- 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)
Jan. 6 Committee Prepares Criminal Charges Against Steve Bannon for Ignoring Subpoena
The move comes after former President Trump told several of his previous aides not to cooperate with the committee’s investigation into the insurrection.
Bannon Refuses to Comply With Subpoena
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection announced Thursday that it is seeking to hold former White House advisor Steve Bannon in criminal contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena.
The decision marks a significant escalation in the panel’s efforts to force officials under former President Donald Trump’s administration to comply with its probe amid Trump’s growing efforts to obstruct the inquiry.
In recent weeks, the former president has launched a number of attempts to block the panel from getting key documents, testimonies, and other evidence requested by the committee that he claims are protected by executive privilege.
Notably, some of those assertions have been shut down. On Friday, President Joe Biden rejected Trump’s effort to withhold documents relating to the insurrection.
Still, Trump has also directed former officials in his administration not to comply with subpoenas or cooperate with the committee.
That demand came after the panel issued subpoenas ordering depositions from Bannon and three other former officials: Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino, and Pentagon Chief of Staff Kash Patel.
After Trump issued his demand, Bannon’s lawyer announced that he would not obey the subpoena until the panel reached an agreement with Trump or a court ruled on the executive privilege matter.
Many legal experts have questioned whether Bannon, who left the White House in 2017, can claim executive privilege for something that happened when he was not working for the executive.
Panel Intensifies Compliance Efforts
The Thursday decision from the committee is significant because it will likely set up a legal battle and test how much authority the committee can and will exercise in requiring compliance.
It also sets an important precedent for those who have been subpoenaed. While Bannon is the first former official to openly defy the committee, there have been reports that others plan to do the same.
The panel previously said Patel and Meadows were “engaging” with investigators, but on Thursday, several outlets reported that the two — who were supposed to appear before the body on Thursday and Friday respectively — are now expected to be given an extension or continuance.
Sources told reporters that Scavino, who was also asked to testify Friday, has had his deposition postponed because service of his subpoena was delayed.
As far as what happens next for Bannon, the committee will vote to adopt the contempt report next week. Once that is complete, the matter will go before the House for a full vote.
Assuming the Democratic-held House approves the contempt charge, it will then get referred to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia to bring the matter before a grand jury.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Washington Post) (Bloomberg)
Senate Votes To Extend Debt Ceiling Until December
The move adds another deadline to Dec. 3, which is also when the federal government is set to shut down unless Congress approves new spending.
Debt Ceiling Raised Temporarily
The Senate voted on Thursday to extend the debt ceiling until December, temporarily averting a fiscal catastrophe.
The move, which followed weeks of stalemate due to Republican objections, came after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) partially backed down from his blockade and offered a short-term proposal.
After much whipping of votes, 11 Republicans joined Democrats to break the legislative filibuster and move to final approval of the measure. The bill ultimately passed in a vote of 50-48 without any Republican support.
The legislation will now head to the House, where Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said members would be called back from their current recess for a vote on Tuesday.
The White House said President Joe Biden would sign the measure, but urged Congress to pass a longer extension.
“We cannot allow partisan politics to hold our economy hostage, and we can’t allow the routine process of paying our bills to turn into a confidence-shaking political showdown every two years or every two months,’’ White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
Under the current bill, the nation’s borrowing limit will be increased by $480 billion, which the Treasury Department said will cover federal borrowing until around Dec. 3.
The agency had previously warned that it would run out of money by Oct. 18 if Congress failed to act. Such a move would have a chilling impact on the economy, forcing the U.S. to default on its debts and potentially plunging the country into a recession.
Major Hurdles Remain
While the legislation extending the ceiling will certainly offer temporary relief, it sets up another perilous deadline for the first Friday in December, when government funding is also set to expire if Congress does not approve another spending bill.
Regardless of the new deadline, many of the same hurdles lawmakers faced the first time around remain.
Democrats are still struggling to hammer out the final details of Biden’s $3.5 trillion spending agenda, which Republicans have strongly opposed.
Notably, Democratic leaders previously said they could pass the bill through budget reconciliation, which would allow them to approve the measure with 50 votes and no Republican support.
Such a move would require all 50 Senators, but intraparty disputes remain over objections brought by Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.), who have been stalling the process for months.
Although disagreements over reconciliation are ongoing among Democrats, McConnell has insisted the party use the obscure procedural process to raise the debt limit. Democrats, however, have balked at the idea, arguing that tying the debt ceiling to reconciliation would set a dangerous precedent.
Despite Republican efforts to connect the limit to Biden’s economic agenda, raising the ceiling is not the same as adopting new spending. Rather, the limit is increased to pay off spending that has already been authorized by previous sessions of Congress and past administrations.
In fact, much of the current debt stems from policies passed by Republicans during the Trump administration, including the 2017 tax overhaul.
As a result, while Democrats have signaled they may make concessions to Manchin and Sinema, they strongly believe that Republicans must join them to increase the debt ceiling to fund projects their party supported.
It is currently unclear when or how the ongoing stalemate will be resolved, or how either party will overcome their fervent objections.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
California Makes Universal Voting by Mail Permanent
California is now the eighth state to make universal mail-in ballots permanent after it temporarily adopted the policy for elections held amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
CA Approves Universal Voting by Mail
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a bill Monday requiring every registered voter in the state to be mailed a ballot at least 29 days before an election, whether they request it or not.
Assembly Bill 37 makes permanent a practice that was temporarily adopted for elections during the COVID-19 pandemic. The law, which officially takes effect in January, also extends the time mail ballots have to arrive at elections offices from three days to seven days after an election. Voters can still choose to cast their vote in person if they prefer.
Supporters of the policy have cheered the move, arguing that proactively sending ballots to registered voters increases turnout.
“Data shows that sending everyone a ballot in the mail provides voters access. And when voters get ballots in the mail, they vote,” the bill’s author, Assemblyman Marc Berman (D-Palo Alto), said during a Senate committee hearing in July.
Meanwhile opponents — mostly Republicans — have long cast doubts about the safety of mail-in voting, despite a lack of evidence to support their claims that it leads to widespread voter fraud. That strategy, however, has also faced notable pushback from some that a lot of Republicans who say it can actually hurt GOP turnout.
Others May Follow
The new legislation probably isn’t too surprising for California, where over 50% of votes cast in general elections have been through mail ballots since 2012, according to The Sacramento Bee. Now, many believe California will be followed by similar legislation from Democrats across the country as more Republican leaders move forward with elections bills that significantly limit voting access.
Newsome signed 10 other measures Monday changing election and campaign procedures, including a bill that would require anyone advocating for or against a candidate to stand farther away from a polling place. Another bill increases penalties for candidates who use campaign funds for personal expenses while a third measure increases reporting requirements for limited liability corporations that engage in campaign activity.
“As states across our country continue to enact undemocratic voter suppression laws, California is increasing voter access, expanding voting options and bolstering elections integrity and transparency,” Newsom said in a statement.
“Last year we took unprecedented steps to ensure all voters had the opportunity to cast a ballot during the pandemic and today we are making those measures permanent after record-breaking participation in the 2020 presidential election.”
The news regarding California came just in time for National Voter Registration day today, giving Americans another reminder to make sure they’re registered in their states. For more information on how to register, visit Vote.gov or any of the other resources linked below.