Barr Clears Trump of Obstruction After Mueller Demurs – The New York Times

Notably, Mr. Trump’s lawyers have taken the position that Congress lacks the authority to constrain in any way how the president exercises his constitutional powers to oversee the executive branch, including deciding whether to direct the Justice Department to close an investigation, to fire a subordinate and to pardon someone. Mr. Barr himself endorsed that view in his June 2018 memo for the Trump administration, when he was still a lawyer in private practice.

Under that view, even if a president abuses his power by acting for corrupt reasons, it would be unconstitutional for Congress to make that a crime. Many legal scholars dispute that view, but the Supreme Court has never addressed the issue.

It was hard to know from Mr. Barr’s letter what gave Mr. Mueller pause, noted Samuel Buell, a former federal prosecutor who now teaches white-collar criminal law at Duke University. Without seeing Mr. Mueller’s underlying report, he said, it was impossible to evaluate the merits of both Mr. Mueller’s demurral and Mr. Barr’s decision to make a definitive statement in favor of Mr. Trump.

“We really need to see what this report says — we need to see the analysis,” he said, adding: “How much of this is Mueller and how much of this is Barr? And certainly it seems a relevant fact to consider that Barr just happens to be someone who, before he became attorney general, had gone on record as someone who was skeptical of the obstruction issue.”

Mr. Mueller’s refusal to make any conclusion about obstruction was coupled with a more definitive finding that “the evidence does not establish that the president was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference.”

While acknowledging one can be guilty of obstruction of justice even without an underlying crime, Mr. Barr wrote that he and Mr. Rosenstein nevertheless took into account that separate exoneration of Mr. Trump when deciding how to interpret Mr. Trump’s intent with respect to obstruction where the evidence Mr. Mueller had gathered.

Obstruction cases are notoriously difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt because prosecutors have to prove that the defendant was acting with a corrupt intent, and the evidence is often ambiguous.

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