Members of [special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s] team have told associates they are frustrated with the limited information that Attorney General William P. Barr has provided about their investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether [President] Trump sought to obstruct justice, according to multiple people familiar with the matter.
While Barr concluded the special counsel’s evidence was not sufficient to prove that the president obstructed justice, some of Mueller’s investigators have said their findings on obstruction were alarming and significant, one person with knowledge of their thinking said.
Had Barr requested the federal court overseeing the grand jury to allow transmission of the report to Congress — as was done in Watergate — or sent along Mueller’s summaries, all of this could have been avoided. (“Some on the special counsel’s team were also frustrated that summaries they had prepared for different sections of the report — with the view that they could be made public fairly quickly — were not released by Barr, two people familiar with the matter said.”)
The Justice Department seems to be engaged in prolonged gamesmanship both to keep the report bottled up and to rationalize Barr’s interference with Congress’s right to see the information. Once it became known that “the summaries the Mueller team had prepared were intended to be ready for public consumption in a timely manner, because the redactions could have been done fairly quickly,” the Justice Department had to respond.
However, its retort was too cute by half. “Justice spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said in a statement Thursday that every page of Mueller’s confidential report was marked with a notation that it may contain confidential grand jury material, adding that it ‘therefore could not be publicly released.’” That’s nonresponsive and misleading. The summaries, according to the prosecutors, were prepared in such a form to allow quick transmission (e.g. attach them to Barr’s original letter). Barr refused to do this, just as he has refused to request the court give permission to send the whole report to Congress.
Why would Barr behave in such an underhanded fashion? We can only surmise from his 19-page memo sent to the Justice Department before his appointment that either as a partisan defending Trump or as a lawyer wedded to an excessively broad definition of executive power Barr has never thought that the Mueller probe was legitimate. (Apparently, the entire inquiry into Richard Nixon’s obstruction of justice never struck Barr as a seminal demonstration of the principle that even the president is not above the law.)
Of course Mueller was not going to reach a decision to indict or not; Justice Department regulations specifically prohibit indictment. Mueller wasn’t inviting Barr to make the call as far as we know, for why would he think Barr had any grounds to opine on an indictment when the Justice Department had taken indictment off the table? Barr’s personal exoneration was partisan showmanship in the extreme, a move that endeared him to his boss and the right wing, which both declared victory.
The victory was temporary, however. Most or all of the report will make its way to Congress. Barr and/or Mueller will testify, and Mueller will describe how he compiled the report, why he prepared the summaries and why he did not render a judgment on indictment. Barr has spun away his credibility and will be accused (rightly) of overstepping his bounds, adopting a partisan tone and hiding critical information about Trump from the public.
On Thursday, rallies were held around the country demanding release of the report. Republicans for the Rule of Law continues to air its ad urging voters to contact their congressional representatives to get the report released:
Perhaps the ad is having some effect. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) declared that he wants the report released.
The irony here is that Trump will not be indicted or removed from office. When Trump does leave office, however, another party might hold the White House, other prosecutors will seek access to the report and the latter might be the basis for criminal prosecution, which certainly can begin once Trump is no longer president. Even if the feds never charge Trump, that could leave considerable territory for New York state prosecutors to charge Trump under state law.
You see, simply because Trump and Barr want to wish away the Mueller report doesn’t mean it’s gone. To the contrary, its release might prove even more debilitating to them both. The information it contains, along with any additional evidence prosecutors in the Southern District of New York uncover, will not vanish. The facts are the facts. Voters will render one verdict; down the road state and federal prosecutors might seek others. Trump can run, but he cannot hide forever.