Over the last two years talking heads in the major media developed high hopes that Special Counsel Robert Mueller's probe would crescendo with dramatic flare.
Viewers likely started to imagine that the only possible outcome would be the Trump family being frog-walked out of the White House in handcuffs.
On Friday, Mueller's probe officially concluded. No further indictments will be filed, and no one in the Trump family will be indicted. The two-year investigation never charged anyone with conspiracy related to the Trump campaign and Russia.
The disappointment was evident on many of the news programs that served as the Mueller probe's biggest boosters. MSNBC's Rachel Maddow appeared to get emotional. Chris Matthews angrily asked why Mueller "let Trump off the hook?"
After all, in between frequent pronouncements of new “bombshells,” these networks hyped seemingly inevitable impeachment proceedings, claimed the probe revealed “treasonous” behavior, and predicted much, if not all, of the Trump team would wind up behind bars.
Over just the last couple of weeks, these TV talking heads — such as former U.S. prosecutor and current CNN analyst Preet Bharara as well as former CIA director and MSNBC analyst John Brennan — confidently projected Mueller would issue more indictments before wrapping his probe.
More dramatically, the media sometimes claimed these “bombshells” — many of which turned out to be untrue — were evidence of outright treason, a crime punishable by death.
“The spirit of what Trump did is clearly treasonous,” presidential historian and CNN commentator, Douglas Brinkley, said. Over on MSNBC, former Watergate prosecutor and MSNBC commentator, Nick Ackerman, said of reports Russia was helping the Trump campaign: “There’s outright treason.”
Other reporters and anchors forecast inevitable jail sentences for those in Trump’s inner circle.
In December 2017, MSNBC's Mika Brzezinski said the Trump Team might be going to jail "for the rest of their lives."
In December 2018, CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked Delaware Sen. Coons — as he often does — if he thought Trump might be facing jail time. Sen. Coons said yes, "the issues outlined against both Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort, I think, continue to sharpen the ways in which it is clear that the Mueller investigation has produced a whole series of actions not previously exposed to the public."
Democratic lawmakers were not immune from setting lofty expectations from the outcome of the investigation. In December 2018, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said Trump could be the first president "to face the prospect of jail time."
"My takeaway is there’s a very real prospect that on the day Donald Trump leaves office the Justice Department may indict him, that he may be the first president in quite some time to face the real prospect of jail time," Rep. Schiff said. "We have been discussing the issue of pardons that the president may offer to people or dangle in front of people. The bigger pardon question may come down the road as the next president has to determine whether to pardon Donald Trump."
In March 2017, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) said the evidence he had already seen was enough proof of collusion he predicted prison sentences.
"My impression is after all of this is said and done that some people end up in jail,” he told CNN's Blitzer. "My impression is that people will probably be charged and probably go to jail.”
In March 2018, ABC's Joy Behar hopefully predicted of the Trump family: “I think they’re all going to end up together in prison and maybe that’s a good thing.”
And that’s just skimming the surface. Check out the montage above for more.
— MSNBC’s Maddow Appears Emotional Reporting on Mueller Not Indicting Anyone Else
— Beto: ‘Beyond a Shadow of a Doubt’ Trump ‘Sought to ... Collude with the Russian Government’
— Rep. Schiff Vows to Keep Investigating Trump: 'We Have to Find the Truth'
— Matthews Fumes over Mueller: ‘How Could They Let Trump off the Hook?’