Barr’s obstruction answers scrutinized in wake of BuzzFeed report
Donald Trump’s attorney general nominee Bill Barr’s take on what constitutes obstruction of justice is under renewed scrutiny following an explosive BuzzFeed report that the President told his personal lawyer to lie to Congress.
BuzzFeed’s report states Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie about a project to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, citing “two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.”
Though the report comes after Barr’s confirmation hearing, he was pressed on what constitutes obstruction of justice based on an unsolicited memo he wrote last year as a private citizen. In it, Barr concluded that Trump’s publicly reported interactions with ex-FBI Director James Comey could not constitute obstruction of justice, and for special counsel Robert Mueller to pursue that theory would be “fatally misconceived.”
Barr was asked by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, if he would consider it obstruction of justice if the President concealed evidence or “tried to coach somebody not to testimony or testify falsely.”
Barr said “yes, under an obstruction statute, yes.”
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, directly asked Barr whether persuading anybody to commit perjury would be obstruction of justice. Barr said “yes,” adding, “any person who persuades another” would do so.
Klobuchar’s questions focused on the portion of Barr’s memo that said it “appears” Mueller is investigating a possible obstruction case based on Trump asking Comey to drop his investigation of then-national security adviser Michael Flynn and later firing Comey. Barr then suggested Mueller’s obstruction inquiry “would have potentially disastrous implications” and said that the special counsel “should not be permitted to demand that the President submit to interrogation about alleged obstruction.”
“Obviously, the President and any other official can commit obstruction in this classic sense of sabotaging a proceeding’s truth-finding function,” Barr wrote then. “Thus, for example, if a President knowingly destroys or alters evidence, suborns perjury, or induces a witness to change testimony, or commits any act deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence, then he, like anyone else, commits the crime of obstruction.”
“The President, as far as I know, is not being accused of engaging in any wrongful act of evidence impairment,” he added.
The law enforcement officials told BuzzFeed that Trump directed Cohen to claim negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow ended months earlier than they actually did. The law enforcement sources told BuzzFeed that Cohen confirmed to Mueller’s team that Trump issued the order to lie to Congress. CNN has not corroborated the BuzzFeed report.
Mueller’s office learned Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization, internal company emails, text messages and other documents, BuzzFeed reports.
During Tuesday’s confirmation hearing, Barr reiterated what he said in his memo to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in June 2018 — that a president could commit obstruction.
Barr also said that firing Comey and Trump’s statement asking the former FBI director to let go of the federal investigation into Flynn was not an “adequate predicate” for an obstruction inquiry.
The nominee repeatedly sought to assure senators that he, a former attorney general for President George H.W. Bush, would lead an independent Justice Department and would not interfere in Mueller’s investigation.
Barr noted his 30-year friendship with Mueller and said he did not think Mueller would lead a “witch hunt,” Trump’s preferred moniker for the probe.