Attorney General William Barr has been facing widespread criticism for his vigorous defense of President Donald Trump during a Thursday morning press conference held the day he released a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s final report for the Russia investigation. But Barr’s defense of the president didn’t begin on Thursday: after Mueller completed his investigation and gave his report to Barr in March, the attorney general sent a four-page letter to Congress that was favorable enough to Trump for the president to insist that he had been totally vindicated. And in an article for the New York Times, Charlie Savage (known for his reporting on national security and legal matters) offers a detailed Barr/Mueller comparison showing the ways in which the attorney general spun Mueller’s comments in Trump’s favor.
In his letter in March, Barr wrote that Mueller “recognized that ‘the evidence does not establish that the president was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference,’ and that, while not determinative, the absence of such evidence bears upon the president’s intent with respect to obstruction.” But Mueller’s report, Savage notes, also said that “the evidence does point to a range of other possible personal motives animating the president’s conduct. These include concerns that continued investigation would call into question the legitimacy of his election and potential uncertainty about whether certain events—such as advance notice of WikiLeaks’ release of hacked information or the June 9, 2016 meeting between senior campaign officials and Russians, could be seen as criminal activity by the president, his campaign or his family.”
Savage notes that Barr’s “use of Mr. Mueller’s words turned the special counsel’s meaning on its head: the brief excerpt came from a list of other possible reasons Mr. Trump might have had to corruptly impede the investigation, and which Mr. Barr did not mention.”
In his March letter, Barr quoted Mueller’s report as saying that it “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” According to Barr, that showed that his probe “did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.” But Savage, comparing Mueller’s report and Barr’s interpretation of it, stresses that Barr “took a larger passage in which the Mueller report suggested that the Trump campaign and the Russian government were knowingly dancing together at a distance, and then excerpted a fragment to make it look like a cleaner exoneration.”
In his March letter, Barr wrote that Mueller’s report was inconclusive on whether or not Trump’s actions pertaining to the Russia investigation constituted obstruction of justice. Barr wrote that Mueller’s report “sets out evidence on both sides of the question and leaves unresolved what the special counsel views as ‘difficult issues’ of law and fact concerning whether the president’s actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction.” And according to Savage, Barr took the report’s reference to “difficult issues” out of context. Savage writes, “In fact, Mr. Mueller made clear that the difficulties resided in accusing Mr. Trump of committing a crime; if the facts had exonerated him, he would have been willing to say so.”