Going into Thursday's press conference about the special counsel's Russia report, Attorney General William Barr had already proven to be a partisan hatchet man, but now he has now reduced his stature down to pathetic shill.
The script Barr worked from to relay information about one of the most consequential political inquiries in American history was nothing short of a brazen public relations campaign for Individual No. 1. Not only was it not subtle or deft in any way, it wasn't spoken as if it came from someone who had any familiarity with matters of law, but was rather relayed in the pedestrian language of Donald Trump. Similar to when Barr dropped the inflammatory word "spying" in testimony last week, he deployed the legally meaningless term "no collusion" as he repeatedly stated that Robert Mueller had found "no evidence" that Trump or his campaign had conspired with the Russians. And in case you missed that, Barr reinforced again that Mueller "didn't find any evidence" of collusion.
But much as he did in his hastily submitted four-page exoneration of Trump, Barr defined that collusion narrowly, according to national security expert Jeremy Bash. Bash noted on MSNBC that Barr outlined two instances in which Trump and his associates didn't assist the Russians: helping the Internet Research Agency (IRA) with social media manipulation, and helping to hack the emails of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign. We already knew from Mueller's separate indictments concerning the IRA and the Russian intelligence officials who did the hacking that the Trump campaign didn't assist in either effort. That's a distraction, actually. As Bash put forward, the question is whether the Trump campaign knew about Russia's effort, welcomed it, benefitted from it, and rewarded it.
Unfortunately, the collusion aspect of Mueller's report is the area where Barr had both broad discretion and lots of excuses to make redactions, so finding the answers to those questions could be difficult.
Where Barr didn't have ample justification for making redactions was in the area of obstruction. And this is where Barr got truly pathetic by any rational standard. Speaking as if he were Trump's defense attorney rather than the nation's attorney general, Barr actually made the argument that Trump "faced an unprecedented situation" because he began his presidency under the cloud of an investigation. In other words, Trump was once again victimized by scrutiny and, ergo, he was justifiably frustrated and outraged and obviously (though we don't yet know all the details) took matters into his own hands. Never mind the fact that he and his associates had more than 100 contacts with Russians. It was unfair! Hurrumph.
Anyway, Barr conceded that the report outlines about 10 "episodes" of obstruction, but he also asserted that Trump acted with "non-corrupt motives." What Barr forgot to mention was that Trump never sat for an interview with Mueller, so there's actually no way in hell Barr could know what intentions Trump had during his "episodes." But Barr definitely wants you to know that Trump was frustrated and aggrieved, and so any actions he took were clearly justifiable.
Finally, Barr admitted talking with the White House to brief Trump's aides on the report (THIS IS NOT NORMAL!), but said he didn't talk to Mueller (the guy who authored the original report) about any of his own conclusions related to that report.
File this away—>Barr: "I didn't talk to [Mueller] directly about the fact that we were making the decision but I am told that his reaction to that was that it was my prerogative as AG to make that decision."