"Mueller's parting message was not about obstruction but about the massive efforts by Russia to meddle in our elections with the aim of benefitting Donald Trump," John Avlon said.
May 30, 2019

CNN's John Avlon did a Reality Check segment on Bill Barr's attempts to shape public reaction to the Mueller report on Trump, Russia interference, and obstruction.

"I think this is what happens when the last honest man in Washington confronts a blizzard of lies. With Robert Mueller's first and perhaps final comments as special counsel, we learned a lot about his puzzling punt on obstruction. We now know that President Trump was never in danger of being indicted, not because he was cleared of wrongdoing, but because Mueller felt he was constitutionally constrained by the Office of Legal Counsel's guidance.

Under longstanding department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional. Charging the president with a crime was, therefore, not an option we could consider.

"But there is a screaming contrast between what attorney general Bill Barr said and what Robert Mueller clearly meant. Because according to a CNN analysis, Barr stated no less than six times that the OLC opinion had little role in the ultimate decision. He told CNN this:

We specifically asked him about the OLC opinion and whether or not he was taking the position that he would have found a crime but for the existence of the OLC opinion, and he made it very clear several times that that was not his position.

"That appears to be fundamentally false, because Mueller actually said this."

If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.

"In other words, Trump was explicitly not exonerated and it certainly sounds like if he was anyone other than the president, he would have been indicted. Mueller was also constrained by a virtue that's vanishingly rare in Washington politics: a sense of fairness.

It would be unfair to potentially accuse somebody of a crime when there can be no court resolution of the actual charge.

"So despite all the president's repeated attacks on the special counsel investigation being a witch hunt and worse, as well as the ongoing push to investigate the investigators for treason, we now see that Donald Trump may have had his bacon saved by Robert Mueller's commitment to decency and the rule of law, the opposite of witch hunt.

"Trump's lawyers of course wasted no time trying to spin Mueller's words, with Jay Sekulow stating, 'The attorney general conclusively determined that there was no obstruction by the president.' That's explicitly not what Mueller concluded. Instead, it certainly seems he believes that impeachment is the only appropriate way to hold a president to account. But that remedy from the Founding Fathers now runs into the reality of a polarized Congress that seems unable and unwilling to think beyond partisan interests. But Mueller's parting message was not about obstruction but about the massive efforts by Russia to meddle in our elections with the aim of benefitting Donald Trump.

There were multiple systematic efforts to interfere in our election and that allegation deserves the attention of every American.

"So bottom line, the Mueller investigation is over. It did not exonerate the president. Attorney general Barr did misrepresent the report's conclusions and constraints and the Russians will continue to try to influence our elections because they did so to help the president the last time around, despite his denials, and there's every indication they 'll try to do it again. And that's your reality check."

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