Implications of the Barr Memo

On March 24, President Donald Trump issued a triumphant tweet: “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION.” This was in response to Attorney General William Barr’s release of a memo summarizing the findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s 2.5-year-long investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential election. Mueller had previously delivered his report to Barr. Specifically, Barr’s memo quotes Mueller’s report: “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

On Obstruction of Justice

But at the same time, there was a discrepancy between Barr’s interpretation of Mueller’s judgment on whether or not Trump could be guilty of obstruction of justice and Mueller’s actual words. Barr quotes Mueller: “The Special Counsel states that ‘while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.’” Shortly after this, Barr writes, “Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.” Seems contradictory. But Barr goes on to explain his inference: “while not determinative, the absence of such evidence bears upon the President’s intent with respect to obstruction.Generally speaking, to obtain and sustain an obstruction conviction, the government would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person, acting with corrupt intent, engaged in obstructive conduct with a sufficient nexus to a pending or contemplated proceeding…the report identifies no actions that, in our judgment, constitute obstructive conduct.
Essentially Barr took the report’s failure to identify “actions that… constitute obstructive conduct” as a decisive enough piece of information to conclude that there is not enough evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Although the media is up in arms about the seeming contradiction, I personally don’t believe this is a big jump in logic. If Mueller reports a total of 0 actions that constitute obstructive conduct, then there probably isn’t enough evidence to convict someone of obstructive conduct in a court of law.

On Collusion with Russia

Barr reports that Mueller found two elements of Russian meddling in the election:
  1. “attempts by a Russian organization, the Internet Research Agency (IRA), to conduct disinformation and social media operations in the United States designed to sow social discord, eventually with the aim of interfering with the election.”
  2. “the Russian government’s efforts to conduct computer hacking operations designed to gather and disseminate information to influence the election.”
In both cases, the Speical Counsel found that there was no collusion between the Russian organizations and the Trump campaign. Important to note is that “Barr does not indicate affirmatively that Mueller found that collusion didn’t happen. The report, rather, makes clear that Mueller did not find evidence of conspiracy to the rigorous standards of the criminal law” (Lawfare). But what about all those emails that showed Russian offers to help the Trump campaign? Barr addresses this as well: “the Special Counsel did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in these efforts, despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.” Notably, this is in line with the 37 indictments, convictions, and guilty pleas that have resulted from the Mueller probe — none of those 37 were found guilty on charges of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. That’s a large, statistically significant sample size of court cases that all were unable to conclude collusion between Russia and Trump (though the definitely did find other crimes). So in the end, Russia definitely tried to hack the election, but it probably can’t be proven in a court of law that Trump coordinated with them (if he did at all).
This also reminds me of another Trump story. In Michael Wolff’s notorious exposé Fire and Fury, Wolff remarked how Trump never intended to win the election, having only run to boost his business opportunities. Wolff recalls how Trump was “horrified” when he began to realize on election night that he was going to win the election. This provides more evidence to the “no collusion” conclusion. If Trump indeed had no intention at all to win the election, merely running to promote his business interests and brand name, then why would he ever collude with Russia to achieve an outcome that would “horrify” him?

On House Democrats

Barr’s report actually does House Democrats a favor: it extinguishes much of the pressure on Nancy Pelosi and her party to pursue the path of impeachment. Pelosi has previously stated that she would not be in favor of such a path: “Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path.” Now, with the conclusions of the Mueller report, there is now a much less pronounced case for impeachment. Pelosi has, in a way, been vindicated following her anti-impeachment position, which she received a lot of flak for. Pelosi and her House Democrats are now in a stronger position to resist demands from the left to pursue impeachment. Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas) sums this up, “Not only was Nancy wise, but because of her experience she was able to lead us and guide us in the right direction on this. It also takes a certain level of strength and character to be able to deal with this in today’s [environment].”

One more thing is clear: Everyone wants Mueller’s full report, me included.

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