Reminder: William Barr Critiqued Mueller's Obstruction Focus Before He Became AG

The future attorney general described "Mueller’s core premise" about possible obstruction of justice by Trump as "untenable."

WASHINGTON ― Attorney General William Barr told Congress on Sunday that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had concluded that the evidence Robert Mueller developed during his special counsel investigation “is not sufficient to establish” that President Donald Trump committed obstruction of justice.

What Barr’s letter doesn’t mention is that less than a year ago, he’d criticized Mueller’s focus on obstruction of justice in an unsolicited 19-page memo to Justice Department officials.

Barr’s letter on Sunday said that Mueller’s report featured a “cataloguing” of the president’s actions, “many of which took place in public view.” Mueller’s report “did not draw a conclusion ― one way or the other ― as to whether” Trump obstructed justice, Barr wrote. Mueller’s report states that while it “does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” Barr noted.

“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 attorney general wrote. He said that those elements weren’t present in the Trump actions scrutinized in Mueller’s report.

But as Barr’s June 2018 memo to his now-subordinates Rosenstein and Steve Engel, the assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel, makes clear, the attorney general has a very narrow view of what counts as obstruction.

“Mueller’s core premise ― that the President acts ‘corruptly’ if he attempts to influence a proceeding in which his own conduct is being scrutinized ― is untenable,” Barr wrote in the 2018 memo. Barr said that the president would not be transgressing any legal limitation if he exercised his “supervisory authority” over cases dealing with his own interests. “It may be in some cases politically unwise; but it is not a crime,” Barr argued.

“The practical implications of Mueller’s approach, especially in light of its ‘shapeless’ concept of obstruction, are astounding,” Barr wrote.

Read Barr’s June 2018 letter below:

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