Maddow, Democrats Use Deceptively Edited Clip to Argue Barr Lied to Congress

Rachel Maddow / Getty Images
May 1, 2019

Watching MSNBC's Rachel Maddow Show last night, you could be forgiven for believing that Attorney General William Barr was caught in obvious perjury. The New York Times and the Washington Post reported Tuesday that Special Counsel Robert Mueller sent a letter to Barr objecting to his four-page summary of the Mueller Report, saying it "did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance" of his report.

Wait a minute, said Maddow, when Barr testified before the Senate, "he was asked if Special Counsel Robert Mueller agreed with his conclusion summarizing the results of Robert Mueller's investigation." She then played a clip of the following exchange:

BARR: It was the conclusion of a number of people, including me, and I obviously am the attorney general. It was also the conclusion of the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

DEMOCRATIC MARYLAND SENATOR CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: I understand. I’ve read your letters.

BARR: And I will discuss that decision after the report is…

VAN HOLLEN: Did Bob Mueller support your conclusion?

BARR: I don't know whether Bob Mueller supported my conclusion.

Maddow here is following the lead of Democrats like Van Hollen and Congressman Jerry Nadler, who highlighted the same exchange and insisted it was about Barr's summary of the Mueller report.

Vox likewise reports that Barr "told Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D., Md.) during a Senate hearing that he wasn’t sure about Mueller’s thoughts on his letter." CBS News wrote on the exchange that "Barr denied knowing where Mueller stood on his characterization of the investigation's findings." CNN's Chris Cillizza likewise characterized that exchange as being about the four-page summary.

All are wrong. For full context, here are Van Hollen's questions before the clip in question. The last question is the one Maddow claims was actually about the four-page summary. [emphasis added]

You put your view of the report out there on this issue of obstruction of justice, right? No one asked you to do that.

You made a conclusion of the question of obstruction of justice that was not contained in the Mueller report. I'm simply asking you, when you looked at the evidence, did you agree with Mueller and his team that there were difficult issues of law and fact?

Did your decision require you to look into the intent of the President of the United States, with respect to obstruction of justice?

Mr. Attorney General, the thing is you put this out there. I mean, the president went out and tweeted the next day that he was exonerated. That wasn’t based on anything in the Mueller report with respect to obstruction of justice, that was based on your assessment. That was on March 24. And now you won’t elaborate at all as to how you reached that conclusion because I’m not asking you what’s in the Mueller report, I’m asking about your conclusion.

I've omitted Barr's answers and Van Hollen's rather lengthy opener for space, but you can watch the full exchange here if you like. In context, it's obvious Barr wasn't being asked whether Mueller agreed with his "conclusion" meaning his four-page summary, his framing of his facts, etc., but about his ultimate conclusion on obstruction of justice.

ABC News at the time framed the exchange as that Van Hollen asking "'Did Bob Mueller support your conclusion' on obstruction of justice"? Tweets from reporters indicate that everyone understood that the question was about obstruction of justice. And by virtue of the fact that Mueller declined to issue a recommendation on obstruction, Barr's answer is necessarily true; he doesn't know if Mueller agrees with his conclusion.

Van Hollen is lying. He was the one who spent several minutes questioning Barr on the question of obstruction of justice after all. It's possible everyone else is misinterpreting what he meant by "Did Bob Mueller support your conclusion?" but Van Hollen knows that he was talking specifically about obstruction, and then tweeted out a clip that purposely omitted that context. The rest either swallowed hook, line, and sinker an edited clip sent out by partisan actors without checking the original source (bad!) or are also being willfully deceitful (much worse!). I'll let my readers decide who falls into which category.

In fairness, Bar gave testimony the following day that was definitely about the Mueller's reaction to the letter, and his answer was questionable to say the least. Here's how most Twitter liberals including MSNBC and Vox reporters framed the exchange:

DEMOCRATIC FLORIDA REP. CHARLIE CRIST: Reports have emerged recently, general, that members of the special counsel’s team are frustrated at some level with the limited information included in your March 24th letter, that it does not adequately or accurately necessarily portray the report’s findings. Do you know what they’re referencing with that?

BARR: No, I don’t.

But once again, that's missing some important context. Here's Barr's full answer:

BARR: No, I don’t. I think — I think — I suspect that they probably wanted more put out, but in my view, I was not interested in putting out summaries or trying to summarize, because I think any summary, regardless of who prepares it, not only runs the risk of, you know, being underinclusive or overinclusive, but also, you know, would trigger a lot of discussion and analysis that really should await everything coming out at once.

As I read it, Crist's question "Do you know what they’re referencing" was intended to refer to the media reports, but Barr's full answer shows he thought "they" was the members of the special counsel. "No, I don't" is a damning answer if you assume they're on the page and that he's denying the content of the media reports, but I think his full answer suggests he was taking it for granted those reports were accurate.

My Never-Trump-RINO-squish-cuck-secret-lib take is that Barr's answer was technically accurate, but still pretty deceptive. He doesn't "suspect" that they wanted more put out, he knows they do. Barr's lawyerly response in Wednesday's hearing was that "I talked directly to Bob Mueller, not members of his team." That's pretty lame; most people would take "the special counsel's team" to include the special counsel.

But if indeed that exchange is so damning on the merits, why would Vox and MSNBC reporters feel the need to edit out the full answer, and why would they feel the need to offer up a separate unrelated, deceptively edited exchange? In the quest to catch Barr in a lie, there sure seems to be plenty of rampant dishonesty to go around.