Accuracy in Media

William Barr’s letter in March summarizing the Mueller report suggests the attorney general shaded things and rearranged sentences to favor President Trump at the expense of truth, according to a story in the New York Times.

In “How Barr’s Excerpts Compare to the Mueller Report’s Findings – subhead: “Attorney General William P. Barr sent a letter to Congress last month citing brief fragments from the Mueller report. Now that the document is public, his selections are coming under scrutiny – reporter Charlie Savage lays out sections of Barr’s Mar. 24 letter next to the relevant sections of Mueller’s report and tries to point out inaccuracies.

“None of the excerpts [in the 4-page summary Barr offered of the 422-page report] were in context or even complete sentences, raising the question of whether he was portraying their thrust and tone accurately or skewing them to make them sound better for President Trump,” Savage wrote.

The first subhead within the article gives a hint of the dissembling to come. “Mr. Barr took Mr. Mueller’s words out of context to suggest the president had no motive to obstruct justice.”

What Barr wrote: “In making this determination, we noted that the special counsel recognized that ‘the evidence does not establish that the president was involved in any underlying crime related to Russian election interference,’ and that, while not determinative, the absence of such evidence bears upon the president’s intent with respect to obstruction.”

It then quotes from the Mueller report: “Obstruction of justice can be motivated by a desire to protect noncriminal personal interests, to protect against investigations where underlying criminal liability falls into a gray area, or to avoid personal embarrassment. The inquiry to the integrity of the justice system is the same regardless of whether a person committed an underlying wrong. In this investigation, the evidence does not establish that the president was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference.” [emphasis in original]

Savage then wrote: “But the evidence does point to a range of other possible personal motives animating the president’s conduct. These include concerns that continued investigation would call into question the legitimacy of his election and potential uncertainty about whether certain events – such as advance notice of WikiLeaks’ release of hacked information or the June 9, 2016, meeting between senior campaign officials and Russians could be seen as criminal activity by the president, his campaign or his family.”

Savage said this “turned the special counsel’s meaning on its head: “The brief expert came from a list of other possible reasons Mr. Trump might have had to corruptly impede the investigation and which Mr. Barr did not mention.” No, it did not. It came from a list of reasons Trump might rightfully be outraged at the conduct of the investigators.

Savage then again quoted from Barr’s report: “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. As the report states: [T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

Savage focused on the part before, which read: “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 …”

His conclusion: “Mr. Barr took a larger passage in which the Mueller report suggested that the Trump campaign and the Russian government were knowingly dancing together at a distance, and then excerpted a fragment to make it look like a cleaner exoneration.”

In fact, the Mueller report is clear Russians offered the Trump campaign numerous opportunities to collude but were rejected throughout.  

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