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Mueller Objects to Barr’s Summary of Report, Says It Created “Public Confusion”

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  • A newly released letter sent by Special Counsel Robert Mueller to Attorney General William Barr revealed Mueller’s objections to the four-page summary of the report that Barr sent to Congress.
  • In the letter, Mueller argues that Barr did not “capture the context” of his investigation, and created “public confusion.”
  • Mueller’s letter echoes the broader debate about whether or not Barr provided enough context in his description of the report, specifically regarding obstruction of justice and the role of Congress.

Mueller’s Letter to Barr

In a letter to Attorney General William Barr, Special Counsel Robert Mueller expressed concern that Barr’s summary of the report’s conclusion did not accurately capture Mueller’s work and created public confusion about the results of his investigation.

The letter was sent on March 27, three days after Barr sent his four-page summary to Congress, but it was not released to the public until Wednesday when Barr testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In the summary, given to Congress nearly a month before the report was released to the public, Barr wrote that Mueller did not find that Donald Trump or anyone in his campaign conspired with Russian officials to interfere in the election.

Barr also stated that Mueller did not reach a conclusion as to whether or not Trump obstructed justice, leaving it to Barr to decide if obstruction happened. Barr concluded it did not amount to obstruction because he believed there was not enough evidence.

“The summary letter the Department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this office’s work and conclusions,” Mueller wrote in his letter to Barr.

“There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation. This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department appointed the Special Counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations.”

Mueller also said in the letter that he sent Barr a redacted version of the introductions and executive summaries for both volumes of his report. The first volume detailed Russian interference and the second looked at possible obstruction of justice. Mueller argued that while Barr was reviewing the full report, he should still release the already redacted introductions and summaries

“Release at this time would alleviate the misunderstandings that have arisen and would answer congressional and public questions about the nature and outcome of our investigation,” Mueller wrote.

Phone Call & Barr’s Response

The day after Mueller sent the letter, he and Barr spoke on the phone regarding the situation.

“The Special Counsel emphasized that nothing in the Attorney General’s March 24 letter was inaccurate or misleading,” said Justice Department spokesperson Kerri Kupec in a statement. “But, he expressed frustration over the lack of context and the resulting media coverage regarding the Special Counsel’s obstruction analysis.”

Kupec also said that Barr and Mueller talked about releasing the introductions and executive summaries, but Barr “Ultimately determined that it would not be productive to release the report in piecemeal fashion.”

The next day Barr, sent a letter to Congress reiterating that his initial letter was not intended to be a summary of the report, and only stated Mueller’s main conclusions.

In other words, Mueller’s argument is not that Barr lied, but that he created a narrative that did not provide enough context on the obstruction debate. The narrative was then spread around by the media for almost a month before the public saw the report.

Now that the report is available to the public, we can compare and contrast what Barr has said to the findings in the report, and unpack some of the statements Barr has made that could use some more context, per Mueller’s letter.

Russian Interference

As noted above, the first section of the report investigated Russian interference in the election.

Barr gave a press conference before the report was released, during which he repeated many of the things that he said in the four-page summary. He said the report had not proven that the president obstructed justice and that there was no evidence of collusion.

He also defended the fact that he had gone farther than the report did and cleared Trump of obstruction.

This statement is true. Mueller’s report did conclude that Trump and his campaign did not conspire with Russia.

However, Mueller had a more nuanced take on the subject than just “no collusion.”  This is partly because collusion is not a legal term, and the actual charge is conspiracy, which Mueller did not find enough evidence of to prosecute.

When you look at the full context of the section on the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, it says:

“The investigation also identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump Campaign. Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.”

The investigation additionally looked into the hacking of the DNC and the release of the hacked information through Wikileaks and said that Trump asked those close to him to find Clinton’s deleted emails.

“After candidate Trump stated on July 27, 2016, that he hoped Russia would ‘find the 30,000 emails that are missing,’ Trump asked individuals affiliated with his Campaign to find the deleted Clinton emails,” the report stated.

Mueller also studied connections between people close to Trump and their ties to Russia, including a detailed rundown of the Trump Tower meeting. Again, ultimately the investigators could not find enough evidence to back up a conspiracy charge.

Obstruction of Justice

The second part of the report focused on whether or not certain actions taken by the President towards the Russia Investigation can be considered obstruction of justice.

Barr has said that the report did not come to a conclusion and so he took it upon himself to clear the President.  In his four-page summary, Barr included this quote from the Mueller report: “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

However, Barr did not provide the full context of this quote. In the Mueller report, the full excerpt states:

“The evidence we obtained about the president’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgment. At the same time, if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

In other words, Mueller is essentially saying that if he could say with full confidence that Trump did not commit obstruction of justice, he would.

The report lays out multiple instances that could have been obstruction of justice, all of which were accounted to Mueller by sources involved including former Director of the FBI James Comey, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, former White House Counsel Don McGahn, and others. These instances included:

  • Trump trying to get Comey to drop the investigation, which he did not.
  • Trump trying to get Sessions to reverse his recusal and get him back on the Russia Investigation, which Sessions did not do.
  • Trump firing Comey.
  • Trump directing McGahn to fire Mueller, who instead chose to resign.
  • Trump trying to prevent the disclosure of Donald Trump Jr.’s involvement in the Trump Tower meeting.
  • Trump and his team urging people not to “flip” for the investigation.

In every instance, Mueller avoids coming to a conclusion on whether an action is or is not obstruction of justice.

Role of Congress

Barr said multiple times that because Mueller did not reach a conclusion, it was up to Barr himself to decide if Trump committed obstruction of justice.

During his press conference prior to the release of the report, Barr was asked if Mueller intended for Congress, rather than the attorney general, to determine if Trump had obstructed justice.

“Special Counsel Mueller did not indicate that his purpose was to leave the decision to Congress,” Barr told reporters in response.

This is not true. In fact, Mueller explicitly outlines legal and constitutional arguments explaining that the power to decide whether or not Trump obstructed justice is left to Congress. The report states that this decision is not the job of either the special counsel or Attorney General Barr.

Mueller makes two key arguments here to back up this claim.

First, he points out that Congress has the ability to apply obstruction laws to sitting president under the constitutional system of checks and balances.

The special counsel dives into this a little more, writing, “We concluded that Congress has authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice.”

The second argument Mueller makes is that “the Constitution does not categorically and permanently immunize a President for obstructing justice.”  He combines these arguments to say that giving the president immunity “would seriously impair Congress’s power to enact laws.”

What Mueller is saying here is that it would, in fact, be constitutional to apply obstruction laws to Trump if Congress were to find that he did obstruct justice.

This claim is a direct repudiation of Barr, who has repeatedly argued both during his time as Attorney General and before his appointment that the Mueller investigation was overstepping and that Trump could not be charged with obstruction of justice.

However, Mueller’s findings mean that Barr does not have the authority to make this decision, but Congress does.

On Tuesday night, Barr’s prepared testimony for his appearance in the Senate Judiciary Committee was released to the public. In the testimony, Barr defends his decision to conclude that there was no obstruction.

“The prosecutorial judgment whether a crime has been established is an integral part of the Department’s criminal process,” Barr wrote, continuing later, “It would not have been appropriate for me simply to release Volume II of the report without making a prosecutorial judgment.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (CNN) (Fox News)

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Trump Rolls Back California Emissions Standards in Move That Could Ultimately Weaken Federal Standards

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  • The Trump administration revoked a waiver that allows California to set its own car emissions standards, the tightest regulations in the country. 
  • The move is part of Trump’s plan to roll back federal emissions standards set by President Barack Obama.
  • While Trump says a rollback will lead to safer and more fuel-efficient cars, analysts warn it could lead to increased fuel use, increased carbon emissions, higher vehicle costs, and lower vehicle sales.

Why is Trump Rolling Back Standards?

The Trump administration revoked a waiver from the federal government on Thursday that allows the state of California to enact stricter car emissions standards.

The move is part of Trump’s plan to roll back federal emissions standards set by President Barack Obama during his first term. 

In a series of tweets announcing the revocation on Wednesday, Trump argued that a rollback of regulations would lead to safer and less expensive cars as well as “little difference” in emissions. 

“The Trump Administration is revoking California’s Federal Waiver on emissions in order to produce far less expensive cars for the consumer, while at the same time making the cars substantially SAFER,” the president tweeted. “This will lead to more production because of this pricing and safety advantage, and also due to the fact that older, highly polluting cars, will be replaced by new, extremely environmentally friendly cars.”

“There will be very little difference in emissions between the California Standard and the new U.S. Standard,” Trump continued, “but the cars will be far safer and much less expensive. Many more cars will be produced under the new and uniform standard, meaning significantly more JOBS, JOBS, JOBS! Automakers should seize this opportunity because without this alternative to California, you will be out of business.”

On the claims of increased safety, the Trump administration says ditching Obama-era standards could prevent almost 12,700 car-related deaths over the next 13 years. However, an analysis by the Obama White House claimed the tighter standards would lead to 100 fewer deaths. 

An analysis by Consumer Reports predicted President Trump’s plan could lead to increased fuel costs, higher vehicle costs, and fewer vehicle sales. The nonprofit organization also said rollbacks could harm but “certainly would not improve” highway safety. 

Also according to Consumer Reports, a federal rollback could increase the country’s oil consumption by 320 billion gallons between 2021 and 2035 and would increase emissions by three gigatonnes. 

Despite urging automakers to “seize” on the opportunity, four automakers—Ford, Honda, Volkswagen, and BMW—struck a deal with California in July to continue manufacturing cars under stricter standards even if Trump abolished those rules. That then led the Justice Department to investigate the companies for potentially violating antitrust laws. 

How Will This Affect the Country’s Emission Standards?

The longstanding series of waivers to California began with the Clean Air Act of 1970. Since then, 13 other states have adopted California’s strict emissions standards, with the state influencing national—and, at times, international—policy. 

Tailpipe emissions are the leading form of greenhouse gas pollution in the United States, comprising about 20% of the country’s pollution. 

California state officials have said they will block the move, with attorney general Xavier Becerra saying he will sue the Trump Administration, which he claims is violating California’s state rights. 

Some legal experts have begun analyzing how either scenario could play out, with one being that if Trump’s move was ultimately upheld by the Supreme Court, it could block states from setting standards for tailpipe pollution. Alternatively, if the Court were to strike it down, that could allow states to set their own emissions standards. Under the second situation, it is likely some states would set tougher laws than others, which could impact how automakers build cars.

Some, including head of the Environmental Protection Agency Andrew Wheeler, claimed California unfairly dictated standards for the nation. 

“The California emissions regulations would impact Americans in other states who have no ability to vote those state legislators out of office,” FreedomWorks, a libertarian advocacy group, said in a statement. “It is regulation without representation at its worst.”

Additionally, Trump plans to reduce a federal Obama-era goal that would require cars to operate at an average of 54 miles per gallon by 2025 down to an average of 37 miles per gallon. The Obama standard is expected to eliminate six billion tons of carbon dioxide pollution, but the Trump Administration has argued that the regulations are unattainable. 

San Francisco Homelessness Violation

In addition to the revocation announcement, Trump also said Wednesday he will be issuing the city of San Francisco an environmental violation because of the city’s homeless population. 

In his reasoning, Trump argued that needles and other waste are turning up on the ocean.

“They’re in serious violation,” he said on Air Force One. “They have to clean it up. We can’t have our cities going to hell.”

San Francisco Mayor London Breed called the remarks “ridiculous” and said the city’s sewage is filtered at wastewater treatment plants instead of draining into the ocean.

As far as the violation goes, it is unclear at this time what that will look like. 

See what others are saying: (The Los Angeles Times) (CBS) (WIRED)

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Ethan Lindenberger “Frustrated” After Being Placed Among Photos of “Dead” Children at Anti-vax Vigil

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  • California Governor Gavin Newsom signed two new vaccination bills on Sept. 9, primarily aimed at reducing the number of childhood medical exemptions issued by the state.
  • Protests at the Capitol temporarily shut down the legislature as the bills were being passed, but protests ramped up later in the week when a woman threw a menstrual cup with what appeared to be blood in it onto senators.
  • Another protest led by an anti-vax group included a vigil for children they claimed had either been harmed or died from vaccines—including 18-year-old Ethan Lindenberger, who garnered national attention after vaccinating himself against his parents’ wishes.

Lindenberger Photo At Anti-vax Vigil

Pro-vaccine advocate Ethan Lindenberger expressed frustration after an anti-vax group displayed his photo among others of children they claimed were either dead or harmed by vaccines.

The vigil followed the passage of two bills aimed at making it harder for parents to get medical exemptions for their children’s vaccinations in California last week.

Lindenberger, who attracted national attention when he spoke to the U.S. Senate after vaccinating himself against his mother’s wishes, said he was at the Global Vaccination Summit in Belgium when he learned his photo was included in the vigil and he immediately thought it was a joke. 

“I was just really confused cause I’m looking through this photo that this anti-vaxxer’s sharing, and they’re totally like, ‘Look at all these dead people,’ and I’m there,” Lindenberger said to Rogue Rocket. “Part of me is like, ‘This is wild,’ so I went through their history to see if they were trolls. Nope, totally legitimate person. And when I shared it with some of my Facebook friends, they were like, this is an actual event… This is actually a thing.”

“And so my whole mindset was like, this is just so wild and proves how half these kids might not actually be dead,” he continued. “It was so frustrating but also—this was like a comedy show. This is not real life. This can’t be real life.”

Just a couple rows above Lindenberg, the anti-vax protestors also included a stock photo of a baby receiving a shot.

Shortly after learning of his photo, Lindenberger posted his reaction on Twitter. 

Over the next few days, Lindenberger defended himself on Twitter as people accused him of being immature, photoshopping the photo, or selling out to a pharmaceutical company.

Ultimately though, Lindenberger stressed that he believes most anti-vaxxers mean well but are the unfortunate targets of misinformation campaigns.

“These people aren’t bad people,” Lindenberger said. “They’re just like misinformed, and even though this vigil was hosted by some people that obviously had no idea what they were doing, they’re just trying to convince people that all these children are dying. A lot of people are just asking questions. That’s why it’s important to just engage with them and just be kind and try to answer questions even if it’s frustrating.” 

Newsom Signs Vaccine Bill

The Sep. 11 vigil followed California Governor Gavin Newsom’s signing of two bills on Sep. 9. 

The first, SB276, permits the California Department of Public Health to investigate any doctor who grants more than five medical exemptions in a year. It will also allow the state to revoke any medical exemptions it deems “inappropriate.”

Before signing that bill, Newsom demanded a companion bill be introduced, which allows students with existing medical exemptions to keep those exemptions until they meet specific educational benchmarks. 

Currently, California requires the submission of vaccination records or exemption statuses for kindergarten, seventh grade, and when a student changes schools. Under the new law, any child who receives a medical exemption before 2020 will still be able to enroll in school under their next grade span.

For example, a student who is in first grade this year with a medical exemption for vaccinations would not need to renew their exemption until entering the seventh grade. Additionally, medically exempt students in seventh grade this year will be able to go through the end of high school without vaccinations.

Other aspects of the bill include limiting temporary exemptions to one-year and allowing the Department of Health to review medical exemptions at schools where the vaccination rate is under 95% or at schools that do not report their vaccination rates.

While those bills were being debated in the legislature, a number of people outside the Capitol in Sacramento protested the bills, with one of the main arguments being that the bills would damage doctor-patient relationships.

“I do not believe I will be writing any more exemptions, even when I feel like they would be appropriate,” Dr. Dane Fleidner, a pediatrician specializing in holistic medicine, told Newsom in a letter. “I do not believe anyone else will either… I have had to put a complete moratorium on medical exemptions due to the nature of this legislation.”

The bill, however, was co-sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the California Medical Association.

Before the bills were passed, protestors blocked entrances, temporarily shutting down the chamber floors. Several people were even arrested, and even after the bills were passed, protestors again shut down the floor. 

Those bills come after growing concerns about the number of unvaccinated children in the U.S. Notably, the country faces a resurgence in measles, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting over 1,200 cases this year—a massive spike in cases from recent years.

In California, the statewide immunization rate for kindergarteners has fallen below 95%, with 16% of counties reporting their immunization rates were actually under 90%. A 95% immunization rate is considered the standard threshold for herd immunity.

All of that comes in spite of messages from doctors that vaccines are safe and effective for the overwhelming majority of people.

“Blood” Thrown on Senators

Following the initial protests and the vigil, a woman sitting in the California Senate visitors’ gallery Friday hurled what appeared to be blood onto senators while yelling, “That’s for the babies!”

Investigators later determined she threw a menstrual cup, it’s unknown if the red liquid in it was real blood.

That woman—identified as Rebecca Lee Dalelio, 43—now faces assault charges, as well as charges for vandalism and disrupting the legislature.

See what others are saying: (Sacramento Bee) (KCRA) (CNN)

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#BoycottABC Spreads After Network Aires Ad Burning Picture of AOC

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  • Social media users called for a boycott of ABC after it aired an ad that showed a picture of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez being set on fire.
  • The ad was paid for by the Republican political action committee New Faces GOP, which is run by former congressional candidate Elizabeth Heng.
  • In the video, Heng describes the “horrors of socialism” as pictures of the Khmer Rouge death camps in Cambodia appear on the screen. “This is the face of socialism,” Heng says as the picture of Ocasio-Cortez burns.
  • Ocasio-Cortez responded on Twitter and called the ad “a love letter to the GOP’s white supremacist case.”

New Faces GOP Ad

The hashtag #BoycottABC circulated all over social media Thursday after the network aired an advertisement during the Democratic Debates that featured a photo of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) catching on fire.

The ad was paid for by New Faces GOP, a Republican political action committee run by Elizabeth Heng, who unsuccessfully ran for Congress in California during the 2018 midterm elections.

“This is the face of socialism and ignorance. Does Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez know the horror of socialism?” Heng says in the ad, while a picture of Ocasio-Cortez burns away to reveal a photo of skulls at a Khmer Rouge death camp in Cambodia.

“My father was minutes from death in Cambodia before a forced marriage saved his life. That’s socialism: Forced obedience, starvation,” she continues, as images from the communist regime under the Khmer Rouge flash on the screen.

“Mine is a face of freedom. My skin is not white, I’m not outrageous, racist, nor socialist. I’m a Republican,” Heng concludes as the ad ends.

#BoycottABC Trends

Twitter users responded to the ad on Thursday and Friday, calling for boycotts of ABC.

Some said that the ad was racist or that it promoted violence.

Others pointed out that the ad was aired by an ABC affiliate owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group and called for a boycott of Sinclair as well.

Some users also called for a boycott of Disney, which owns ABC.

Other people defended the ad and criticized the boycott.

Ocasio-Cortez and Heng Respond

Ocasio-Cortez responded to the ad in a series of Tweets.

“Republicans are running TV ads setting pictures of me on fire to convince people they aren’t racist,” she wrote. “Life is weird!”

“What you just watched was a love letter to the GOP’s white supremacist case,” she said in another tweet.

Heng responded to one of Ocasio-Cortez’s tweets. 

“Are you really calling me a racist?” she wrote. “I’m calling all Democrats out for supporting an evil ideology.”

In a later tweet, Heng added that Ocasio-Cortez’s response to the ad “is the Democratic party in a nutshell. They are more offended by truthful words than the acts of their political ideology that has killed millions of innocent victims.”

Heng also defended the ad in a statement to Roll Call.

“This ad is about fighting the socialist agenda that has taken over the Democratic Party,” she said. “I am not afraid to engage in a debate of ideas, and it is the AOC extremists that have to resort in name calling because they don’t have real solutions for our country.”

ABC and Sinclair have not made public comments on the incident.

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (The Hill) (Newsweek)

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