Attorney General Barr appears to be living up to his nickname of the “Coverup General,” this time by burying the substance of the Mueller report and selectively editing the information that will see the light of day.
Trump’s handpicked attorney general, William Barr, issued a letter to Congress on Friday describing his plans to eventually release a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the Russia investigation.
The letter provides additional details about the redactions Barr plans to make before releasing the Mueller report, which fall into four categories: 1) grand jury material; 2) material that could compromise “sensitive sources and methods” of the intelligence community; 3) material that could affect other ongoing legal matters; and 4) material that could “infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties.”
In the new letter, Barr appears to backtrack on some of the claims he made in the initial summary
Importantly, Barr indicates in the letter that he does not intend to provide an unredacted version of the report to Congress — meaning that he will have sole discretion over the information that Congress gets to see.
If that stands, there will be no way for anyone to independently verify whether the redactions Barr made were reasonable and necessary for national security reasons, or whether they were politically motivated and only necessary to protect Trump.
Backtracking – fast
Friday’s letter came just five days after Barr produced a brief, much-hyped summary of Mueller’s report in which he claimed that the special counsel had not found evidence of a “tacit agreement” of coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. On the matter of obstruction of justice, Barr claimed that although Mueller’s investigation had not exonerated Trump, there was not enough evidence to warrant criminal charges.
Since Barr released the summary on March 24, Trump and his allies have touted it as a “complete and total exoneration” of the president, saying it proves that the Russia investigation was a “hoax,” a “witch hunt,” and an “illegal takedown that failed.”
Trump’s attorney general produced the first memo to give Trump and his allies a cherry-picked set of talking points
But in the new letter, Barr appears to backtrack on some of the claims he made in the initial summary — including his claim that the four-page memo was even intended to be read as a summary of Mueller’s report.
“My March 24 letter was not, and did not purport to be, an exhaustive recounting of the Special Counsel’s investigation or report,” Barr wrote. Rather, he said, it was meant to be “a summary of its ‘principal conclusions’ — that is, its bottom line” on the questions of collusion and obstruction of justice.
Barr continued, writing that he didn’t “believe it would be in the public’s interest for me to attempt to summarize the full report or to release it in serial or piecemeal fashion.” That conflicts with what Barr wrote in the March 24 memo, when he said he was offering a summary of both the “principal conclusions” and the “results of the investigation,” and it very much contradicts the way the memo has been framed by the Trump White House.
There is no reason that the information contained in Friday’s letter could not have been released alongside Barr’s initial summary, raising questions about why Barr waited five days to produce the additional information.
Looking at the two documents in their entirety paints a damning picture that makes it look like Trump’s attorney general produced the first memo to give Trump and his allies a cherry-picked set of talking points and buy them time to set the narrative surrounding the report, before quietly walking it back.
First impressions matter, and Barr handed Trump a gift by giving him the opportunity to shape the ensuing public dialogue.
During Barr’s first tenure as attorney general in the early 1990’s, he earned the nickname “Coverup General”
After letting Trump spend the week claiming victory and falsely declaring that he had been exonerated, Barr now appears to be trying to temper expectations — perhaps because he knows that even a redacted version of Mueller’s report will include troubling information that will undermine Trump’s claims of exoneration and call into question Barr’s decision to let Trump off the hook on obstruction charges.
Of course, this would not be the first time Barr has run cover for a Republican president embroiled in an international scandal.
During Barr’s first tenure as attorney general in the early 1990’s, he earned the nickname “Coverup General” because of his role in suppressing evidence of then-President George H.W. Bush’s involvement in the Iraqgate and Iran-Contra scandals.
Now, Barr appears to be readying himself for another coverup, this time by burying the substance of the Mueller report and selectively editing the information that will be made available to Congress and ultimately, to the public.
The first time Barr covered up for a Republican president, he got away with it. Whether the “Coverup General” gets away with it a second time is now up to Congress, and the American people, to decide.