The Late Show tapes around five in the afternoon, so that gave Stephen Colbert and his staff (who one can only hope got at least an office pizza party) just six or so hours to obtain, read, and somehow find humor in the just released (if heavily redacted) Mueller report. You know, the one that Donald Trump has been saying totally exonerates him of obstruction of justice and undermining American democracy with the help of a hostile foreign power despite not having read it. Well Colbert—perhaps fearing a staff revolt if he didn’t use every scrap of hard-wrenched comedy his writers came up with—did a pretty monumental initial dissection of said report on Thursday’s show, starting out with two full monologue segments, and then bringing out a legal expert intimately associated with the matter at hand. That’s not even counting the opening bit about Attorney General William Barr’s copious color-coded redactions, and a visit from pal (and late-night host who gets a whole week to react to the report), Samantha Bee. The musical guest was Cage The Elephant, but their song “Ready To Let Go” wasn’t about Mueller. Pretty sure about that, anyway.
Colbert and company did plenty of digging, that’s for certain. He covered everything, from AG Barr’s widely roasted White House toadying cover-up tactics (something he’s really good at by now), to the juiciest nuggets of White House doings, including Trump’s initial, totally innocent-guy response to the investigation, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m fucked.” Plucking out details that punch big, ragged holes through Barr’s transparent efforts to spin the damning report his benefactor’s way, Colbert landed especially potent blows at how Barr—again, the Attorney General of the United States—cherry-picked incomplete phrases from Mueller’s findings in order to cobble together the sort of shamelessly out-of-context pull quotes that unscrupulous movie companies stick on indefensibly bad movies.
Not content with his and his people’s interpretation of the day’s unfolding events, Colbert’s first guest after 20 solid minutes of monologue (including a commercial break) was the guy who actually wrote the special counsel rules themselves. Introducing former acting Solicitor General of the United States Neal Katyal as, yes, “the person who actually wrote the rules on special counsel investigations,” Colbert looked for backup to his summation that Donald Trump’s presidency is in a lot deeper trouble than William Barr would sweatily and grumpily have the country believe. “I believe that this is the end of the beginning, and not the beginning of the end,” began Katyal, which he clarified with a long and detailed explanation of just how damning the report actually is.
Circling back to that unreliable movie opinion theme, Katyal said Barr is describing a “different movie than the one that actually exists,” and called out the AG for being “actually more nefarious in some ways than anything we anticipated” when crafting the special counsel process. With a practiced and, one might say, restrainedly gleeful ease, Katyal pulled out specifics from Mueller’s carefully worded report that, he told Colbert, amounted to “a 400-page epic subtweet” of Barr’s job audition memo that conveniently claimed a president just can’t commit obstruction of justice. Apart from calling bullshit (respectfully) on that, Natyal told Colbert that one particular footnote in the report (number 1,091, for those playing at home) was Mueller pointedly explaining that any president can certainly face federal criminal charges after he leaves office. You know, however that happens. Strap in, folks.