Bill Barr gave Trump a free pass on crime, and a newly released memo only underlines that fact

Bill Barr gave Trump a free pass on crime, and a newly released memo only underlines that fact

It’s been more than three years since former Attorney General William Barr issued his infamous “summary” of the report created by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Barr’s four-page document was a highly slanted and heavily spun version of the actual report, downplaying the very serious nature of the evidence found against Donald Trump and members of his campaign connecting them to perjury, campaign finance violations, bank fraud, acting as undeclared agents of foreign governments, and obstruction—at a minimum.

The issue of obstruction applied specifically to Trump, who took actions that deliberately prevented Department of Justice investigators from obtaining accurate and complete information. However, the conclusion of Barr’s summary was a claim that he and other attorneys at the Justice Department, “after careful analysis,” could not find sufficient evidence to indict Trump for a crime. That conclusion was supposedly supported by a Justice Department memo on March 24, 2019, specifically on the matter of whether Trump obstructed justice.

In recent months, Barr has gotten something of a whitewash for his walking away before the bitter end after the 2020 election, and for providing testimony to the Jan. 6 committee, but this came after escapades in which Barr tried to encourage foreign intelligence services to perjure themselves in support of Trump’s conspiracy theories and launched John Durham as a special counsel on an endless effort to undercut the justice system. 

Now, the most egregious part of Barr’s conclusion is in the news again, as the release of new documents shows that the “careful analysis” was just another lie.

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Barr’s summary and the memo that supported it are both facing new scrutiny following the release of a key memo on a Freedom of Information Request initiated by CREW. 

As Talking Points Memo reports, this is a “compromised and disturbing document” that shows the Justice Department under Barr writing a memo that was created not as genuine analysis of the issue, but explicitly to act as exculpatory evidence for Trump. This isn’t a document shaped by the concerns of a prosecutor, or even a neutral judge. This is a document created by the defense team, which was then referenced by Barr as a means of giving Trump an out.

But there’s more to it than that. The contents of the memo, the contents of the Mueller report, and the summary provided by Barr are in strict contrast with Barr’s own explanation of what would have constituted an indictable crime.

As Marcy Wheeler writes at emptywheel, the clear evidence shows that Barr, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and everyone else involved simply skipped over the part where they read the report prepared by Mueller’s team and got straight to work on debunking it. The memo, written just seven hours after the report landed on Barr’s desk, was drafted in such haste that it doesn’t even bother to cite the instances of obstruction that it is purporting to evaluate. Instead, it dismisses them all in a single footnote:

  1. Given the length and detail of the Special Counsel’s Report, we do not recount the relevant facts here. Our discussion and analysis assumes familiarity with the Report as well as much of the background surrounding the Special Counsel’s investigation.

That’s the legalese equivalent of TL;DR. Except that they followed up “didn’t read” with “and that’s why there was no crime.” This is a memo that might as well have been written before the report was produced, for all the attention that it gives the evidence.

Or, as Rachel Maddow said on MSNBC, there was no careful analysis: Barr just “made that up.” That’s the same conclusion reached by the D.C. Court of Appeals, which issued the order mandating the release of the memo:

“The [Justice] Department’s submissions, the court explained, indicated that the memorandum conveyed advice about whether to charge the President with a crime. But the court’s in camera review of the memorandum revealed that the [Justice] Department in fact never considered bringing a charge.”

Barr asserted more than once that if Trump testified falsely, or coached other people to do so, or tried to prevent people from testifying, or offered someone a pardon in return for false testimony, any of the above would be a crime. Mueller’s findings provided evidence that Trump and other members of his staff had engaged in multiple instances of exactly these actions. 

For that matter, so did Bill Barr. Because the release of the memo clearly shows that indicting Trump was never on the table. The “careful analysis” memo was made without any reference to the actual crimes, and was instead nothing more than a prop for Barr, who used it repeatedly to lie to the public and to Congress.

As Daily Kos wrote at the time of Barr’s initial announcement:

Donald Trump got a pass. He will walk away from this not just free from consequence, but emboldened by the idea that he really is above and beyond any rules.

The Mueller investigation lasted just over a year and-a-half. It resulted in the indictment of 37 individuals. Five members of Trump’s campaign team pleaded guilty to charges that included illegal lobbying for a foreign government and conspiracy against the United States. 

Under Barr, the Justice Department dismissed the results of this report in a matter of hours, without reading it and without citing the evidence it contained.

John Durham’s “investigation” is now approaching the end of its third year. It long ago passed the length of the Muller investigation, and come January will be twice as long as that investigation. Over that time, two people have been indicted on charges of perjury. One of those two was acquitted at trial. The second goes to trial in October. There is no sign that Durham intends to end his investigation any time soon.

Bill Barr has been getting credit for opting out of Jan. 6. The truth is, he was one of its primary causes.

Trump and his followers proved on Jan. 6 how dangerously close they came to overturning our democracy. Help cancel Republican voter suppression with the power of your pen by clicking here and signing up to volunteer with Vote Forward, writing personalized letters to targeted voters urging them to exercise their right to vote this year.

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