Here are 5 ways the Mueller report debunks AG Bill Barr's deceptive spin

Since taking control of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, Attorney General Bill Barr has faced growing criticism for his apparent efforts to downplay the findings and shield President Donald Trump from criticism. But the attorney general's defenders have argued that Barr's critics have gone too far, claiming that he is unlikely to mislead the public about information that will eventually become public.

But after the report became public on Thursday, that defense of Barr fell apart completely. It's now clear that his public statements and claims about the report — blatant efforts to spin and deceive — conflict with what the report actually says.

Here are five ways the report debunked Barr's misleading messaging:

1. "No collusion'

In his press conference on Thursday morning, Barr repeatedly echoed Trump's "no collusion" mantra. Barr stated, correctly, that the report does not "establish" cooperation and conspiracy with Russia's efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. He went somewhat further Thursday, too, to add, that there was "no evidence" of such a conspiracy — which may be a more debatable proposition, depending on your view.

But the "no collusion" claim is thoroughly debunked by the report. It details how Trump's Deputy Campaign Manager Rick Gates and Campaign Manager Paul Manafort were in active communication with Konstantin Kilimnik about private, internal polling data from the campaign. Gates believed Kilimnik was a Russian "spy," as the FBI has assessed. They also believed he was passing the information along to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch with ties Russian President Vladimir Putin. The communications were conducted in secret — at one meeting between Gates, Kilimnik, and Manafort, the attendees left through different doors to avoid detection.

Mueller said that the special counsel was unable to determine Manafort's motive for sharing the polling data.  But this is clearly collusion — and arguably, it is evidence of a conspiracy, despite not being definitive proof. We don't know that the polling data was used to help the Russian interference effort, but it's certainly evidence that this could have happened. The report is clear that, while the special counsel was searching for a conspiracy and did not find it, it also did not rule it out  — the only conclusion that would justify the attorney general declaring anything like "no collusion."

And since much of the information about Roger Stone and, presumably, his contacts with WikiLeaks, is redacted from the report, it's unclear whether and to what extent further evidence from this case might establish collusion or hint at a conspiracy (though likely not directly with Russian agents). I've argued previously that, even before the report was released, the evidence for collusion was clear.

2. The missing "principal conclusion"

When Barr wrote a letter to Congress summarizing the report's "principal conclusions," he explained only that the report did not find evidence of a Trump-Russia conspiracy and that it didn't come to a conclusion on the obstruction question.

However, reading through the report, there's another obvious and crucial conclusion that jumps out, which Barr ignored: Multiple members of Trump's team actively and intentionally told criminal lies about their connections to Russia in ways that hampered the investigation. And they did this while, as the report makes clear, Trump was encouraging them to downplay the Russia story. (Some unnamed and uncharged witnesses also apparently lied or misled investigators, but the special counsel did not determine that these breaches were egregious or definitive enough to charge.)

This is crucial because of how it connects the conspiracy investigation to the obstruction investigation. It suggests that there may have been a conspiracy, but it was successfully covered up. By leaving these facts out, Barr painted a much better picture for Trump than the report does.

3. Trump's status as president affected the obstruction decision

Barr also claimed that his and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's judgment that Trump didn't obstruct justice did not rely on the Office of Legal Counsel's memo that says a sitting president cannot be indicted. And speaking on Thursday, Barr said Mueller's report is “not saying that but for the OLC opinion, he would have found a crime" with regard to an obstruction charge. He added: “He made it clear that he had not made the determination that there was a crime.”

This is grossly misleading. Mueller's report makes plain that the OLC opinion is the major factor in the special counsel's declination to come to a conclusion on the matter. It goes on to say that not only is Mueller operating under the assumption that Trump can't be openly indicted, but he believes it would not be fair or right to issue some kind of sealed indictment or private determination that the president is guilty of a crime. The report also says that if the special counsel could clear Trump of the obstruction charge it would — but it was unable to.

"Fairness concerns counseled against potentially reaching that judgment [that the president committed a crime] when no charges can be brought," the report said.

So the OLC memo appears to play a key role In Mueller's decision not to conclude Trump committed a crime.

4. Mueller clearly wanted Congress to adjudicate the obstruction question — not Barr

Barr has said that Mueller did not explicitly want Congress to take up the question of whether Trump obstructed justice, which is why he, as attorney general, decided to make the call.

However, without saying so explicitly, Mueller makes clear that it is, in fact, Congress's job to decide whether Trump obstructed justice.

He notes that one of the reasons his team chose not to bring a charge of obstruction of justice is that it could "potentially preempt constitutional processes for addressing presidential misconduct."

The report later adds: “Finally, we concluded that in the rare case in which a criminal investigation of the President's conduct is justified, inquiries to determine whether the President acted for a corrupt motive should not impermissibly chill his performance of his constitutionally assigned duties. The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President' s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.”

5. Trump actively worked to deny the investigators evidence.

Barr said Thursday that the "President took no act that in fact deprived the Special Counsel of the documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation."

But this is highly dubious. The obstruction of justice portion of the report details how the president tried to shut down the investigation multiple times. It also shows how Trump's aides, including Cohen, Papadopoulos, and Manafort, lied in ways that materially impacted the special counsel and other investigations — lies that were told, at least in part, to align with Trump's cover story about having no ties to Russia. He encouraged witnesses not to "flip," and Manafort appears to have taken him up on that direction by continuing to lie to Mueller. And the report also shows that Trump manipulated the publicly available evidence, altering Don Jr.'s statement about the Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer to conceal information.

And, of course, most blatantly, Trump himself refused to sit down with the special counsel — denying Mueller crucial evidence in the obstruction probe.


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