Less than 24 hours after Attorney General William Barr issued his summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, the White House spin machine is in high gear.
Press Secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted on Sunday that Barr’s letter to Congress reveals a “total and complete exoneration” of President Donald Trump.
The Special Counsel did not find any collusion and did not find any obstruction. AG Barr and DAG Rosenstein further determined there was no obstruction. The findings of the Department of Justice are a total and complete exoneration of the President of the United States.”
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) March 24, 2019
Trump tweeted the same thing.
No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 24, 2019
In reality, Barr wrote that Mueller “did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities” and “ultimately determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment” on whether the president obstructed justice.
“The Special Counsel, therefore, did not draw a conclusion – one way or the other – as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction.”
Barr noted, however, that although the report “does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
On Monday, Sanders was pressed on the discrepancy between her tweet and Barr’s summary during an appearance on The Today Show.
Noting Barr’s words, Savannah Guthrie asked Sanders regarding obstruction of justice: “Would you acknowledge it is incorrect for the President to call this a total exoneration?”
“Would you acknowledge it is incorrect for the President to call this a total exoneration?” @savannahguthrie asks @PressSec Sarah Sanders about the question of if President Trump obstructed justice pic.twitter.com/I0XnGlYWCU
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) March 25, 2019
Sanders replied by doubling down on the administration’s dubious assessment.
“Not at all. It is a complete and total exoneration and here’s why. The special counsel said they couldn’t make a decision one way or the other. The way the process works is they then leave it up to the attorney general.”
Guthrie pointed out that some critics, such as House Democrats, are wondering how Barr was able to draw such a “snap judgment” given the length and breadth of Mueller’s investigation. Guthrie alluded to a memo drafted by Barr last summer in which suggested Barr opined that there was no obstruction case to be made against Trump.
Sanders brushed off those concerns and praised Barr.
“It’s not a snap judgment,” Sanders replied. “Anybody that knows Attorney General Barr including a number of Democrats who have known him for decades talked about what a great individual he is.”
When Guthrie brought up Barr’s memo again, Sanders said that we should “look at Bob Mueller’s report… in the legal community when you can’t convict somebody on something, you’re exonerating them.”
Note: Mueller’s report – and therefore his findings – have not been made public.
Guthrie explained to Sanders that “to say you can’t prosecute someone because they don’t meet the legal standards of the statute is not an exoneration.”
Many weren’t surprised that Press Secretary Sanders wouldn’t concede the fact that the report didn’t exonerate Trump.
Sarah Sanders never fails to amaze by her ignorance. But did Guthrie really expect that Sanders would be able to acknowledge one obvious fact about exoneration? I think she should be knowledgeable enough to be able to explain the definition of exoneration.
— Gordana (@Gordana15921685) March 25, 2019
It amazes me how she is so loyal to DT but not her own country.
— Donna Neubig (@DonnaNeubig) March 25, 2019
“ while this report does not conclude the president committed a crime, it does not exonerate him.” Bar rights this while he admits that mueller drew no conclusions but simply presented the evidence for and against conviction.
— Regina Marie (@mamaraquel) March 25, 2019
Barr made it crystal clear in a 2018 memo to the Justice Department – which he penned as a private citizen – what he thought of Mueller’s investigation.
“Mueller should not be permitted to demand that the President submit to interrogation about
alleged obstruction,” Barr wrote in a 19-page memo to the Justice Department in June. “Apart from whether Mueller [has] a strong enough factual basis for doing so, Mueller’s obstruction theory is fatally misconceived. As I understand it, his theory is premised on a novel and legally insupportable reading of the law. Moreover, in my view, if credited by the Department, it would have grave consequences far beyond the immediate confines of this case and would do lasting damage to the Presidency and to the administration of law within the Executive Branch.”
Barr, in no uncertain terms, had decided even before his appointment that whatever Mueller ended up discovering “should be rejected.”
Below are the reasons why, in Barr’s own words.
First: the president’s executive powers supersede the obstruction clause.
“The sweeping interpretation being proposed for 1512’s residual clause is contrary to the
statute’s plain meaning and would directly contravene the Department’s longstanding and
consistent position that generally-worded statutes like 1512 cannot be applied to the President’s
exercise of his constitutional powers in the absence of a ‘clear statement’ in the statute that such
an application was intended.”
Second: the president cannot obstruct justice. Recall that it was Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey over “this Russia thing” that led to Mueller’s appointment.
“Mueller’s premise that, whenever an investigation touches on the President’s own
conduct, it is inherently ‘corrupt’ under 1512 for the President to influence that matter is
insupportable. In granting plenary law enforcement powers to the President, the Constitution
places no such limit on the President’s supervisory authority. Moreover, such a limitation cannot
be reconciled with the Department’s longstanding position that the ‘conflict of interest?’ laws do
not, and cannot, apply to the President, since to apply them would impermissibly ‘disempower’
the President from supervising a class of cases that the Constitution grants him the authority to
Third: executive authority is not subject to a review of the president’s intent.
“Defining facially-lawful exercises of Executive discretion as potential crimes, based solely
on subjective motive, would violate Article II of the Constitution by impermissibly burdening the
exercise of core discretionary powers within the Executive branch.”
Fourth: there is no obstruction if there is no collusion.
“Even if one were to indulge Mueller’s obstruction theory, in the particular circumstances
here, the President’s motive in removing Comey and commenting on could not have been
‘corrupt’ unless the President and his campaign were actually guilty of illegal collusion. Because
the obstruction claim is entirely dependent on first finding collusion, Mueller should not be
permitted to interrogate the President about obstruction until has enough evidence to establish
In short: when a president does ‘x,’ it is not illegal.
Until we see Mueller’s report, we are at the mercy of those who wish to use it to fit their own narrative.
Until Americans see the report, it’s all spin. Hound them until they release it.
— N3!L (@chimpvsdog) March 25, 2019
Sorry Sarah, we won’t believe anything you say. We need to see the report.
— Christine Galea (@chrisgalea) March 25, 2019
Some have even suggested that Barr is intentionally covering up the truth to protect Trump because they believe that is precisely what he was hired to do.
“William Barr publicly auditioned for the job of attorney general by telling Donald Trump what he wanted to hear,” writes Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern, citing a 2017 editorial Barr wrote in The Washington Post defending Trump’s decision to fire Comey.
“For staunch supporters of the ‘unitary executive,'” Stern adds, “it is a satisfying affirmation of Trump’s sweeping powers to manipulate his subordinates to protect his own skin. For the rest of us, the summary is a riddle, opaque in its reasoning and premature in its conclusions.”