What could Mueller have done differently?

CNN says it’s all over, Barr has done what he was hired to do and protected President Mob Boss for the next year and a half. David Leonhardt at the Times says Mueller blew it.

It’s now clear that he mishandled the end of the Russia investigation.

Mueller naively trusted that William Barr, the attorney general, would act honorably and patriotically, as well, and let Barr decide how to handle the initial release of Mueller’s report. Barr, of course, wrote a letter that misled the public about what was in the report, creating a perception that the investigation cleared President Trump.

“For 27 days, the debate over Mueller’s findings was twisted by Barr’s poisonous distortions that implied a full exoneration of President Trump,” as The Washington Post’s E. J. Dionne wrote yesterday. Mueller himself has since complained to Barr about the letter.

And Barr doesn’t give a shit, because he got what he wanted to get.

What could Mueller have done differently? He could have recognized that Barr wasn’t trustworthy, given that Trump had nominated him for the attorney general job largely because Barr had expressed hostility to Mueller’s investigation. Mueller could then have acted accordingly.

He could have insisted that Barr release a summary written by Mueller and his team. Mueller may not have had the statutory power to insist on such a release, but he did have the actual power. If Barr had refused, Mueller could have made clear that his own summary would leak to the press, in short order.

But he didn’t.

Barr and the Trump administration have staked out the legal position that anything that rankles the president — congressional oversight, press coverage, the Mueller investigation itself — is illegitimate, writes Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick. “It’s Nixonian in scope to imply that anything Trump wants to do in order to push back against the media and protect his reputation is legal and justified,” she writes.

Neal Katyal, who wrote the special counsel regulations, offers a more optimistic take in The Times. He argues that Barr’s failure to defend his spin under congressional questioning is evidence that the system is working. “Barr’s deeply evasive testimony on Wednesday necessitates and tees up a full investigation in Congress,” Katyal writes.

I hope the reality is more Katyal than Barr.

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