Sunday 22 September 2019

Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent: 'Counsel's report is clear message to the public - and to Congress'


Jeff Sessions. Photo: REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein
Jeff Sessions. Photo: REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein

Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent

A little over a year ago, President Donald Trump grew so frustrated with the failure of Jeff Sessions to protect him from the Russia investigation that he exclaimed: "I don't have an attorney general."

Now that Attorney General William Barr gave a news conference marked by a remarkably dishonest effort to pre-spin the Mueller report, and now that we have seen much of the report itself, the upshot of the day's events can be summed up in one, similar sentence: "The US doesn't have an attorney general."

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Yesterday morning, Barr tried to explain why he declined to bring obstruction of justice charges against Trump, even though Mueller did not exonerate him of it. Barr appealed to us to consider how victimized Trump felt, when considering the extensive efforts to derail the investigation detailed in the report, noting that Trump "was frustrated and angered by his sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents and fuelled by illegal leaks."

This appeal is stunning, particularly when viewed alongside the report's details, which paint an exceptionally damning picture of Trump's conduct over the course of two years. What's more, in light of all these findings, Barr's four-page letter summarizing Mueller's report looks even more irresponsible in retrospect.

Barr's letter merely claimed Mueller had collected evidence on "both sides" of the question of whether Trump had committed criminal obstruction of justice, and said he and deputy Rod Rosenstein had decided charges weren't warranted - without sharing any of the evidence that Mueller had collected. That gave Trump and his propagandists a way to spin Mueller's report as full exoneration for two weeks.

We still don't have a persuasive or detailed explanation as to why they didn't bring charges. But we do have much of the evidence Mueller collected. And the misconduct is extremely grave.

Mueller's report concludes that Trump extensively tried to exert "undue influence" over the investigations into Russian conspiracy and Trump obstruction of justice. Remarkably, Mueller concludes that Trump failed in his mission, not because he didn't try, but because his underlings wouldn't carry out his orders.

The report details how Trump tried to subvert, undermine, discredit, and even halt the Russia investigation - an investigation that was necessary to develop a full accounting of a hostile foreign power's well-organized campaign to help elect him president. The report is a clear message from Mueller to Congress and the public.

Barr may not prosecute Trump; indeed, his intent to protect the president is why he's attorney general today. But Congress can still conclude that the multitudinous acts of obstruction the report lays out provide more than ample reason to take action.

(© Washington Post)

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