said, ‘Bob, what’s with the letter?’ ” Attorney General William Barrrecounted in his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. “ ‘Why don’t you just pick up the phone and call me if there’s an issue?’ ” Bob—that is, Robert Mueller, the special counsel in charge of the investigation into Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election—had sent Barr the letter on March 27th, three days after Barr had released his own letter purporting, in four pages, to convey the principal conclusions of Mueller’s more than four-hundred-page report. Mueller had been fairly clear about what was, as Barr put it, with the letter: Barr’s statement “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions.” And, in its wake, there was “now public confusion.” Barr told Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, that the letter had prompted him to call Mueller, on speaker phone, while several people, including Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, were in the room with him. As Blumenthal questioned Barr about his subsequent exchange with Mueller, Barr picked up what appeared to be a copy of Mueller’s letter and gave it a sour scan. “The letter’s a bit snitty,” he said. “I think it was probably written by one of his staff.”
“Snitty” is a word of relatively recent origin; Merriam-Webster traces the appearance of the underlying noun, “snit,” to 1939. It echoes something of the meaning of snipe and snip, and even snitch—of pettiness and petulance. It hardly seems right as a way to describe the concerns that Mueller—a man with a long and distinguished career in law enforcement—had about a possible blow to public confidence in his investigation, or in the Justice Department, or in both. And yet the complaint perfectly expresses the culture of the Trump Administration. Calling people “snitty” is a way of accusing them of being weak, mewling, and rule-bound, with a pathetic belief in fairness. It’s the bully’s retort upon being called out—expressing the same resentment that might, say, lead a President to commit what the Mueller report refers to as potentially “obstructive acts.” “Snitty” is used to conjure up the image of people whom one would rather ignore stamping their feet—which may be why Barr joined it with the supposition that the letter Mueller signed was written “by one of his staff.”
The question of what “staff” might be capable of was, it seems, already on Barr’s mind. After the Senate hearing, it emerged that he had decided not to appear at a parallel hearing in the House, scheduled for Thursday, supposedly because he objected to being questioned by lawyers on the committee staff rather than by the representatives themselves. The committee is responding with a flurry of subpoenas; the issue of the Trump Administration’s evasions of congressional oversight is not a new one, and it won’t go away. But Barr does a particularly bad job of hiding his disdain. At one point, Blumenthal asked him if anyone had taken notes of the “what’s with the letter” call. Barr confirmed that some people had done so. “May we have those notes?” Blumenthal asked.
“No,” Barr replied.
“Why not?” Blumenthal asked.
“Why should you have them?” Barr said.
Who do these senators think they are? Barr’s own recollection of the call was an exercise in blame. According to Barr, Mueller said that he was “concerned about the way the media was playing this” and wanted his executive summaries released in order to “avoid some of the confusion that was emerging.” Barr continued, “I asked him if he felt that my letter was misleading or inaccurate, and he said no, that the press—he felt that the press coverage was.” At this point, Barr has shown himself to be enough of an unreliable narrator that it makes sense to wait and learn if this is also Mueller’s recollection. (Mueller does not specifically mention the press in his letter.) But it is worth asking what Barr is saying here about the press: the coverage, up until then, was based only on his four-page letter. If the coverage was inaccurate or misleading, how might that have happened—was the press making things up? Barr doesn’t appear to mind implying that reporters either are incapable of basic reading comprehension or just act in bad faith. Earlier in the hearing, Senator John Kennedy, Republican of Louisiana, also raised what he called “the news-coverage issue” and asked Barr, “What were you supposed to do about that?” Noting that the report was now out, the senator called the whole matter moot and added, “None of us can control what the news publishes or prints, except the media.” Nor should anyone—but it would be helpful, sometimes, if the press had truthful material to work with. And Congress might do something about that.
“Excuse me, when you look at Stormy Daniels,” Rudolph Giuliani, .. before interrupting himself to make a face. And what a face: Giuliani’s expression was, perhaps, meant to be one of knowing revulsion at Daniels, but the lopsided chaos of his features conveyed a moral contortion all his own. He had been explaining that Melania Trump believed in her husband implicitly, and so should everyone else, because he was Trump
.. Giuliani added, “I know Donald Trump. Look at his three wives, right?” It wasn’t clear if, with that questioning note, he was looking for a confirmation of the exact number of Trump’s wives. “Beautiful women, classy women, women of great substance. Stormy Daniels?” He paused to make another face
.. “But I’m sorry, I don’t respect a porn star the way I respect a career woman, or a woman of substance, or a woman who has great respect for herself as a woman, and as a person. And isn’t going to sell her body for sexual exploitation. So, Stormy, you want to bring a case? Let me cross-examine you.”
.. It is more of an honest living than some New York real-estate developers make.
.. she has also made it clear that she knew that she was taking a risk by opening herself up to this kind of attack
.. (Clifford has said that one of the new expenses she has taken on, in addition to her legal fees, is for security.)
.. Giuliani jumped in, seemingly intent on playacting the role of a beat cop from a past century, who, in dealing with the woman who comes to tell him her story, looks at what she is wearing, smirks, and turns away—or, as Giuliani suggested in his “cross-examine” remark, the role of the lawyer who has no better tactic than to try to humiliate a witness, labelling her a loose woman.
.. That is a form of sexual exploitation far more corrosive than any film that Clifford has ever made.
.. Giuliani’s comments went beyond whether Clifford could be believed to whether she could even be hurt. “Explain to me how she could be damaged,” he said. “She has no reputation. If you’re going to sell your body for money, you just don’t have a reputation.” But Clifford does not say that Trump, against whom she has filed a defamation suit (in the Southern District of New York, Giuliani’s old territory), damaged her by calling her an adult-film star. She says that he damaged her by saying, on Twitter, that her account of being threatened not to talk about their sexual encounter was “a total con job”—and that she, by implication, was a total con woman
.. when NBC asked Giuliani whether he regretted his remarks, he said that he did not, dressing up his denial with a vague reference to feminism and daughters. He also said, “I don’t have to undermine her credibility. She’s done it by lying.”
.. Giuliani, perhaps more than any of Trump’s other lawyers, has made Cohen sound like Trump’s bag man, with slush-fund-management responsibilities.
.. he corruption case against Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister, was a “joke”
.. Mueller’s team was trying to “frame” Trump.
.. while the President could be impeached, “in no case” could he be indicted or subpoenaed, not even “if he shot James Comey.” There is regular speculation about when Trump might fire Giuliani. But it may be that Giuliani is the President’s lawyer because he is the kind of lawyer Trump likes.
.. Giuliani’s remarks about Clifford are more than repugnant; they are revealing. They convey a political philosophy that he and the President share
.. those who are vulnerable are meant to be wounded, and have no right to ask for respect, let alone protection. It is a bully’s declaration of open season on the weak.
.. But Stephanie Clifford is not as defenseless as Giuliani or Trump might think. She has presented a credible and strikingly strong legal case. Maybe Giuliani should be listening to her.
The most consequential could involve the President’s understanding of the rule of law.
.. His most consequential questions for Trump might not be about Russian influence over American voters but about the power that the President of the United States believes he has to control, or to abrogate, the rule of law.
To that end, Mueller might ask Trump why he has, or has not, fired various people. He might start with James Comey,
.. Mueller also will likely ask Trump why he fired Michael Flynn, his first national-security adviser, and what assurances he might have given him at the time.
.. Flynn was already in legal jeopardy, because he had hidden his contacts with Russians and because his lobbying firm had taken money from Turkish interests without reporting it. Comey testified that Trump nonetheless asked him to go easy on Flynn
.. Does the President imagine that the job of the Attorney General is to protect the law, or to protect him?
.. They also reportedly spoke to Mike Pompeo, the head of the C.I.A., and Dan Coats, the director of National Intelligence. All were apparently asked whether Trump pressured them in regard to the investigation. If Mueller has these men’s statements in hand, he can see if Trump’s answers match theirs.
.. The President might not care. He has said that he has an “absolute right” to control the Justice Department and “complete” pardon power. Speaking to reporters last week, he mocked his critics: “Did he fight back? . . . Ohhhh, it’s obstruction.” Often, for Trump, fighting back has meant just saying that everything is Hillary Clinton’s fault. Indeed, if Mueller gets Trump talking about Clinton, it will be hard to get him to stop
.. The memo was shared only with House members, and reportedly alleges that the Russia investigation is tainted at its core, because, in an application to surveil Carter Page, a Trump-campaign associate, the F.B.I. made use of a dossier that had been partly paid for by the Clinton campaign.
.. Sessions had tried to get Christopher Wray, the new F.B.I. director, to fire McCabe; Wray refused.
.. Trump’s strategy seems obvious: to create confusion, suspicion, deflection, doubt, and, above all, noise.
.. if he does sit down with Mueller’s team, once the first question is asked there will be an interval of silence that only the President can choose how to fill. Will he try to turn the interview against Mueller? If Trump thinks that Mueller can be scared off by the prospect of being fired
President Trump is a selfish liar, and a vain one. Those traits, together, can cause chaos, as they did on Thursday, when, in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, Trump undermined his own alibi for firing the F.B.I. director, James Comey
- Vice-President Mike Pence and other dependents repeated this story all day Wednesday, with Pence portraying the President as solemnly resolved to follow the best advice he had, and
- Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the deputy press secretary, throwing in some smears of Comey, who she said had committed “atrocities” while at the F.B.I. and was disliked by its rank and file.
.. But, when Holt asked him about heeding Sessions and Rosenstein, Trump seemed to bristle. Could Holt think that he, Trump, needed to hear what anyone had to say—that he had his mind changed by subordinates?
.. “when I decided to just do it”—that is, to fire Comey: “I said to myself, I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story; it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.” His aides, needless to say, had spent the day saying that Comey’s firing had nothing to do with Russia.
.. Instead, it leaves open the possibility that some sort of public confession in which Comey would “admit his errors” might be an alternative, in terms of restoring “trust.”
.. Instead, in both the letter that Trump sent to Comey and in his interview with Holt, Trump claimed that he got something else from Comey: an assurance that he was not under investigation. Trump doesn’t bother to conceal that he regarded such an assurance as something of a condition of employment.
.. Trump would rather raise the possibility that he’d had an improper, if not actually illegal, conversation with Comey than leave anyone with the impression that he couldn’t instruct the people who worked for him to do anything he desired.
.. Trump seems to treat the idea of being investigated the same way that he regards the idea of losing money. He is not personally being investigated; he never personally declared bankruptcy—only some of his various businesses did.
.. McCabe added that he personally regarded serving with Comey as the honor of his life. Sanders countered that many F.B.I. officers of her acquaintance had told her the opposite, which she treated as definitive despite adding, with a note of pleased and oblivious self-contradiction, “And I don’t even know that many people in the F.B.I.!”
.. She answered questions about the propriety of the Trump-Comey dinner by seeming to cite lawyers she’d seen comment on television.
.. In a way, she is the perfect Trump spokesperson. Her incoherent answers revolved around the greatness of Trump and the perfidy of his enemies.