Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia interference in the 2016 elections is over, after finding no Trump-Russia conspiracy and issuing no indictments against Americans. With “collusion” a dead letter, the liberal press is investing hope in the other charge, “obstruction of justice.”
A story by New York Times reporters Michael S. Schmidt and Charlie Savage focused on that other avenue in “Mueller Demurs So Barr Makes A Key Decision” on the front of Monday’s New York edition. The online headline was harder-hitting: “Barr Goes Beyond Mueller in Clearing Trump on Obstruction, Drawing Scrutiny.” The Times would certainly like to make it so.
Schmidt and Savage made hay out of Mueller’s decision to punt on the charge of obstruction of justice against Donald Trump, and Barr’s subsequent interpretation of the findings to declare Trump not guilty of obstruction (click “expand,” emphasis mine)
Over the 22 months of their inquiry, Robert S. Mueller III’s investigators examined countless documents and interviewed dozens of witnesses, including some of the highest-ranking lawyers and aides in the White House, to determine whether President Trump obstructed justice. But in the end, the special counsel reached no conclusion -- instead producing a report that merely marshaled evidence on both sides.
Then, Attorney General William P. Barr, a political appointee whom Mr. Trump installed less than a month ago and who began reading Mr. Mueller’s report on Friday, stepped in. With the concurrence of his deputy, Rod J. Rosenstein, Mr. Barr seized the opportunity to render a judgment -- pronouncing Mr. Trump clear of committing any criminal offense.
The propriety of that move by Mr. Barr -- who had written an unsolicited memo last year arguing that Mr. Mueller ought not be permitted to investigate Mr. Trump for obstruction of justice -- is certain to be a focus of political contention as Congress grapples with what it now knows about the still-secret Mueller report.
“Political contention” that The Times would be happy to help spread. They took the side of the partisan Democrats:
Representative Jerrold Nadler, the New York Democrat who is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, cited Mr. Barr’s memo as a reason for suspicion and suggested that Mr. Barr’s action may amount to a “hasty partisan interpretation of the facts.”
The reporters tried to leverage liberal suspicion about Barr into yet another conspiracy, using active verbs to suggest Barr was part of a whitewash:
All that the public -- or Congress -- knows at this point about Mr. Mueller’s findings consists of how Mr. Barr portrayed them in a four-page letter he sent to lawmakers on Sunday. Mr. Mueller cataloged numerous actions by Mr. Trump, Mr. Barr wrote -- he did not specify but said most were publicly known -- and that the special counsel report presented evidence both for and against concluding that Mr. Trump had broken the law.
But in an unusual move Mr. Barr did not explain, Mr. Mueller left that question unresolved, instead stating that “while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” according to a brief excerpt from the special counsel report that Mr. Barr quoted. With Mr. Rosenstein’s concurrence, Mr. Barr embraced that opening to declare the president broke no law.
(For context, here’s a relevant excerpt from Barr’s summary: “Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel's investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”)
It took until paragraph 20 for Schmidt and Savage to get to the heart of the controversy, Russian election interference (remember that?):
Mr. Mueller’s refusal to make any conclusion about obstruction was coupled with a more definitive finding that “the evidence does not establish that the president was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference.”
That sentence also marked the first appearance of the word “Russia,” in a story predicated on Robert Mueller’s supposedly all-important Russia interference investigation.
Naturally, the reporters got snide near the end:
David Kris, who ran the Justice Department’s national security division and now heads the consulting firm Culper Partners, said he was struck by the fact that Mr. Mueller failed to reach a conclusion on whether to prosecute Mr. Trump after nearly two years of work, but Mr. Barr, with Mr. Rosenstein’s help, decided in a single weekend.
But CNN Justice Department correspondent Laura Jarrett dispelled that “single weekend” timeline on Twitter Monday morning (emphasis added):
...on the obstruction piece of Mueller’s investigation -- have learned that SCO told Barr/Rosenstein 3 wks ago he wouldn’t reach conclusion on obstruction, that was *not* expected; dispels notion Barr came up with his analysis in 48 hrs, he’s known for weeks what was coming