Attorney General Bill Barr on Wednesday defended certain actions taken by President Trump that special counsel Robert Mueller investigated, using a justification that Mueller already dismissed in his report.
Barr was asked specifically about Trump’s demand that his White House counsel Don McGahn publicly deny a report that Trump had previously ordered that McGahn fire the special counsel.
The attorney general claimed that the conduct didn’t amount to criminal obstruction because it was plausible that Trump was concerned with spinning the press rather than impeding the investigation. Barr argued that Trump may have been frustrated that the New York Times had mischaracterized exactly what the President had ordered McGahn to do, because, in Barr’s telling, the President may have merely been seeking for the removal of Mueller on the basis of alleged conflicts, rather than a full termination of investigation.
“As the report indicates,” Barr claimed, “it could also have been the case that he was primarily concerned about press reports.”
Furthermore, Barr argued, Trump knew that McGahn had already been interviewed by the special counsel’s staff “weeks before.”
But Mueller’s report engaged with these theories and expressed deep skepticism about them.
“If the President were focused solely on a press strategy in seeking to have McGahn refute the New York Times article, a nexus to a proceeding or to further investigative interviews would not be shown,” Mueller said. “But the President’s efforts to have McGahn write a letter ‘for our records’ approximately ten days after the stories had come out — well past the typical time to issue a correction for a news story — indicates the President was not focused solely on a press strategy, but instead likely contemplated the ongoing investigation and any proceedings arising from it.”
Likewise, Mueller said that even though McGahn had already been interviewed, the obstruction inquiry was still ongoing, and it was “foreseeable that he would be interviewed again on obstruction-related topics.”
Finally, Mueller’s report also dismissed the idea that the conflicts argument for removing the special counsel was sincere.
The evidence, Mueller said, shows that the “President was not just seeking an examination of whether conflicts existed but instead was looking to use asserted conflicts as a way to terminate the Special Counsel.”