Attorney General Bill Barr truncated quotes and omitted key context from his descriptions of Robert Mueller’s report, a comparison with the special counsel’s report released on Thursday shows.
In a letter summarizing Mueller’s findings, Barr clipped the first half of a sentence that substantially changed the tone of Mueller’s finding on whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russians.
Mueller set up his finding on coordination with an unflattering point:
“Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
But Barr only used the second half: “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
The edit makes the Trump campaign look better than Mueller’s full language did.
The discrepancy was picked up on by the press and widely discussed on Twitter. It was held up by Barr critics as an example of how the attorney general sought to spin the investigation’s findings in his boss’s favor.
In another case, Barr misrepresented Mueller’s approach to the question of collusion. During his press conference on Thursday, Barr said that Mueller found “no collusion,” “no underlying collusion,” and “no evidence” of “collusion.”
“There was no evidence of Trump campaign collusion with the Russian government’s hacking,” Barr said, later adding, “There was, in fact, no collusion.”
But the very beginning of Mueller’s report makes it clear the special counsel did not evaluate whether there was collusion, because “collusion” is not a federal crime or a commonly used legal term.
Instead, the report evaluates whether there was “conspiracy” — a criminal act — or “coordination,” which it defined as an agreement between the Trump campaign and Russia on Russian interference in the elections. (The report did state that the investigation did not establish coordination.)
The passage reads:
In evaluating whether evidence about collective action of multiple individuals constituted a crime, we applied the framework of conspiracy law, not the concept of “collusion.” In so doing, the Office recognized that the word “collud[e]” was used in communications with the Acting Attorney General confirming certain aspects of the investigation’s scope and that the term has frequently been invoked in public reporting about the investigation. But 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. For those reasons, the Office’s focus in analyzing questions of joint criminal liability was on conspiracy as defined in federal law.
In another instance, Barr’s language on obstruction doesn’t fully capture Mueller’s determination on the issue. Mueller wrote: “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.”
Barr told the public that Mueller was neutral on the question: “The Special Counsel therefore did not draw a conclusion — one way or the other — as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction.”
Barr also shaded Trump’s cooperation in the investigation in a more favorable light than Mueller. “The White House fully cooperated with the special counsel’s investigation,” Barr said Thursday, “providing unfettered access to campaign and White House documents, directing senior aides to testify freely and asserting no privilege claims. At the same time the president took no act that, in fact, deprived the special counsel of the documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation.”
But Mueller points out that Trump himself did not cooperate. “We also sought a voluntary interview with the President. After more discussion, the President declined to be interviewed.”
And the report implicated Trump in pressuring a witness, Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser. “When Flynn’s counsel reiterated that Flynn could no longer share information pursuant to a joint defense agreement, the President’s personal counsel said he would make sure that the President knew that Flynn’s actions reflected ‘hostility’ towards the President.”
Barr’s summaries of Mueller’s findings, it turns out, didn’t just tighten up the findings. They misrepresented key points.
As Democrats on Capitol Hill decide whether to pursue more information from the Justice Department, including underlying evidence gathered during the investigation and direct testimony from Mueller, Barr’s words will certainly factor into their decision.