Deconstructing Barr

On Sunday afternoon, Attorney General William Barr released a 4-page letter, which he described as a summary "of the principal conclusions reached by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III." Barr's letter includes very little from Mueller's actual report -- just 65 words and not a single complete sentence.

Trump quickly celebrated the letter as an unambiguous victory. "No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION," Trump tweeted.

You'll be shocked to learn that Trump’s tweet is not accurate. The Mueller report, according to Barr's letter, explicitly states it "does not exonerate" Trump.

Unless and until the full Mueller report is released, there will be a lot of unanswered questions. But here is what we know so far and what happens next.

On a conspiracy with Russia

Barr quotes this partial line from the Mueller report: "[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities." This will disappoint those that expected the Mueller investigation to end with Trump being frog-marched out of the White House for being a Russian spy.

But it does not mean that Mueller did not uncover misconduct by the Trump campaign related to the Russian interference activities. As Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, explained, "at times I declined cases where there was a lot of evidence that appeared very troubling, simply because I lacked sufficient evidence to prove a key element beyond a reasonable doubt."

Did Mueller uncover troubling evidence? He did, and much of it has already been made public. For example, Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort passed internal polling information to an asset of Russian intelligence. Donald Trump Jr., who was in Trump's campaign leadership, was offered damaging information about Hillary Clinton from the Russian government and responded that he'd "love it." (The Barr letter references "multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.")

Mueller concluded that those facts and whatever else he found were not enough to establish the Trump campaign conspired with Russia beyond a reasonable doubt. What else did Mueller find that has not been made public? We don't know because his report has not been released and the Barr letter does not discuss it.

What makes a conspiracy

According to Barr's letter, the scope of the conspiracy investigation was somewhat limited. Barr writes that Mueller determined no one from the Trump campaign: 1. conspired with the Russian Internet Research Agency in executing a social media disinformation campaign, or 2. conspired with the Russian government to hack and distribute Democratic emails.

This scope does not appear to include potential "quid pro quo" conspiracies that do not involve direct collaboration on internet trolling or hacking. For example, Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Kremlin-connected lawyer who attended the meeting at Trump Tower with top campaign officials, said Trump Jr. promised her his father would reconsider the Magnitsky Act "if we come to power."

Mueller's report may explain and justify the scope of his investigation in great detail. We don't know because the report has not been released.

On obstruction of justice

According to the Barr letter, Mueller uncovered evidence that he believed could reasonably support a criminal obstruction of justice charge against Trump. This includes evidence that is not public. For reasons that are not explained, however, Mueller declined to make a recommendation either way. "[W]hile this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him," Mueller writes, according to Barr.

Barr claims that since Mueller didn't make a determination about the evidence, Mueller "leaves it to the Attorney General to determine whether the conduct described in the report constitutes a crime." This is a dubious conclusion since DOJ policy prohibits the criminal indictment of a sitting president. It seems more likely that Mueller believed that, in light of DOJ policy, it was more important to present the facts to Congress so it could consider impeachment.

Mueller, after all, was FBI Director for more than a decade and served as Acting Deputy Attorney General. He is just as capable as Barr is to decide what constitutes a crime.

Nevertheless, after less than 48-hours of reviewing Mueller’s report, Barr asserts that Trump did not commit a crime. "I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel's investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense," Barr writes.

Barr also flatly states, without explanation or interviewing Trump, that none of Trump's actions cataloged by Mueller were done with "corrupt intent," an element of obstruction of justice. Mueller did not reach such a conclusion because, if he did, his investigation would have exonerated Trump.

Mueller was not consulted on the contents of the letter.

How Barr became Attorney General

Jeff Sessions was ousted as Attorney General because Trump was unhappy that Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation.

This isn't a conspiracy theory. On May 30, 2018, Trump tweeted that Sessions should have told him he would not participate in the Russia investigation so he could have picked someone else.

On August 1, 2018, he demanded that Sessions end the Mueller investigation immediately.

Sessions did not these instructions and Trump sacked Sessions immediately after the midterm election. Trump eventually selected Barr to replace Sessions as Attorney General.

Barr's snap decision to declare Trump innocent of obstruction of justice should not be a surprise. Barr sent an unsolicited memo to the Justice Department last June "that excoriated special counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry into potential obstruction of justice by Mr. Trump, saying it is based on a 'fatally misconceived' theory that would cause lasting damage to the presidency and the executive branch." Barr argued that Mueller's obstruction of justice investigation was based on a "novel and legally insupportable reading of the law." According to Barr, "the obstruction of justice statute does not apply to the president because the text of the statute doesn’t specifically mention the president."

Less than six months later, Trump nominated him to become Attorney General and oversee the Mueller investigation. Barr was confirmed by the Senate on February 14. Yesterday, he effectively dismissed Mueller's report and declared Trump did not obstruct justice.

What's next?

Barr says he will release more of the report after he redacts information that is sourced from grand jury proceedings, which he says must remain secret. In Watergate, the special counsel transmitted the full report, which included grand jury material, to Congress by obtaining approval from the federal judge overseeing the case. Further, the portion of the report concerning obstruction of justice reportedly does not include any grand jury information because none of those witnesses appeared before the grand jury.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) are demanding "the full report and the underlying documents." Congressman Jerry Nadler (D-NY), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he would subpoena Barr so he can be questioned on why he decided to exonerate the president when Mueller did not.  

Another option would be to subpoena Mueller to testify, although Democrats did not indicate they were prepared to do so.


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The rise of white nationalism

Violent white nationalists think Trump is a white nationalist.

Fifty-one Muslims were murdered in New Zealand last week by a white nationalist. The suspect scrawled racist slogans on his semi-automatic rifles and streamed the attack live on Facebook.

In a lengthy manifesto, published online just before the attack, the alleged killer touts Trump as "a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose."

Back at the White House, Trump was asked if he viewed white nationalism as a "rising threat":

I don't really. I think it's a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. I guess if you look at what happened in New Zealand, perhaps that's a case. I don't know enough about it yet. They're just learning about the person and the people involved. But it's certainly a terrible thing — terrible thing.

Note that Trump not only denies that white nationalism is a growing threat but also casts doubt on whether the attack in New Zealand was even motivated by racial hatred.

At the same event, Trump vetoed a resolution from Congress that would have overturned the "national emergency" Trump declared to seize funds for a border wall. Trump justified the veto by citing the "invasion" of immigrants across the southern border, parroting the rhetoric of white nationalists globally.

The President of the United States is dismissing the threat of white nationalism, using white nationalist rhetoric, and aggressively pursuing policies favored by white nationalists.

Just the facts

First, let's get our facts straight. Donald Trump says white nationalism is not a growing threat. He's wrong.

Over the last ten years, according to data analyzed by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), "73.3% of all domestic extremist-related killings have been perpetrated by right-wing extremists, compared to 23.4% perpetrated by terrorists motivated by Salafi-jihadism and 3.2% by left-wing extremism."

Last year, domestic extremists killed at least 50 people in the United States and "every one of the perpetrators had ties to at least one right-wing extremist movement," and "[w]hite supremacists were responsible for the great majority of the killings." These attacks are on the rise. "The number of terrorist attacks by far-right perpetrators rose over the past decade, more than quadrupling between 2016 and 2017," according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI jointly produced a report in 2017 entitled "White Supremacist Extremism Poses Persistent Threat of Lethal Violence." That report proved prescient when a white nationalist, anti-immigrant, and anti-Semitic man murdered 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue last October.

In addition to violence, white supremacists have also rapidly increased their recruitment and visibility. ADL data "shows white supremacists’ propaganda efforts increased 182 percent, with 1,187 distributions across the U.S. in 2018, up from 421 total incidents reported in 2017."

It is a global phenomenon. In Europe, "far-right attacks" jumped "43% between 2016 and 2017." While "deaths resulting from terrorism decreased 27% worldwide" the "the threat of far-right political terrorism is on the rise."

Defending Islamophobes

On Sunday, just a few days after the New Zealand massacre, Trump spent his morning defending a Fox News host who was suspended for anti-Muslim commentary. Last weekend, Jeanine Pirro suggested that the faith of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN) was un-American.

Think about it: Omar wears a hijab, which according to the Quran, 33:59, tells women to cover so they won’t get molested. Is her adherence to this Islamic doctrine indicative of her adherence to Sharia law, which in itself is antithetical to the United States Constitution?

Fox News condemned Pirro's remarks, but she would not apologize and was reportedly suspended. Trump blasted Fox News in a series of tweets on Sunday morning, accusing the network of being politically correct. "Be strong & prosper, be weak & die!" Trump tweeted.

It could be a coincidence, but "be strong and prosper" is a phrase featured in a text important to white supremacists. The 1683 Battle of Vienna is extremely significant to white nationalists because the victory of Christians over the Ottoman Empire is viewed as a prelude to the current "battle" against Islam. The New Zealand shooter even scrawled "Vienna 1683" over his weaponry and posted the photo on social media.

There is a contemporaneous account of the Battle of Vienna, which has been translated into numerous languages. The first line of the text concludes: "[b]e strong and prosper in thy way on behalf of the Christian faith."

While it's unlikely that Trump himself is familiar with this text, it is likely known to aides like White House adviser Stephen Miller and former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. In a speech, Bannon cited the battle of Vienna as a historical justification for a new anti-Muslim crackdown.

"The president is not a white supremacist"

Appearing on Fox News, Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney was asked whether Trump would deliver a speech condemning white nationalism. "The president is not a white supremacist. I'm not sure how many times we have to say that," Mulvaney replied, not answering the question.

"I don't think anybody can say that the president is anti-Muslim," Mulvaney added on CBS' Face the Nation.

Mulvaney's defensiveness is the result of working for a man who, from the outset of his presidential campaign, has sought to exploit racial grievances against Muslims and others.

In his first speech as a candidate, Trump referred to Mexican immigrants as rapists. In a September 15, 2015 townhall in New Hampshire, Trump told a member of the audience that he was looking at ways to "get rid" of Muslims in America.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: We have a problem in this country. It’s called Muslims. We know our current president is one.

TRUMP: Right. We need this question!

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  When can we get rid of ‘em?

TRUMP: We're gonna be looking at a lot of different things. A lot of people are saying that.

Trump later pledged to ban all Muslims from entering the United States and attempted to implement that policy as president. In November 2017, he tweeted doctored videos from a white nationalist British group, Britain First, that purported to show Muslims "beating up a Dutch boy on crutches" and "pushing a boy off a roof." That move earned him praise from former KKK leader David Duke.

Defunding counter-extremism

The Trump administration has dismantled the modest efforts by the federal government to counter right-wing extremism. The Obama administration created a small pool of grant money to counter white nationalism and other extremist ideologies. The money went to fund Life After Hate, "one of the only programs in the U.S. devoted to helping people leave neo-Nazi and other white supremacy groups" and researchers "helping young people develop media campaigns aimed at preventing their peers from embracing white supremacy." Trump immediately canceled both grants shortly after taking office.

The Office of Community Partnerships, which administered the grants, saw its budget slashed from $21 million to $3 million. An interagency task force "on Countering Violent Extremism, or CVE, that included officials detailed from the FBI, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the Departments of Justice, Education, and Health and Human Services" was disbanded.

The Trump administration was open in its belief that white supremacists were not a problem. Former Deputy Assistant to President Trump Sebastian Gorka falsely claimed that in the United States "[t]here has never been a serious attack or a serious plot that was unconnected from ISIS or al Qaeda."

Many people, citing Oklahoma City and other incidents, pointed out that he was wrong. Gorka was incensed. "It’s this constant, 'Oh, it’s the white man. It’s the white supremacists. That’s the problem.' No, it isn’t," Gorka said on August 10, 2017.

Two days later, a protester was intentionally killed by a motor vehicle at a white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Trump later declared that many of the people participating in the violent march were "very fine people."


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