Attorney General William Barr deliberately, and repeatedly, misled both Congress and the American people about the basic facts of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign, Rep. Justin Amash (R–Mich.) claimed today in a series of mid-day tweets.
In advance of a planned town hall meeting in his district on Tuesday night—and after a week in which he generated nothing but criticism from his fellow Republicans for expressing the opinion that Trump engaged in “impeachable conduct” by trying to disrupt the Mueller probe—Amash stuck to his guns and turned his fire towards Barr, who handled the release of the Mueller report last month.
“Barr has deliberately misrepresented key aspects of Mueller’s report and decisions in the investigation, which has helped further the president’s false narrative about the investigation,” Amash tweeted. “Barr has so far successfully used his position to sell the president’s false narrative to the American people. This will continue if those who have read the report do not start pushing back on his misrepresentations and share the truth.”
Prior to making the redacted version of the Mueller report public, Barr released a four-page letter supposedly summarizing the report. In that letter, Barr told Congress that Mueller had not reached a decision about whether the president should be indicted for obstructing justice. Barr added that he had reviewed the evidence and found it to be “not sufficient” to conclude that the president had committed a crime.
Once the nearly full text of the Mueller report was released, however, it became obvious that Mueller’s decision not to draw a conclusion about the obstruction question hinged on two factors: longstanding Justice Department precedent that forbids the indictment of a sitting president, and Mueller’s belief that Congress was the constitutionally appropriate body to determine the question of obstruction (and the related question of impeachment).
Barr’s March 24 letter to Congress, Amash wrote on Tuesday, “selectively quotes and summarizes points in Mueller’s report in misleading ways.” Amash zeroed-in on Barr’s claim that the White House “fully cooperated” with the investigation. In fact, as the Mueller report makes clear, investigators sought to interview the president directly and instead had to settle for written answers, which Amash said were “incomplete or unresponsive.”
Certainly, Trump was well within his rights to refuse to comply with a voluntary request for an interview with Mueller. But Barr’s description of the White House’s full and complete cooperation with the investigation is an exaggeration at best.
Indeed, Mueller has claimed the attorney general’s summary “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of the report—though it is admittedly difficult to distill a 400-plus page report into a four-page letter. Barr did eventually release the full report, so Amash’s (and others) complaints about Barr’s misleading letter are effectively a complaint about the head of the Justice Department’s role in doing public relations for the president.
And, more broadly, that seems to be Amash’s chief complaint about how Republicans in general have handled the release of the special counsel’s report. Rather than soberly considering the implications of the report—such as the fact that Trump clearly tried to disrupt and stop the Mueller investigation on several occasions, only to be thwarted when members of his own White House staff deliberately disobeyed the president’s direct orders—almost all Republicans in Congress and other elected offices have jumped to defend the president. “When loyalty to a political party or to an individual trumps loyalty to the Constitution, the Rule of Law—the foundation of liberty—crumbles,” Amash wrote in his initial tweet-storm about the Mueller report last week.
It’s notable that Amash has not yet signed his name to any of the current congressional proposals calling for impeachment or further investigation of the president. Last week, he told CNN that he wanted to make sure any actions were “based on the positions I have and not based on some positions someone else has.”
In their most literal form, Amash’s ongoing criticisms of Trump, Barr, and his fellow Republicans are not direct calls for impeachment but appeals to the principles that conservatives valued in the days before Trump. In that same interview last week with CNN’s Haley Byrd (Amash has declined to appear on any cable news network to address his more recent tweets), Amash said he wanted to “defend the Constitution” by outlining his views on the Mueller report “in the most clear-cut, sober way possible.”
What Amash hopes to achieve remains unclear—perhaps tonight’s town hall will provide more information about what Amash sees as the next step—but the fact that so few Republicans have followed his lead in questioning Barr’s and Trump’s actions is both frustrating and completely typical.