Attorney General Bill Barr has still not explained why he concluded that there was not enough evidence to conclude President Donald Trump committed obstruction of justice, despite extensive evidence for the crime on multiple occasions in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
Barr seems to be worried about his own lack of an explanation, however, as signaled by a new Washington Post report citing an anonymous “senior Justice Department official” offering a defense of the attorney general’s conclusion.
In particular, the report discusses the 2017 incident in which Trump ordered his former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, to get then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to curtail the special counsel’s investigation to stop probing the 2016 election and his own actions. Lewandowski never carried out this order, but Mueller argued that the attempt met all the criteria for obstruction of justice (though he declined to make a final prosecutorial decision).
Barr effectively disagreed with the case Mueller made. And the senior Justice Department official tried to justify this decision to the Post:
“All the attorney general was deciding was whether this was a prosecutable offense, and we don’t bring criminal charges at the department unless we believe we can prove them beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury,” a senior Justice Department official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. The White House declined to comment.
The senior Justice Department official said bringing a prosecution on those facts would have been complicated because the obstruction “relies on multiple people in a chain all doing something,” including Lewandowski delivering the note, Sessions being persuaded by it and then Sessions moving on the special counsel.
“That’s a very attenuated chain,” the official said. “It’s even more attenuated given that the note isn’t even an order.”
These arguments, however, are unimpressive — which is exacerbated by the fact that Barr himself was never a prosecutor.
“The idea that the acts laid out by Mueller didn’t add up to a ‘prosecutable case’ is ridiculous,” said Mimi Rocah, a former federal prosecutor. “Ask any respectable federal prosecutor.”
Barbara McQuade, also a one-time prosecutor, was quoted in the piece disagreeing the DOJ official’s reasoning:
“It will be clear this is coming from Trump himself and not coming from another government official,” she said. “It makes the message more powerful. It provides a fair inference of corrupt intent.”
“I would like to hear from the DOJ official spinning this how the AG read a dense, detailed memo, weighed the pros and cons, made a decision and wrote a letter to Congress explaining it in 48 hours, all without a back and forth with the prosecutor on the case,” said former DOJ spokesman Matthew Miller. “It’s a farce.”
Harry Litman, another former federal prosecutor, agreed.
“[It] would be extraordinary to just blithely overturn a prosecutor’s (let alone Mueller’s) effective finding of corrupt intent for several acts,” he said.
The article also landed at a fortuitous time, because only shortly after publication, Trump called in to Fox News host Sean Hannity’s show. Trump claimed that Barr “made a decision right on the spot” that the president hadn’t obstructed justice, which, if true, makes his findings even less credible than the lazy arguments would suggest.