Why are so many Democrats and so many of their allies in the press so angry at Attorney General William Barr? What explains the intensity of their feelings?
Of course they still believe in collusion, even though special counsel Robert Mueller could not establish that a Trump-Russia conspiracy took place and never charged anyone in President Trump's orbit, or any American for that matter, with taking part in such a scheme.
Of course they believe the president obstructed justice, even though Mueller did not establish that, either.
Those are big issues that might ultimately form the basis of a Democratic move to impeach the president. But the immediate rage of some Democrats appears based on something much smaller: the process Barr devised for handling the release of the Mueller report.
Mueller sent his report to the Justice Department on March 22. There was, of course, red alert-level media coverage. While not offering to make the entire report public right away, Barr promised to release something soon. On March 24, he sent a four-page letter to Congress that, in his words, "summarize[d] the principal conclusions" of the report.
Twenty-five days later, on April 18, Barr released the entire Mueller report, with redactions he had outlined earlier.
Those 25 days, the "three-week gap" in the words of MSNBC's Chuck Todd, are at the heart of Democratic anger.
Why were those three weeks so important? Because, whatever Barr's motive, they allowed the attorney general to shape public opinion on Mueller's findings before Democrats had a chance to spin the report their way. Barr, Democrats said, should have at least released the executive summaries of Volume I and Volume II of Mueller's report, which detailed the collusion and obstruction questions, respectively.
"A critical three weeks passed between when you delivered the letter with the focus on the principal conclusions and when we ultimately got the redacted report," Democratic Sen. Chris Coons said to Barr Wednesday at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
"Why were they critical?" asked Barr.
"Well, I think the Volume II summary would have revealed to the general public a whole range of inappropriate actions by the president and his core team," said Coons. "My concern is that that gave President Trump and his folks more than three weeks of an open field to say, 'I was completely exonerated.'"
The Democratic protest might have carried more weight had Barr's summary of the Mueller report's principal conclusions been inaccurate. It was not.
On collusion, the full report clearly said the evidence did not establish that conspiracy or coordination had taken place. That is also what the Barr letter said. Barr included two brief quotes from the Mueller report on collusion: "The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities" and "the evidence does not establish that the president was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference." And that is what the report concluded.
On obstruction, Mueller wrote, "while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him," and that is precisely the quote included by Barr in his letter. The letter also said, accurately, that Mueller did not make a "traditional prosecutorial judgment," again, Mueller's words, on the obstruction question.
There is simply no question that Barr accurately summarized Mueller's big-picture conclusions.
Indeed, when the Washington Post broke the story that Mueller, on March 27, wrote a letter to Barr complaining about the principal conclusions summary, the paper reported that there was no disagreement on the accuracy issue. "When Barr pressed Mueller [during a phone conversation] on whether he thought Barr's memo to Congress was inaccurate, Mueller said he did not," the Post reported. Instead, the paper explained, Mueller "said he ... felt that the media coverage of it was misinterpreting the investigation."
Indeed, the Mueller letter, which set the media on fire Tuesday night, said not that Barr had gotten things wrong but that his letter "did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this office's work and conclusions."
The Mueller protest seemed more about feelings and intangibles than the bottom-line conclusions Barr had listed. And how, precisely, would a four-page letter "fully capture the context, nature, and substance" of a 448-page report?
But that was the basis of the Democratic attack on Barr. (And if you do not believe it was an attack on Barr, just look at the questioning of Sen. Mazie Hirono.) Democrats are angry at the president for everything, they're angry at the attorney general for covering for the president, and they are angry at Mueller for not giving them the full-throated indictment of the president that they wanted. And that has nothing to do with a three-week gap.