Barr’s ‘frustration defense’ of Trump is bizarre, weak, and genuinely unprecedented

The idea that Donald Trump can be excused for attempting to obstruct an investigation into conspiracy by his campaign because he was “frustrated” is the most bizarre legal theory since “If she floats, she’s a witch.” In a single confusing, unbelievable minute, Attorney General William Barr took a hatchet to the whole idea of conspiracy and obstruction in a way that would invalidate swathes of convictions and make it nearly impossible to investigate any crime.

In explaining how he could, in the space of just a few hours, absolve Trump of facing any charges of obstruction, Barr admitted that the report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller looks at an astounding ten instances in which Trump appears to interfere in the investigation—so many instances that it’s difficult to know what they even were. Was it when Trump fired FBI director James Comey? How about when Trump attempted to get then attorney general Jefferson Sessions to unredact himself so he could end the investigation? Threatening Rod Rosenstein? Trying to get the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York replaced? Authoring a letter from Air Force One that provided Donald Trump Jr. with a false alibi for having a meeting with Russian operatives in Trump Tower?

How many such events would it have taken before Trump could be held accountable? Barr gave Trump ten free swings, but would eleven have been out of the question? A hundred? A thousand? Barr gives no limits, but it’s clear that the real limits are always somewhere on the other side of whatever action Trump takes. The power of frustration gives Trump authority over law.

This theory isn’t just ridiculous, Barr knows it is ridiculous. Questioned on this point by a reporter, Barr immediately became frustrated and started hammering that the investigation conducted in Trump’s case were “unprecedented.” Which it was. They were unprecedented because the actions of Trump’s campaign—from the outreach to Russian officials to the open cooperation with WikiLeaks—were unprecedented.

But not as unprecedented as Barr seemed to think. Trump was frustrated because the investigation into his actions was crimping his ability to lead his organization the way he wanted? Tell it to every mob boss ever.

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