New U.S. Attorney General William Barr is acting like Donald Trump’s supporters are surely dumb as a box of rocks and twice as gullible.
In two public statements before the redacted report of special prosecutor Robert Mueller was released to Congress and the general public on Thursday morning, Barr was less than forthright. He was mostly talking only to the president — his “audience of one” — and the president’s slavish supporters, less to anyone objectively parsing the facts.
In his first statement, during a congressional hearing regarding the pending release of the redacted report, he told legislators that Mueller declined to charge the president with obstruction but also — sans explanation — that it did not exonerate him of culpability, and that:
“[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
Then at his Thursday press conference, Barr reiterated his stated opinion about the Trump campaign’s alleged “collusion” with Russia, and then added this about obstruction allegations:
“After reviewing the Special Counsel’s final report on these issues; consulting with Department officials, including the Office of Legal Counsel; and applying the principles of federal prosecution that guide our charging decisions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”
So, before the actual report was issued, the attorney general publicly claimed that it effectively cleared the president and his campaign of any illegal wrongdoing.
But when the report was released and widely scrutinized, it became clear that it was awash in non-illegal wrongdoing and presented a broad litany of very-apparent presidential obstructions of the Mueller probe and other matters.
“As it turns out, in some cases, Barr’s characterizations [at his April 18 press conference] were incomplete or misleading. The Mueller report is more damning of Trump than the attorney general indicated,” wrote Washington Post Fact Checker reporter Salvador Rizzo on Friday.
In a dismissive indictment of Barr’s preliminary soft-soaping of the report for the president, former federal attorney Renato Mariotti wrote in a Politico column:
“Barr suggested that the special counsel, after 22 months of investigation, simply couldn’t make up his mind and left it to his boss [Barr] to decide. Now that we have seen almost the entire report, of more than 400 pages, we know Barr intentionally misled the American people about Mueller’s findings and his legal reasoning. As a former prosecutor, when I look Mueller’s work, I don’t see a murky set of facts. I see a case meticulously laid out by a prosecutor who knew he was not allowed to bring it.
“Mueller’s report detailed extraordinary efforts by Trump to abuse his power as president to undermine Mueller’s investigation. The case is so detailed that it is hard to escape the conclusion that Mueller could have indicted and convicted Trump for obstruction of justice — if he had been permitted to do so. And the reason he is not permitted to do so is very clear: Department of Justice policy prohibits the indictment of a sitting president.“Mueller still could have reached a conclusion regarding obstruction of justice, but he believed it would be unfair to reach a conclusion that Trump could not rebut in court. How do we know this? Because Mueller says it. If he had reached a conclusion that Trump obstructed justice, Mueller wrote, Trump could not go to court to obtain a ‘speedy and public trial’ with the ‘procedural protections’ afforded to a criminal defendant by the Constitution.”
A road map for future resolution
In other words, it was clear that the special counsel’s intent was to “preserve evidence” and create a road map for Congress to resolve, or for a prosecutor after the president leaves office.
The Mueller report is explicitly not a whitewash of President Trump, particularly regarding obstruction, as Barr disingenuously implied in his remarks in late March and this week.
As I watched Barr’s press conference Thursday morning, I was struck by how obviously he was taking precise pains to downplay any alleged criminal exposure to the president. He even made the bizarre claim that because of the president’s “sincere belief” that he was being unfairly persecuted by the mainstream media, political opponents and others, authorities should somehow consider this mitigating in assessing any of his apparent legal or ethical transgressions.
By that logic, non-psychotic paranoia is a mitigating criminal defense.
Is it too much to ask that Americans should expect their top elected officials to communicate honestly and transparently with them about critical national concerns, such as allegations of illegal behavior by the president?
A red flag
My first red flag raised when at the congressional hearing late last month the attorney general characterized as “spying” activities launched after an early, judicially authorized surveillance warrant was issued for the Mueller investigation.
In intelligence community, “spying” is a pejorative, not an accurate descriptive term. In other words, it is a loaded term, and Bill Barr with his decades of government legal and intel service, surely knows that.
But it is a term that the president has gratuitously used to attack the intel community that has been investigating him and his administration.
It must be repeated that the attorney general is the top law enforcement officer for the American people. He is by law and practice not the president’s personal attorney; Donald Trump has other attorneys for that particular function.
As I’ve been reading the voluminous report myself, it is clearer by the page that Barr’s characterizations of it have been patently misleading. Certainly, it must be legal malpractice to deceive your client (the American people) in such an underhanded fashion.
He should resign.
And supporters of President Trump who still believe he and his complict attorney general are telling the whole truth should be aware that they’re vastly mistaken.