William Barr: Obstruction is in the Eye of the Beholder

Attorney General William Barr has decided that Donald Trump should not be charged with obstruction of justice in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, based on Mueller’s report on the investigation. Shortly after Barr handed down a heavily redacted version of Mueller’s findings, a follow-up letter from Mueller to Barr came to light. The letter criticizes the way William Barr handled the public release of Mueller’s core findings in the Russia investigation.

In turn, Barr characterized Mueller’s letter as “snitty.”

“… I think it was probably written by one of his staff people,” said Barr about Mueller’s letter.

Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Barr stated that he asked Mueller if he had an issue with Barr’s summary of the report, and if Mueller felt Barr’s summary was accurate. According to Barr, Mueller said he didn’t have an issue with how Barr presented the summary.

“But he had an issue with how the press covered it,” said Barr. In other words, according to Barr, press reporting on Robert Mueller’s report had been inaccurate.

Barr has summed up Robert Mueller’s report on the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election in this way: Mueller found that there was no collusion with Russia on the part of Trump or the Trump family, and “therefore, how (could) Trump obstruct an investigation?”

This logic is only convincing if we pretend that both factors are dependent on each other. In making his decision that Trump didn’t obstruct justice by trying to curtail the Russia probe, Barr said he focused on how the president didn’t commit a crime with Russia and how “we now know that he was being falsely accused.”

But faulty logic aside, Barr’s chosen interpretation of Mueller’s report is that Mueller saw “no corrupt intent from Trump to obstruct Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.” According to William Barr, Mueller reported that the U.S. government did not have a prosecutable case in Trump.

Barr seems to forget that Mueller also found that a number of White House staff members would have been guilty of obstruction of justice had they carried out various orders or requests from Trump along those lines. When asked by a member of the House Judiciary Committee whether Barr felt it was ok for a president to direct others to lie on his behalf, Barr declined to answer.

It is also important to consider that Mueller’s overall findings, though they showed no evidence of collusion with Russia on the part of Donald Trump, could be summarized more accurately in this way: “We can’t indict a sitting president, but there are enough things we found that we can’t clear him of.”

Barr was given the choice to indict or not to indict Trump on obstruction of justice charges, based Robert Mueller’s findings. Barr chose not to. William Barr appears to see the powers of the presidency as extending to the privilege of shutting down any investigation into the president if he thought he was falsely accused – and that this would somehow be different from obstruction of justice.

William Barr’s testimony reveals rift with Mueller over Russia probe | National Review [2019-05-03]

Graham to Mueller: Did Barr misrepresent your call? | CNN [2019-05-03]

White House Staff Who Resisted Trump’s Orders

A number of Trump staff members and subordinates have resisted following Trump’s orders on various occasions, according to Robert Mueller’s report on the Russia investigation into possible ties between Russia and the 2016 presidential election. Though staff have ignored Trump’s orders at various times not related to the Russia investigation, the instances documented in the Mueller report are significant because had staff members not resisted Trump’s orders, they, or Trump, would have been guilty of attempting to impede the investigation.

In his report, Mueller wrote, “The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.”

One of the most memorable was former FBI Director James Comey, whom Trump fired in 2017, for various reported reasons, including not complying with Trump’s request to publicly confirm that Trump was not personally under investigation in connection with the Russia probe. Trump’s firing of Comey was the catalyst for Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Here are other examples of White House staff who resisted Trump’s orders:

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from the Russia investigation, resigned under pressure in November of 2017. Sessions, who supported Trump’s harsh policies on many issues, including immigration, nevertheless suffered ongoing derision at the hands of Trump, particularly for recusing himself, and for declining Trump’s request to walk back his recusal.

Former White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus resisted Trump’s orders when Trump pressured him to force Jeff Sessions to resign, though Priebus did at first tell Trump he would speak to Sessions. According to Mueller’s report, however, later that day, “Priebus replied that if they fired Sessions, they would never get a new Attorney General confirmed and that the Department of Justice and Congress would turn their backs on the President.” Trump later agreed not to force Sessions to resign at that point.

Former Deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland declined to follow Trump’s request that she write an internal email confirming that Trump “did not direct Flynn to call the Russian Ambassador about sanctions. Priebus said he told the President he would only direct McFarland to write such a letter if she were comfortable with it,” according to Mueller’s report.

The report acknowledges that Trump was not necessarily asking McFarland to lie, but McFarland didn’t know “the full extent of Flynn’s communications with the President and thus could not make the representation the President wanted.” McFarland was sufficiently uncomfortable with Trump’s request and was compelled to document the request.

Some of the other White House staff who refused to comply with Trump’s orders include Former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe, and White House Counsel Don McGahn.

William Barr, the current Attorney General, has said that no charges were to be brought against Donald Trump for obstruction of justice as a result of Robert Mueller’s report. However, it’s likely that the only reason Trump won’t be charged with obstruction is that these and other staff members resisted Trump’s orders.

Trump tried to stop Mueller investigation, but staff wouldn’t let him, says report | PBS NewsHour [2019-04-18]

Is the Mueller report a roadmap for impeachment? | Fox News [2019-04-22]