By the time William Barr took the podium on Thursday morning, ostensibly to explain the redaction process for the Mueller report and to discuss whether executive privilege was invoked, Democrats had already decided the Attorney General’s decision to hold a press conference was yet another attempt on the part of the Justice Department to spin the narrative.
The fact that the press event preceded the release of the report to Congress only made the optics worse.
Reports out Wednesday revealed that officials from DoJ spoke with White House lawyers on a number of occasions over the past several days, presumably in an effort to help the president’s advisers and legal aides pre-plan a rebuttal strategy.
Jerry Nadler appears poised to subpoena the full report and the underlying evidence regardless and on Thursday morning, prior to Barr’s presser, Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer called for Robert Mueller to testify “as soon as possible”.
That brings us to Barr’s “dog and pony show” (as one Democrat called it).
First, Barr insisted that he’s “committed to transparency, consistent with the law” before again pointing to the fact that Rod Rosenstein was involved in the process, something that is supposed to lend legitimacy to this charade. Barr also “thanked” Mueller.
The Attorney General immediately reiterated that there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. “The Russian operatives did not have the cooperation of President Trump or the Trump campaign”, Barr said, adding that “all Americans” should be grateful to have that confirmed.
Barr of course said Moscow did in fact engage in a sweeping attempt to influence the vote, something everybody (with the possible exception of the president himself) has acknowledged.
He said “no collusion”, “no conspiracy” other some derivation of those Trump catch phrases at least a half-dozen times.
On Wikileaks, Barr said Mueller found that no members or affiliates of the Trump campaign “illegally participated” in the dissemination of stolen material.
“After nearly two years of investigations… the special counsel confirmed that the Russian government sponsored efforts to illegally interfere” in the electoral process but that the Trump campaign did not participate, Barr proclaimed (at regular intervals).
On obstruction, Barr essentially said that he and Rosenstein determined Mueller did not establish Trump broke the law, but did acknowledge some “disagreement” with some of the special counsel’s “legal theories”. It wasn’t entirely clear what that meant.
Apparently, Barr is relying heavily on the notion that Trump’s decision to turn over documents and otherwise be transparent is indicative of no criminal intent.
Further, Barr went out of his way to suggest that the president’s behavior (the outbursts, bullying, etc.) were somehow excusable because he knew there was in fact “no collusion”. Barr of course didn’t phrase it that was, but that was the implication. Here’s the clip:
“Trump faced an unprecedented situation. As he entered office and sought to perform his responsibilities, prosecutors were scrutinizing his conduct… yet, as he said from the beginning, there was no collusion”, Barr said, again echoing Trump’s go-to line.
The Attorney General also
admitted said the White House did in fact receive a redacted copy of the report prior to the public release.
As you can see, Barr said Trump did not assert executive privilege.
During the Q&A, Barr said Mueller told the Department of Justice that the special counsel’s office did not consider the notion that a sitting president cannot be indicted when deciding whether or not to make a determination on obstruction.
Asked if he was attempting to “spin the report before it became public”, Barr said “no” and then walked off the stage. Literally.
Oh, and if you were wondering whether Trump had someone draw up a Game of Thrones meme for the occasion (which, incidentally, suggests he scripted Barr’s press conference), the answer is…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 18, 2019