Attorney General William Barr appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee as promised on Wednesday and humorously said that President Donald Trump gave then-White House counsel Don McGahn an “obstruction.”
The slip-up occurred during a response to Committee Ranking Member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), as you can see in the brief clip above.
“If you look back and you look at the episode where — the president gave McGahn an obstruction, uh, an instruction — McGahn’s version of that is quite clear in each time he gave it,” Barr stumbled. “Which is that the instruction said go to Rosenstein, raise the issue of conflict of interest, and Mueller has to go because of this conflict of interest.”
The exchange referred to Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s details about President Trump asking McGahn to go to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and ask him to fire Mueller.
The president previously railed against reporting about these details, saying “I never told then White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Robert Mueller, even though I had the legal right to do so. If I wanted to fire Mueller, I didn’t need McGahn to do it, I could have done it myself.”
As Law&Crime noted before, technically Trump didn’t tell McGahn to fire Mueller (McGahn didn’t have the power to fire the special counsel); he told McGahn–twice–to tell Rosenstein to fire Mueller. At the time, Rosenstein was overseeing the Russia investigation in place of a recused Jeff Sessions.
We know about this Trump-McGahn incident because Mueller got McGahn to recall the directive. “You gotta do this. You gotta call Rod,” Trump said, according to McGahn. We also know that McGahn disobeyed Trump’s orders and was afraid that a “Saturday Night Massacre” was a real threat. Mueller said that Trump’s attempts to influence the investigation were “mostly unsuccessful” precisely because White House staffers, McGahn included, “declined to carry out orders“:
The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests. [James] Comey did not end the investigation of [Michael] Flynn, which ultimately resulted in Flynn’s prosecution and conviction for lying to the FBI. [Don] McGahn did not tell the Acting Attorney General that the Special Counsel must be removed, but was instead prepared to resign over the President’s order. [Corey] Lewandowski and [Rick] Dearborn did not deliver the President’s message to [Jeff] Sessions that he should confine the Russia investigation to future election meddling only. And McGahn refused to recede from his recollections about events surrounding the President’s direction to have the Special Counsel removed, despite the President’s multiple demands that he do so.
Twitter users were quick to note to Barr’s flub.
"The president gave McGahn an obstruction, an instruction…" – #ImpeachBarr
— Pedro Nicolaci da Costa (@pdacosta) May 1, 2019
😂😂😂 Barr’s Freudian slip….”…When Trump gave McGahn an obstruction, I mean instruction…”
— #ModSquad😎 Melanie (@Lonestarmomcom) May 1, 2019
Barr says, “He gave McGahn an obstruction,” before correcting himself, “an instruction.” A Freudian slip? #BarrHearing
— Capitol Comments (@CapitolComments) May 1, 2019
Bill Barr's Freudian slip"When the president gave McGahn an obstruction, excuse me, an instruction."
He knows exactly what that was, I'm watching a man lie on live TV and don't see how anyone can trust this narrative.
— Max H Malcolm "For the People…" (@maxofmalcolm) May 1, 2019
AG Barr: "The president gave McGahn an obstruction." #BarrHearing Freudian slip
— Brian F-H (@BrianEFH) May 1, 2019
[Image via YouTube/Washington Post screengrab]