rhetoric, conspiracy theories about George Soros and the Clinton family, and jokes about killing women, Jews, Muslims, and liberals.”
  • For CJR’s podcast, The Kicker, Betsy Morais, our managing editor, and Alexandria Neason, our staff writer, spoke with Elecia Dexter, who became editor of The Democrat-Reporter newspaper in Linden, Alabama, after Goodloe Sutton, its longtime chief, wrote a column praising the Ku Klux Klan. Dexter soon quit her post, citing continued interference from Sutton, who still owns the paper.
  • Vice has agreed to produce sponsored content for Philip Morris, the tobacco company, promoting e-cigarettes. Alice Hancock reports for The Financial Times that the deal, worth over $6 million, has alarmed health campaigners in the UK, where the government takes a more lax approach to teenage vaping than in the US.
  • For CJR, Mark Gardiner reflects on a story he wrote about Pierlucio Tinazzi, an Italian motorcyclist who, Gardiner reported, bravely rescued 10 people before perishing in a tunnel fire. While researching a feature on the 20th anniversary of the fire, Gardiner discovered his Tinazzi story wasn’t true.
  • Finally, a programming note: I’ll be off for the next two weeks. In my absence, Maya Kosoff will be helming the newsletter. See you on Monday, April 8.

ICYMI: The White House released a troubling video last week

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Jon Allsop is a freelance journalist. He writes CJR’s newsletter The Media Today. Find him on Twitter @Jon_Allsop.