Renato Mariotti is a former federal prosecutor who frequently expounds on legal issues on Twitter and writes a column for Politico Magazine. Mariotti points out that while William Barr has promised transparency with respect to the Mueller report, the actions he’s taking to manage the release of the report are, in fact, “paying dividends to the White House.” Barr could have presented an unredacted copy of the report to Congress, but he’s not only reneged on that, he’s redacting as much material as he can before Congress sees anything.
All of those redactions are proper under law, although there are legal methods to disclose additional information if Barr were interested in greater transparency. But the attorney general has gone further, pledging to redact additional information beyond that required by law to protect “the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third-parties.” It is hard to imagine lawmakers deferring to Barr’s judgment regarding redactions not required by law, given his rush to reach a conclusion regarding obstruction of justice. While in typical cases, DOJ does not publicly release derogatory information regarding people who weren’t charged with a crime, there is no credible reason not to share all of the information related to this investigation with Congress. [Emphasis added.]
It didn’t have to be this way. Barr could have written a letter containing lengthy quotations from the report itself. He could have reached out to congressional leaders, shown them as much of the report as possible now and negotiated a timetable for them to see the rest. That would have been consistent with the transparency Barr pledged during his confirmation process.
Barr’s position is indefensible. The Constitution gives the “the sole Power of Impeachment” to the House of Representatives, and the House Judiciary Committee has jurisdiction over impeachments. The Mueller investigation was, among other things, an investigation into possible criminal conduct by the president of the United States. There is no legal principle, including the separation of powers, that would permit the executive branch to block the results of an investigation into crimes allegedly committed by the president from the House of Representatives. To do so would deny the House’s ability to carry out its constitutional power of impeachment.
All that William Barr achieved with his “summary” letter, which he walked back five days later, declaring it was never meant as a summary, was to muddy the waters. Barr’s letter produced the media narrative that a “cloud over Trump’s presidency is lifted,” that there was “no collusion,” and “no obstruction.” That last point was not a conclusion that Mueller ever reached, in fact, he said the opposite, “while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him” on the obstruction of justice issue.
The collusion issue was also spin doctored successfully by Barr as well. Mariotti points out, “Some media outlets have even erroneously stated that Mueller found ‘no evidence’ of collusion, rather than that he was not able to ‘establish’ proof.” There is a world of difference between no evidence and inability to establish proof to the requisite legal standard required to prosecute. But that distinction isn’t being taken into account or expounded upon, because Barr’s goal was to achieve a political victory for Trump, and his summary-letter-that-wasn’t-a-summary did that. Trump claimed vindication, and ran off to a rally to celebrate, with Sarah Huckabee Sanders trilling that Trump’s detractors were guilty of treason, a crime punishable by death. Trump wanted a narrative that the system took him on and lost and Barr gave it to him. Unfortunately for Trump, the narrative is already collapsing and the truth will out. Here’s Mariotti’s bottom line:
Barr’s lack of transparency regarding the Mueller report is a violation of the oath he took when he became attorney general. He might well succeed in keeping the full Mueller report secret for the time being—but the Constitution says he won’t be able to do so forever.
Trump has already gotten all the benefit he’s going to get out of Barr’s spin of the Mueller report that nobody has seen, and the New York Times summarized it this way.
“Not indicted” or “not impeached” may not have been much of a bumper sticker in times past, but in today’s polarized political environment, each side sees these issues through its own lens.
The notion that the system came after Mr. Trump in the form of Mr. Mueller and failed to take him down will fit neatly into the president’s narrative of grievance and victimization, energizing his self-portrayal as a threat to the existing order.
For Mr. Trump, that is as good a day as they come.
It is as good a day as they come and Trump has already had it. From here on out, it gets real. Bear in mind that Trump’s campaign chairman and national security adviser pleaded guilty to charges and there are other investigations of Trump’s associates still going forward, all set in motion by the Mueller investigation. And Trump’s businesses, finances, and inaugural committee are still under investigation by both federal and state investigators, and, Congress is still going after his tax returns. This isn’t what “full exoneration” looks like, not by a hell of a long shot.