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A Look At The Differences Between How Barr And Mueller Talked About Mueller's Report


In the weeks since Robert Mueller first released his report detailing the findings of his almost two-year investigation, many have weighed in on what Mueller was really saying, including Attorney General William Barr. But now Robert Mueller has spoken about his investigation and report, so we're going to take the next few minutes to compare the statements made by the two men. Our guide in this is former federal prosecutor Barbara McQuade. Welcome back to the program.

BARBARA MCQUADE: Thanks very much, Audie.

CORNISH: So we're going to start with the question of whether or not the Trump campaign conspired with the Russians to try and influence the 2016 election. All of this was outlined in Volume I of the Mueller report. And here's what Barr said.


WILLIAM BARR: The special counsel's report did not find any evidence that members of the Trump campaign or anyone associated with the campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government.

CORNISH: And now for Robert Mueller.


ROBERT MUELLER: There was insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy.

CORNISH: What do you hear in these two statements?

MCQUADE: I hear them saying two very different things. You know, if you read Robert Mueller's statement, he says that the investigation identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. He also says, a statement that the investigation did not establish particular facts does not mean there was no evidence of those facts. So I think he found a lot of evidence, just not enough to establish a crime, which is a very high standard.

CORNISH: Another issue is the long-standing Justice Department policy that a sitting president can't be charged with a crime. First, we're going to hear from the special counsel.


MUELLER: The special counsel's office is part of the Department of Justice, and by regulation, it was bound by that department policy. Charging the president with a crime was, therefore, not an option we could consider.

CORNISH: Here's how William Barr explained it in an interview with CBS News.


BARR: I'm not sure he said it prevented him. I think what he said was he took that into account, plus a number of other prudential judgments.

CORNISH: So Barr thinks Mueller could have made a decision on criminality. Is that true?

MCQUADE: Well, Robert Mueller did not; he believed he couldn't and, from the outset, decided we're not going to decide whether a crime was committed here. Instead, what we're going to do is preserve the evidence for the day that Trump is no longer president to charge other individuals or to preserve this for the other mechanism that is available for holding accountable a president, and that is impeachment. Now, he didn't use that word during his public remarks on Wednesday, but his report specifically refers to impeachment on Page 1 of Volume II.

CORNISH: We should note that the attorney general and Bob Mueller essentially put out a joint statement, which ended saying that there is no conflict between their statements on this issue. What is your response to that?

MCQUADE: Well, I think if you parse it very carefully, William Barr is often careful to frame his language in such a way that it's technically correct but, I think, nonetheless, misleading. I think that the proper understanding of what Robert Mueller is saying here is that the Office of Legal Counsel opinion did absolutely preclude him from reaching a decision with regard to obstruction of justice.

CORNISH: Now, both men talked about what should be done with the findings in the Mueller report. Let's take a listen. First, we'll hear from Barr and then Robert Mueller.


BARR: Special counsel Mueller did not indicate that his purpose was to leave the decision to Congress.


MUELLER: The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.

CORNISH: A lot of Democrats have run with this statement. What do you hear?

MCQUADE: I hear Robert Mueller saying that for presidential misconduct, impeachment is the mechanism. I preserve the evidence, and here it is. And so Congress may now consider impeachment. I don't think that Robert Mueller sees it as his role to advocate for impeachment, but to preserve the evidence and turn it over to Congress so that they may consider whether impeachment is appropriate.

CORNISH: Now that we have these different interpretations of the report, what does this mean going forward? How should people think about this?

MCQUADE: Well, I think it now really is for Congress to decide what is the next step. I think that one thing that's really important for people to understand is just because a crime cannot be committed, does not mean that behavior is acceptable for a president. The definition of high crimes and misdemeanors is very different from a violation of the criminal code. And so now Congress is armed with this evidence, and I think the ball's in its court to decide whether this evidence is sufficient to impeach a president.

CORNISH: Barbara McQuade is a former federal prosecutor and law professor at the University of Michigan Law School. Thank you for explaining it to us.

MCQUADE: Thank you, Audie.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAFT PUNK'S "END OF LINE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.