US attorney general William Barr’s press conference about the Mueller report this morning was already being scrutinized for potential partisan bias—and then the full report came out.
Barr’s remarks during the press conference and answers to reporters’ questions made Barr sound more like Trump’s personal attorney than the top law enforcement official of the US government, as Quartz’s Ephrat Livni wrote. As legal experts, reporters, and Congressional aides pore over the the redacted version of the 450-page report, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Barr lied or gave misleading statements, multiple times, about easily provable matters, in ways that put Trump or the Trump administration temporarily in a more favorable light.
Here are a few examples:
Barr’s claim that the “White House fully cooperated with the Special Counsel’s investigation”
The report makes it clear that the president stonewalled and refused to be interviewed (as did his son Donald Jr.)
Barr also said this morning that the “President took no act that in fact deprived the Special Counsel of the documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation,” suggesting, again, full cooperation by Trump. However, the report states that the president ordered his lawyer to fire the Special Counsel, and then to lie about it.
The report also states that the President “engaged in a series of targeted attempts to control the investigation.”
Barr’s “no collusion” red herring
Barr said multiple times this morning, and earlier, that the Special Counsel found “no collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia. Over the course of the investigation, Trump tweeted 42 times that there was “no collusion;” he and his advisors are taking a victory lap today using the same phrase.
But the special counsel’s office didn’t look into collusion at all. Instead it “applied the framework of conspiracy law, not the concept of ‘collusion,’” as the report notes. Collusion is not a word with “legal force,” the report states, meaning it does not constitute a federal crime. “While the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign, the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges” of conspiracy.
That evidence may be incomplete, the report notes, because some witnesses, including from Trump’s campaign, deleted messages and information about their interactions.
Barr’s suggestion that Mueller didn’t want Congress to determine obstruction of justice
In the press conference, Barr said “special counsel Mueller did not indicate that his purpose was to leave the decision to Congress” about whether or not the president obstructed justice. But the report specifically lays out the Office of Legal Counsel’s analysis that Congress has the legal right to pursue obstructive conduct:
Barr also, oddly, claimed Mueller wrote the report “for me as the attorney general; he is required under the regulation to provide me with a confidential report.” But the investigation started long before Barr was appointed, of course, and not for an attorney general’s edification, but, as Mueller’s marching orders state, to examine Russian interference in the 2016 election and any links with the Trump campaign, and prosecute any federal crimes that were unearthed.
Barr has a decades-long career in Washington, including a previous stint as attorney general in the 1990s. Congressional Democrats said today he should resign because of his conduct during this investigation.