Critic's Notebook: William Barr's Surreal TV Presser Was Trump's Dream Scenario
During his press conference prior to the release of the redacted Mueller Report, the Attorney General behaved more like the president's personal lawyer than the nation's chief law enforcement officer.
Thursday's press conference by Donald Trump's personal lawyer — excuse me, U.S. Attorney General — William Barr couldn't have gone any better for the president.
Barr wasn't content to summarize the Mueller Report's apparent findings that there was no conspiring or coordination with Russia's efforts to interfere with the 2016 election by anyone associated with the Trump campaign. He also praised the president in glowing terms, lauding his extensive cooperation with the probe. And he threw in some free emotional therapy for the president, sympathizing with Trump over being "frustrated and angered by his sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency."
The press event was the Democrats' nightmare and Trump's dream scenario. It was hard not to imagine that Trump was standing behind the Attorney General with his hand shoved up the back of his suit jacket while drinking water and trying not to move his lips.
Barr made his comments before practically anyone had the chance to actually see the report. Except, of course, the White House legal team. The media would have to wait until at least 90 minutes after the press conference, because if they had read the report in advance it would have given them the opportunity to ask pertinent questions.
Barr was thus able to deliver his summary, one of many during his Trump support tour, without the inconvenience of anyone questioning his interpretations. Reporters have probably been boning up on speed reading techniques during the past week, because the report runs some 400-plus pages. On the other hand, it's likely there are so many redactions it will be published as a Reader's Digest Condensed Book.
Standing behind Barr were Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, looking desperate to finally get the hell out of Washington, and Acting Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General (yes, that's his actual title) Ed Callaghan, so heavily bearded he would frighten bears. The three deadpan figures resembled a "See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil" tableaux, which felt appropriate under the circumstances.
Barr's televised remarks could well become a Trump campaign re-election video. He blamed everything on those dastardly Russians, repeating time and time again that no one from the campaign, indeed no Americans at all, had anything to do with the nefarious goings-on. "As he said from the beginning, there was no collusion," declared Barr, referring to Trump. And just in case we didn't get the message, Barr repeated the phrase "No collusion" time and time again like a mantra, sounding so much like Trump he should have also been making weird hand gestures.
Barr affirmed that the White House had nothing to do with the report's redactions, and that the president had not invoked executive privilege to have anything removed, even though he "would have been well within his rights to do so." He also stressed how much Trump had cooperated with Muller's investigation for the good of the country. (Except, of course, actually granting Mueller an interview.)
After his brief remarks, delivered with all the enthusiasm of a man preparing for his third colonoscopy, Barr reluctantly took some questions. He dodged a query about why he seemed to be so focused on protecting the president. He denied any impropriety about seemingly acting as a personal lawyer for Trump rather than serving as the nation's chief law enforcement officer. And he claimed that there was no precedent to guide his actions, since these events were "unprecedented."
This is, of course, not the end of the story, not by a long shot. Even before the day is out, we'll be hearing details from Mueller's report that will either lend credence to or discredit Barr's assertions. Barr will deliver congressional testimony, and so, God willing, will Mueller. But there is at least one thing of which there is no doubt. Trump has finally found his Roy Cohn.