Even after two years of Donald Trump’s presidency, people who should know better still have trouble calling respected public figures “liar.” So, even the very insightful Benjamin Wittes, in an otherwise fine analysis that excoriates William Barr for multiple deceptions, thinks that “in some literal sense” Barr didn’t lie to Rep. Charles Crist in his testimony before the House Appropriations Committee.
Wittes is wrong. A few days before Barr’s testimony, he had received the now famous letter from Robert Mueller expressing serious dissatisfaction with Barr’s public characterizations of the Mueller report. Here is the exchange between Crist and Barr:
Crist: Reports have emerged recently, general, that members of the Special Counsel’s team are frustrated at some level with the limited information included in your March 24th letter, that it does not adequately or accurately necessarily portray the report’s findings. Do you know what they’re referencing with that?”
Barr: No, I don’t. I think…I think…I suspect that they probably wanted more put out, but in my view, I was not interested in putting out summaries or trying to summarize….
There are only two possible assumptions under which Barr’s response might be considered anything but a lie: 1) Barr suffered a fantastic lapse of memory while answering Crist. 2) Barr considers Mueller not to be a member of his own team. Neither of these can pass a laugh test. I’m not a lawyer, but I can’t believe that a completely implausible claim of faulty memory can be a successful defense in a charge of perjury. And I don’t think there is any generally understood meaning of the word “team” in which the team leader, or captain, or whatever, is not a member of the team. Am I missing something?
Barr has made other statements about the Mueller report that can be generously characterized as merely misleading, but there is no way around this one: Barr lied under oath to Crist. He is guilty of perjury.