Attorney General Bill Barr emerges days ahead of Mueller’s testimony to call it a “public spectacle” and floats that the DOJ would “back” Mueller if he dropped out. In this exclusive report, MSNBC Chief Legal Correspondent Ari Melber examines Mueller’s decades of hearings and clues for what he will say before Congress next week.
Compares James Comey and Robert Mueller’s approach to talking about John Ashcroft’s confrontation over warrantless wiretapping while he was in a hospital bed.
Attorney General William P. Barr pulled out of a Thursday hearing of the House Judiciary Committee, and he has left House lawmakers who are investigating the president fuming and calculating.
In the letter, the special counsel took Mr. Barr to task for the way that the attorney general had initially summarized his findings, leaving “public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation.” That appeared to undercut Mr. Barr’s claims at a House hearing on April 9 that he was not aware of any such discontent.
“What is deadly serious about it is the attorney general of the United States of America was not telling the truth to the Congress of the United States,” Ms. Pelosi told reporters. “That’s a crime.”
The Justice Department and Republicans on Capitol Hill fired back; Kerri Kupec, a department spokeswoman, called Ms. Pelosi’s comments a “baseless attack” that was “reckless, irresponsible and false.”
Mr. Barr had offered his own defense on Wednesday, telling senators that his comments about not knowing the feelings of the special counsel’s office referred to the investigators — not Mr. Mueller himself.
The calls for Mr. Barr to be held in contempt of Congress stem not from Mr. Mueller’s letter or his refusal to appear in front of the committee on Thursday. Instead, they follow the Justice Department’s decision not to honor the House Judiciary Committee’s subpoena for Mr. Mueller’s report without redactions and all the evidence his investigators collected.
Democrats are not alone in their unhappiness over how the nearly two-year special counsel investigation is coming to a close.
In a letter to Mr. Barr that was dated April 19 but released on Thursday, a top White House lawyer, Emmet T. Flood, complained that the special counsel had violated the regulations governing his appointment by failing to reach a prosecutorial decision on obstruction of justice. Mr. Flood described Mr. Mueller’s findings as a 182-page discussion of evidence that were “part ‘truth commission’ report and part law school exam paper.”
Echoing Mr. Trump’s complaints about the “deep state,” though couching them in legalese, Mr. Flood accused unnamed officials of “a campaign of illegal leaks” to damage the president. He said James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, who was not named in the letter, had talked to reporters about his encounters with Mr. Trump to engineer the appointment of a special counsel.
“That the head of our country’s top law enforcement agency has actually done so to the president of the United States should frighten every friend of individual liberty,” Mr. Flood wrote.
Mr. Flood cautioned the attorney general that despite choosing against exerting executive privilege over material contained in the report, the president maintained the right to conceal raw evidence collected by the special counsel and to block witnesses from appearing before Congress.
Officially, Mr. Barr refused to show for the Judiciary Committee hearing because Democrats had insisted that he sit for questioning from Democratic and Republican staff lawyers. In a statement on Wednesday, Ms. Kupec called Democrats’ demands “unprecedented and unnecessary.” She said Mr. Barr would be happy to testify if Democrats would drop that demand.
Mr. Cohen was not having it. “Chicken Barr should have shown up today and answered questions,” he told reporters. “An attorney general who’s picked for his legal acumen and his abilities would not be fearful of attorneys questioning him for 30 minutes.”
Seeking to dramatize the attorney general’s absence, Democrats set out an empty chair with a name card for Mr. Barr and insisted it was their prerogative to decide how to run their hearings.
“The so-called attorney general is abrasive, evasive and unpersuasive,” said Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the No. 5 House Democrat and a member of the Judiciary Committee. “He is a disgrace to the office that he currently holds.”
Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the committee, lit into his Democratic colleagues for making “ludicrous” demands and accused Mr. Nadler of manufacturing a conflict instead of trying to get at the truth.
“The reason Bill Barr is not here today is because the Democrats decided they did not want him here today,” Mr. Collins said, his rapid-fire Georgia accent winding up in indignation.
When Republicans tried to prolong the brief session with parliamentary objections, Mr. Nadler gaveled out, cut the microphones and walked out of the hearing room.
The story told us nothing new about the Trump-Russia relationship, though it did confirm that senior officials in the FBI were in need of adult supervision. Think about the implications of this one for a minute: Senior FBI officials decided to investigate Mr. Trump because the President had fired their boss, which any President has the constitutional authority to do. This ought to be shocking—not least to civil libertarians and Democrats who profess to be horrified by the legacy of J. Edgar Hoover.
Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, assured CNN on Sunday that whether Mr. Trump acted as a Russian agent is the “defining” question of Mr. Mueller’s probe. Well, could we please get an answer so we don’t have to listen to Mr. Warner repeat the same question for another year of Sundays?
Mr. Warner and Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr have spent two years and produced hardly anything at all beyond Mr. Warner’s presence on the Sunday shows. What the American people deserve, after all of the innuendo and accusations, are the facts of what these investigations have found.
The endless investigations are one more reason for Mr. Trump to declassify the Justice and FBI documents related to 2016 and put them on the public record.
Finally, adopting a hysterical tone, Hemel and Posner write:
Remember when President Trump demanded “loyalty” from [former FBI director James] Comey? If Mr. Barr is confirmed as attorney general, it looks as though the president will get what he wanted. “He alone is the Executive branch,” Mr. Barr wrote of the president. The attorney general and the Justice Department lawyers “who exercise prosecutorial discretion on his behalf” are “merely ‘his hand.’” These bizarre statements are not those of a lawyer but of a courtier.
Actually, far from “bizarre statements,” Barr’s assertions reflect the views of the late, great Justice Antonin Scalia in his much-admired dissent in Morrison v. Olson (1988). The Constitution says, “The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States.” As Justice Scalia memorably explained, “this does not mean some of the executive power, but all of the executive power.” Such estimable scholars as Hemel and Posner must know that Barr — far from sending a signal about “loyalty,” which former director Comey alleges President Trump demanded of him — was merely articulating the “unitary executive” theory. That theory, rooted in constitutional law, holds that Article II vests all executive power in a single official, the president; therefore, subordinates appointed to wield executive power, including government lawyers exercising prosecutorial discretion, do so as delegates of the chief executive. That, indeed, is why all executive officers serve at the pleasure of the president, who does not need a reason to dismiss them.