President Donald Trump and his attorney general are distorting the facts when it comes to special counsel Robert Mueller’s report in the Russia investigation.
Trump and his team continue to insist that he was exonerated by the two-year investigation. That’s not true. The report specifically declines to clear the president on possible charges of obstruction of justice.
And in remarks Thursday at the Justice Department, Attorney General William Barr made a series of false claims, suggesting that Mueller did not want Congress to decide whether Trump obstructed justice. Barr also indicated that he was not really supposed to be publicly releasing the two-volume report , but, on the other hand, it was “long-standing” practice to share such types of confidential information with the White House. He’s wrong on all those fronts.
A look at the claims:
BARR, asked if Mueller intended for Congress, not the attorney general, to decide whether Trump obstructed justice: “Well, Special Counsel Mueller did not indicate that his purpose was to leave the decision to Congress. I hope that was not his view. … I didn’t talk to him directly about the fact that we were making the decision, but I am told that his reaction to that was that it was my prerogative as attorney general to make that decision.”
THE FACTS: Mueller’s report actually does indicate that Congress could make that determination.
The report states that no person is above the law, including the president, and that the Constitution “does not categorically and permanently immunize a President for obstructing justice.”
In his four-page memo last month, Barr said while Mueller left open the question of whether Trump broke the law and obstructed the investigation, he was ultimately deciding as attorney general that the evidence developed by Mueller was “not sufficient” to establish, for the purposes of prosecution, that Trump obstructed justice.
But the special counsel’s report specifies that Congress can also render a judgment on that question.
It says: “The conclusion that Congress may apply obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.”
TRUMP: “As I have been saying all along, NO COLLUSION – NO OBSTRUCTION!” — tweet Thursday.
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: “Today’s release of the Special Counsel’s report confirms what the President and I have said since day one: there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and there was no obstruction of justice.”
KELLYANNE CONWAY, White House counselor: “What matters is what the Department of Justice and special counsel concluded here, which is no collusion, no obstruction, and complete exoneration, as the president says.”
THE FACTS: No. The special counsel specifically leaves open the question of whether the president obstructed justice.
“If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment,” the report states.
The report identifies 10 instances of possible obstruction by Trump and said he might have “had a motive” to impede the investigation because of what it could find on a multitude of personal matters, such as his proposal to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
“The evidence does indicate that a thorough FBI investigation would uncover facts about the campaign and the President personally that the President could have understood to be crimes or that would give rise to personal and political concerns,” the report states.
In explaining its decision, Mueller’s team said reaching a conclusion on whether Trump committed crimes would be inappropriate because of Justice Department guidelines indicating that a sitting president should not be prosecuted. It nevertheless left open at least the theoretical possibility that Trump could be charged after he leaves office, noting that its factual investigation was conducted “in order to preserve the evidence when memories were fresh and documentary material were available.”
“Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” the report states.
BARR: “These reports are not supposed to be made public.”
THE FACTS: He’s not going out on a limb for public disclosure.
Justice Department regulations give Barr wide authority to release a special counsel’s report in situations it “would be in the public interest.” Barr had made clear during his Senate confirmation hearing in January that he believed in transparency with the report on Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference during the 2016 campaign, “consistent with regulations and the law.”
BARR, saying it was “consistent with long-standing practice” for him to share a copy of the redacted report with the White House and president’s attorneys before its release: “Earlier this week, the president’s personal counsel requested and were given the opportunity to read a final version of the redacted report before it was publicly released. That request was consistent with the practice followed under the Ethics in Government Act, which permitted individuals named in a report prepared by an independent counsel the opportunity to read the report before publication.”
THE FACTS: Actually, Barr’s decision, citing the Ethics in Government Act, is inconsistent with independent counsel Ken Starr’s handling of his report into whether President Bill Clinton obstructed and lied in Starr’s probe.
On Sept. 7, 1998, Clinton’s attorney David Kendall requested that Starr provide him an opportunity to review the report before it was sent to Congress. Starr quickly turned him down.
“As a matter of legal interpretation, I respectfully disagree with your analysis,” Starr wrote to Kendall two days later. Starr called Kendall “mistaken” regarding the rights of the president’s attorneys to “review a ‘report’ before it is transmitted to Congress.”
Starr’s report was governed by the ethics act cited by Barr as his justification for showing the report to the president’s team. It has since expired. Current regulations governing Mueller’s work don’t specify how confidential information should be shared with the White House.
Starr’s report led to the impeachment trial of Clinton in 1999.