Is Attorney General William Barr trying to muzzle the Mueller Report – and does it matter?
In my recent series of articles, I examined the text of the letters Attorney General William Barr has been sending to Congress.
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As I write, we have just been treated to a sally against Barr by prosecutors working under Robert Mueller. The New York Times, downplaying it for all it was worth, reluctantly admitted that these prosecutors had told colleagues that Barr’s initial non-summary appeared to ‘downplay’ their report. They had provided summaries for release which Barr didn’t use. The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal soon confirmed.
In my last piece I discussed ‘Barr’s Backtrack‘ and how he defensively maintained that his summary letter was not, in fact, a summary. Apparently, this blog, pretty much alone among American commentators (yep; I am taking a small victory lap) correctly read the contents of his letter; Barr’s letter did not say there would be no further indictments, and, I correctly reported (again, alone in this analysis) that Barr had never said there was “no evidence” of collusion.
What seems clear, however, is that while I read the substance accurately, Mueller’s team believes Barr was being clever with his legal word play not to safeguard trials (although that remains a consequence of it) but to spin a narrative, a narrative that got a false idea over to the public that Mueller cleared Trump and that no further indictments were coming.
However, the Barr Backtrack also indicates that Mr. Barr’s hat is in fact at worst a shade of gray. I can certainly put stock in what Mueller’s team believes. But Barr, my own sources said at the time, was apprised by Mueller that he, Mueller, wished to refer for indictment all of the President’s three eldest children, and Trump himself on obstruction. An “unholy row” was then reported by my sources and those of several other commentators. However, the ‘row’ was over indicting Trump himself; as I reported (exclusively) Barr said ‘yes’ to the indictments of the three Trump kids and Jared Kushner for money laundering offenses, but was wary of saying yes to the Trump indictment itself. I have speculated that Mueller agreed to punt the matter to Congress, and Barr then stuck his oar in. That looks bad for Barr’s metaphorical headgear. However, Barr agreeing that Mueller could refer all of Trump’s eldest children, and Jared Kushner, for indictment (as I report has happened) – well, that looks good for Barr; it looks like somebody who is not afraid to hurt the President in the course of pursuing the law.
In life in general and in Trump Russia in particular, our longing for moral clarity pushes us all too often into ‘black vs white’ stances. As a journalist, I can certainly see that Mueller prosecutors are angry with Barr. However, I also remember that before Barr’s first ‘non-summary summary’ letter, sources thought that Barr and Mueller were on the same side, and were very surprised at the letter. The podcaster and journalist Virginia Heffernan received similar information from her own sources. It is possible, and I write this with trepidation, that even Mueller’s prosecutors have Barr’s motivations wrong; that the IC was right the first time, and Barr is protecting forthcoming prosecutions. It’s equally possible that Barr’s heart is cold and icy as Siberia, and all he cares about is protecting Trump. However, if my sources are correct, the Attorney General did not stand in the way of a prosecution of people very close indeed to Trump. As to obstruction, it looks awful. Perhaps Barr simply lied about Rosenstein. But if Rod Rosenstein in truth concurred with Barr, I do not believe that Rod Rosenstein is a ‘black hat’. It can honestly be that even if Barr is pro-Trump and Rosenstein is pro-America, that they agreed, in this one case, on the law.
The boring answer is ‘we don’t have enough data’. But based on Barr’s initial letter and sources saying he OKed the prosecution of all three Trump kids and Jared Kushner, it seems to this reporter as though the color of Barr’s metaphorical ‘hat’ doesn’t matter. Maybe he is indeed an enemy of the Republic, bent on a cover-up. But if William Barr himself is not willing to break the law – and it seems that he is not – the amount of damage he can possibly do will be very limited indeed.
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