Attorney General William Barr held a 22-minute news conference that ended about two hours before anyone in the press was able to see his redacted version of the Mueller report. Overall, he re-iterated what he had written in his initial 4-page memo summarizing the report: there was no collusion and Trump didn’t engage in obstruction of justice.
As many people suspected when he announced the timing of his press conference and release of the redacted report, there was a method to this madness. In a Rand report on Russian propaganda methods, the authors included this fact:
Information that is initially assumed valid but is later retracted or proven false can continue to shape people’s memory and influence their reasoning.
Barr is counting on the fact that his interpretation of the redacted report will shape public opinion before the actual findings are released. That is the overall strategy to keep in mind.
In addition, there were a few statements from Barr that were new. The most significant came when he discussed Russia’s email hacking.
Under applicable law, publication of these types of materials would not be criminal unless the publisher also participated in the underlying hacking conspiracy. Here too, the Special Counsel’s report did not find that any person associated with the Trump campaign illegally participated in the dissemination of the materials.
In other words, he stated that dissemination of the emails isn’t in and of itself illegal, and then said that no Trump associate participated in illegal dissemination. That seems to be a bit of circular reasoning, doesn’t it?
All of that will come as good news to Julian Assange, whose organization WikiLeaks was actively involved in the email dump. But it is also great news for Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi, who discussed the WikiLeaks material with each other prior its publication. We also know that a ‘senior Trump Campaign official’ was instructed to ask Stone what other information WikiLeaks might have. Barr just exonerated all of them from any legal liability for those activities, which is how the “no collusion” finding is reached.
Barr’s justification for his decision that Trump did not obstruct justice is also very telling. He first noted the need to demonstrate intent and then described the president’s actions by saying “there is substantial evidence to show that the President was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks.” In other words, he seemed to say that Trump attempted to obstruct, but it was justified because he was frustrated and angry.
There was also an attempt by Barr to exonerate the president by claiming that the White House cooperated with Mueller’s investigation. He stated that “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.” One can only assume that Barr forgot (?) about the fact that the president refused to answer questions from the investigators in person.
On the question of executive privilege, Barr went out of his way to say that the White House demanded no redactions based on that claim. But according to Representative Jerrold Nadler, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, he waived that claim long ago when they agreed to cooperate with the investigation.
In the end, the entire press conference, complete with Barr walking away from the podium as soon as he got frustrated with some of the questions being asked, does nothing but reaffirm the fact that the attorney general is doing everything in his power to protect the president rather than address the need for accountability. We’ve know that was his job for a while now. He simply drove it home once again.