When Robert Mueller spoke before reporters last Wednesday (yes, it’s only been a week), the special counsel iterated key sections of his report that appeared to undermine the narrative offered by Attorney General William Barr during his press conference last month.
Wednesday, the national security law and policy blog Just Security published a side-by-side chart comparing statements made by Barr and Mueller, and provided corresponding analysis about the statements’ differences. As described by Just Security co-editor-in-chief and former special counsel to the general counsel of the Department of Defense Ryan Goodman, “some of the differences involve near complete contradictions,” while others “are more a matter of emphasis or tone.” The analysis focuses on Mueller’s public statement (not the full report), compared with Barr’s 4-page summary of the report and corresponding press conference on April 18, as well as the attorney general’s three congressional hearings.
The analysis details 10 areas where Mueller and Barr differed in their public statements, including evidence of conspiracy, referral to Congress and whether obstruction is a crime. For example, while Mueller told reporters last week that “there was insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy,” Barr claimed the president was “falsely accused” of a crime, that there was “no collusion” and that Russian operatives “did not have the cooperation” of Trump or his campaign.
As Just Security notes, Mueller’s statement is “very different from any suggestion that the investigation found ‘no evidence,’ or that allegations against the president were proven false, or that the conspiracy with Trump campaign associates did not occur.”
A similar discrepancy was seen with the question of whether Mueller intended to refer Trump’s conduct to Congress, a claim Barr insisted was false during his April 18 press conference. Mueller, on the other hand, clearly described “a process other than the criminal justice system” to deal with alleged crimes committed by the president.
Goodman and co. further analyzed the question of whether the Department of Justice has the legal authority to indict a sitting president and whether it’s the attorney general’s job to decide if the president committed a crime.
While Mueller contended it’s “unconstitutional” for the DOJ to indict a sitting president and therefore “not an option we could consider,” Barr claimed Mueller believed it’s the role of the attorney general to charge or acquit the president.
“I am told that [Mueller’s] reaction to that was that it was my prerogative as attorney general to make that decision,” Barr said during his press conference.
Meanwhile, Mueller — as previously stated — made it clear that “the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting President of wrongdoing.”
As Just Security notes:
Mueller appears to be saying, as one might expect, that the Office of Legal Counsel opinion precludes the Justice Department from deciding whether to indict a sitting president. “It is unconstitutional,” Mueller adds in a curt sentence. He also emphasizes that indicting the president was not an option that his office, as “part of the Department of Justice” could even consider. Presumably that would apply to the Attorney General as well, unless Barr overturns the Office of Legal Counsel opinion.
The analysis further notes difference between Barr and Mueller when it comes to obstruction as a crime. Per Mueller:
When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.
Barr, perhaps unsurprisingly, had a different take as it pertains to obstruction.
“[T]here 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,” Barr said during his press conference. “… 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.”