Attorney general nominee William P. Barr suggested Tuesday that any report written by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III might not be made public, signaling the possibility of future battles within the government over his findings.
The remarks by Barr, who is expected to be confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate, highlight the uncertainty surrounding how he will grapple with what many expect will be the final steps of Mueller’s investigation into President Trump, his advisers, and Russian interference in the 2016 election.
.. Lawmakers repeatedly pressed him about the report Mueller is expected to produce at the end of his investigation. In a sign of potential fights to come, Barr said any report from Mueller would probably be treated like internal Justice Department prosecution memos that are kept secret.
In a chippy back-and-forth with Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Barr cast doubt on the notion that Mueller’s report might be made public.
“The rules I think say the special counsel will prepare a summary report on any prosecutive or declination decisions, and that shall be confidential and be treated as any other declination or prosecutive material within the department,” Barr said.
Declination memos are written by Justice Department officials when they decline to file charges against individuals, essentially ending an investigation.
Barr said the attorney general is responsible for notifying Congress and reporting “certain information” once the investigation ends, and he sought to assure lawmakers that he would be as transparent as regulations allow. “It’s really important to let the chips fall where they may and get the information out,” he said.
Earlier in the hearing, Barr criticized former FBI director James B. Comey in a way that suggested Barr, as attorney general, would limit what information is released from the Mueller investigation.
.. Speaking of Comey’s July 2016 announcement that former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent in the presidential election, would not be charged for her use of a private email server to do government business, Barr said: “If you’re not going to indict someone, you don’t stand up there and unload negative information about the person. That’s not the way the department does business.”
That last point could be important Barr were to apply that rationale to the Mueller investigation. By the same logic, Barr might decide it is inappropriate for the Justice Department to provide negative information about any individuals who were not charged or accused of crimes by Mueller — leaving lingering questions unanswered.
A poll released last month found that three in four American adults believed the entire Mueller report should be made public. Two-thirds of Republicans agreed with that statement, while nine out of 10 Democrats agreed, according to the poll from NPR/“PBS NewsHour”/Marist.
.. Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) expressed concern that Justice Department regulations might keep important information from the public.
“The American people deserve to know what the Department of Justice has concluded,” Kennedy said. “I would strongly encourage you to put this all to rest. To make a final report public, and let everybody draw their own conclusions so we can move on. If somebody did something wrong, they should be punished. But if they didn’t, let’s stop the innuendo and the rumors and the leaking, and let’s move on.”
.. In avuncular fashion, Barr tried to assure lawmakers that his seniority and semiretired status were proof of his ability to protect Mueller and preserve the independence of the Justice Department.
“I feel that I’m in a position in life where I can provide the leadership necessary to protect the independence and the reputation of the department,” Barr said.
As attorney general, he said, “you have to be willing to spend all of your political capital and have no future. I feel like I’m in a position in life where I can do the right thing and not really care about the consequences.”
.. Barr said he would not halt or hamper Mueller but that he also would not commit to following the recommendation of ethics officials if they saw a reason for him to recuse from overseeing the Russia investigation.
.. Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.) pressed him to explain: “Under what scenario would you imagine that you would not follow the recommendation of the career ethics officials?”
Barr was blunt.
“If I disagreed with them,” he said.
The current acting attorney general, Matthew G. Whitaker, decided to disregard the view of ethics officials who felt he should recuse from overseeing the Russia probe because of his past statements regarding that investigation. Whitaker is scheduled to testify for the first time before Congress on Feb. 8 before the House Judiciary Committee. That hearing is also expected to focus on the Russia investigation.
.. Barr called “ludicrous” the notion that his public comments critical of the Mueller investigation was some kind of audition for the attorney general job, and Barr promised that no changes would be made to the special counsel’s report.
.. On guns, Barr called the epidemic of mass shootings “the problem of our time,” and urged improvements to state laws that would help authorities detect people with mental illnesses and prevent them from possessing firearms.
Barr acknowledged that the current background check system for firearms is “sort of piecemeal” and called for states to pass more red flag laws, which would allow guns to be temporarily seized from those people deemed a threat. Such laws would help supplement background checks to ensure people with mental illnesses could not obtain a gun, Barr said.
“This is the single most important thing I think we can do in the gun control area to stop these massacres from happening in the first place,” Barr said.
.. Midway through Tuesday’s hearing, Barr made clear he personally would support marijuana being illegal everywhere. But overall his answers will likely hearten those involved in selling and using the drug.
“To the extent that people are complying with the state laws, distribution and production and so forth, we’re not going to go after that,” Barr said.
Barr then stressed “we can’t stay in the current situation,” in which the drug is legal in some states and illegal under federal law. He called on Congress to pass a law that will resolve nationwide how law enforcement should treat marijuana.
The confirmation hearing comes as the entire workforce of the Justice Department Barr would lead is either working without pay, or furloughed without pay, because of the partial government shutdown that grew out of the president’s demand for $5.7 billion for building more wall along the country’s southern border.
During a break in testimony, Feinstein, the top Democrat on the panel, said the hearing was “going very well” and she expected him to be easily confirmed.
In a 1995 essay, Barr expressed an extreme view that American government should not be secular, but instead should impose “a transcendent moral order with objective standards of right and wrong that… flows from God’s eternal law.”
Barr went on to blame everything from crime to sexually transmitted diseases on a government-led attack on “traditional values.” He explicitly called for the government to subsidize Catholic religious education and to promote laws which “restrain sexual immorality,” a reference to homosexuality and extramarital sex.
.. I read his memo. To paraphrase: The law doesn’t apply to Donald J Traitor, and Mr Mueller is being fanciful in his interpretation of the law. The only way the law would apply to Trump is if he was guilty, but that can’t be proved without an investigation, but any investigation would be illegal... Trump’s only reason for firing Sessions is that he would not recuse, and end the Mueller investigation. Barr can’t believe that he will survive as AG if he doesn’t do what Trump wants and end the probe. It’s no more complicated than that... Failure to release Mueller report to American public will be a good indication that sufficent evidence exists that Trump is a Russian agent. If there is no such evidence, the report would be released... Mr. Barr says he will let Special Counsel Robert Mueller finish his investigation.
He says that he won’t do anything he considers wrong.
He says he will serve as Attorney General, not President Trump’s personal defense lawyer.
He says that Mr. Mueller is a dedicated professional, and a personal friend.
Mr. Barr does not, however, say that he will refrain from rewriting Mr. Mueller’s report to change its conclusions.
He does not say that he will provide Mr. Mueller’s original draft, as well as his revised version, to Congress.
He does not say that the news media or the public should have access to Mr. Mueller’s report.
He does not say that he will approve Mr. Mueller’s recommendations for further indictments.
He does not say that he will continue to provide Mr. Mueller with staff and resources, for prosecutions as well as investigating and drafting a report.
He does not say that he will refuse to follow instructions from Mr. Trump to limit Mr. Mueller’s investigation if he considers those instructions right — for example, ordering Mr. Mueller to drop any investigation of obstruction of justice, in line with the 19-page memo he wrote and then forwarded to President Trump’s personal defense attorneys.
He does not say that, as Attorney General, he will refrain from giving President Trump, and President Trump’s personal defense attorneys, legal and political advice that might be helpful to their defense against any charges recommended by Special Prosecutor Mueller.
DOJ regulations require the Attorney General to notify Congress if he disapproves recommendations by a Special Counsel — but Mr. Barr does not say that he will disclose exactly what recommendations Special Counsel Mueller makes to him, or the reasons underlying any decision he makes to reject some or all of them.
He does not say that he will object to President Trump pardoning cooperating witnesses... A Select BiPartisan Group of the Judiciary Cttee Needs to be able to read the original report to validate that whatever Barr makes publicly available captures the full scale, scope and depth of what Mueller reports.. The Mueller report should stay secret…right, because the last people who should know what their government is doing is the citizens who own the government... Barr will try to suppress the Mueller report. It’s obvious he’s laying the groundwork….. The Mueller investigation is critical, but Barr has a lot of other really ugly baggage.
Like Kavanaugh he believes in a unitary executive who is totally immune to the rule of law.
Remember, Barr is the one who convinced Bush 1 to pardon Regan’s Iran/Contra crew.
This from Bloomberg Jan 10, 2019:.. I watched some of the hearing, to me the more interesting parts were about criminal justice, especially in minority communities. Barr mentioned arresting people on a lesser drug charge is one way of taking a gang member off the streets.
.. There are no coincidences in this administration. Barr will be appointed to re-write Mueller’s report at the direction of Trump/Putin. Fool me once shame you. Fool me twice shame on me. Barr’s role is to be Trump’s Mueller Fixer. The country must wise up to the deep level of corruption occurring in our faces. Sociopaths thrive off of other people giving them the benefit of the doubt... How long have the JFK files been locked up now? That’s your answer... Barr is backed by Republican heavyweights to ensure he controls, mitigates, and changes anything in Mueller’s final report that will damage the Party longterm... What’s wrong with Rosenstein? He’s been doing a good job managing the DOJ... Barr is the ultimate Republican Establishment fixer. He did such a good job with the Iran Contra Affair that he has been drafted to bury a scandal once again. I would be surprised to see anything meaningful that will be released to the public... I think Barr’s role will be an attempt at cover-up to protect the Republican Party – he played a similar role in Iran-Contra.. Barr is unfit.
Even Republicans may be deciding that the president has become too great a burden to their party or too great a danger to the country.
Whether or not there’s already enough evidence to impeach Mr. Trump — I think there is — we will learn what the special counsel, Robert Mueller, has found, even if his investigation is cut short. A significant number of Republican candidates didn’t want to run with Mr. Trump in the midterms, and the results of those elections didn’t exactly strengthen his standing within his party. His political status, weak for some time, is now hurtling downhill.
.. The midterms were followed by new revelations in criminal investigations of once-close advisers as well as new scandals involving Mr. Trump himself. The odor of personal corruption on the president’s part — perhaps affecting his foreign policy — grew stronger. Then the events of the past several days — the president’s precipitous
- decision to pull American troops out of Syria,
- Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis’s abrupt resignation,
- the swoon in the stock market, the
- pointless shutdown of parts of the government —
instilled a new sense of alarm among many Republicans.
The word “impeachment” has been thrown around with abandon. The frivolous impeachment of President Bill Clinton helped to define it as a form of political revenge. But it is far more important and serious than that: It has a critical role in the functioning of our democracy.
.. Lost in all the discussion about possible lawbreaking by Mr. Trump is the fact that impeachment wasn’t intended only for crimes. For example, in 1974 the House Judiciary Committee charged Richard Nixon with, among other things, abusing power by using the I.R.S. against his political enemies. The committee also held the president accountable for misdeeds by his aides and for failing to honor the oath of office’s pledge that a president must “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”
.. The current presidential crisis seems to have only two possible outcomes. If Mr. Trump sees criminal charges coming at him and members of his family, he may feel trapped. This would leave him the choice of resigning or trying to fight congressional removal. But the latter is highly risky.
.. I don’t share the conventional view that if Mr. Trump is impeached by the House, the Republican-dominated Senate would never muster the necessary 67 votes to convict him. Stasis would decree that would be the case, but the current situation, already shifting, will have been left far behind by the time the senators face that question. Republicans who were once Mr. Trump’s firm allies have already openly criticizedsome of his recent actions, including his support of Saudi Arabia despite the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and his decision on Syria. They also openly deplored Mr. Mattis’s departure.
.. It always seemed to me that Mr. Trump’s turbulent presidency was unsustainable and that key Republicans would eventually decide that he had become too great a burden to the party or too great a danger to the country. That time may have arrived. In the end the Republicans will opt for their own political survival. Almost from the outset some Senate Republicans have speculated on how long his presidency would last. Some surely noticed that his base didn’t prevail in the midterms.
But it may well not come to a vote in the Senate. Facing an assortment of unpalatable possibilities, including being indicted after he leaves office, Mr. Trump will be looking for a way out. It’s to be recalled that Mr. Nixon resigned without having been impeached or convicted. The House was clearly going to approve articles of impeachment against him, and he’d been warned by senior Republicans that his support in the Senate had collapsed. Mr. Trump could well exhibit a similar instinct for self-preservation. But like Mr. Nixon, Mr. Trump will want future legal protection.
Mr. Nixon was pardoned by President Gerald Ford, and despite suspicions, no evidence has ever surfaced that the fix was in. While Mr. Trump’s case is more complex than Mr. Nixon’s, the evident dangers of keeping an out-of-control president in office might well impel politicians in both parties, not without controversy, to want to make a deal to get him out of there.
But he’s not the first president to foolishly place his trust in the Russian despot.
President Trump did get one thing right on Monday in Helsinki: Vladimir Putin did make an “incredible offer.”
.. But he’s not the first president to foolishly place his trust in the Russian despot.
President Trump did get one thing right on Monday in Helsinki: Vladimir Putin did make an “incredible offer.”
.. having the indictment, they must have calculated, would strengthen Trump’s hand in the confrontation.
.. Of all the president’s mind-boggling utterances at the press conference, I found this the most stunning.
.. One hoped that Trump’s election would end Obama’s hallmark depictions of moral equivalence between America and thug countries. Yet here’s how the president, at the start of his term, defended Putin when Bill O’Reilly called him a “killer”: “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, you think our country is so innocent?”
.. when has this president ever been restrained by a presidential norm?
.. the most alarming part of the presser was the palpable satisfaction the president took in describing Putin’s “incredible” proposal. Trump is desperate to show that his entreaties to the Russian despot — amid the “collusion” controversy and against the better judgment of his skeptical advisers and supporters — could bear real fruit. It made him ripe to get rolled.
.. The proposal to invite Mueller to Moscow brought to mind others who’ve tried to investigate Putin’s regime on Russian soil. There is, of course, Sergei Magnitsky, who exposed the regime’s $230 million fraud only to be clubbed to death with rubber batons in a Russian prison — Putin said he must have had a heart attack.
.. Then there is Nikolai Gorokhov, a lawyer for the Magnitsky family who has been investigating regime involvement in the fraud. He was slated to testify in a U.S. Justice Department lawsuit against Prevezon, a company controlled by Putin cronies that is implicated in the fraud. But then, somehow, Gorokhov “accidentally” fell from the fourth-floor balcony of a Moscow apartment building.
.. Truth be told, the prospect of hosting Mueller’s investigators in his accident-prone country interests Putin less than the “reciprocity” he has in mind.
.. This is classic Putin. The former KGB agent takes every Western misstep as a precedent, to be contorted and pushed to maximum advantage. As we’ve observed over the years, for example, the Kremlin has rationalized its territorial aggression against former Soviet satellites by relying on U.S. spearheading — over Russian objections — of Kosovo’s secession from Serbia.
.. While positing lip-service denials that he meddled in our 2016 election, Putin implies that we had it coming after what he claims was Obama-administration interference in Russia’s 2011 parliamentary elections
.. if our government does not see how Russia (like other rogue nations) is certain to exploit the precedent the Justice Department has set by indicting foreign officials for actions taken on their government’s behalf, we are in for a rude awakening
.. Naturally, Putin expects us to help him investigate Bill Browder. If you think the word “collusion” makes Trump crazy, try uttering the word “Browder” around Putin
.. the Russian dictator repeated his standing allegation that Browder and his associates have evaded taxes on over a billion dollars in Russian income. He further claimed that “they sent a huge amount — $400 million — as a contribution to the campaign of Hillary Clinton.” While this is outlandish, it reminds us of the purported dirt on Mrs. Clinton that Putin’s operatives sought to peddle to the Trump campaign in June 2016.
.. Natalia Veselnitskaya reportedly told Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort that Browder was involved in a tax-evasion scheme that implicated Clinton donors. This, she urged, was information that could be used to damage the Clinton campaign. Ms. Veselnitskaya also rehearsed the Kremlin’s rant against the Magnitsky legislation.
.. at least as far as what is publicly known, the Trump Tower meeting remains the closest brush that Trump has had with “collusion” — the narrative (indeed, the investigation) that has dogged his presidency. It is astonishing that the president would allow Putin to manipulate him into reviving that storyline.
.. Memo to DOJ: Expect Russia to issue indictments and international arrest warrants soon — as Putin said, it’s all about “reciprocity.”.. The “incredible offer” that Putin hit Trump with — and that Trump was palpably thrown by — was not woven out of whole cloth. Did you know that the United States and the Russian Federation have a bilateral mutual-legal-assistance treaty? Yeah, it was negotiated by the Clinton administration and ratified by the Bush administration. The MLAT calls for us to cooperate when the Putin regime seeks to obtain testimony, interview subjects of investigations, locate and identify suspects, transfer persons held in custody, freeze assets — you name it... It’s part of our government’s commitment to the notion that the law-enforcement processes of a constitutional, representative republic dedicated to the rule of law can seamlessly mesh with those of a gangster dictatorship whose idea of due process is deciding which nerve agent — polonium or novichok — is the punishment that fits the “crime.”
.. It enables Putin to pose as the leader of a normal, law-abiding regime that just wants to help Bob Mueller out and maybe ask Bill Browder a couple of questions — preferably out on the balcony.
- Clinton joined with Russia in an agreement to . . . wait for it . . . protect Ukraine.
- Bush looked Putin in the eye, got a “sense of his soul,” and found him “straightforward and trustworthy” — so much so that
- his State Department regarded Russia as a “strategic partner” that was going to help us with Iran (by helping it develop nuclear power!) .
- . . while Russia annexed parts of Georgia.
- Then came Obama’s “Russia Reset” — more “partnering” on Iran,
- ushering Moscow into the World Trade Organization,
- signing off on the Uranium One deal (and let’s not forget that cool $500,000 Russian payday for Bill Clinton and all those millions flowing into the Clinton Foundation) . . .
- while Russia backed Assad and the Iranian mullahs,
- annexed Crimea,
- stoked civil war in eastern Ukraine, and
- conducted cyber attacks on our election system.
For that reason, the “can’t indict a sitting president” view is necessarily dependent on Congress having all of the information necessary to conduct thorough impeachment proceedings.
.. To say that a prosecutor cannot indict a sitting president is, by definition, to say that the prosecutor’s evidence must be given to Congress so that it may decide whether the president should remain in office. It means, in short, that should Mr. Mueller conclude he cannot indict a sitting president, he would also have to turn over all of the information he has uncovered to Congress.
.. If Mr. Giuliani is correct that Mr. Trump cannot be indicted, then the other idea being floated by Mr. Trump’s lawyers — that such testimony would amount to a “perjury trap” — makes little sense.
.. The president of the United States would be refusing to do what every other federal employee must do — provide evidence in a law enforcement proceeding — even when he faces no imminent criminal consequences.
.. But there is a deeper problem still. Mr. Giuliani appears to be making an argument not just about timing — that a sitting president cannot be indicted while in office — but also about the president’s being immune from the criminal process altogether. That is the basis for his claim that the president can refuse a subpoena, which harks back to the notorious statement of Richard Nixon that “when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”.. Mr. Trump, whose Justice Department has, with his blessing, repeatedly overruled longstanding Justice Department positions at an unheard-of rate, is in no position to complain if Mr. Rosenstein overrules these two old opinions... If indictment is off the table, then impeachment must be on it.. if impeachment is off the table because of nefarious congressional activity, then indictment must be on it.