As soon as Mueller dropped his report in the attorney general’s lap, Barr whipped up his own interpretation over a weekend before anyone else had a chance to read it. He then force-fed the nation his story of choice: In a four-page letter, Barr said that Trump didn’t conspire criminally and also didn’t obstruct justice. Mueller hadn’t exonerated the president or ruled on obstruction, Barr noted, so he decided to make those judgments himself. No conspiracy, no obstruction, case closed.
The media then helped Barr’s narrative along, as a mixture of journalists, Trump apologists and Russia sympathizers said a “reckoning” was afoot for anyone who had thought that the Mueller probe might’ve imperiled Trump’s presidency or implicated him in criminal acts. The report actually did demonstrate that the probe was an existential threat to Trump and was indisputably incriminating. But the reckoning crowd passed judgment with only Barr’s letter – and not the report – in hand.
You can imagine Mueller and his team being irked as they realized that Barr had just outflanked them. So what did Mueller do? He wrote his letter. Of course he did. He’s a profound institutionalist and a by-the-books prosecutor. Maybe he didn’t fully anticipate how rough-and-tumble Barr was prepared to be. Surely, a letter was the answer.
Nope, that letter rolled right off Barr’s back.