In a brief press conference, William Barr made blazingly clear what was already apparent: He is not the attorney general of the United States; he is Donald Trump’s lead defense attorney.
After pausing just a moment to introduce an apparently catatonic Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Barr moved straight into the purpose of his press conference: repeating, over, and over, and over, and over, that the Mueller report did not find evidence of criminal collusion. Barr recited the same phrases he used in his March 24 letter to Congress not once, but five times, making this by far the longest part of the report. Barr made an absolute point of adding the phrase “no collusion”—a term that has no legal meaning, but which was clearly there for the benefit of the only audience Barr cares about.
Barr then skated extremely hastily past the relationship between the campaign and WikiLeaks. He quickly outlined how, “under applicable law,” a very narrow set of circumstances would be required to bring charges against the Trump campaign related to the publication of stolen documents and, at least according to Barr’s claims, that extremely narrow set of circumstances wasn’t met. Next.
Finally, Barr mounted an absolutely astounding defense of Trump’s actions in relation to obstruction. Claiming that Trump had a “sincere belief” that the investigation was interfering with his actions in office, and that he was “frustrated” by the scrutiny of the FBI and special counsel, Barr waved away the entirety of Trump’s actions. He did so even though he admitted that Mueller did not explicitly leave the decision on obstruction up to the attorney general.
Throughout the astounding press conference, Barr absolutely confirmed that he is not the attorney general of the United States, but Donald Trump’s lead defense counsel.
- Barr’s “frustration” defense of Trump’s actions was made on an apparent evaluation of “sincere belief,” a legal term related to state of mind, though Trump never testified to the special counsel. It seems likely this is Barr’s evaluation, not Mueller’s.
- Barr quite clearly recognized the weakness of this argument, growing angry when a reporter asked about it and almost immediately leaving the stage.
- The way in which Barr brought up and hurried past his statement on WikiLeaks would seem to indicate that there are some serious allegations in this section of the report that do not look good for Trump or his campaign.
- The statement that Barr will make available to congressional leaders a version of the report from which all redactions are removed except those related to grand jury testimony was perhaps the only thing that might count as news that appeared during the press conference. Though that testimony clearly forms a critical part of the report.
- All of Barr’s statements about Mueller, despite his casual use of “Bob,” indicate that he has not spoken to Mueller directly since the release of his letter to Congress.