President Trump’s allies, in the wake of public remarks by special counsel Robert Mueller Wednesday, have tweaked the language they have used to claim that the President did not commit criminal obstruction of justice.
The shift is minor, but telling.
No longer are the President’s top mouthpieces asserting that Mueller himself, in his report, found no obstruction. They are now hanging that conclusion on Attorney General Bill Barr — who said in an initial summary of the report that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein found Mueller’s evidence of obstruction insufficient — or on the Justice Department, generally.
Mueller said on Wednesday that he was unable, per DOJ policy, to accuse a sitting President of a crime, but that, nonetheless, if his team “had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that.”
Both points he had previously stated in his report, which was mostly made public on April 18.
Yet, perhaps because there is now camera footage of him making the statement, many in Trump’s orbit no longer feel comfortable attaching Mueller specifically to the “no obstruction” claim.
“The report was clear—there was no collusion, no conspiracy—and the Department of Justice confirmed there was no obstruction,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement after his remarks.
Vice President Mike Pence echoed that rhetoric in a statement of his own that said that the “Department of Justice concluded there was no collusion and no obstruction.”
The President’s personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow said that Mueller’s probe had produced no “findings” of obstruction against the President, but then stressed that the “Attorney General conclusively determined that there was no obstruction by the President.”
The initial claims by Trump’s inner circle about Mueller’s findings were not always so hedged.
Sanders referred to his conclusions as the “no-collusion, no-conspiracy, no-obstruction Mueller Report” in a May 8 statement from the White House.
“And the Special Counsel’s report is in: no collusion, no obstruction,” Pence said in a gaggle just last week.
Sekulow, also previously ignored Mueller’s claim in his report that he was not in a position to accuse Trump of a crime.
“Look, if they had an obstruction case they would have made it,” Sekulow said the day the report came out.