Wait, what? Didn’t Attorney General William Barr just tell us that the whole reason he concluded that Trump hadn’t obstructed justice was because Trump had been so cooperative with Robert Mueller’s investigation? As I explained earlier, I don’t buy Barr’s logic for a minute — but now it appears that Barr has transcended twisting legal theories and gone straight to flat out misstating facts. He said Trump cooperated fully with the Mueller investigation, but that’s not at all what Mueller reported.
At Thursday’s press conference, Barr described the news media’s “relentless speculation … about president’ personal culpability,“ that plagued the early days of the Trump presidency. Although, as Barr told it, the new president was justifiably frustrated and angry, he created no obstacles for the special counsel. Barr was clear and direct when describing Trump’s laudable support in the face of such hardship:
Nonetheless, the White House fully cooperated with the Special Counsel’s investigation, providing unfettered access to campaign and White House documents, directing senior aides to testify freely, and asserting no privilege claims.
Well that sure sounds cooperative. Barr even went a step further, issuing a blanket denial that Trump interfered with the investigation in any way:
And 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.
Barr, on behalf of our Justice Department, pronounced Trump’s cooperation as persuasive evidence that President Trump did not obstruct justice:
Apart from whether the acts were obstructive, this evidence of non-corrupt motives weighs heavily against any allegation that the President had a corrupt intent to obstruct the investigation.
Robert Mueller’s report, however, tells the diametrically opposite story of a president who not only interfered with the investigation, but did so unapologetically and publicly:
Third, many of the President’s acts directed at witnesses, including discouragement of cooperation with the government and suggestions of possible future pardons, occurred in public view. While it may be more difficult to establish that public-facing acts were motivated by corrupt intent the President’s power to influence actions, persons, and events is enhanced by his unique ability to attract attention through the use of mass communications. And no principle of law excludes public acts from the scope of obstruction statutes. If the likely effect of the acts is to intimidate witnesses or alter their testimony, the justice system’s integrity is equally threatened.
And it wasn’t just once or twice, according to Mueller:
Our investigation found multiple acts by the President that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations, including the Russian-interference and obstruction investigations.
Perhaps Barr is confused. Perhaps he believes that attempts to impede an investigation are only relevant if successful. Mueller’s report explains, “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.” Ouch. If the DOJ based its whole no-obstruction theory on Trump’s unfettered cooperation with Mueller, it’s tough to explain how Mueller’s damning findings fit in to that logic.
For the record, though, the obstruction statutes prohibit a person from trying to impede justice – even if the try is unsuccessful. An attempt to destroy a document, an endeavor to influence the investigation, or as Mueller alludes– public threats in the shape of tweets — could absolutely constitute obstruction of justice. There’s no requirement that Trump’s effort succeed or even be likely to succeed – just that its failure be caused by someone other than Trump himself.
[Images via Win McNamee/Getty Images, Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.