What did Barr expect?
I'm sure the full Mueller report will fully exonerate the Trump and that he will finally pivot and become president the day it's released. Clearly that's why the president has called for it and the full GOP caucus in the House voted for it even before it was submitted. That's how sure they are of Trump's innocence.
And we know that nit-pickers and nay-sayers and dead-enders and old Resistance hags like me will continue to wonder about Barr's "conclusions" as long as all we have are four chopped sentences from the Mueller report --- sentences that are not as clear cut as everyone in the press is making them out to be --- are all we have to go on.
Do we have rare bipartisan consensus? (Hah! No. I think we know they don't really want to release the report.)
Anyway, this piece by the WaPo's Eric Wemple blog makes note of the fact that news organizations are all misreporting the Barr Letter's piece about collusion. They are saying Mueller found no evidence of conspiracy and that's not exactly what the sentence quoted from the Mueller report actually said:
“[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
It’s fair to say that Mueller won’t be charging Trump campaign officials for charges related to Russia’s manifest efforts to steer the 2016 presidential election in his favor.
To assert “no evidence,” however, is another matter altogether. Jeffrey Toobin, CNN’s ubiquitous chief legal analyst, tells the Erik Wemple Blog: “One thing we know with certainty is that Mueller is not bringing a criminal case based on the collusion set of issues.” Toobin was addressing none of the journalism of recent days — merely the legal issues at hand. “But that doesn’t mean there’s no evidence of collusion. It only means there’s not a prosecutable case. There’s a world of difference between ‘no evidence’ and not enough evidence to bring an actual case,” Toobin says.
A former federal prosecutor, Toobin noted that people in this line of work don’t traffic in terms such as “no evidence.” Prosecutors tend to speak in terms of “sufficient evidence” to bring a case vs. “insufficient evidence” to do so. Use of the term “did not establish,” says Toobin, is appropriate for these circumstances: “It’s important to recognize what it means. It means not proven. It doesn’t mean zero evidence,” he says.
Ben Wittes, editor in chief of Lawfare and law analyst at NBC News/MSNBC, says that when media outlets cite “no evidence,” such an assertion “may turn out to be a lucky guess, but it is not supported by the current record.”
Though the distinction looks at first like the sort of issue that shouldn’t be allowed past the water cooler, it drives at a larger drama playing out across the U.S. government these days. The whole country is basing its understanding of the Mueller probe on the summary of Barr, an appointee of President Trump who almost a year ago wrote a memo criticizing the obstruction-of-justice theory apparently adopted by Mueller. A four-page summary of a complex and lengthy investigation of this import does not suffice.
Wittes says he’s not “dug in” to any view about what’s actually in the Mueller report regarding collusion or conspiracy. “I accept absolutely Bob Mueller’s judgment as described by Bill Barr that there is no prosecutable case here. But there’s a different question — what happened here? — that this letter does not remotely begin to answer and the press shouldn’t be confusing those two things,” says Wittes, adding that the media should stop deploying the phrase “no evidence” forthwith. “This is not a close call.”
There’s a symmetry, argues Wittes, in the coverage of the Mueller story: “Just as much of the press was irresponsible in its speculations about what Mueller was likely to find, journalists are now being irresponsible in their ambitious characterization of his decision not to bring conspiracy cases,” says Wittes.
The distinction is needling its way into the discussion of the Mueller probe. On MSNBC on Wednesday afternoon, host Katy Tur told Democratic Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), “Bill Barr’s summary says Robert Mueller found no evidence of conspiracy between Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russians — no tacit or explicit conspiracy. Are you saying Robert Mueller might be wrong, or are — what are you saying?” Krishnamoorthi replied, “What I’m saying is there might be evidence of collusion.” Tur: “If there’s no evidence of collusion to rise to the level of crime, what do you suggest as a remedy?"
Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), who chairs the House Intelligence Committee, insists he has seen evidence of collusion and has said, “Undoubtedly there is collusion.”
The Erik Wemple Blog has checked in with several news organizations regarding the use of “no evidence.” The AP responded, “We stand by the lead.” Philip B. Corbett, the associate managing editor for standards at the New York Times, tells us via email that he hasn’t participated in any discussions on this topic, but “our phrasing seems accurate to me.” He cites this line from the Barr summary: “The Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”
Cameron Barr, managing editor for The Post, told the Erik Wemple Blog, “We think the point is a valid one. The National desk circulated this guidance yesterday: ‘It is not accurate to say that Mueller found no evidence of a criminal conspiracy between Trump associates and Russia. Barr’s memo states that Mueller did not ‘find’ or ‘establish’ a criminal conspiracy — meaning whatever evidence the special counsel found, it did not rise to the level of that legal standard.' ”
And a CNN representative responded to an inquiry by noting that the “no evidence” passage has been amended to mirror the language of the Barr summary, and that a clarification has been added to the story.
After this blog pushed its “no evidence” formulation into the public realm Monday, a kind Twitter user apprised us of the problem with the term. We issued a correction.
Lawyers are careful with their language. There's a reason why Mueller used the words he used. We need to know what that is. There are just too many questions. Obviously, it is essential that we see Mueller's full report and particularly what preceded those brackets. If Mueller wrote, "Despite evidence that the candidate and his campaign encouraged the election interference and failed to report numerous attempts by Russian agents to infiltrate the campaign ---the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities" the conclusion might not be quite so obvious. Or perhaps it says, "the counterintelligence investigation into the president's conduct with Russia is classified but --- the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.
It probably doesn't say either of those things. But the fact that Barr cherry-picked only partial four sentences to make his "conclusion" necessarily raises questions.
And yes, I know that it's all a big Deep State Hoax and I shouldn't be talking about anything but "the issues" but I still think there's a problem with a president openly encouraging a foreign power to sabotage his rival's campaign. And I think his foreign policy shows that his relationship to that foreign power is bizarre even if he didn't conspire with them and it's likely because he's a corrupt imbecilic egomaniac who is trying to preserve his ability to turn the presidency into big bucks around the world.
That's bad, even if he didn't "conspire or coordinate" with the Russian government and I don't think we've gotten to the bottom of it yet. There is still a potential national security threat and it's serious.
By writing that short letter the way he did, Barr could not have expected that all the questions would be put aside. What they clearly expected was that they could set a narrative that would put the onus on others to disprove. It's hard to see why he would feel the need to issue such a short "conclusion" with just four edited quotes from the Mueller Report if they were so sure it would be seen as a positive in the end.
But who knows? Maybe they're playing an elaborate "reveal" tease like a reality show that will, in the end, make Trump looks like the superhero, modern Jesus his followers all believe he is. But people have to be forgiven if they are still a little bit skeptical.