Cable viewers digest Mueller news through Hannity, Maddow

By DAVID BAUDER | Sat, March 23, 2019 11:31 EDT

NEW YORK (AP) — For Sean Hannity, the "witch hunt" was finally over. Rachel Maddow considered it the start of something.

The diametrically opposed opinion hosts, who vie for the distinction of the most popular in cable news, were the windows through which many Americans digested Friday's news that special counsel Robert Mueller had concluded a nearly two-year investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 election. While his report, or even a summary, has not been released, television news still had hours to fill talking about it.

Fox News Channel's Hannity, a close Trump ally, focused on reports there will be no additional indictments from Mueller.

"The left's favorite conspiracy theory is now dead," Hannity said. "It is buried, and there was no collusion, no conspiracy, no obstruction. The witch hunt is over and there will be no further charges."

He lamented that lives were ruined by the investigation and said that people who have been prosecuted or convicted had committed "process crimes."

The accusations against Trump were "what we always said, a hoax, a lie conceived by hate."

While Hannity's Fox colleague Tucker Carlson suggested it was a night Americans "should be celebrating the great news" that no crime was apparently found regarding collusion, Hannity said citizens should be outraged by the amount of time and money spent on the case. He promised a reckoning in the coming weeks of politicians and media figures he claimed were guilty of a rush to judgment, and his first target was U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. "Schifty Schiff" read the words onscreen behind him.

"What is Maddow and all the other MSNBC conspiracy theorists, what are they going to ever do now?" he said.

As he talked, Maddow was doing the same. Unlike most evenings, when the two figures work in studios across Manhattan's Sixth Avenue from each other, Maddow had rushed to a studio in Tennessee where she had spent the day trout fishing.

"Finally, it happened," she said. "In terms of what that means and what Mueller has found, we know only the smallest little bits. This is the start of something, not the end of something."

In meticulous fashion, she detailed how the news that Mueller's investigation had concluded was reported and what a letter by Attorney General William Barr meant about what will be released to the public. Democrats in Congress have already demanded the full report be released and that they see background materials; Maddow read a letter by Schiff about that on the air.

"Right now we mostly have just a ton of questions, as to what Mueller's report says, who gets to see it, who gets to decide who gets to see it and when," she said.

It wasn't until 16 minutes into her program that she discussed the reports that there will be no new indictments from Mueller.

Many Fox News Channel guests, not just Hannity, focused on that detail on Friday evening. Former Trump aide Corey Lewandowski called it "a very clear signal that this entire hoax is over."

Still, some Fox personalities, including Chris Wallace and Harris Faulkner, had to caution guests that Mueller's report hadn't been seen yet. "To say that somehow this clears the president seems like the height of rushing to judgment," Wallace said. He dismissed the idea that those prosecuted had been charged of process crimes, saying they were very serious.

Meanwhile, on CNN, analyst and frequent Trump critic Jeffrey Toobin had an answer to colleagues who warned Trump and his supporters against prematurely celebrating.

While he isn't necessarily in the clear, the fact that the president's sons or son-in-law Jared Kushner were not indicted "is unambiguously good news for him," Toobin said.

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This story has been corrected to say that Schiff is chairman of the Intelligence Committee.

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