Since Attorney General Bill Barr released his summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, President Donald Trump and his supporters have been screaming from the rooftops that the investigation has completely exonerated the president — despite the fact that Barr’s summary does nothing of the sort.
And yet one of Trump’s most prominent supporters doesn’t seem to have gotten the talking points.
On Tuesday evening, the president’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani appeared on CNN with Wolf Blitzer to discuss the developments. He celebrated the completion of the report, saying that the country should move on and that the story of Trump-Russia collusion has been disproven.
But when he discussed the obstruction of justice portion of the report, he strayed from the party line.
Barr has said that Mueller didn’t conclude that Trump engaged in criminal obstruction in his report, but also didn’t exonerate the president. Instead, Mueller laid out the case for an against obstruction. Barr took it upon himself, though, to conclude that no charge of obstruction would be warranted, a fact that Trump has taken to support his claims of exoneration, notwithstanding Mueller’s nonconclusion.
Giuliani didn’t stick with the “exoneration” line or say that there was “no obstruction.” Instead, he left the door open to this possibility.
“What you’re going to find out with obstruction is — this is a matter of interpretation,” Giuliani told Blitzer. “You know all the facts about obstruction. You can interpret them several different ways, which is why it was a difficult question. A legal question.”
It’s not entirely clear Giuliani is correct here, as Barr’s summary suggested that some non-public acts might be implicated in the obstruction case. But his main point was a staggering one — and he didn’t seem to realize it when he said it. The president’s own lawyer thinks it’s an open question, indeed, a “difficult” one, about whether Trump committed obstruction of justice?
Lawyers are, by virtue of their positions, obligated to interpret the law as favorably for their clients as is reasonable. If even Giuliani can’t defend Trump any better than saying it’s debatable whether he is guilty, the rest of us shouldn’t have a hard time reaching our own conclusions.
At another point in the interview, Blitzer managed to get Giuliani to another embarrassing fact. For all the myriad contacts Russia had with the Trump campaign, none of them reported the overtures to the FBI. Giuliani said that while he, as a lawyer, would have known this was the right thing to do, other non-lawyers should be given a pass for their omissions. But even if this quite generous interpretation of the Trump team’s actions is fair, it completely obliterates the idea that there was something illegitimate about investigating this dubious series of events.