Attorney General Bill Barr’s handling of the Mueller report has confirmed the worst suspicions of his critics, and is doing further damage the reputation of the Department of Justice. In 48 hours, in just a few short paragraphs, Barr essentially threw out the window the facts, findings, nuances, and “difficult questions of law and fact” of Mueller’s nearly two-year investigation which, to any rational observer, was thorough and conducted with integrity. Coming from the man who had written the 19-page memo saying Trump couldn’t commit obstruction, this looked pre-determined and political — like a lawyer trying to protect his client, not a public servant trying to get the truth and facts where they belong.
Since the time of the four-page letter, we have learned from reporting in the New York Times, the Washington Post, and NBC News, that at least some on Mueller’s team felt that Barr misrepresented their findings as more favorable to Trump than they actually were. In addition, they were reportedly surprised and displeased that Barr had decided to insert his own decision about obstruction. Perhaps most shocking, we learned from the Washington Post that the report may have been prepared “so that the front matter from each section could have been released immediately — or very quickly…. It was done in a way that minimum redactions, if any, would have been necessary, and the work would have spoken for itself.” If that turns out to be correct, and Barr simply ignored this option, his conduct goes from looking bad to worse.
At this point, whatever Barr’s intentions—and I am no longer inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt—in order to salvage what is left if the integrity of the process, he must immediately release the Mueller-prepared summaries and work with Congress to ensure that the whole report is turned over to Congress, and as much as legally and safely possible to the American public. This is Barr’s final chance to salvage his reputation and, more importantly, the integrity of the Justice Department he claims to hold so dear.
Why would Barr behave in such an underhanded fashion? We can only surmise from his 19-page memo sent to the Justice Department before his appointment that either as a partisan defending Trump or as a lawyer wedded to an excessively broad definition of executive power Barr has never thought that the Mueller probe was legitimate. (Apparently, the entire inquiry into Richard Nixon’s obstruction of justice never struck Barr as a seminal demonstration of the principle that even the president is not above the law.) Of course Mueller was not going to reach a decision to indict or not; Justice Department regulations specifically prohibit indictment. Mueller wasn’t inviting Barr to make the call as far as we know, for why would he think Barr had any grounds to opine on an indictment when the Justice Department had taken indictment off the table? Barr’s personal exoneration was partisan showmanship in the extreme, a move that endeared him to his boss and the right wing, which both declared victory.
The victory was temporary, however. Most or all of the report will make its way to Congress. Barr and/or Mueller will testify, and Mueller will describe how he compiled the report, why he prepared the summaries and why he did not render a judgment on indictment. Barr has spun away his credibility and will be accused (rightly) of overstepping his bounds, adopting a partisan tone and hiding critical information about Trump from the public. You see, simply because Trump and Barr want to wish away the Mueller report doesn’t mean it’s gone. To the contrary, its release might prove even more debilitating to them both. The information it contains, along with any additional evidence prosecutors in the Southern District of New York uncover, will not vanish. The facts are the facts. Voters will render one verdict; down the road state and federal prosecutors might seek others. Trump can run, but he cannot hide forever.
Which is why Barr’s judgment that Trump didn’t obstruct justice because “the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference” doesn’t hold up. Even the public record shows that Trump’s associates appear to have tried to coordinate with Russia, let alone what the nearly 400 pages Mueller filed to Barr might show. The same public record suggests Trump’s potential abuse of his pardon power may have thwarted Mueller’s ability to get at the underlying crime. Barr was asked about such a scenario — one where the president encourages false testimony by floating pardons — three times in his confirmation hearing. “Do you believe a president could lawfully issue a pardon in exchange for the recipient’s promise to not incriminate him?” Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) asked him. “That would be a crime,” Barr responded. And yet Barr appears to be hiding the details of what really happened with Stone and Manafort to come to the opposite conclusion in his memo. Perhaps that’s why Barr wrote a narrowly crafted memo rather than releasing the summaries Mueller’s prosecutors wrote themselves. Because if Barr showed us the evidence, his judgment that Trump didn’t obstruct justice would look even more like a coverup than the public record already shows it to be.
Something strange is happening at the Justice Department. The confusing goings-on began March 24, when Attorney General William P. Barr sent a letter to Congress providing an outline of the principal conclusions of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The attorney general’s letter has drawn widespread criticism for failing to fully illuminate Mueller’s work. In particular, Congress and the country was left scratching its head about why Mueller declined to make the “traditional prosecutorial judgment” as to whether President Trump’s conduct constituted obstruction of justice. Just as puzzling and no less important, it was unclear why, and on what legal basis, Barr took it upon himself to step into the breach and announce a bottom-line conclusion for the department that Trump’s conduct could not be charged as obstruction, even if the Constitution permitted the president to be indicted. These questions, and the controversies they have created, have now begun to bubble up from within the department, where over the past few days, competing camps of unnamed Mueller and Barr loyalists have apparently begun to air their positions in the media. Thus, an investigation that played out for 22 months in perfectly disciplined hermetic silence has now devolved into the kind of leak-and-counterleak, inter- and intra-branch dispute that is so familiar in Washington.
In the (so far) quiet war of words between the Barr and Mueller camps, we have learned that the special counsel’s report was prepared with summaries of each section that were designed purposely for quick delivery to Congress. These summaries have been scrubbed of all or nearly all controversial material and, therefore, consist of Mueller’s analyses and conclusions without disclosing the supporting, potentially confidential, evidentiary material. The summaries should be released to the Congress and the public. While some at the Justice Department assert that the materials are marked as containing grand jury material, we know from Mueller’s team that they were prepared for the purpose of quick release. It, therefore, stands to reason that any problematic material they contain could be removed in short order. They are core explanations of Mueller’s work, which the public has been hungry to learn about — and which Mueller intended the public to have.
What is Trump hiding? Likely plenty, which is why they’re working so hard to conceal the report. And like most of the cronies he appoints, Barr seems to have subjected himself to the power of the throne. Check out these excerpts from william-barr-justice-
William Barr’s confirmation as Sessions’ successor was supposed to provide a reset to those turbulent times. A respected former attorney general who didn’t need the job, he promised that his extensive experience and end-of-career status would allow him to make decisions regardless of what a president notoriously hostile to the Justice Department’s normal practices wanted. “I feel I’m in a position in life where I can do the right thing and not really care about the consequences,” he told the Senate at his confirmation hearing. “I can truly be independent.” Instead, Barr’s handling of the conclusion of the 22-month long investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 election has thrust a new cloud over the Justice Department and his leadership, one that has grown darker with the reports that some members of the special counsel’s team believe he has mischaracterized their findings and needlessly inserted himself into the process to make his own determination as to whether the president obstructed justice. Barr is now in open warfare with the special counsel’s office, with his spokesperson releasing a statement Thursday that seemed to push back on the contention, leaked to the New York Times and Washington Post, that he could have released a summary written by the special counsel’s office rather than his own version of events. That statement came after Barr’s peculiar assertion last week that his initial four-page letter was not a summary of the special counsel’s conclusions, even though it was his own initial letter that said he was “summariz[ing] the principal conclusions reached by the Special Counsel and the results of his investigation.” Barr has also moved the goal posts on what categories of information would be redacted from the report, adding two new ones to the list he announced on March 24, while refusing so far to ask a court for permission to release grand jury material, as the Justice Department did at the conclusion of two previous investigations into presidential misconduct.
The attorney general’s actions raise suspicions about whether he is acting primarily to benefit the president because they don’t make sense when viewed through any other lens. Barr is neither inexperienced nor naive, yet when deciding among the several options available to him when he received Mueller’s report, he chose the one course of action that would raise questions about his own integrity and plunge the Justice Department into political controversy. Barr simply could have told Congress that he had received the report and would make a version available when he had completed his review and made appropriate redactions. He could have released Mueller’s principal findings, as he initially said he would do, without adding his own conclusion on obstruction of justice. Or he could have released one of the multiple summaries prepared by Mueller’s team while review of the full report continued. As a U.S. official briefed on the matter told the Post, “the front matter from each section could have been released immediately — or very quickly. It was done in a way that minimum redactions, if any, would have been necessary, and the work would have spoken for itself.” Barr instead chose the one path that could call his behavior into question, while negating the entire reason for appointing a special counsel in the first place: to ensure that the taint of politics is removed from the Justice Department’s decision-making. That choice would be odd for any attorney general. It makes even less sense for one whose impartiality was questioned from the outset, given that he was chosen for the job after he wrote an unsolicited memo questioning some of the very foundations of the special counsel’s investigation.
Barr is increasingly looking like a puppet on a string, playing a loyal soldier inside the corrupt Trumpian kingdom as explained in posts from barr-legacy-mueller-report:
William Barr is just seven weeks into his new job and he’s already in the middle of a gathering political storm over special counsel Robert Mueller’s 400-page report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election. His career legacy could be on the line. This isn’t Barr’s first stint as attorney general, after all. And before returning to the Justice Department in February, he became an elite private lawyer and fixture of conservative legal circles. So many in Washington expected the 68-year-old former George H.W. Bush appointee to shore up a Justice Department reeling from the president’s verbal assaults on his own senior appointees, seasoned career federal prosecutors and FBI agents. Some members of Congress are even asking whether Barr himself has broken the law, saying his characterization of the Mueller probe allowed Trump and his allies to build a public narrative clearing the president of any wrongdoing — all without actually releasing a full version of the special counsel’s findings. “If it turns out that he has obstructed justice by how he has handled the Mueller report that will be a deep stain on his legacy,” said Rep. Hank Johnson, a Georgia Democrat and member of the House Judiciary Committee, who cautioned that Barr’s conduct is difficult to evaluate without seeing the full report.
Barr’s troubles started last month when he released the first in a series of three letters to Congress about the much-anticipated conclusions of the Mueller probe. In the first statement, just after 5 p.m. on a Friday, Barr confirmed for lawmakers that the Russia investigation that had consumed Washington since the start of Trump’s presidency was indeed over and that he’d be spending the weekend working to release Mueller’s “principal conclusions.” A senior DOJ official also quickly confirmed that Mueller was not recommending any additional criminal indictments, bolstering the hopes of the president and his allies that the report would clear his name. The next Barr disclosure that Sunday night, in the form of a declaring Mueller had not established there was a criminal conspiracy or coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government to meddle in the last presidential election. The attorney general further explained that Mueller took no position on whether Trump obstructed justice, though he quoted the special counsel as noting, “while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
Barr pointedly noted that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who had appointed Mueller and long supervised his operation, agreed with his conclusion that the evidence Mueller had amassed wasn’t sufficient to charge Trump with an obstruction-of-justice crime. Five days later, as Trump celebrated the Mueller findings as a “Total EXONERATION” clearing him from scandal, Barr again with a new to Congress. This time, the attorney general outlined a fresh timetable for reviewing and redacting the entire 400-page report that put him on track to release it to lawmakers by mid-April “or sooner.” Barr referenced the special counsel too, saying he was consulting with Mueller to identify and redact several categories of sensitive information. The attorney general also offered his first public recognition of the controversy he’d helped ignite by calling out “some media reports and other public statements mischaracterizing” his second letter as a “summary” of Mueller’s investigation. That letter wasn’t intended to be “an exhaustive recounting” of the special counsel’s work but only a synopsis of its “bottom line,” the attorney general wrote. “Everyone will soon be able to read it on their own,” Barr added. “I do not believe it would be in the public’s interest for me to attempt to summarize the full report or to release it in serial or piecemeal fashion.”
But the political damage might already have been done. Greg Brower, the former head of FBI’s congressional affairs office, called it “ill-advised” for Barr to send the second letter offering up principal conclusions. “It was just not an effective communication,” Brower said. Barr only made things worse with his follow-up letter last Friday that seemed to walk back the idea that he’d just summarized Mueller’s main findings. “The third letter was intending to clean up the second and everyone was confused,” Brower said. David Kris, a former assistant attorney general for national security under President Barack Obama, said Barr was in an impossible position when he first got Mueller’s findings and the pressure was building for some kind of an explanation for what had just been delivered. “Had he not said anything, of course, he also would have been criticized,” said Kris, who now leads the intelligence consulting firm Culper Partners. But Kris said Barr could still find himself in trouble if the release of the Mueller report shows that his March 24 letter was “materially misleading or contained material omissions.” “And we don’t know that yet,” Kris cautioned.
Democrats this week have toggled between direct criticism of Barr and withholding judgment until they see the whole Mueller report. House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff called it a “mistake” for the Senate to confirm Barr “without getting a commitment that he recuse himself.” Johnson, the Georgia Democrat, said he’d give Barr “an F for his performance” to date, singling out the March 24 memo and its principal conclusions. “That’s been the narrative since the summary came out, and it’s done a grave disservice to the American public,” he said. Other Democrats said they were willing to give Barr room for a soft landing. “Yeah, I think if he produces the report and the supporting materials in its entirety, or with few exceptions, he can restore some faith that he’ll behave appropriate as the attorney general of the United States,” said Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee. But Cicilline also said Trump had put Barr in an untenable position with his extraordinary public criticism of Sessions, whom the president ripped as a weak leader who “never took control of the Justice Department.” “The president has made it clear that he thinks the attorney general should be his Roy Cohn, someone whose principal responsibility is to protect him,” said Cicilline, referring to the former Sen. Joe McCarthy aide who later became Trump’s lawyer and mentor. Some Democrats have been suspicious of Barr all along.
Instead, Barr kept the report and the summaries secret, pronounced the president exonerated on one key element of the investigation while remaining silent about the others, and left it to members of Mueller’s team to start leaking about their displeasure at Barr’s interpolation of their conclusion 10 days later. Why does this difference matter? Because appearances matter in politics. Mueller and his team understand this very well. It’s why, despite the constant barrage of abuse the president and his minions directed their way for the better part of two years, they never leaked a thing, never retaliated, never spoke to journalists on or off the record to hint at their preliminary findings or potential wrongdoing on the part of the president or his campaign. They knew that their work was delicate, that they were conducting it in an environment of scalding-hot partisanship, and therefore that they needed to display scrupulous professionalism and fairness. This doesn’t make Mueller an angel. It makes him someone who understands politics.
Trump and leading members of his party think they understand politics too. Indeed, one way to think about the turbulence of the present moment in American public life is to view it as a contest between competing visions of how politics works. Mueller is the traditionalist, striving to uphold norms of propriety, even-handedness, and institutional impartiality. One arm of the government (the special counsel’s office) can investigate another (the president and those around him) fairly if those conducting the investigation remain on guard against bias and scrupulously follow the rules. Trump and ever-growing numbers of Republicans take another view. For them, everything is invariably transactional and zero-sum. There is no rising above partisanship. There are winners and losers, friends and enemies, and nothing in between. Displays of high-mindedness always conceal baser motives. No one is above the fray. Nothing is impartial. Believing otherwise is for saps, suckers, and chumps. Appearances matter in politics. And thanks to William Barr, things are looking pretty bad.
18 claims the GOP has made about the Mueller report are seen inside republican-claims-mueller-
Until we see the report, we won’t know what’s in it. But we do know what Republicans have said about it, and eventually—unless it’s buried forever—we’ll be able to check these descriptions against the document. Here’s a catalog of what Trump and his surrogates have said since Barr’s letter came out. Some of these claims have been repeated uncritically by TV anchors, headline writers, and reporters. If the claims prove to be false, the media has a clear duty: to acknowledge that the report is more damning than we were told.
President Trump once again said on Wednesday he’s not “inclined” to release his tax returns because he says they’re under audit — but even Fox News believes his hands are probably tied at this point. Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, has formally requested Trump’s tax returns in a letter to the IRS, but the president batted down the suggestion, per The New York Times. Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano on Thursday concluded that an audit doesn’t matter, saying the “obscure statute” Neal cited says the committee can ask for anyone’s tax returns without needing a reason. He also said that Trump’s taxes being under audit would “not be a defense,” and he wasn’t sure what the legal argument against releasing them would be, per Mediaite.
Fox’s analyst was in agreement with one over on MSNBC, with Jake Sherman saying on Morning Joe that it’s the law that the committee “has the unilateral right to obtain any American’s tax returns.” Sherman noted that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin can perhaps “put up some roadblocks” by saying Trump is under audit, but he noted that “this is the law.” MSNBC’s Willie Geist, meanwhile, mocked the very idea that Trump is still under audit after years, quipping, “This is the longest audit in the history of audits, if in fact there is an audit.” Earlier, Hardball‘s Chris Matthews said the situation is “black and white” because the law requires Trump to turn over his taxes when requested. Those on Fox and MNSBC didn’t agree, however, whether this is a good thing, with Napolitano expressing his outrage at this law he says he didn’t even know existed until this week and fretting, “they did this to Donald Trump, they could do it to any of us.”
Committee veterans told me, however, that the number of whistle-blowers who’ve come forward since Trump became president is far higher than the number who cooperated with the panel during previous administrations. “The biggest difference wasn’t necessarily us switching to the majority; the biggest difference was Donald Trump being elected president,” said the Democratic aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the committee’s investigative work. Democrats began hearing from whistle-blowers almost immediately after Trump was sworn in, the aide said, beginning with a report that then–National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had been exchanging text messages with his business partner during the inauguration.
Of the dozens of whistle-blowers Democrats said they are working with, they have publicly confirmed that a handful work in the White House. All but Newbold, however, have come forward on the condition that they remain anonymous. Newbold spoke to the committee as part of its investigation of White House security clearances, and she’s not the only whistle-blower involved in that matter, the panel confirmed in a memo describing her testimony. “Committee staff have spoken with other whistle-blowers who corroborated Ms. Newbold’s account, but they were too afraid about the risk to their careers to come forward publicly,” the memo reads. The White House did not respond to a request for comment on this story.
Legislation passed in 1970 and expanded numerous times since protects government whistle-blowers from retaliation. But Democrats say the charges from Trump allies of a “deep state” conspiracy against the president within the federal government—along with reports, including one from an unnamed whistle-blower, that the administration planned to purge the State Department of career civil-service officers deemed insufficiently loyal to Trump—have created a climate of fear among potential whistle-blowers. “I’ve never seen this many whistle-blowers reporting waste, fraud, and abuse, and just general concern,” the senior Oversight Committee aide told me. “On the flip side of that, I’ve also never seen whistle-blowers so afraid of what could happen to them if somebody finds out who they are.”