During a moment in Monday’s impeachment hearing, NBC News broke away to provide a special report within their special coverage: The Justice Department’s inspector general just released its findings on how the FBI conducted the Russia investigation.
The conclusion: The origins of the Trump-Russia probe were not politically motivated, but there were multiple errors when it came to the way that the FBI applied for surveillance warrants.
News coverage focused on those two bottom-line results — one contradicting President Donald Trump’s repeated accusations that the investigation was motivated by “deep state” political bias, the other fodder for the president to claim vindication. “Far worse than what I ever thought possible,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
Coming on a contentious day of the Judiciary Committee’s impeachment hearing, the dual news stories likely were a whirlwind of information, blending the past Russia investigation with the current Ukraine scandal. If viewers weren’t confused, they may have been whiplashed.
“Everybody is viewing this from the lane of what they do for a living,” Chris Wallace, the anchor of Fox News Sunday, said shortly after the release of the inspector general’s report. “I’m viewing it as a reporter, and the potential headline. … When you read the report, and we’re obviously all skimming through it, the headline is they didn’t find the things Bill Barr and Donald Trump alleged.”
By contrast, there was no real breaking news out of the contentious impeachment hearing, as legal counsels for the Judiciary and Intelligence committees testified on the grounds for and against Trump’s removal from office.
Using a selection of clips and pull quotes, Democrats hoped to set up a narrative of Trump’s alleged misconduct, centering on the pressuring the president of Ukraine to investigate a political rival.
Republicans cried foul over what they see as a “sham” investigation, a faulty process and a rush to judgment. At times they tried to slow down the proceedings, insisting on a roll call vote on whether to take a break. “This is so they can have a press conference before Mr. Castor [the GOP counsel] can offer a rebuttal!” complained Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL). Later, Republicans insisted on another roll call on the question of whether to take a break for lunch.
Others used theatrics. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) walked off after the Democrats’ counsel called Trump a “clear and present danger to our national security.” Later, Gohmert suggested that Joe Biden would be the next to be impeached if he is elected president.
“Republicans are going with what appears to be a ‘there’s nothing here’ defense,'” NBC News anchor Lester Holt told viewers. “That this is certainly not impeachable, they are not really sure what the offense is, that seems to be the defense.”
Carol Lam, a former federal prosecutor, said on NBC, “It’s more attacking the Democrats’ presentation of the evidence and trying to characterize it differently.”
For the GOP, that included trying to create some doubt about just what Trump wanted from the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, on their July 25 phone call.
A case in point came when Barry Berke, the Judiciary Committee counsel, queried the Republican’s Intelligence Committee attorney, Steve Castor, about that call.
In one portion of the transcript, Trump asks Zelensky if he can “look into” Biden and his son, Hunter. Trump later told reporters that he wanted Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.
Berke asked Castor, “So President Trump was asking Ukrainian President Zelensky to have the Ukrainian officials look into Vice President Joe Biden? Is that correct, yes or no?”
“I don’t think the record supports that,” Castor responded.
“It doesn’t say, ‘Can you look into it?'” Berke replied.
‘I don’t think it supports that. I think it’s ambiguous,” Castor insisted.
Then Berke posed the same question to the Democrats’ counsel, Daniel Goldman.
“I don’t think there is any other way to read the words on the page than to conclude that,” Goldman said.