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Mueller report: The full context of the quotes in Bill Barr’s summary

Illustration of Bill Barr
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Attorney General Bill Barr's March 24 letter summarizing the "principal conclusions" from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation did not include a single full sentence from the Mueller report, but partially quoted 7.

Now that a redacted version of the Mueller report has been released, we have new insight into some of the context of the quotes Barr cited.

Barr letter: "On Friday, the Special Counsel submitted to me a "confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions" he has reached, as required by 28 C.F.R. $ 600.8(c)."

  • Mueller report: "This report is submitted to the Attorney General pursuant to 28 C.F.R. § 600.8(c), which states that, "[a]t the conclusion of the Special Counsel's work, he ... shall provide the Attorney General a confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions [the Special Counsel] reached.""

Barr letter: "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.""

  • Mueller report: "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, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities."

Barr letter: "The Special Counsel defined "coordination" as an "agreement — tacit or express — between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference.""

  • Mueller report: In evaluating whether evidence about collective actions of multiple individuals constituted a crime we applied the framework of conspiracy law, not the concept of "collusion." In so doing, the Office recognized that the word "collud[e]" was used in communications with the Acting Attorney General confirming certain aspects of the investigation's scope and that the term has frequently been invoked in public reporting about the investigation. But collusion is not a specific offense or theory of liability found in the United States Code, nor is it a term of art in federal criminal law.
  • For those reasons, the Office's focus in analyzing questions of joint criminal liability was on conspiracy as defined in federal law. In connection with that analysis, we addressed the factual question whether members of the Trump Campaign "coordinated" — a term that appears in the appointment order — with Russian election interference activities. Like collusion, "coordination" does not a settled definition in criminal law. We understood coordination to require an agreement — tacit or express — between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference. That requires more than the two parties taking actions that were informed by or responsive to each other's actions."

Barr letter: "After making a "thorough factual investigation" into these matters, the Special Counsel considered whether to evaluate the conduct under Department standards governing prosecution and declination decisions but ultimately determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment. "

  • Mueller report: "Second, while the OLC opinion concludes that a sitting President may not be prosecuted, it recognizes that a criminal investigation during the President's term is permissible.3 The OLC opinion also recognizes that a President does not have immunity after he leaves office.4 And if individuals other than the President committed an obstruction offense, they may be prosecuted at this time. Given those considerations, the facts known to us, and the strong public interest in safeguarding the integrity of the criminal justice system, we conducted a thorough factual investigation in order to preserve the evidence when memories were fresh and documentary materials were available."

Barr letter: "Instead, for each of the relevant actions investigated, the report sets out evidence on both sides of the question and leaves unresolved what the Special Counsel views as "difficult issues" of law and fact concerning whether the President's actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction. The Special Counsel states that "while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.""

  • Mueller report: "Fourth, if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment. The evidence we obtained about the President's actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."

Barr letter: "In making this determination, we noted that the Special Counsel recognized that "the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an 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."

  • Mueller report: "Several features of the conduct we investigated distinguish it from typical obstruction of justice cases. First, the investigation concerned the President, and some of his actions, such as firing the FBI director, involved facially lawful acts within his Article II authority, which raises constitutional issues discussed below. At the same time, the President's position as the head of the Executive Branch provided him with unique and powerful means of influencing official proceedings, subordinate officers, and potential witnesses-all of which is relevant to a potential obstruction-of-justice analysis.
  • Second, unlike cases in which a subject engages in obstruction of justice to cover up a crime, the evidence we obtained did not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference. Although the obstruction statutes do not require proof of such a crime, the absence of that evidence affects the analysis of the President's intent and requires consideration of other possible motives for his conduct.
  • Third, many of the President's acts directed at witnesses, including discouragement of cooperation with the government and suggestions of possible future pardons, took place in public view. That circumstance is unusual, but no principle of law excludes public acts from the reach of the obstruction laws. If the likely effect of public acts is to influence witnesses or alter their testimony, the harm to the justice system's integrity is the same."

Go deeper: 7 takeaways from the Mueller report