Here’s the now-familiar backstory: After Barr on March 24, 2019, released a summary of the Mueller report on President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign and Russia’s interference in that election, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III sent him a letter complaining that the summary failed to “fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of his report and its conclusions. When the report itself came out the next month, it became clear that Barr’s summary had indeed been misleading in some significant ways. And eventually a federal judge — a Republican-appointed one, no less — issued a scathing review of the matter that called Barr’s “candor” and “credibility” into question.
Barr has given media interviews since the end of the Trump administration. But unlike his appearances on Fox News, Barr’s discussion with Bill Maher on HBO this weekend paired him with a potentially more critical host.
In what was otherwise a relatively chummy interview, Maher did briefly press Barr on the subject of the summary, saying the way he “mischaracterized” the Mueller report was “shady.”
Barr defended his handling of the matter. But in doing so, he rolled out some of the most misleading aspects of his summary all over again.
“I felt that I had to say something to give the bottom line of what [Mueller] had decided,” Barr said. “Number one, I said that he had found there was no collusion.”
This isn’t strictly accurate now, just as it wasn’t strictly accurate back when Barr first said it. In fact, as we came to find out, Mueller said explicitly in his report that he wasn’t examining the nonlegal concept of collusion.
“Collusion is not a specific offense or theory of liability found in the United States Code, nor is it a term of art in federal criminal law,” the Mueller report reads. “For those reasons, the Office’s focus in analyzing questions of joint criminal liability was on conspiracy as defined in federal law.”
Barr’s use of the “no collusion” phrasing was suspect not just because the report didn’t directly address it, but because it matched Trump’s own mantra and defined the amorphous term in a way Trump surely approved of. And it’s arguably even more jarring today, given that a later bipartisan Senate report, released in August 2020, detailed perhaps the most significant example to date of a high-ranking Trump campaign aide working with someone it described as a “Russian intelligence officer.”
As the federal judge noted in his opinion, issued a few months before that revelation:
Attorney General Barr’s summary failed to indicate that Special Counsel Mueller “identified multiple contacts — ‘links,’ in the words of the Appointment Order — between Trump [c]ampaign officials and…