Aug 25, 2022

New Unredacted Memo From Trump DOJ Officials Transcript

New Unredacted Memo From Trump DOJ Officials Transcript
RevBlogTranscriptsAndrew WeissmannNew Unredacted Memo From Trump DOJ Officials Transcript

Andrew Weissmann reacts to the Justice Department’s secret 2019 memo used by then-Attorney General Bill Barr to justify his decision to not charge Donald Trump with obstruction of justice. Read the transcript here. 

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Andrew Weissmann: (00:00)
Just to set the stage. Remember that we gave the report to Bill Barr and his senior staff at the end of March 2019 and then in two days Bill Barr issued his alleged summary. Where he concluded that we had decided not to make a recommendation with respect to whether the president had committed obstruction and thus left it to Bill Barr to make that conclusion. His letter said that we hadn’t found any crimes and the attorney general concluded that there was no obstruction. This memo as you said is a doozy because it has been kept under wraps and the Department of Justice thought even giving it to the district court for her to read. There is a reason when she read it that her decision was that this needs to be made public, the Court of Appeals agreed with her. Now to the substance, why did they try and keep this under wraps? There is a sentence in here that is astounding to me.

Andrew Weissmann: (01:08)
The two senior staff say to Bill Barr that the reason he should make the decision is because if the memo comes out it might be read to imply that the president committed obstruction. Let me just repeat that. That the reason Bill Barr needs to say something is because if the report comes out it could be read to say that the president committed obstruction. So what is really noticeable is there is no discussion in this memorandum about Bill Barr simply telling the special counsel. You know what? I want you to conclude whether he committed obstruction or not and the reason that Bill Barr, we now know clearly from this memo. Did not send it back to Mueller who reported to him was because he knew exactly what the answer would be. Because it says in black and white that this memo could be read to conclude that the president committed obstruction and then there’s a legal point that’s just also dead wrong. They say that the president essentially didn’t commit obstruction because there’s no precedent for finding that somebody commits obstruction unless they’re also guilty of the underlying crime for which they obstructed.

Andrew Weissmann: (02:28)
That is legally wrong, our report actually addresses that. We cite all sorts of cases including the Arthur Anderson case which I know very well and this memo simply does not successfully in my view address those legal precedent. It’s just simply not the case that you can’t be guilty of obstruction if you didn’t commit the underlying crime. Just to bear with me, the final point is the memo really gets the Mueller report wrong. Because they seem to think that we found that there was no evidence of the underlying crime meaning conspiracy with the Russians. That’s not what our report said. It said that there was evidence, it’s just that we didn’t think there was evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. So the sort of upshot Nicole is I can understand why the department thought long and hard not to have this see the light of day and it’s actually quite a shocking document.

Nicole Wallace: (03:27)
I want to stay with you Andrew Weissmann. I found some of this language and I want you to take me back and do your best to explain why Ed O’Callaghan and Steve Engel thought they had to answer a question that Robert Mueller decided not to answer. They write this in the second page of the memo used by Bill Barr. “Although the special counsel has declined to reach a conclusion. We think that the department should reach a judgment on this matter. Under traditional principles of prosecution the department either brings charges or it does not. Because the department brings charges against an individual only where the admissible evidence would support the proof of such charges beyond a reasonable doubt. Any uncertainty concerning the facts or the law underlying a proposed prosecution ultimately must be resolved in favor of that individual. The principle does not change simply because the subject of the investigation is the president.” That’s not what the special counsel found at all. They found all the evidence and the nexus for six acts of criminal obstruction of justice.

Nicole Wallace: (04:33)
What Robert Mueller said was that if I could say that laws hadn’t been broken I would, which is Mueller’s way of saying laws were broken. Why did they distort the basic fact of volume two of the Mueller probe report?

Andrew Weissmann: (04:48)
So Robert Mueller acted out of principle, whether you agree with it or not. His view was because the department of justice had a policy that he was bound to follow that you could not indict a sitting president. He thought it was unfair to say that person committed a crime because they would not have their day in court to vindicate themselves. There might be an impeachment, there might later be a prosecution for obstruction. But that was as the report lays out Robert Mueller’s principled thinking. As I said, whether you agree with it or not. It was of course within the discretion of the attorney general to say, you know what Bob I disagree with you. You need to come to a conclusion, I actually think that’s wrong. This memo makes it clear that the reason that Bill Barr did not ask Robert Mueller to simply come to a conclusion is because as it says here, the report can be read to find that indeed he did commit obstruction. As you said Nicole, Robert Mueller’s way of saying that but not saying it was to say okay in volume one dealing with the underlying conspiracy.

Andrew Weissmann: (06:07)
We conclude that there’s not proof beyond a reasonable doubt, but in volume two we’re going to essentially defer. We’re not going to reach a conclusion and don’t take that as saying that in any way we are absolving the president of obstruction. So this was just Bill Barr clearly just taking advantage of and playing Robert Mueller and just to put a fine point on it as I’ve said in the past and as public knowledge. Bill Barr was a personal friend of Robert Mueller, so it’s particularly egregious that he simply wouldn’t have said to Robert Mueller. Why don’t you reach a conclusion since I think it’s important to do that and it’s notable that Ed O’Callaghan, Steve Engel do not address that at all. That silence speaks volumes. Why didn’t they ask Robert Mueller to simply reach a conclusion? Because they didn’t want the answer that’s why

Nicole Wallace: (07:06)
Andrew, for our viewers who are Ed O’Callaghan and Steven Engel.

Andrew Weissmann: (07:11)
Yeah. So Steven Engel was the Head of The Office of Legal Counsel. That is an extremely important position in the Department of Justice. They essentially decide the law for the purposes of all of the federal government. I mean, when they pronounce that you can or cannot do something that is abided by absent the president saying that he’s not going to follow it. But for anyone who’s an underlaying you follow what the office of legal counsel says. So that’s a very, very senior position and then Ed O’Callaghan was the number two, called the pay DAG. Only DOJ has those kind of crazy acronyms. But that is the number two to the deputy attorney general and so he reported to Rod Rosenstein at the time. So again two very, very senior people and it’s notable given that we dealt with Ed O’Callaghan almost on a daily basis that at no point did he or Steve Engel or Bill Barr say we want you to make this decision and this memo makes it very clear why.

Andrew Weissmann: (08:19)
I would like to have been a fly on the wall when Amy Berman Jackson who’s the district court judge. Who insisted on seeing this and got it over the objection of the DOJ law and prosecutors. I could just like to be a fly on the wall when she read what was here. So quite an unusual document.

Nicole Wallace: (08:43)
This calls for you to speculate Andrew Weissmann, but you have a pretty informed approach from which to do so. Do you believe these two men knowing what they knew of the evidence that… I mean, Ed I think met weekly or every other week with one of Robert Mueller’s deputies, right? He knew everything that was happening. He knew the evidence being developed. I think he knew the witnesses that were in until I think the last [inaudible 00:09:10] interview and the second report comes out in March. I think Mr. Goldstein was trying to pursue phone records to bolster some of the obstruction incidents reported out. The tampering with witnesses and the threats to fire Robert Mueller. Do you think he wrote this memo with Steve Engel on his own volition or do you think Bill Barr asked for it?

Andrew Weissmann: (09:36)
I don’t know the answer to that Nicole. The conclusion is certainly one that I think that all three gentlemen knew exactly what they were going to conclude. As I said, if they were really looking at this objectively and not trying to come to a certain conclusion they would’ve simply just asked the special council to do it. Remember that was the whole reason for having a special council was the idea that this needed to be removed from the sort of political people in the Department of Justice. All of whom by the way, Barr, Engel and Ed O’Callaghan are political appointees. So that was the whole reason to have a special counsel and they should have just sent it back to Robert Mueller and it’s noticeable that they did not. What their individual motives are or a little unclear to me. But I think that the conclusion is clear as to what they were going to reach. Even just reading this again on a cursory level, it also reads very much that everything is skewed from a sort of defense perspective and what do I mean by that?

Andrew Weissmann: (10:47)
When you’re on the defense side, you try and separate each piece of evidence and you don’t try and look at it holistically to say. When you’re the government, you say what are the odds of all of that evidence being true? That this happened and this happened, and this happened and all of that has an innocent explanation. So here the memo just separates each and every instance and doesn’t look at the whole panoply of evidence of the president’s obstructive conduct. I have to say, I think the weakest part of this memo is in addition to the legal point I made. Is you remember the Don McGahn evidence? Where he was instructed by president Trump to create a false memo that said that he the president never ordered that Robert Mueller be fired and Don McGahn again said that. If you look at this memo, it says well it’s really unclear what the evidence is. Well, Don McGahn was going to resign from his position as White House counsel. You don’t do that if you believe that the evidence is ambiguous.

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