While not determinative

Aaron Blake at the Post asks, in guarded language, if the fix is in.

A big question hanging over William P. Barr’s nomination to be attorney general this year was whether, once he got the job, he would do President Trump’s bidding. Barr had made statements critical of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation, and he even wrote a long memo rejecting the need for the obstruction of justice portion of Mueller’s inquiry. Trump also repeatedly made clear his desire for a loyalist to oversee the investigation.

On Sunday, Barr made a big decision in Trump’s favor. And he did so in a way legal experts say is very questionable.

In his summary, Barr wrote that Mueller didn’t conclude that Trump committed obstruction of justice but also that he didn’t conclude that he didn’t.

So Barr did it for him.

“After reviewing the Special Counsel’s final report on these issues; consulting with Department officials, including the Office of Legal Counsel; and applying the principles of federal prosecution that guide our charging decisions,” Barr wrote, “Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein and 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.”

He further explained. “In making this determination, we noted that the Special Counsel recognized that ‘the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference,’ and that, while not determinative, the absence of such evidence bears upon the President’s intent with respect to obstruction.”

So the idea is that the lack of evidence that Trump was involved in the Russian interference is a reason to think Trump didn’t try to obstruct?

Well that’s ridiculous.

This is Trump. A rational person with a good grasp of all the facts and a clean record would probably refrain from trying to obstruct an investigation of the kind Mueller did, but Trump is not that person.

Legal experts say it’s odd that he emphasized the lack of an underlying, proven crime, given that’s not necessary for obstruction of justice.

“I think this is the weakest part of Attorney General Barr’s conclusions,” said Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles. “You do not need to prove an underlying crime to prove obstruction of justice. Martha Stewart is quite aware of this fact.”

There have been Martha Stewart jokes on Twitter this morning.

“For example,” added former federal prosecutor David Alan Sklansky, now of Stanford University, “if the President wrongfully tried to block the investigation into Russian interference in the election because he wanted to protect the Russians, or because he didn’t want people to know that a foreign government had tried to hack the election in his favor, that would constitute obstruction.”

Barr’s argument is that the lack of an underlying crime suggests there’s less reason to believe Trump had a “corrupt intent” behind his actions regarding the investigation. But if you set aside collusion, there would seem to be plenty for Trump to want to cover up. Even if these proven and alleged crimes didn’t involve criminal activity by Trump personally, he would seem to have a clear interest in the outcomes of these investigations, both because of his sensitivity about the idea that Russia assisted him and because of the narrative it created of a president surrounded by corruption.

He, personally, likes the image of himself surrounded by corruption. He likes being the godfatha. But he doesn’t want to have to live in a small cell because of it.

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