What possible reason did Attorney General William Barr have to hold a press conference about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report before the report was released?
It was not, based on his brief remarks Thursday morning, to instill public faith in the process, for he did little of that. Nor was it to answer questions from the press, for he did little of that as well—bristling at a few reporters’ questions before tersely exiting the stage.
Instead, Barr seemed most interested in painting President Donald Trump as a victim. Although, as has been endlessly noted, there’s no crime of “collusion,” the attorney general repeatedly used that phrase, echoing the president’s own tweets, both before and during the press conference: “The Special Counsel found no ‘collusion’ by any Americans in the IRA’s illegal activity”; “there was no evidence of Trump campaign ‘collusion’ with the Russian government’s hacking”; “after finding no underlying collusion with Russia.”
If those remarks made Barr sound less like the nation’s top law-enforcement official and more like a defense attorney for the president, he was just getting started. Even more remarkable were his comments on the question of whether Trump obstructed justice. Put yourself in the poor president’s shoes, Barr pleaded:
In assessing the President’s actions discussed in the report, it is important to bear in mind the context. President Trump faced an unprecedented situation. As he entered into office, and sought to perform his responsibilities as President, federal agents and prosecutors were scrutinizing his conduct before and after taking office, and the conduct of some of his associates. At the same time, there was relentless speculation in the news media about the President’s personal culpability. Yet, as he said from the beginning, there was in fact no collusion. And as the Special Counsel’s report acknowledges, there is substantial evidence to show that the President was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks.
Because the report has not been released, it’s unclear how much of this analysis is Barr’s and how much of it draws on Mueller’s report, but it’s not especially persuasive either way. In short, the attorney general is saying that the president’s possibly obstructive efforts were not corrupt, because Trump sincerely believed he was the victim of a conspiracy. Because the president was “frustrated and angered,” Barr seems to think it was reasonable for him to, for example, pressure the FBI director to drop an investigation.