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OPENING ACTS AND MAIN PERFORMANCES

FROM NORTH AMERICA SYNDICATE, 300 W 57th STREET, 41st FLOOR, NEW YORK, NY 10019
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BOB FRANKEN
FOR RELEASE FRIDAY, JUNE 28, 2019

OPENING ACTS AND MAIN PERFORMANCES
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Now that the first Democratic debates of the 2020 election are history, so begins the party’s candidate-winnowing process. The consensus losers were Beto O’Rourke from night one, for reinforcing his image as a millennial empty suit, and Joe Biden on the second evening, whose shopworn suit was ripped by Kamala Harris. NBC, which held the debates, garnered substantial ratings, but those June numbers should pale in comparison with the upcoming July performance that promises to be the true summer blockbuster.
Get set for “The Bob Mueller Show”! It’ll have one run, July 17, although recordings of it, or at least excerpts, will be played for the rest of time -- or, at any rate, until the next crisis or outrage, which these days means it’ll have a shelf life of a nanosecond or two. It stars special counsel Robert Mueller in the title role, although the co-star is President Donald Trump who was the focus of Mueller’s investigation. It failed to hold Trump criminally accountable but did tease with its outlines of Trump’s conduct. Mueller will be publicly testifying before not one, but two congressional hearings, one following the other.


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These spectacles will be as different as night and day. That’s literally the case: The Democratic debates were held in prime time. The Mueller performance will start in the morning, which normally would mean fewer people tuning in. But not this time. Mueller is the reluctant principal actor. It took a subpoena from the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees to convince him he had no choice but to appear. Mueller insisted that he’d just as soon not show up, which might be an act, since there’s no better way to generate a craving for someone than for that someone to show little interest. That’s true in D.C. as it is in life.
What gives it credibility in this case -- actually, who gives it credibility -- is Mueller himself. Nary a peep out of him during the 22 months that he probed the Donald Trump empire, including the emperor with no clothes on. The naked leader trashed him constantly. But no response from “Silent Bob.”
Now the spotlight will be on Mueller. This time, every network will carry the give-and-take. Democrats will try to squeeze a headline out of him, but he will be the one deciding how much news he wants to make.
Another huge difference between the debates and “The Bob Mueller Show” is the cast. The Democrats had 20 performers and a few understudies who didn’t make the cut. There are more than 60 members of House Judiciary and Intelligence, all vying for that killer moment. All of them focused on Mueller, who is as prim and proper as they get, and very tightly controlled.
Not that he is unfriendly to public accountability. He has appeared countless times before congressional committees in his life of public service, and he’s even reserved but friendly with us media riffraff. I was covering the Guantanamo Bay prison camp early on, when FBI Director Robert Mueller visited. Obviously, it was newsworthy, but after his meetings he decided he didn’t want to deal with reporter questions, and walked past our camera position.
I have a routine that I go through in those circumstances, and shouted in my best Sam Donaldson voice: “DIRECTOR MUELLER, DO YOU NOT THINK THAT A PUBLIC OFFICIAL HAS A RESPONSIBILITY TO ANSWER QUESTIONS FROM JOURNALISTS?”
Usually, I’m just ignored or people look at me in obvious disgust, but Mueller stopped, came over and actually had responsive answers to our inquiries. Look for him to bridge the gap between appearing to be reluctant and honoring Congress and its oversight role.
There’s one last difference between the just-completed debates and “The Bob Mueller Show.” President Trump, at one point during the Democrats’ smackdown, sent out a one-word tweet: “BORING!” It’s doubtful he’ll be bored on July 17.

© 2019 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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