The Slatest

The Most Remarkable Part of Barr’s Press Conference Had Nothing to Do With the Facts

The attorney general gave a strong defense of the president’s state of mind.

US Attorney General William Barr speaks at a DOJ lectern.
Attorney General William Barr speak at his press conference about the release of the Mueller Report at the Department of Justice on April 18, 2019, in Washington, DC.
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

For the most part, Attorney General William Barr’s press conference about the Mueller report (to be released after 11 a.m.) echoed his earlier written summary, with a few more opportunities to reiterate his view that there was no “collusion.” But toward the end of his address, his comments swerved into a rather bizarre and brazen defense of President Donald Trump’s mental state—a line of comments that seemed to bolster the argument that Barr was and is acting as Trump’s attorney, rather than as a representative of the American people.

In particular, one strange Trump-like argument toward the end of the address had to do with one of the president’s favorite punching bags: the media (emphasis ours).

In assessing the president’s actions discussed in the report, it is important to bear in mind the context. President Trump faced an unprecedented situation, as he entered into office and sought to perform his responsibilities as president, federal agents and prosecutors were scrutinizing his conduct before and after taking office and the conduct of some of his associates. At the same time there was relentless speculation in the news media about the president’s personal culpability, yet as he said from the beginning, there was, in fact, no collusion. As the special counsel’s report acknowledges, there is substantial evidence to show that the president was frustrated and angered by his sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents and fueled by illegal leaks.

This argument—that the “evidence” of the president’s emotional state is relevant to explaining his innocence or at least defending any of his obstruction-adjacent actions—is a remarkable one for an attorney general to make when releasing the results of an independent special counsel investigation. We may not have learned much from this press conference at a factual level, but we definitely got further insight into how Barr and the DOJ sort out their interests, allies, and opposition.