May 1, 2019

Benjamin Wittes is the famously careful publisher of the Lawfare blog, and was hopeful that Bill Barr would be a good attorney general. Not anymore, as we saw on Morning Joe today.

"Benjamin, I want to ask you if President Trump's Roy Cohn, as I call him, William Barr, may have committed perjury when answering Charlie Crist. Crist asked if there had been frustration that the report had not been properly and fully characterized in the Barr letter," Joe Scarborough said.

"As you know, perjury is a sort of ridiculously technical statute, and it requires a very precise parsing of the exact question and the exact answer and all the possible things that that answer could convey," Wittes said.

"So I don't think we're realistically talking in that land at all. I think we are talking in a different land, which is, you know, would a reasonable member of Congress feel grossly misled by what the attorney general said? I think the answer to that is yes. You know, the attorney general sitting on a letter that the special counsel had written, expressing frustration with the way he had characterized it and the way that had spurred a media storm storm, asked a question about, you know, 'what can you tell us about frustration?', kind of scratches his head and plays dumb. I think people are going to feel misled by that."

"Misled. Also, certainly, could that not be considered an abuse of power, if you use your position to, quote, undermine the central purpose for which the Justice Department appointed the special counsel?" Scarborough asked.

"Look, Bill Barr has, I think, abused his position in a number of respects. And the most important of them is exactly the one that you just described, which is, taking a document -- and there is nothing technically inaccurate in Bill Barr's letter -- but taking a document that is rich and complicated and conveys a great deal of information, and characterizing it, intentionally, in such a way that an entire media ecosystem can go nuts for two weeks about how it is a simple vindication and clearing of the president, which it was quite obviously not," Wittes said.

"And I think the fact that we reacted that way at the time, you know, you and I and a hundred other million people, it is not surprising that, internally within the Justice Department and the special counsel's office, Bob Mueller, who knew that report intimately, because he wrote it, reacted quite similarly."

"You know, it is so funny to listen to Trump apologists trying to blame this on the media, as a lot of them did last night. Of course, it was the down, screaming the loudest, with the largest megaphone, using Attorney General Barr's letter to misrepresent the contents of the report which, of course, the media would then have to pick up on that, as well," Scarborough said.

"And Barr himself used his own letter to mischaracterize the report. Because in his press conference the morning of the report's release, he adopted a series of lines about the report that were, you know, directly tailored to the way the president was talking about it. He used the phrase 'no collusion' multiple times. And so, I -- it's not simply that the president was mischaracterizing or was, you know, using his characterization to misdescribe what was in this complicated document.

"He himself, on more than one occasion was, again, without saying anything that was technically inaccurate, grossly mischaracterizing the contents."

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