Maxing It Out for Trump

TPM Illustration/ Getty Images

We’ve now gotten more details about about what we’ve basically already known or should have known: the fix is in. The goal here is to max out every avenue to protect the President from the contents of the Report. Bill Barr and his friends at the White House clearly do not care what anyone outside of Trump world thinks at this point. They are not even bothering to keep up appearances at the margins. A good and increasingly relevant question for Bill Barr at this point would be at what point the statutory powers of the Attorney General can amount to obstruction of justice if exercised with corrupt intent.

Let’s go through what we’ve learned this afternoon.

Barr and his lieutenants at the DOJ have repeatedly briefed the President’s lawyers about the contents of the Mueller Report. So the President and those working for him have gotten a privileged advanced look at the results of the investigation into the President himself – ahead of Congress and ahead of the public. Indeed, it appears that the President and his lawyers have gotten more of a look at the Report than the Attorney General ever intends to give to Congress or the public.

This raises a related and critical point. Barr and his lieutenants have been briefing the White House about the contents of the Report and discussing its contents while the process of redaction is underway. Even if we posit the hypothetical that Barr didn’t consciously want to give the President and his lawyers a voice in the redaction process, it’s basically impossible for one conversation not to infect or influence the other.

This is a bedrock assumption in every regulation or administrative guideline addressed to conflicts of interest. The dialog between the DOJ and the President’s lawyers is explicitly about rebutting or defending allegations or asserted facts in the Report. Having one side of that discussion be in charge of deciding what gets hidden from the public and what doesn’t fatally delegitimizes the redaction process. Of course, there’s little reason to believe giving the White House such a voice wasn’t a planned and explicit part of those discussions.

I had some advance word about this press conference but wasn’t able to confirm it. It’s been under consideration at least since the weekend. Barr had basically no role in the probe. He took over at DOJ when it was substantively finished. He is on record as arguing that both components of the probe – the 2016 election and obstruction of justice – were essentially baseless and illegitimate. He has no reasonable basis to be the person who describes the findings of the Report. Very clearly, he’s there to spin the report in the President’s favor.

A few days after what was actually the 2nd Barr Letter (the exoneration letter), Barr justified that letter by telling Chairman Nadler that he did “not believe it would be in the public’s interest for me to attempt to summarize the full report.” Now he’s decided it actually would be in the public’s interest to summarize the report. Things change.

As I said, there’s little attempt here even to keep up appearances.

An additional point: Barr will hold his press conference at 9:30 tomorrow morning. Hard copies will apparently be delivered to Capitol Hill sometime after 11 AM. It’s not clear when the public will see the redacted version but it seems unlikely it will be before the hard copies show up on Capitol Hill. In other words, the press conference has been timed to ensure that no one on hand to ask questions will have been able to read the Report. Barr can summarize the report and put his gloss on it before anyone has a chance to see it.

To return to the basic point: Every detail of this has been planned to spin the Report or maximally conceal it in the interests of protecting the President.

None of this is on the level.

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