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.

FILED UNDER: General
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Teve says:

    Ted Lieu
    @tedlieu
    Dear
    @TheJusticeDept
    Barr: It turns out the American people are not as stupid as you think. Most of us can read. And what we read in the #MuellerReport is vastly different than your misleading representations.

    Also, why are you suing to eliminate preexisting conditions coverage?

    Dean Baker
    @DeanBaker13
    ·
    17h
    As the saying goes, you can’t spell “embarrassment” without Barr.

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  2. Andrew says:

    The GOP and other Trump defenders/encouragers have sold themselves to the great party and leader!
    Where the country is second to their greed and vanity.
    Anyone who tries to play whataboutism, or deflect simply do not care what happens to the rule of the law or this nation.

    It is shameful.

    The last I checked Obama had zero indictments in his entire administration. And the last I checked Trump won the election in 2016. Not Hillary.
    And a Democrat would have been impeached or had the declarations already drawn up months ago against them. If the situation was the same.
    But why not for Trump? Oh, that’s right. The Senate.
    Anyone and everyone that votes R or calls themselves a republican…this is your party. From the town hall to the orange travesty in the White House. You are apart of this.

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  3. SenyorDave says:

    Just in case you’re keeping score, here’s the new bottom for Trump supporters:
    Giuliani: Nothing wrong with Trump camp taking Russian help
    From the interview:
    Pressed about whether there is a something wrong about using information stolen by foreign adversaries, Giuliani said, “It depends on the stolen material.”

    At this point I have no doubt that anything Trump and his people do can be rationalized by his supporters. He killed someone? It depends on who he killed.

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  4. CSK says:

    @SenyorDave: No need for rationalization. Just attribute it to fake news.

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  5. Raymond Smith says:

    Far as what I have seen Republicans in the Senate were willingly complicit with what Russia was doing for Trump. Their numerous choices of backing Trump in everything since the election shows that their intent is not just run by supporting the President. They know that once full investigations start going the GOP complicity will come to light for all the world to see. They are bought and paid for hacks for Putin their numerous choices actions and legislation that they have supported clearly demonstrate this.

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  6. Franklin says:

    How is him being angry and frustrated even relevant in any way?

    Are you new to politics, Steven? Libs are the overly-emotional bleeding hearts. But if conservatives are emotional, it’s for a damn good reason! Their feelings are rational, for god’s sake!

  7. An Interested Party says:

    Anyone and everyone that votes R or calls themselves a republican…this is your party. From the town hall to the orange travesty in the White House. You are apart of this.

    You write that as if the vast majority of people you are addressing are capable of feeling shame…considering who they support, I don’t think they are capable of feeling shame…

    Pressed about whether there is a something wrong about using information stolen by foreign adversaries, Giuliani said, “It depends on the stolen material.”

    And to think that this crowd acted offended when some of their behavior was described as treasonous…talk about shameless…

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  8. JKB says:

    We are learning as to why the media types are running so hard at Barr. They know what’s coming now that the Mueller hold is off.

    Congressman Matt Gaetz this weekend:

    “They’re not off the hook. Another Little nugget the IG is looking at is the corruption between the FBI and the media, where members of the media were giving concert passes and athletics tickets and other incentives to people in the FBI to leak to them, so we will be seeing it before we see the IG Report on how this fraudulent investigation began.”

    There’s going to be a lot of charges and prosecutions in DC this summer.

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  9. de stijl says:

    Just imagine how appalled they’d be if at a campaign rally the crowd started chanting “Lock Him Up! Lock Him Up! Lock Him Up!” over and over as the D nominee laughed.

    Pearls would be clutched so hard, they’d squeak. Peggy Noonan would tsk, tsk and be lugubriously disappointed, spin an entirely fictitious Reagan anecdote that fits her preferred narrative, and then settle into her daily routine of day drinking and berating the help over matters which they have no control over like the weather or what year it is or why Univision exists.

    I really want “Lock Him Up!” chants to be a real thing as payback. Does that make me a bad person?

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  10. Barry says:

    @JKB: Another case of all right-wing accusations being confessions. The Mueller team was extremely tight lipped, frustrating the press.

  11. @JKB: Again, you are spouting right wing talking points (and quoting one of the more extreme purveyors of those views in the Congress).

    You are not addressing what I wrote. Instead of quoting others, why don’t you tell me what mistakes I made above? Please defend the AG acting like the president’s personal attorney. How is this a good thing?

    Let’s say that there are other, even needed, investigations of the FBI. How does that make the Mueller Report and what is directly says about the president go away?

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  12. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Based on an annual salary of $210,700 I feel it is safe to say that after 1 month on the job, AG Barr is in violation of federal election donation limits by having already made an in kind donation to trump’s reelection campaign of the sum of at least $17,500. I won’t hold my breath waiting for charges to be filed against him.

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  13. gVOR08 says:

    @JKB: With GOPs you can never tell if they actually believe their nonsense or if they’re just play acting to con the rubes. Looks like Gaetz is play acting to con you, Jake.

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  14. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @JKB:

    Matt Gaetz

    Seriously? Matt Gaetz? Curretnly under investigation for witness tampering?
    MAGA…many are getting arrested.

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  15. Joe says:

    I found it pretty stunning that Barr said – and underscored in response to a question – that Mueller’s conclusions had nothing to do with DOJ’s position on not indicting a sitting president when a simple reading of the report he was just about to release showed that position to be a cornerstone of Mueller’s analysis.

    It’s interesting how Barr et al. can count on their base taking their word for something that is flatly contradicted by the flimsiest amount of follow-up.

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  16. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @JKB:

    There’s going to be a lot of charges and prosecutions in DC this summer.

    Please, hold your breath.

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  17. Teve says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: and who has been acting super stalkery to AOC, and who basically admitted that his job as a GOP congressman was to protect Trump.

  18. Kathy says:

    So all the next Democratic president needs is the GOP lack a 2/3 majority in the Senate, and then they can pretty much do what they like, when they like, and as they like. What will the Republicans do, impeach them?

    At this point I’d be satisfied if a semi-civilized West were to last my lifetime.

  19. gVOR08 says:

    @Kathy:

    At this point I’d be satisfied if a semi-civilized West were to last my lifetime.

    You and me both. I suspect I’m a deal older, so I have a better shot.

  20. Scott F. says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    I was wondering something similar myself. How does Gaetz’ play change anything meaningful?

    Let’s grant that there was bribery between the media and the FBI that led to illegal leaks – a huge allowance, but let’s give it to them. How does this get one to a fraudulent investigation? And how does a fraudulent investigation of this scale work? Is everyone in on it? Mueller, all his prosecutors, the inner circle Trump staff who forged internal communications that made themselves look bad, the grand jury, the judges who handled all the indictments? Who would coordinate such massive deception?

    This wild idea comes from clowns, Gaetz and JKB, who spend all their days claiming the Democrats are incompetent. How can any sane person hold both these ideas in their head at the same time?

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  21. @Scott F.: I am noting an attempt to change the subject from various pro-Trump sources. Either about the dossier, the FBI itself, or Obama’s failure to stop the Russians. The thing is: even if all of that is true, it doesn’t obviate the contents of the Mueller Report.

  22. Kathy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    The thing is: even if all of that is true, it doesn’t obviate the contents of the Mueller Report.

    The Trumpian version of whataboutism is “Obama/Hillary/Bill/Kennedy did something wrong, therefore Trump can do much worse.”

  23. JKB says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Please defend the AG acting like the president’s personal attorney.

    As the AG did not act like the president’s personal attorney, I choose not to accept your strawman. AG Barr was providing context to the contents of a document that was by the nature of the requirements a one-sided best-view-of-the-facts prosecutors explanation of seeking or demurring from prosecution. Facts, one might add, that were the result of unprecedented cooperation by the White House and President Trump.

    I realize everyone is very emotional, but to avoid losing all critical sense, it must be remembered that this document was developed by 13 angry, mostly politically partisan, lawyers and has never been subjected to formal counter-argument or adversarial proceeding. That is, it is one view of the facts. One view of the facts, taken in the most negative light as they relate to the president, that still found no basis for recommending prosecution. Even taking the dubious theories of the Mueller group on obstruction of justice at face value and only evaluating the facts in relation to these theories, the AG and Deputy AG could not find a factual basis to support indictment.

    As things go, AG Barr has never stated that he is “the president’s wingman”, nor attempted a secret meeting with the spouse of the subject of an investigation, nor told the FBI to refer to the investigation as a “matter”, nor given a press conference where he laid out the factual basis for a violation of the law, then invented a new “intent” requirement to support not recommending prosecution. True, Holder, Lynch and Comey acted more like co-conspirators rather than Hillary’s personal lawyers.

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  24. An Interested Party says:

    …this document was developed by 13 angry, mostly politically partisan, lawyers…

    Talk about strawman arguments and being too emotional…you project just like your hero in the White House…partisan, heal thyself…

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  25. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @JKB: And I can’t speak for anyone else here, but I welcome all of them. I am in favor of any one in government being charged and prosecuted for any illegal actions–including President Trump.

    What I will become fatigued with is if any of these dog and pony shows (including the one starring Donald J. Trump) becoming endless show trial/kabuki theater events displaying the fecklessness and dimwitted boobery of the participants. I expect that I will become fatigued with you, for example, as you trot out the same old drivel I’ve been listening to from you for many years, but so far, your material is new-ish, so carry on.

    ETA: Denial is a truly wondrous and amazing thing, but now your “since he didn’t, I reject your assertion” schtick is starting to get old.

  26. @JKB:

    I realize everyone is very emotional, but to avoid losing all critical sense, it must be remembered that this document was developed by 13 angry, mostly politically partisan, lawyers

    You are trying to make a joke, yes?

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  27. Mikey says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    You are trying to make a joke, yes?

    No, he’s just regurgitating the dopey tripe his cult leader fed him.

  28. @Mikey: Oh, I know.