AG Barr Is 'Playing With Fire,' Will Be Forced to Release Mueller Report, Says Former Watergate Prosecutor

Attorney General William Barr will be forced by the courts to release as fully as possible the report by special counsel Robert Mueller following the 22-month investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, a former Watergate prosecutor said.

Nick Akerman, an assistant special prosecutor in the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon, to which the Russia investigation has been compared, told MSNBC's Chris Hayes that he initially gave Barr the benefit of the doubt but now believes the attorney general is acting in bad faith.

The New York Times reported on Thursday that some members of Mueller's team had said the report was more damaging to the president than Barr's summary of its conclusions suggested.

Akerman, now a partner in Dorsey & Whitney LLP and a nationally recognized expert on computer crime, told All In on Wednesday that he could identify with the frustrations of Mueller's team, citing his own experiences on the Watergate case.

The former federal prosecutor said that when Nixon orchestrated the firing of special counsel Archibald Cox in the infamous "Saturday Night Massacre," he left the office with papers under his clothes ready to talk to the media if it meant the end of the investigation.

He said The Times report served as a warning to Barr about releasing the report, which he believes will come out soon. "Look at how many people were involved in this investigation that know what the truth is," Akerman said.

"He is really playing with fire here. There's only so much you can do as a political hack and get away with it. He's not going to get away with it because sooner or later that entire report is going to come out. A judge is going to order it.

"It only takes a judge to go in and say grand jury secrecy, maybe a couple of things are privacy, maybe we'll do a couple of redactions, maybe there's some stuff that's classified, but the bulk, 99 percent of that report, ought to be released."

Barr is under pressure from Democrats in Congress to release Mueller's 400-page report in full, along with any supporting evidence.

So far, Barr has released only his own four-page summary of what he said were Mueller's main conclusions. But he also said that he would release a redacted version of Mueller's report by mid-April.

The president has claimed "complete and total exoneration," but the report, per Barr's summary, explicitly did not exonerate him on obstruction of justice.

Mueller laid out the evidence of obstruction but did not reach a conclusion "one way or the other" as to whether Trump had obstructed justice. Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein concluded there was not enough evidence to charge the president with obstruction of justice.

Akerman called Barr's interpretation of obstruction of justice "crazy" and "dead wrong under the law.

"He says it has to be a judicial proceeding. Not true. An FBI investigation can be the subject of an obstruction," Akerman said.

"The idea of corrupt intent is something 'oh, you can't fathom.' Well there's a charge the Department of Justice provides in every obstruction of justice case to the courts… So, either he just doesn't understand the law, or he's trying to bend it in a way that helps Trump."

On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee authorized subpoenas of the Justice Department for the Mueller report, which Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, said he wanted to see in full and without redactions.

Akerman believes the point of Barr delaying the release of the Mueller report is to give Trump the space to pitch his innocence to the electorate and sway opinion in his favor.

"The whole point behind this is to try and get out the statement that 'oh, Trump has been exonerated, he didn't do anything wrong,' so he can go out with his PR program that he's been involved in," he told MSNBC.

"That's what it's all about. So the longer you can delay that, the more Trump can go out and go to his rallies and talk about how he's so innocent. It may be that he didn't commit a federal crime, but he may have done some other things that don't look so good."

Akerman also said the Mueller report must be released because it may contain bad behavior by Trump and others that is not currently criminal but should be in the future, giving legislators a blueprint for changing the law.

"Should it be that a presidential campaign is approached by the Russians to offer help and you just sit there and you don't call the FBI?" Akeman said.

"I mean, normally that would be something known as misprision of a felony, which nobody ever charges. But there could be a number of items here, including changes to the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act—the criminal statute that involves hacking.

"It's not a crime to possess stolen computer data. It is in New York state, but not in the federal system. So there are a number of things that should come out of this."

And he said at the very least Congress should see the Mueller report in full because it may contain grounds for the impeachment of the president.

"You have to assume that Mueller was going by 'beyond a reasonable doubt' standard," Akerman said. "But Congress in deciding impeachment doesn't have to look at reasonable doubt or preponderance of the evidence. They can look at what the evidence is and decide based on that whether it's an impeachable offense."

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to Newsweek's request for comment.

Mueller Report William Barr
U.S. Attorney General William Barr attends a First Step Act celebration in the East Room of the White House April 01, 2019 in Washington, DC. Barr is under pressure to release the Mueller report in full. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images