Last month, for reasons that have never been fully explained, Attorney General William Barr hosted a press conference. The point, by all appearances, was for Barr to give a pre-spin on then-Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report shortly before its release. The Republican A.G. argued at the time:
“[T]he Special Counsel’s report did not find any evidence that members of the Trump campaign or anyone associated with the campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its hacking operations. In other words, there was no evidence of Trump campaign ‘collusion’ with the Russian government’s hacking.”
And while I don’t doubt that the White House was pleased with Barr’s characterization of the Mueller report, consider Mueller’s own words this morning:
“[T]here was insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy.”
I don’t mean to sound picky, but there’s a world of difference between “no evidence” and “insufficient evidence to charge.”
If this were the only evidence of Mueller contradicting Bill Barr, it’d hardly be worth mentioning, but it’s actually the start of a long list.
In the attorney general’s initial non-summary summary to congressional leaders, for example, Barr wrote, “The Special Counsel considered whether to evaluate the conduct under Department standards governing prosecution and declination decisions but ultimately determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment.”
This morning, Mueller seemed to reject this assertion, too, telling the public that he felt bound by Justice Department guidelines: “Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.”
There are plenty of related examples. Jon Chait noted, for example, that a reporter asked Barr last month if Mueller was leaving it up to Congress to consider possible actions against the president. “Special Counsel Mueller did not indicate that his purpose was to leave the decision to Congress,” the attorney general replied. “I hope that was not his view, since we don’t convene grand juries and conduct criminal investigations for that purpose.”
And yet, there was Mueller this morning, hinting without much subtlety that Congress was the next appropriate venue: “The [Justice Department’s OLC opinion] says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.”
TPM’s Allegra Kirkland highlighted some related examples, noting, “In congressional testimony, public letters, and press conferences over the past months, Mueller and Barr have offered strikingly different characterizations of the 488-page report summarizing the Russia probe.”
And for the attorney general, that’s a problem. There was already ample evidence that Barr’s public characterizations of the special counsel’s findings were deceptive; now we have additional breaks between the AG’s assessments and Mueller’s own words.
Bill Barr, painfully eager to do the White House’s bidding, already had a credibility problem. This morning, Mueller has made it worse.