- 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.
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)
Bernie Sanders Wins Nevada Caucus
- Bernie Sanders won the Nevada Caucus by a landslide, receiving more than 46% of the vote. Joe Biden came in second with just over 20%.
- Pete Buttigieg, who came in third with 13.9%, attacked Sanders for being too polarizing, though entrance polls showed that Sanders pulled in a broad coalition of voters.
- Buttigieg’s campaign also complained about “inconsistencies” with the election in a letter to the Nevada Democratic Party.
- Sanders separately received criticism for comments he made about Fidel Castro on 60 Minutes Sunday night, reigniting the debate over his left-leaning views and electability.
Sanders Wins Nevada
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) won a decisive victory in the Nevada Caucus on Saturday, beating his competitors in a landslide vote.
With 96% of precincts reporting on Monday morning, Sanders has received 46.8% of the vote, followed by former Vice President Joe Biden with 20.4% and South Bend Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg with 13.9%.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who got 9.8% of the vote, was below the threshold to take home any delegates, as were billionaire Tom Steyer and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), who received 4.6% and 4.2% respectively.
Sanders’ sweeping win in Nevada is significant. Throughout his campaign, one of the major questions surrounding Sanders’ candidacy has been whether or not he can pull in voters outside of his base.
Now, entrance polls from Nevada show that a diverse group of voters turned out to support the Democratic Socialist senator.
“Sanders won not only with voters under 30 and people who identify as very liberal, but also with men, women, Hispanics (overwhelmingly), voters 45 to 64 and people with and without college degrees,” NPR reported.
According to CNN, Sanders won 53% of Latino voters, which is three times as much as Biden, who won the second-highest amount with 17%.
Sanders appeared to hit on this point while giving his victory speech on Saturday.
“In Nevada, we have just put together a multi-generational, multi-racial coalition which is going to not only win in Nevada, it’s going to sweep this country,” he said.
Buttigieg’s Speech & Letter
Despite Sanders’ broad coalition, Buttigieg spent most of his post-election speech going after the senator for being too polarizing.
“I believe the best way to defeat Donald Trump and deliver for the American people is to broaden and galvanize the majority that supports us on critical issues,” he said. “Senator Sanders believes in an inflexible, ideological revolution that leaves out most Democrats, not to mention most Americans.”
“We can prioritize either ideological purity or inclusive victory,” he continued. “We can either call people names online or we can call them into our movement. We can either tighten a narrow and hardcore base or open the tent to a new and broad and big-hearted American coalition.”
Separately, Buttigieg’s campaign sent a letter to the Nevada Democratic Party late on Saturday night, claiming that there were “material irregularities pertaining to the process of integrating early votes into the in-person precinct caucus results.”
“Given how close the race is between second and third place, we ask that you take these steps before releasing any final data,” the campaign wrote.
At the time, about half of the results had been publicly reported and showed Biden firmly in second place with 19% percent of the vote to Buttigieg’s 15%.
The state party’s communications director Molly Forgey responded to the letter in a statement on Sunday.
“We laid out our early vote and Caucus Day processes step by step, and we communicated these processes to all campaigns,” she said. “We are continuing to verify and to report results.”
“We never indicated we would release a separate breakdown of early vote and in-person attendees by precinct and will not change our reporting process now,” Forgey continued. “As laid out in our recount guidance, there is a formal method for requesting a challenge of results.”
Sanders 60 Minutes Interview
But criticisms of Sanders’ polarizing nature and left-leaning politics resurfaced again after an interview the senator did with Anderson Cooper on 60 Minutes aired Sunday evening.
During the segment, Sanders responded to a clip of an interview he gave in the 1980s, where he claimed the Cuban people did not rise up against former leader Fidel Castro because of policies he implemented regarding education and healthcare.
“You know, when Fidel Castro came into office, you know what he did?” Sanders asked. “He had a massive literacy program. Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?”
“There are a lot of dissidents imprisoned in Cuba,” Cooper responded.
“That’s right. And we condemn that,” Sanders said. “Unlike Donald Trump — let’s be clear — I do not think that Kim Jung Un is a good friend. I don’t trade love letters with a murdering dictator. Vladimir Putin: not a good friend of mine.”
Many people on both sides of the aisle condemned Sanders for his remarks.
“He’s wrong about why people didn’t overthrow Castro,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) wrote on Twitter. “It’s not because ‘he educated their kids, gave them health care’ it‘s because his opponents were jailed, murdered or exiled”
“The literacy rate in Cuba was already high before Castro (and many other countries have achieved 100% literacy without, you know, murdering and imprisoning dissidents),” Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro tweeted.
A number of Democrats and more liberal figures also slammed Sanders’ comments about the Cuban leader.
Democratic Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL) said she wished Sanders would “take time to speak to some of my constituents before he decides to sing the praises of a murderous tyrant like Fidel Castro.”
Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, himself a 2020 contender, also criticized Sanders’ remarks in a tweet.
Highlights From the Nevada Democratic Debate
- Six 2020 presidential candidates took the stage at the Democratic Debate in Nevada ahead of the state’s highly anticipated caucus this Saturday.
- Here are some highlights from Wednesday’s debate.
Candidates Target Bloomberg
Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg made his first debate appearance, and the other candidates used it as an opportunity to target the controversial political figure right out of the gate.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) all went after Bloomberg in their opening statements.
Sanders and Biden criticized the mayor for expanding New York City’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy, which gave police the authority to stop and search anyone they suspected of committing a crime and disproportionately targeted people of color.
Warren, for her part, had some of the sharpest rebukes of the former mayor.
“I’d like to talk about who we’re running against, a billionaire who calls women ‘fat broads’ and ‘horse-faced lesbians.’ And, no, I’m not talking about Donald Trump. I’m talking about Mayor Bloomberg,” she said.
“Democrats are not going to win if we have a nominee who has a history of hiding his tax returns, of harassing women, and of supporting racist policies like redlining and stop-and-frisk,” she continued. “Look, I’ll support whoever the Democratic nominee is. But understand this: Democrats take a huge risk if we just substitute one arrogant billionaire for another.”
Bloomberg’s Nondisclosure Agreements
Warren also questioned Bloomberg’s record with sexual harassment after a moderator asked him about “sexually suggestive remarks” he had made when confronted about the fact that several former employees of his company had described the workplace as hostile for women.
“The mayor has to stand on his record. And what we need to know is exactly what’s lurking out there. He has gotten some number of women, dozens, who knows, to sign nondisclosure agreements both for sexual harassment and for gender discrimination in the workplace,” she said.
“So, Mr. Mayor, are you willing to release all of those women from those nondisclosure agreements, so we can hear their side of the story?” she asked.
“We have a very few nondisclosure agreements,” he responded.
“None of them accuse me of doing anything, other than maybe they didn’t like a joke I told,” he continued. “There’s agreements between two parties that wanted to keep it quiet and that’s up to them. They signed those agreements, and we’ll live with it.”
Warren continued to push Bloomberg to release the individuals from their nondisclosures, a demand that was eventually echoed by Biden.
Klobuchar and Buttigieg Spar
Warren was not the only person who sparred with the other candidates.
Another notable moment from the night came from a tense interaction between Klobuchar and Buttigieg, after one of the moderators asked Klobuchar about an interview from last week where she was unable to remember the name of the president of Mexico and had trouble discussing his policies.
Klobuchar said that a moment of forgetfulness did not reflect what she knows about Mexico.
“I said that I made an error,” she added. “I think having a president that maybe is humble and is able to admit that here and there maybe wouldn’t be a bad thing.”
Buttigieg, however, saw it as an opportunity to pounce.
“But you’re staking your candidacy on your Washington experience. You’re on the committee that oversees border security. You’re on the committee that does trade,” he said. “You’re literally in part of the committee that’s overseeing these things and were not able to speak to literally the first thing about the politics of the country to our south.”
“Are you trying to say that I’m dumb? Or are you mocking me here, Pete?” Klobuchar responded.
“I have passed over 100 bills as the lead Democrat since being in the U.S. Senate. I am the one, not you, that has won statewide in congressional district after congressional district,” she continued. “And I will say, when you tried in Indiana, Pete, to run, what happened to you? You lost by over 20 points.”
Buttigieg Goes After Sanders’ Supporters
Buttigieg, who is competing with Sanders for the title of frontrunner after the elections New Hampshire, also used his time on stage to attack Sanders and his supporters.
Sanders supporters, also known as “Bernie Bros,” have come under fire recently for their response to a flyer made by Nevada’s Culinary Workers Union that said Sanders would “end Culinary Healthcare” under his Medicare-for-all policy.
After posting the flyer on Twitter, the union accused Sanders’ supporters of “viciously” attacking members of the group, and the organization’s top leaders told reporters they received threatening phone calls, emails, and tweets and that their personal information was doxxed.
“We have over 10.6 million people on Twitter, and 99.9 percent of them are decent human beings, are working people, are people who believe in justice, compassion, and love,” Sander’s said of his supporters. “And if there are a few people who make ugly remarks, who attack trade union leaders, I disown those people. They are not part of our movement.”
“Senator, when you say that you disown these attacks and you didn’t personally direct them, I believe you,” Buttigieg said. “But at a certain point, you got to ask yourself, why did this pattern arise? Why is it especially the case among your supporters that this happens?”
“I think you have to accept some responsibility and ask yourself what it is about your campaign in particular that seems to be motivating this behavior more than others,” he continued.
Court Rules Florida Can’t Bar Felons From Voting Over Unpaid Fines and Fees
- On Wednesday, a federal appeals court in Florida upheld an injunction on a law that bans felons from voting if they haven’t paid their legal fees.
- In 2018, Florida voters passed Amendment 4, which granted ex-felons the right to vote once they’ve completed all terms of their sentence.
- Then, in 2019, Florida’s legislature and Rep. Gov. Ron DeSantis passed a law mandating former felons to pay all court costs before getting access to voting polls.
- With the help of voting rights groups, 17 felons sued DeSantis and other state officials in an effort to overturn this law.
- The latest ruling only applies to the 17 felons in the lawsuit, but it is still seen as a victory for all Florida felons who wish to vote.
A federal appeals court in Florida said on Wednesday that for now, felons can no longer be barred from voting if they haven’t paid fines or fees from their cases.
A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a preliminary injunction of a state law that requires convicted felons to settle all legal fines and fees before they are able to get reinstated to vote. The panel agreed to suspend the law until there’s a final ruling on it.
The decision of the appeals court only applies to the 17 felons who sued Rep. Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state officials in an effort to overturn the law. The plaintiffs and the voting rights groups that represent them argued that the legislation equates to an unfair poll tax.
The appeals court judges agreed, and said that the legal financial obligations (LFOs) law “punishes those who cannot pay more harshly than those who can—and does so by continuing to deny them access to the ballot box.”
While Wednesday’s ruling only applies to the 17 felons in the lawsuit, it is still seen as a victory for all Florida felons. A trial for the plaintiffs is still pending but slated to begin in April, and that’s when the overall constitutionality of the LFO law will be decided.
“This is a tremendous win for our clients and for our democracy,” Sean Morales-Doyle, a senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice, told NBC.
Background on Felon Voting Restrictions
Until recently, Florida automatically prohibited all felons from the right to vote ever again. This changed in late 2018 when an overwhelming majority of Florida voters passed Amendment 4, which granted ex-felons the right to vote once they’ve completed all terms of their sentence. Those with murder or felony sex convictions were exempt from this change.
The passing of Amendment 4 restored voting rights to an estimated 1.4 million people.
Last year, the Republican-led legislature and Gov. DeSantis passed the law that mandated that former felons pay all court costs before getting access to voting polls.
Supporters of the LFO law argued that Amendment 4 was not meant to restore voting rights for all felons, but only those who have “paid their debt to society,” including monetary fees.
Helen Aguirre Ferré, the Communications Director for DeSantis, responded to the Wednesday decision in a tweet.
“We disagree and will appeal en banc,” Ferré said.
Looking Ahead to 2020 Election
The recent ruling is especially significant as the 2020 presidential election approaches. Wednesday’s decision means that the 17 plaintiffs in the lawsuit are eligible to vote in Florida’s presidential primary next month, though other felons with outstanding legal fines or fees are still not.
However, it is possible that by the end of the upcoming April trial, the legal financial requirement law will be deemed unconstitutional, which will allow all Florida felons to vote whether or not they’ve paid the fines and fees from their cases. But if that’s the case, DeSantis and the defendants are still likely to appeal that ruling as well to a higher court.
It is unclear how this is all going to end. Some believe that the courts will move quickly to get it settled before the 2020 election, but the timeline is not fully set. Many expect that this particular case could be taken all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and ultimately be decided on there.