- 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)
Judges Uphold North Carolina’s Congressional Map in Major GOP Win
The judges agreed that the congressional map was “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting” but said they did not have the power to intervene in legislative matters.
New Maps Upheld
A three-judge panel in North Carolina upheld the state’s new congressional and legislative maps on Tuesday, deciding it did not have the power to respond to arguments that Republicans had illegally gerrymandered it to benefit them.
Voting rights groups and Democrats sued over the new maps, which were drawn by the state’s Republican legislature following the 2020 census.
The maps left Democrats with just three of North Carolina’s 14 congressional seats in a battleground state that is more evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Previously, Democrats held five of the 13 districts the state had before the last census, during which North Carolina was allocated an additional seat.
The challengers argued that the blatantly partisan maps had been drawn in a way that went against longstanding rules, violated the state’s Constitution, and intentionally disenfranchised Black voters.
In their unanimous ruling, the panel — composed of one Democrat and two Republicans — agreed that both the legislative and congressional maps were “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting.”
The judges added that they had “disdain for having to deal with issues that potentially lead to results incompatible with democratic principles and subject our state to ridicule.”
Despite their beliefs, the panel said they did not have a legal basis for intervening in political matters and constraining the legislature. They additionally ruled that the challengers did not prove their claims that the maps were discriminatory based on race.
Notably, the judges also stated that partisan gerrymandering does not actually violate the state’s Constitution.
The Path Ahead
While the decision marks a setback to the plaintiffs, the groups have already said they will appeal the decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court.
The state’s highest court has a slim Democratic majority and has already signaled they may be open to tossing the map.
There are also past precedents for voting maps to be thrown out in North Carolina. The state has an extensive history of legal battles over gerrymandering, and Republican leaders have been forced to redraw maps twice in recent years.
A forthcoming decision is highly anticipated, as North Carolina’s congressional map could play a major role in the control of the House in the 2022 midterm elections if they are as close as expected.
See what others are saying: (Politico) (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal)
Biden Administration Says Private Insurers Will Have to Cover 8 At-Home Tests a Month
The policy will apply to all the nearly 150 million Americans who have private insurance.
New At-Home Testing Policy
The Biden administration announced Monday that private health insurers will now be required to pay for up to eight at-home rapid tests per plan member each month.
Under the new policy, starting Saturday, private insurance holders will be able to purchase any at-home test approved by the FDA at a pharmacy or online. They will either not be asked to pay any upfront costs or be reimbursed for their purchase through their provider.
The move is expected to significantly expand access to rapid tests that other countries have been distributing to their citizens free of charge for months.
According to reports, nearly 150 million Americans — about 45% of the population — have private insurance.
Each dependent enrolled on the primary insurance holder’s account is counted as a member. That means a family of four enrolled on a single plan would be eligible for 32 free at-home rapid tests a month.
All tests may not be fully covered depending on where they are purchased.
In order to help offset costs, the Biden administration is incentivizing insurance providers to establish a network of “preferred” pharmacies and stores where people in the plan can get tests without paying out of pocket.
As a result, health plans that do create those networks will only be required to reimburse up to $12 per test if they are purchased out of that network, meaning people could be on the hook for the rest of the cost.
If an insurer does not set up a preferred network, they will have to cover all at-home tests in full regardless of the place of purchase.
During a briefing Monday, Press Secretary Jen Psaki said tests should be “out the door in the coming weeks.”
“The contracts [for testing companies] are structured in a way to require that significant amounts are delivered on an aggressive timeline, the first of which should be arriving early next week,” she added.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
Biden Administration Unveils Plan To Replace All Lead Pipes
The effort builds on the $15 billion allocated under the bipartisan infrastructure bill for lead pipe replacement, but industry leaders say $60 billion will be needed for nationwide revitalization.
White House Outlines Actions on Lead Pipes and Paint
The Biden administration rolled out a sweeping plan on Thursday to remove all the nation’s lead pipes over the next decade and take other steps to prevent lead paint contamination.
Lead, which was commonly used in piping for municipal water systems all over the country until it was banned in 1978, is a dangerous neurotoxin that can cause serious nervous system damage, especially in children.
Contamination from lead pipes seeping into water supplies has caused multiple high-profile public health and environmental catastrophes over the last decade, including the notorious crisis in Flint, Michigan.
According to a White House factsheet, an estimated 10 million households are connected to water through lead pipes. Children and teenagers in 400,000 schools and child care facilities also risk exposure to lead-contaminated water.
“Because of inequitable infrastructure development and disinvestment, low-income communities and communities of color are disproportionately exposed to these risks,” the factsheet stated.
To address those disparities and revitalize water systems across the nation, the White House outlined 15 new action items the Biden administration is taking, including:
- Launching “a new regulatory process to protect communities from lead in drinking water” through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
- Clarifying that state, local, and Tribal governments can use the $350 billion aid allocated under the American Rescue Plan to replace lead service lines.
- Establishing federally-operated regional technical assistance hubs “to fast track lead service line removal projects in partnership with labor unions and local water agencies.”
- Awarding federal grants through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to remove lead paint in low-income communities.
- Directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to expand childhood lead testing.
- Establishing “a new Cabinet Level Partnership for Lead Remediation in Schools and Child Care Centers.”
The White House also said it will direct the EPA to allocate $3 billion for state, local, and Tribal governments to replace lead pipes through funding that was approved under the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed by President Joe Biden last month.
A Matter of Funding
In total, Congress provided $15 billion to revitalize the nation’s lead-pipe systems under the infrastructure bill.
However, industry experts have estimated that it will cost $60 billion to entirely overhaul all the remaining lead pipes in the U.S.
As a result, the Biden administration has proposed several additional funding mechanisms in the social safety net package, known as the Build Back Better Act, that is currently being negotiated by Congress.
Specifically, the legislation would set aside $9 billion for lead remediation grants to disadvantaged communities, $1 billion for rural water utilities to remove lead pipes, and $5 billion for mitigation efforts such as removing lead-based water fixtures in low-income households.
The Build Back Better Act would additionally provide $65 billion for public housing agencies and $5 billion for other federally-assisted housing organizations to improve housing quality, including by replacing lead pipes and service lines.
The status of that legislation, as well as what provisions will remain in the final version, remain in limbo. While Democratic leadership has pushed to pass the sweeping social bill before the new year, all 50 of the party’s members in the Senate will need to sign on, and moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) has continued to withhold his support.