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Witcover: Barr's hijacking of the Mueller report riles investigators

The Mueller report has been released, and Attorney General Barr has released his summary.

One of the widely praised features of the Office of the Special Counsel under Robert Mueller was that throughout its 22-month investigation of the Trump administration it was leak-proof.

But now its circumspection has been breached by unidentified staffers who are fed up with Attorney General William Barr's unwarranted sugar-coating of Mr. Mueller's report on the OSC investigation.

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Mr. Barr's voluntarily delivered four-page summary and assessment of the Mueller findings was an unsolicited defense of President Donald Trump from an AG appointed by him. Prior to joining the administration, Mr. Barr had openly attacked the investigation in what critics label an unvarnished job application.

In his summary of what he called Mr. Mueller's "principal conclusions" released in late March, Mr. Barr quoted Mr. Mueller's report as stating that "the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities." But Mr. Barr also volunteered Mr. Mueller's opinion that the report did not exonerate Trump of obstruction of justice, despite the president's own blatantly false claim of such exoneration.

In all, Mr. Barr, acting as Mr. Trump's defense lawyer rather than as a neutral arbiter, gave the man who hired him the functional equivalent of a get-out-of-jail-free card. He found no merit in the allegation that Mr. Trump obstructed justice in the firing of former FBI Director James Comey, whom Mr. Trump allegedly asked to go easy on National Security Adviser Michael Flynn for lying to federal investigators.

Unnamed members of Mr. Mueller's staff now say their own summaries of their work on the Mueller report were ignored by Mr. Barr. They say they produced grounds that might well warrant the charge of obstruction against Mr. Trump.

The disclosure has come as House Democrats have escalated their demand for delivery of the full, unredacted Mueller report to Congress, backed by a 420-0 bipartisan House vote, amid growing clamor for public release of the same.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York has issued a subpoena for the unredacted report, but Mr. Barr has insisted that innocent citizens must be protected from public disclosure.

The Republican resistance to the report's release comes after Mr. Trump himself flip-flopped. He first said he had no objection to the full release of the report, but more recently he has backed off.

Political pressure has mounted on the embattled president in new demands from the Democratic-controlled House Ways and Means Committee to the Internal Revenue Service for the release of Mr. Trump's income tax returns for the six years from 2013 to 2018. His business practices are under scrutiny for possible bank and other fraud.

The president has consistently resisted, claiming his returns have been under continuous audit and should not be subject to examination while they are under review. However, his former lawyer-fixer, the indicted Michael Cohen, has testified he does not believe that Mr. Trump's returns are in fact under IRS audit.

Under such circumstances, it seems most unlikely that the Republicans in Congress, steadfastly having Mr. Trump's back in all aspects of his resistance to the Mueller report's findings, can hold out much longer, without ultimate recourse to the Supreme Court.

Although Mr. Trump's appointment of two Supreme Court justices gives him a clear 5-4 majority there, it does not assure certain victory in such a test.

The November 2018 "blue wave" of Democratic victories delivered 40 new House seats in what was generally seen as a referendum on Mr. Trump's presidency after two years in office. Those results are now playing out to his political detriment, as he gears up for his re-election bid next year.

Democratic leaders such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have downplayed pursuing impeachment as impractical, and have argued Democratic efforts are better spent defending and improving the nation's health insurance programs, repairing the nation's infrastructure and addressing the problem of climate change, among other pressing issues.

The president's own late-blooming promise to make the GOP "the party of health care" seems a very high climb in light of Republicans' long and losing fight to "repeal and replace Obamacare." It suggests that Mr. Trump in the midst of his other political woes may be losing his grip on reality — which was never very firm in any event.

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Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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