Attorney General Barr’s hasty decision to let Trump off the hook on obstruction of justice leaves a cloud of doubt that will linger for the remainder of Trump’s presidency.
The letter, which summarizes several aspects of the Russia investigation, claims that Mueller did not find evidence of a “tacit agreement” of coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. On that matter, Barr was relaying a finding that Mueller had already reported.
On the matter of obstruction of justice, however, the conclusion is far less clear. In fact, Mueller didn’t actually make any conclusions regarding whether Trump obstructed justice.
The pair took it upon themselves to go beyond Mueller’s findings, in a way that was beneficial to their own interests and to those of the president.
“While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” Mueller’s report states, according to Barr’s letter.
In other words, Mueller decided that he could not exonerate the president on charges that he obstructed justice.
Barr’s Prejudgement on Obstruction
But in his letter, Barr went beyond Mueller’s finding on obstruction. Within 48 hours of receiving the report, Trump’s hand-picked attorney general and deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, cleared Trump of obstruction charges — something that Mueller wasn’t ready to do after 22 months of reviewing the evidence.
Mueller was not consulted on the letter.
Even more troubling is that before being nominated by Trump, Barr had already preemptively attacked the obstruction case that he weighed in on Sunday.
in an unsolicited memo to Rosenstein dated June 8, 2018, “Barr takes the view that a facially lawful action taken by the president under his Article II authority cannot constitute obstruction as a matter of constitutional law,” Lawfare reported in December.
The memo shows that Barr had already made up his mind about the obstruction case before he was even nominated to become attorney general. Indeed, it would not be a stretch to suggest that Barr’s memo was the very reason he was nominated to become Trump’s attorney general in the first place.
Furthermore, Rosenstein’s own actions surrounding the firing of former FBI Director James Comey were part of the conduct being investigated as potential obstruction of justice — meaning that both Barr and Rosenstein had compelling reasons to recuse themselves on the matter of obstruction of justice, but neither did.
Instead, the pair took it upon themselves to go beyond Mueller’s findings, in a way that was beneficial to their own interests and to those of the president.
Before being nominated by Trump, Barr had already preemptively attacked the obstruction case that he weighed in on Sunday.
Democrats are already calling foul. Rep. Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Sunday that the committee will call on Barr to testify before Congress and defend his conclusion that there’s “not sufficient” evidence that Trump committed obstruction of justice.
In a series of tweets, Nadler slammed Barr’s hasty decision to let Trump off the hook on obstruction of justice, writing, “Special Counsel Mueller worked for 22 months to determine the extent to which President Trump obstructed justice. Attorney General Barr took 2 days to tell the American people that while the President is not exonerated, there will be no action by DOJ.”
In a joint statement, Senator Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi cast serious doubt on the idea that Barr could have reached his conclusions with any degree of neutrality.
“Given Mr. Barr’s public record of bias against the Special Counsel’s inquiry, he is not a neutral observer and is not in a position to make objective determinations about the report,” they said.
Barr may have been trying to do a favor for Trump, but instead he ended up leaving a cloud of doubt that will linger for the remainder of Trump’s presidency.