CNN to Pelosi: Barr probably didn't commit a "crime" in his discussion of Mueller's reactions

True — but the Attorney General wasn’t exactly forthcoming, either. CNN dropped a fact check on a claim from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that William Barr committed a crime in his exchanges with Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) and Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL) shortly after the release of his non-summary summary of Robert Mueller’s special counsel report. At those times, Barr said that he didn’t know whether Mueller agreed with his interpretation on obstruction and had not known of any misgivings Mueller had with Barr’s conclusions.

Pelosi claims that the letter from Mueller to Barr demonstrates that he lied to Congress and committed a “crime”:

Pelosi had been working on this talking point since yesterday’s hearing. Politico reported this morning that she prepped the House Democratic caucus on the argument in their closed-door meeting:

During a closed-door meeting on Thursday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi accused Attorney General William Barr of committing a crime by lying to Congress.

“We saw [Barr] commit a crime when he answered your question,” Pelosi told Rep. Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) during a private meeting Thursday morning, according to two sources present for the gathering.

Pelosi’s comment was an apparent reference to Barr’s response to Crist last month during an appropriations hearing, in which the attorney general said he was not aware of any concerns that special counsel Robert Mueller’s team might have expressed about his four-page summary of Mueller’s findings.

When challenged on this point yesterday, Barr insisted that Mueller’s problem wasn’t with him, but in the way the media interpreted his four-page letter. Barr also asserted that he wasn’t quite sure that Mueller wrote the letter himself, which seems like an odd point to haggle when Mueller signed off on it. However, in either case, the letter doesn’t complain about the media but about Barr’s own letter to Congress and how it left out the nuance of Mueller’s legal argument.

Even that has a caveat, though. Barr says that Mueller told him in a follow-up call that his concern was the media coverage. If that’s true — and so far Mueller hasn’t contradicted Barr — then did Barr lie? By the time he’d had those exchanges with Crist and Van Hollen, Barr can argue that he had already clarified the issue with Mueller and confirmed that it didn’t involve Barr’s take directly.

But there’s a caveat to that caveat, too. The questions asked by Crist and Van Hollen clearly aimed at finding out whether Barr had those interactions with Mueller at all. Barr’s brush-off made it seem like he’d never heard from Mueller. It’s spin — not a lie, but not exactly the whole truth either.

That’s what CNN concludes in its fact check, too. Spinning the truth isn’t perjury, not even in congressional hearings, or perhaps especially not in congressional hearings:

Barr can be seen as splitting hairs here, especially given that Crist noted that concerns within the special counsel’s office were not just about the accuracy of Barr’s summaries, but in how adequately he had portrayed the work of the special counsel.

To clearly state that he did not know what these reports were referencing, as he did to Crist on April 9, while perhaps not rising to the level of an outright lie, is clearly an example of Barr not being completely forthcoming about what he knew at the time of his testimony.

“For testimony to be legally actionable as a lie,” CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin said, “it has to meet a pretty precise standard.”

Zeldin adds that while Barr was less than fully forthcoming that Mueller had written a letter complaining about the situation, “I still think you would have a very difficult time trying to build a criminal case on the basis of the Crist/Barr Q&A.”

Or any of the others, for that matter. Let’s not forget that it was hardly material at the time — the authority for release was Barr’s, not Mueller’s — and it’s not material at all now. The report has been released. Everyone can now read all of the nuances of Mueller’s logic on obstruction of justice, a section that has almost no redactions at all. Nitpicking over these exchanges is a purely political exercise, nothing more.

And even Pelosi seems to realize that. She’s not going to impeach Trump, and she won’t burn down the House to get to Barr either:

She added that impeachment is “too good for” President Donald Trump, reiterating her opposition to launching impeachment proceedings even as a growing chorus of Democrats is calling for just that.

This is Pelosi’s way of feeding the beast while keeping it solidly in its cage.