For nearly two years we haven’t heard a word from Mueller’s office. Now two back-to-back stories from the New York Times and the Washington Post say investigators from the Special Counsel’s Office are disputing Attorney General William Barr’s account of the findings of Mueller report, and have expressed alarm that Barr isn’t playing it straight.
Equally troubling, investigators reportedly believe Barr not only significantly misrepresented their report, but also their intentions when they submitted the report. It seems clear some people in Mueller’s office (the whole team of 19 lawyers and 40 FBI investigators and additional staff didn’t comment to the press) felt the need to fire a warning shot at Barr: He won’t get away with covering anything up, especially if he tries to misrepresent what they said.
So what did Barr get wrong? Neither news report gets very specific about what parts of Barr’s letter the members of the investigation had issues with, though the Post said investigators had found “alarming and significant” evidence against Trump for obstruction of justice. Both reports emphasize this aspect of the investigation, the Post especially: Obstruction evidence “was much more acute than Barr suggested,” one source said.
And though nothing changes the fact Mueller chose not to indict Trump or senior campaign members in a criminal conspiracy with the Russian government, and nothing in either of the two recent reports suggests Barr warped the truth when he quoted Mueller about conspiracy charges, note that I don’t sound quite so crazy now pointing out that Barr subtly chopped off the first part of the sentence saying so: ”[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
In light of the NYT/WaPo reports, then, it seems more likely than ever Mueller has evidence that complicates both parts of the investigation. Remember: “Evidence of collusion” isn’t the same as “establishing a case of criminal conspiracy between two specific parties beyond reasonable doubt.” Collusion isn’t criminal conspiracy, and we have plenty of evidence of collusion in public reports alone.
More troubling, however, is the fact that Barr seems to have take liberties not just with his spin, but also with Mueller’s intentions. And this is the reason we got these back-to-back reports—Barr even tried to tamp down the initial NYT story within that story, so Mueller’s team went to the Post to be unmistakably clear.
For instance, Mueller’s team apparently produced not just a monolithic 400-page report, but also gave Barr multiple summaries of different sections prepared for an almost-immediate public release. Barr, of course, only pulled a few incomplete sentences and has so far not released those summaries. But when Mueller’s team leaked the existence of the summaries to the Times, the paper contacted Barr’s team, who apparently pushed back. The Times story at one point cites Department of Justice officials (i.e., not Special Counsel investigators) saying the DOJ didn’t publish Mueller’s summaries because they “contain sensitive information, like classified material, secret grand-jury testimony and information related to current federal investigations that must remain confidential.” A couple hours later, though, Mueller investigators went to the Post to point out that this spin itself is also dishonest. A special counsel source told the Post the summaries were written “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.”
So Mueller expected we’d see the meat of his conclusions nearly two weeks ago. To date, we haven’t seen anything beyond Barr’s half-quotes. This means that by omitting the summaries initially and then taking the extra step of lying about why Barr didn’t release the summaries, Barr’s office not only misrepresented the truth of the report, but also the Special Counsel’s own work, as well as their thinking. Mueller’s team has now made it clear this is a red line for them. What Barr apparently wanted to do instead was buy time for the initial “complete exoneration” narrative to take hold, which would make later (more damning) reports of the actual content seem thin or even desperate and partisan. It also allows the GOP and White House to build a narrative that Mueller’s actual report isn’t so hot: Barr’s decisions are where it’s at. This is because it’s becoming more and more clear that Mueller’s actual report will be quite bad indeed for Donald Trump.
This isn’t much of a surprise. After the initial half-day or so of uproar that the report—which no one outside Barr’s and Mueller’s offices had seen—had “cleared” the President of wrongdoing, it became obvious as heads cooled that Barr’s letter really did no such thing. No? Perhaps most telling of all is the reversal from both Donald Trump and Congressional GOP, who a few weeks ago said they wanted the report to be public, but upon reading Barr’s summary suddenly changed their minds. (The House initially voted 420-0 that the report should be public. Yesterday all GOP members of House Judiciary voted against subpoenaing the report.)
Barr deserved the benefit of the doubt, but he’s squandered it. He covered for President George W. Bush in the Iran-Contra scandal. He wrote a 19-page memo attacking Mueller’s obstruction inquiry specifically. And now he’s lying about lying. The public needs to see the report so we can decide for ourselves. It seems quite obvious at the very outside that Trump committed deeply troubling crimes in attempting (and now we have to realize, possibly succeeding) to obstruct justice. Barr seems to have taken that ball and run with it. The public needs to see the Barr report, and it seems Mueller’s team has warned him that one way or another, we will.