Barr has given media interviews since the end of the Trump administration. But unlike his appearances on Fox News, Barr’s discussion with Bill Maher on HBO this weekend paired him with a potentially more critical host.
In what was otherwise a relatively chummy interview, Maher did briefly press Barr on the subject of the summary, saying the way he “mischaracterized” the Mueller report was “shady.”
Barr defended his handling of the matter. But in doing so, he rolled out some of the most misleading aspects of his summary all over again.
“I felt that I had to say something to give the bottom line of what [Mueller] had decided,” Barr said. “Number one, I said that he had found there was no collusion.”
This isn’t strictly accurate now, just as it wasn’t strictly accurate back when Barr first said it. In fact, as we came to find out, Mueller said explicitly in his report that he wasn’t examining the nonlegal concept of collusion.
“Collusion is not a specific offense or theory of liability found in the United States Code, nor is it a term of art in federal criminal law,” the Mueller report reads. “For those reasons, the Office’s focus in analyzing questions of joint criminal liability was on conspiracy as defined in federal law.”
Barr’s use of the “no collusion” phrasing was suspect not just because the report didn’t directly address it, but because it matched Trump’s own mantra and defined the amorphous term in a way Trump surely approved of.
In his interview this weekend, Barr proceeded to defend his summary of the second portion of Mueller’s report, having to do with whether Trump obstructed justice during the investigation.
Mueller “states, colon, that he does not find there was obstruction, but he is not exonerating the president. Okay? I used his exact language,” Barr said. “Then I said he punted but I’m making the decision, and I say, based on the report, there was no obstruction. And the discussion about how there was no obstruction was not me characterizing Mueller, but me stating my conclusion. So those are the facts.”