Members Only | April 4, 2019 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

Barr Loses Benefit of the Doubt

Can you trust a president you already think unfit?

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The Times, the Post, and others are reporting that federal investigators who worked with Robert Mueller are displeased with how William Bar has represented their work. The US attorney general has said there was insufficient evidence to prove obstruction, but the Post reported “members of Mueller’s team have complained to close associates that the evidence they gathered on obstruction was alarming and significant.”

Investigators said the special counsel’s report to the US Justice Department contained “summary information” intended for release to the public. The Post: it “was prepared ‘so that the front matter from each section could have been released immediately — or very quickly,’ the official said. ‘It was done in a way that minimum redactions, if any, would have been necessary, and the work would have spoken for itself.’”

It’s clear the Washington press corps got played.

The attorney general is saying one thing while Mueller’s investigators are saying another. We don’t know who’s right or wrong, not yet, but we have reason anew to doubt Barr’s avowed position as honest broker. If parts of Mueller’s report were meant to be public, why didn’t he release them? If evidence of obstruction was “alarming and significant,” why did Barr’s office conclude on its own that evidence was lacking?

This is the second time we’ve had reason to doubt Barr’s good faith.

In a letter to Congress last week, he said that his four-page summary of the Mueller report’s “principal conclusions” was not at all meant as a summary. Well, if it wasn’t a summary, what was it? A fair guess is that it was meant to move media attention in the president’s favor, and that’s exactly what happened. Headlines around the country blared something to the effect of “no collusion; no obstruction” or some such nonsense. With Bill Barr’s heel-turn last week, and Mueller’s investigators undermining Barr’s credibility, it’s clear the press corps, once again, got played.

Not that it mattered.

Within a day of Trump’s “complete and total exoneration,” his administration announced that it would not defend the Affordable Care Act against lawsuit, pretty much vaporizing whatever “post-Mueller” glory the president could have basked in. The Democrats won 2018 on health care. They are happy to do it again in 2020. Then came Trump’s newfound zest for vengeance on those who dared investigate his campaign’s ties to Russia. For a guy who’s high-fiving a “complete and total exoneration,” he was in a hurry to get back at people who cleared his name.

That was last week. This week:

  • Trump promised the Republican Patty would replace Obamacare by the time of the election. He said later they would wait till afterward. That by the way is preciously what he said about this tax returns. He has yet to release them.

  • He picked a fight with Puerto Rico, thus reigniting suspicion that he does not know, or does not care to know, that the island’s residents are citizens.

  • Trump vowed to close the entire southern border if the Mexican government did not do more to prevent immigrants from “3 Mexican countries,” as Fox News hilariously reported, from seeking political asylum in the United States.

As of 10 minutes ago, he reversed himself—again.

“We’re going to give them a one-year warning, and if the drugs don’t stop or largely stop, we’re going to put tariffs on Mexico and products, particularly cars . . . And if that doesn’t stop the drugs, we close the border,” he said, according to the Post.

The administration saying one thing and doing another is draining whatever good faith remains in the electorate. Trust is so low, in fact, that a “complete and total exoneration” from the biggest scandal of his presidency made no difference in what people think. Trump’s approval rating is virtually unchanged over the last month, around 41 percent, according to FiveThirtyEight’s poll of polls. Given how steady it’s been, I can’t help wondering if most Americans long ago made up their minds about Trump and if there’s anything he can do to change it for the better. I doubt it.

As I said last week:

“It may be too much to ask of voters to trust a president they already think unfit.”

—John Stoehr

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John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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