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Tag: robert mueller

The Journalists Who Parroted Barr’s Lies Owe An Apology

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

A "powerful boost."

That's how the New York Times in March 2019 famously described Attorney General William Barr's supposed exoneration of Trump following Barr's reading of Robert Mueller's Russia investigation. Refusing to release the sprawling report, Barr instead put out a thin, four-page press release where he brazenly lied about the Mueller 'reports contents, and claimed Trump was in the clear.

It was an audacious move by Barr, and it worked because the Beltway press eagerly played along, reporting that Trump's Russia worries were not only over, but that Mueller's unseen conclusions had given Trump's re-election a "powerful boost."

This week, Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the United States District Court in Washington confirmed Barr lied about the Mueller report:

From the Washington Post:

[Berman] blasted Barr's four-page letter to Congress in March 2019 that said the special counsel did not draw a conclusion as to whether Trump obstructed the investigation and that Barr's own opinion was that the evidence was insufficient to bring such a charge.
In reality, Mueller's report laid out evidence of obstruction but said the special counsel could not fairly make a charging decision, given department policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

Even in real time, the news coverage of the Mueller report and Barr's crooked summary of it stood out as one of the low points of the Trump presidency in terms of a systemic press failure. It was stupefying to watch grown men and women at elite news outlets treat Barr as a serious, honest person; to treat the story as truthful simply because it involved the U.S. Attorney General.

Three years into Trump's ransacking of democracy, and after three years of watching Republicans completely disregard the truth, journalists foolishly played along with the charade, running in front of cameras to announce Trump had been "exonerated," without having a read a single sentence of the Mueller report. Overnight, journalists collectively decided that a four-page summary—typed up by a partisan GOP official who had promised Trump he'd never been indicted —was the same thing as seeing the special counsel's findings. It was truly astonishing.

Now that a federal judge has confirmed that the press got played, badly, what's the media response going to be? Will there by any introspection, will editors and producers reflect on how and why they got taken for a ride on one of the most important news stories of 2019? Will there be any transparency with readers and an apology, along with an explanation for what went so terribly wrong in March, 2019?

The likely answer is no to all those questions, because when it comes to being honest and open about grave blunders the press made while covering Trump, there's no appetite for it, except when the criticism comes from conservatives screaming "liberal media bias." There was never any soul searching from the Beltway media for its colossal failure from the 2016 campaign, when it treated Hillary Clinton's emails as if they were Watergate + Iran Contra. Or the way the press conveniently obliterated policy coverage while Trump ran a policy-free campaign.

At the head of the apology line ought to be the Times, which sent an immediate message to the Beltway with its "powerful boost" proclamation, and announcing the Russia "cloud" had been "lifted" from the White House. Times columnist Farhad Manjoo wrote an entire piece that referred to the findings of the Mueller report, even though nobody at the newspaper had seen it. "Robert Mueller seems to have concluded after a definitive investigation, Mr. Trump's win was not the illegitimate product of a treasonous conspiracy," he wrote [Emphasis added].

He also mocked "the aggrieved and embarrassed #resistance-tweeting punditocracy" for "downplaying Mr. Mueller's findings," even though Manjoo had no idea what Mueller's "findings" were. Additionally, the paper matter-of-factly detailed, "The Mueller Report's Findings," as if those were verifiable things at the time. Reminder: No reporter had read the report at that time.

Of course, it wasn't just the Times that fell on its face treating Barr's obfuscation as fact. CNN's Chris Cillizza labeled it, "A credible and well investigated report that [Trump] nor his campaign colluded with the Russians," while NBC's Ken Dilanian announced it was a "total exoneration" of Trump.

Journalists who typically demand access to documents when evaluating investigations made sweeping conclusions based on the Barr press release. The "Mueller report is out," CBS News announced, even though nobody at CBS News had read it. Stonewalling Republicans refused to release the Russia investigation findings, but the Washington Post at the time insisted it was Democrats who lookrf bad because they "boxed themselves in" on the Russia story.

Rather than going with accurate headlines, such as "Trump's Attorney General Claims Mueller Has Cleared the President," newsrooms tossed context aside and embraced GOP-friendly proclamations: "Mueller Finds No Conspiracy" (Washington Post), "Mueller Finds No Trump-Russia Conspiracy" (New York Times)," Mueller Finds No Trump-Russia Conspiracy" (Politico), "Mueller Doesn't Find Trump Campaign Conspired with Russia" (Wall Street Journal), "Mueller Finds No Trump Collusion, Leaves Obstruction Open" (Associated Press).

None of those headlines were accurate, and they did extraordinary damage because they allowed the White House to proclaim victory. "This was an illegal takedown that failed," Trump bragged at the time. "It's complete exoneration. No collusion."

Beltway journalists failed in so many ways during the Trump years. It's time for them to acknowledge that.

Justice Department Must Release Barr Memo On Trump's Obstruction Of Mueller Probe

A federal judge has ordered the Justice Department to release a confidential memo that former Attorney General William Barr cited as justification for not charging ex-President Donald Trump with obstructing Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia. The March 24, 2019, memo was crafted by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to review the Mueller report’s refusal to exonerate Trump of obstruction — and Barr leaned heavily on the document in declining to charge the former president with a crime. Still, Barr never released the memo publicly, pr...

Top Mueller Aide Suggests Trumps Owes Russia Hundreds Of Millions

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

The name Andrew Weissmann might ring a bell.

He's a former top Mueller attorney who worked with the Special Counsel on the Russia report.

Today he is an MSNBC legal analyst.

He also just wrote a book, an insider's view of the Mueller Investigation.

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Now We Know Why Robert Mueller Made His Biggest Errors

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

After Special Counsel Robert Mueller concluded his investigation into ties between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, the big question still loomed: Was the president guilty of a serious crime?

Attorney General Bill Barr quickly took it upon himself to answer the question, explaining that the special counsel's work had failed to accuse Donald Trump of criminal acts, and he personally concluded that insufficient evidence existed for any charge. This announcement stunned and perplexed many observers while cheering the president's allies. The truth only became clear weeks later when the Mueller report was finally released: It laid out substantial evidence that Trump was guilty of many instances of obstruction of justice, but the report was written so as to avoid making this conclusion explicit. (Mueller also sent a letter to Barr arguing that his initial statements about the resolution of the case had been misleading.)

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Trump Commutes Roger Stone’s Prison Sentence

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

On Friday night, President Donald Trump commuted the sentence of Roger Stone — a longtime friend and ally who was found guilty on seven counts of criminal charges as a result of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany released a statement confirming the commutation, justifying the decision with a slew of the president's frequent lies about the Mueller probe.

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Barr Takes Cheap Shot At Mueller In CBS Interview

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Attorney General Bill Barr took a shot at former Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Thursday in an interview with CBS discussing his controversial decision to withdraw charges against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

In the interview, Barr asserted without explanation that the counterintelligence investigation into Flynn, which led to criminal charges and became a part of Mueller's Russia investigation, was unjustified. And he discussed, as he has previously, that he has directed U.S. Attorney John Durham to examine the origins of the probe and its conduct in 2016 and 2017.

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Justice Department Drops Case Against Flynn Despite Guilty Plea

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

The Justice Department filed a motion on Thursday to drop the charges against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, the first case brought by former Special Counsel Robert Mueller against one of President Donald Trump's close aides.

Flynn had pleaded guilty to the charge of lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia during the presidential transition, and he admitted to working as an undisclosed agent of the Turkish government during the 2016 campaign. But after pleading guilty, Flynn eventually dropped his legal counsel, hired a much more aggressive lawyer, and moved to withdraw his plea. He has also accused the Justice Department and the FBI of misconduct against him, though no persuasive evidence for these allegations has emerged.But the department has been reviewing the case, and the AP reported that the official leading the reviewed pushed to drop the charges.

It explained:

In court documents being filed Thursday, the Justice Department said it is dropping the case "after a considered review of all the facts and circumstances of this case, including newly discovered and disclosed information." The documents were obtained by The Associated Press.
The Justice Department said it had concluded that Flynn's interview by the FBI was "untethered to, and unjustified by, the FBI's counterintelligence investigation into Mr. Flynn" and that the interview on January 24, 2017 was "conducted without any legitimate investigative basis."
The U.S. attorney reviewing the Flynn case, Jeff Jensen, recommended the move to Attorney General William Barr last week and formalized the recommendation in a document this week.
"Through the course of my review of General Flynn's case, I concluded the proper and just course was to dismiss the case," Jensen said in a statement. "I briefed Attorney General Barr on my findings, advised him on these conclusions, and he agreed."

Prior to the news breaking of the dropped charges, prosecutor Brandon Van Grack withdrew from the case — a clear sign that the department's stance was changing.

In the filing requesting that the court drop the case, the department argued Flynn wasn't properly informed about the circumstances of the charges against him when he pleaded guilty.

"Mr. Flynn previously pleaded guilty to making false statements," it said. "In the Government's assessment, however, he did so without full awareness of the circumstances of the newly discovered, disclosed, or declassified information as to the FBI's investigation of him."

When Flynn pleaded guilty, however, he was unequivocal, saying: "I recognize that the actions I acknowledged in court today were wrong, and, through my faith in God, I am working to set things right."

Many legal analysts argued that the reasoning the department put forward for dropping the case was highly unusual. It argued, for example, that Flynn's lies to the FBI about his contact with the Russian ambassador during the 2016 presidential transition were not "material" to the investigators, meaning relevant to key decisions that officials may make. But the standard the Justice Department applied in this case sharply deviated from its usual position — suggesting Flynn is getting special treatment.

The argument also strained credulity. The FBI had been investigating Flynn as a potential counterintelligence threat for his potential ties to Russia. Misleading investigators about the nature of his conversation with the Russian ambassador was clearly relevant to their case. Flynn had intervened after the Obama administration his Russia for retaliatory measures for its efforts to interfere in the 2016 campaign, which was precisely what the FBI was investigating.

But none of this should be that surprising. Attorney General Bill Barr was appointed by Trump specifically to replace Jeff Sessions, who infuriated the president by refusing to interfere in the Russia investigation. Barr previously intervened in the case against Roger Stone to push the department to lower its recommendation for sentencing, a move that also conflicted with DOJ's general practice.

Barr's doing exactly what he was appointed for: undoing Mueller's work.

Court Rules DOJ Must Give Mueller Grand Jury Documents To Congress

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Although the U.S. Senate acquitted President Donald Trump on two articles of impeachment on February 5, Trump-related investigations continue in the U.S. House of Representatives — and on Tuesday, March 10, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. ruled that the Department of Justice (DOJ) must give House Democrats secret grand jury evidence from former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

The Washington Post's Ann E. Marimow reports that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has, in a 2-1 ruling, "upheld a lower court order that requires" DOJ to "disclose to the House certain secret material" from Mueller's probe.

The majority opinion in the ruling was written by Judith W. Rogers, while Judge Thomas B. Griffith agreed with her and Judge Neomi Rao was a dissenter. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Marimow reports, "was reviewing an earlier ruling from Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell, who found the House, in its impeachment investigation, was legally engaged in a judicial process that exempts Congress from secrecy rules that typically shield grand jury materials from disclosure."

In the case, House Democrats have asserted that they need the grand jury materials in order to determine whether or not Trump lied in his written responses to questions that Mueller asked him during the Russia investigation.

The ruling can be appealed.