Friday, April 19, 2019

Contrary to AG William Barr's claims about administration's cooperation with investigators, some Trump officials discarded "relevant communications" that might have changed outcome of Mueller Report

William Barr at press conference

U.S. Attorney General William Barr, at a press conference yesterday morning before release of the Mueller Report, repeatedly proclaimed there was no collusion and no obstruction by anyone connected to the Trump administration in the Russiagate scandal. Barr based his obstruction finding largely on a determination that "the White House fully cooperated with the Special Counsel’s investigation, providing unfettered access to campaign and White House documents, directing senior aides to testify freely, and asserting no privilege claims."

Barr went even further, stating: "The President took no act that in fact deprived the Special Counsel of the documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation. Apart from whether the acts were obstructive, this evidence of non-corrupt motives weighs heavily against any allegation that the President had a corrupt intent to obstruct the investigation."

There is a slight problem with the words in quotation marks above -- they aren't true, and the Mueller Report itself says so.

Of course, Barr ignores the most obvious evidence that Trump had "corrupt intent to obstruct the investigation" -- that Trump refused to sit for an interview with the the Special Counsel's team, plus Trump's written answers to questions have been described as "inadequate." But Barr's cherry-picking, obviously designed to deceive the public, goes way beyond that.

On page 10, the Mueller Report addresses a number of events that point to contacts between Trump Campaign representatives and Russian officials. In other words, this was about possible collusion, also referred to as "conspiracy" and "coordination." Specifically addressed were contacts between Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak and Trump officials, including former U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL). The report concludes that these interactions were "brief," "non-substantive," or in "passing."

Was the Mueller team, however, able to reach these conclusions based on a complete evidentiary record? Did they, as Barr claimed, have "unfettered access" to key documents? No, they did not. From the last two paragraphs on page 10 of the Mueller Report:

Further, the Office learned that some of the individuals we interviewed or whose conduct we investigated-including some associated with the Trump Campaign---deleted relevant communications or communicated during the relevant period using applications that feature encryption or that do not provide for long-term retention of data or communications records. In such cases, the Office was not able to corroborate witness statements through comparison to contemporaneous communications or fully question witnesses about statements that appeared inconsistent with other known facts.

Accordingly, while this report embodies factual and legal determinations that the Office believes to be accurate and complete to the greatest extent possible, given these identified gaps, the Office cannot rule out the possibility that the unavailable information would shed additional light on (or cast in a new light) the events described in the report.

In other words, some sources -- including some associated with the Trump Campaign -- intentionally took steps to discard "relevant communications" (emails, text messages?) ensuring the Special Counsel did not have a complete record. And the Mueller team admits these gaps in the record could, if filled, provide important new light on the investigation's outcome.

Here are just a few questions that immediately come to mind:

* Who were the individuals who deleted information or obscured it by using certain communications apps?

* Did these individuals make such deletions on their own or did someone instruct them to do it?

* Would it be possible for computer-forensics experts to recover all, or some, of the missing data?

* Could such deletion constitute a crime under the Federal Records Act or similar statute? Many conservatives thought Hillary Clinton committed a felony regarding retention of emails? What about when members of the Trump Administration deliberately discard "relevant communications" that are public property?

Barr's misstatement about Team Trump's response to the collusion investigation was not the biggest whopper the AG dropped on the American public yesterday. There is at least one other that is much bigger than that. We will have details in an upcoming post.

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