“I suspect that Democrats’ heads on Capitol Hill were exploding,” Fox’ Chris Wallace quipped after watching William Barr’s press conference this morning. And for good reason, Wallace explained. At times, especially on obstruction of justice, Barr sounded more like counsel for the defense than the Attorney General:
Here's the video of Chris Wallace on Fox: "The Attorney General seemed almost to be acting as the counselor for the defense, for the counselor for the president, rather than the Attorney General … I suspect that Democrats' heads on Capitol Hill were exploding." pic.twitter.com/MQOYypMwZ0
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) April 18, 2019
Wallace was reacting to this part of Barr’s presser:
In assessing the President’s actions discussed in the report, it is important to bear in mind the context. President Trump faced an unprecedented situation. As he entered into office, and sought to perform his responsibilities as President, federal agents and prosecutors were scrutinizing his conduct before and after taking office, and the conduct of some of his associates. At the same time, there was relentless speculation in the news media about the President’s personal culpability. Yet, as he said from the beginning, there was in fact no collusion. And as the Special Counsel’s report acknowledges, 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. 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. 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. 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.
Most of this is pretty straightforward, at least up to the point where Barr starts talking about Trump’s “unprecedented situation.” The rest of this sounds more like argument rather than evidence. Prosecutors are compelled to operate in search of truth rather than as partisans, but this sounds at least like bending over backwards to give Trump the benefit of the doubt. And, despite Wallace’s critics on line, that part does not necessarily act as a description of what Mueller found, but of the conclusions Barr and Rod Rosenstein reached.
That certainly gives an impression of something less than an disinterested approach. Now that the report has been released and we can read Mueller’s arguments on obstruction, that will reinforce accusations from Barr’s critics of this presser. Even before the presser, Democratic heads were exploding. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer issued a demand that the special counsel testify before Congress to restore it again after William Barr’s pre-release press conference gave him an opportunity to “spin the report.”
Of course, they released this statement before seeing the report themselves:
In a joint statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Barr’s handing of the report release has created a “crisis of confidence” and said having Mueller testify was the “only way to begin restoring public trust.”
“Attorney General Barr’s regrettably partisan handling of the Mueller report, including his slanted March 24th summary letter, his irresponsible testimony before Congress last week, and his indefensible plan to spin the report in a press conference later this morning — hours before he allows the public or Congress to see it — have resulted in a crisis of confidence in his independence and impartiality,” they said.
“We believe the only way to begin restoring public trust in the handling of the Special Counsel’s investigation is for Special Counsel Mueller himself to provide public testimony in the House and Senate as soon as possible. The American people deserve to hear the truth,” they said.
So if Barr’s presser before the release was spin, what does that make this pre-presser press release? The rinse cycle?
This is as ill-advised as Barr’s press conference. Pelosi and Schumer could have waited to see what the report said first and then issued a more grounded complaint. Instead, they’re doing exactly what they accuse Barr of doing — spinning for the sake of spinning. They could have written this press release at any time since Barr’s summary letter went out, just as Barr could have held his press conference at any time since then as well, and both should have waited until after the report release.
Not that it makes much difference anyway. House Judiciary chair Jerrold Nadler wasn’t going to let Mueller off the hook, and likely neither will Lindsey Graham in the Senate counterpart. Mueller will get invited to testify to both committees (and probably the House and Senate intel committees too), even if the invitation has to get a little more formal in the guise of a subpoena. Pelosi and Schumer just want to pretend that the demand will come as a result of Barr’s presser today when Nadler has been hinting at such a demand for weeks.
Nadler made it official today. But … May 23rd?
It is clear Congress and the American people must hear from Special Counsel Robert Mueller in person to better understand his findings. We are now requesting Mueller to appear before @HouseJudiciary as soon as possible. pic.twitter.com/Mmo6PA4KPt
— Rep. Nadler (@RepJerryNadler) April 18, 2019
— Ed O'Keefe (@edokeefe) April 18, 2019
I guess that the public trust can wait five weeks. It won’t take a subpoena, though; Mueller will testify willingly. But anyone who thinks they’ll get substantially more out of him than what’s in the report is fooling themselves. Mueller’s too much of a pro at handling Capitol Hill.