Conveniently scheduled to allow William Barr the last word following the statement from special counsel Robert Mueller, CBS conducted an interview with the attorney general, complete with crackling fire and cozy vest. And in this warm, relaxing setting, Barr calmly and slowly explained how he undermined the Russia investigation and intends to use his unprecedented authority to persecute Trump’s enemies.
When Barr issued his original three-page letter version of the special counsel’s report to Congress, he did so under the pretense that he was only delivering the “bottom line” of Mueller’s findings. But after Mueller reminded him that the actual findings of the investigation did not clear Trump of either obstruction or collusion, Barr had something of a different explanation. That explanation was that he didn’t really summarize Mueller’s work after all—because Mueller was wrong.
In writing his summary, Barr simply substituted his opinion for that of Mueller, saying that “we didn’t agree with the legal analysis, a lot of the legal analysis in the report. It did not reflect the views of the department.” Where the term “the department” seems to equal Barr and Rod Rosenstein. Asked about his “bottom line” statement, Barr made it clear that his summary hadn’t been Mueller’s bottom line, but his. “The bottom line was that Bob Mueller identified some episodes,” said Barr. “He did not reach a conclusion.” So Barr simply inserted the conclusion he wanted.
In his earlier appearance, Mueller made it clear that he did reach a conclusion. However, since his reading of department regulations was that he was not allowed to indict Donald Trump, and was not allowed to even say that Trump was guilty, the best he could do was say that he could not find Trump innocent. Barr gave self-contradictory statements about Mueller’s position. Barr claimed that Mueller “could’ve reached a decision” on obstruction, but then went on to say that “I think the line he’s drawing which is he’s going to stick with what he said in the report is the proper line for any department official.”
Throughout the interview, Barr presented Mueller as a sort of junior employee who did a poor job. But that wasn’t the worst of his statements. The worst came when Barr, vest and all, declared that “government interference into a U.S. election is just as dangerous as foreign interference,” and that that’s why he intends to shred the Justice Department.
As Mueller made clear once again this week, Russia conducted a major military operation against the United States, launching a comprehensive effort that included hacking, theft, distribution, planting false stories, spreading propaganda through social media, ad placement, and even Russian boots on American soil—all of it done in an effort to harm Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump. And, as the public has only recently learned, Russia successfully hacked into actual election operations in Florida, where the results of their operation still are not clear in a state Trump officially won by 1%. On the other hand, the government engaged in court-authorized surveillance in an effort to determine the extent of that interference.
But, says Barr, the government action is at least as bad as that of Russia.
Besides dismissing Mueller as a fumbler who failed to finish his job, applied the wrong standards, and was simply wrong in his legal analysis, Barr spent a good amount of his time planting doubt about the whole investigation and making it clear that he’s entirely with Trump in taking down everyone involved.
Asked about what he had learned, Barr said he had “a lot of questions about what was going on,” and that he still has “not gotten answers that are, well, satisfactory.” Instead, says Barr, he has “more questions” than when he started, and “some of the facts that, that I’ve learned don’t hang together with the official explanations of what happened.” Those official explanations presumably being the ones that appeared in the Mueller report and, just incidentally, came from Barr’s good buddy Rosenstein.
What did Barr mean when he questioned the official version of how the investigation began? “That’s all I really will say,” said the man who just spent a good part of an hour criticizing Mueller for not declaring a conclusion. But, says Barr, “Things are just not jiving.”
Oh, there is jiving. And there will be conclusions.