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As you can see from the attached tweet, I initially fell for Attorney General Barr’s March 24 letter of principal conclusions—but then I read Mueller’s report.
Mueller’s report describes acts of obstruction by President Trump, and it clearly says Mueller chose not to decide whether Trump had committed a crime because Mueller was prohibited from actually charging him.
Mueller explains that prudential concerns and an official DoJ opinion prevented him from indicting the president, and then, because it would be unfair to accuse the president of a crime without actually charging him, Mueller declined to decide whether Trump had committed a crime.
Note that my March 24 tweet doesn’t even mention obstruction. That’s because Barr’s letter falsely implies Mueller looked at the evidence and simply could not decide whether Trump should be indicted because of legal and factual issues regarding whether his actions were criminal.
Barr doesn’t even mention that, because of the DoJ opinion, Mueller believed that charging a sitting president with a crime was not an option; Barr only cites the DoJ opinion in a footnote when describing his own analysis, not Mueller’s analysis.
Because it was unclear why Mueller chose not to decide whether to charge the president with a crime, I was unhappy about this line from Mueller, quoted by Barr: “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
Here’s the tweet expressing my displeasure:
But in context—which Barr fails to provide—Mueller’s declaration makes more sense.
It’s not that Mueller couldn’t make up his mind, chose not to make a decision, and then said Trump wasn’t exonerated; rather, Mueller had decided that it was inappropriate to make a determination as to whether Trump had committed a crime, and he sought to make that fact clearer.
Mueller wrote that it would be improper for him to conclude that Trump should be charged, given that he could not actually charge him, because it would put a criminal accusation over the president’s head, with no opportunity for a formal defense.
The White House’s reaction to Barr’s letter is also telling. Trump had long been harshly critical of Mueller and his investigation, calling him “totally conflicted” and “disgraced and discredited,” and the investigation “illegal” and a “rigged witch hunt.”
When Barr’s letter came out, the White House abruptly changed its tone. Trump said “the Mueller report was great” and that Mueller had acted honorably, and he touted the report as a “total exoneration.” Kellyanne Conway referred to the investigation as “the gold standard.”
But, as we later found out, Mueller’s report is damning for the president. If Barr’s letter had accurately reflected the report, the White House would not have reacted positively.
And with Mueller’s report now out, the White House no longer has anything positive to say about Mueller and his team.
The president and his allies are instead trying to excuse Trump’s efforts to obstruct the entire investigation into Russian election interference by alleging problems with elements of it and claiming, without basis, that they undermine Mueller’s obstruction analysis.
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