What should be the focus of coverage when three United States prisoners are freed from North Korea? If you’re the journalists at CNN overnight, you make sure to mention the Robert Mueller investigation, Stormy Daniels and to worry about Donald Trump getting credit for these Americans returning.

At 2:26 AM ET, in the early hours of Thursday, CNN’s cameras were waiting for Trump and Kim Dong-chul, Tony Kim and Kim Hak-song to arrive at Andrews Air Force Base. Journalist John Vause deemed this the time to speculate on scandals: “Donald Trump believes that this success in the foreign policy field might be enough, you know, to distract attention away from the Robert Mueller investigation into Russia, the criminal investigation of his own personal attorney, you know, the Stormy Daniels affair.”



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Senior White house Correspondent Jeff Zeleny reminded: “The Mueller investigation is indeed alive and well.” Was anyone not aware of this? Zeleny added: “But the White House officials and supporters of the President actually hope he can focus on something substantive like the release of these three Americans.”

(In 2009, Zeleny’s idea of a hardball to Barack Obama was to ask him what “enchanted” the Democrat about being president.)

At 2:56 AM ET, CNN brought on Philip Yun, who was an adviser for Bill Clinton, to whine about Trump being there to greet the returning American prisoners: “Well, this is Donald Trump as a… TV moment for him. If nothing else, he knows how to get publicity, how to a bleed a lot of drama.”

Later, Vause and Zeleny returned to worry about the credit the President might get for these Americans coming home:



JOHN VAUSE: Jeff, what’s interesting is in the past like when Donald Trump went to Las Vegas after the, you know, mass shooting there. He met with the first responders, the medical workers.

How soon will it be before we see images these turned around and, you know, put out on social media by the President or some kind of, you know, a campaign message?

ZELENY: I expect before the sun rises you will see something like that without question. I mean, that is just the fact of life in the social media times certainly this President, you know, certainly aware of the images. I expect his campaign to mention it and he certainly will share this message.

To be sure, CNN journalists did cite the return of the prisoners as “good news” and a moment of celebration. But there was a signifigant amount of time devoted to whining about optics, credit and even discussions of Mueller and Stormy Daniels.

At 6:08 AM ET, CNN International journalist Will Ripley chided about Donald Trump “exploiting” the prisoners:

To see the men put on camera after the isolation they endured, especially Kim. He spent day in, day out in a labor camp, carrying heavy rocks, being fed meals that had bugs in them, according to other people that have been held in north Korean labor camps and described the conditions. To go from that isolation for two and a half years to you are face-to-face with Donald Trump and you do have dozens of photographers taking your picture, I do worry that they were being exploited a bit.

Oddly, in CNN host Brian Stelter’s evening e-mail on Wednesday, the journalist complained: “But it’s disheartening to see how even this story has been placed on the pro/anti-Trump axis. Trump fans on social media are already lambasting the news media for not covering the homecoming enough, and for not giving Trump enough credit.” Perhaps Stelter should have watched his own network’s late night coverage.

A partial transcript is below. Click “expand” to read more:

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