Barr v. Mueller
It seems as if Donald Trump finally has the AG he has always wanted.
Charlie Savage has a useful analysis in the NYT from late last week which compares key quotations from the Barr letter to the actual text of the now-released Mueller report. I will not attempt to excerpt the piece here, but I would highly recommend reading it: How Barr’s Excerpts Compare to the Mueller Report’s Findings .
As Savage notes, the Barr letter was curious from the start:
none of the excerpts were in context or even complete sentences, raising the question of whether he was portraying their thrust and tone accurately or skewing them to make them sound better for President Trump.
As the linked piece demonstrates, Barr did try to spin the summary in a way that was advantageous to Trump.
Along those same lines, Barr’s press conference that accompanied the release of the report was not impressive (at least if one expects the head of federal law enforcement to not behave like the president’s defense attorney).
Note the following from the press conference (emphases mine):
In assessing the President’s actions discussed in the report, it is important to bear in mind the context. President Trump faced an unprecedented situation. As he entered into office, and sought to perform his responsibilities as President, federal agents and prosecutors were scrutinizing his conduct before and after taking office, and the conduct of some of his associates. At the same time, there was relentless speculation in the news media about the President’s personal culpability. Yet, as he said from the beginning, there was in fact no collusion. And as the Special Counsel’s report acknowledges, there is substantial evidence to show that the President was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks. Nonetheless, the White House fully cooperated with the Special Counsel’s investigation, providing unfettered access to campaign and White House documents, directing senior aides to testify freely, and asserting no privilege claims. And at the same time, the President took no act that in fact deprived the Special Counsel of the documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation. Apart from whether the acts were obstructive, this evidence of non-corrupt motives weighs heavily against any allegation that the President had a corrupt intent to obstruct the investigation.
First, Trump is not the first president to be investigated. So, I am not sure how “unprecedented” this was.
Second, given the number of indictments and convictions surrounding the investigation, it isn’t as if Trump’s associates didn’t deserve investigation. Perhaps if Flynn has refrained form lying to the FBI, for example.
Third, how does Trump being angry over being investigated (I am guessing anyone being investigated would be stressed out to some degree) justify trying to obstruct the investigation? How is him being angry and frustrated even relevant in any way?
Fourth, as a seasoned attorney, Barr know that the phrase “no collusion” is not a legal one and it more echoing the President than he is providing clarity to the situation.
Fifth, the Mueller report itself calls would suggest that Trump did have corrosive motives.
The above not sound like an Attorney General. This sounds like a defense attorney doing damage control for a client.
To all of this I would also remind us all of his flippant use of “spying” in his congressional testimony. On that point I will point to Benjamin Wittes’ assessment:
Attorney General Bill Barr’s statements today on supposed “spying” by the FBI on the Trump campaign before the Senate Committee on Appropriations were indefensible. They were at once indecipherable and contentless, on the one hand, and incendiary, on the other hand.
At this point, it seems as if Donald Trump finally has the AG he wanted back when he was railing at Jeff Sessions. He has a toady who will use the office to further Trump’s own political needs rather than act as law enforcement.