From the four-page “Barr letter” and its fatuous conclusion that Trump did not obstruct justice to the pre-release press conference in which Barr attempted to spin the report in the president’s favor, the attorney general has been doing damage control. Over the last week, as Trump has said he will fight every request and every subpoena, Barr is now running interference between the Justice Department and the Congress. He is refusing to appear before the House Judiciary Committee unless chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., shelves his plan to have part of the session run by committee counsel and hold a part of the hearing in closed session. Apparently Barr does not like the idea that the legal staff could follow up closely with a line of inquiry. He prefers the disjointed five-minute questioning format that never gets anywhere, which is a sad statement coming from the attorney general of the United States.
If Barr can’t face a committee lawyer, perhaps he’s not really fit to be the top law enforcement officer in the federal government. The Judiciary Committee lawyers interviewed many of the other participants in the Russia investigation, including former FBI director James Comey, in closed session. The only difference with Barr is that this will be a public hearing, which one might expect the self-described most transparent government in history to be happy to accommodate.
Barr has been around long enough to remember all the times that congressional committees had counsel question witnesses, including cabinet members. It most famously happened during the Watergate hearings when lawyers like Sam Dash and Richard Ben-Veniste became national figures, holding the president’s men’s feet to the fire. Chief counsel to the Senate’s Iran-Contra committee, Arthur Liman, led the questioning in that inquiry. And considering that just a few months ago, the Republicans hired an outside attorney to question Dr. Christine Blasey Ford in the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, it’s entirely absurd that Barr is balking.
Nadler refused to change his plans, explaining patiently that witnesses aren’t allowed to dictate procedure to congressional committees, nor is the attorney general allowed to dictate to the legislative branch. (The Trump administration remains very confused about the separation of powers in general.) Nadler says he’ll issue a subpoena if Barr refuses to show up. There is some talk about holding the hearings with an empty chair which would be very silly and unproductive.
Robert Costa of the Washington Post reported on MSNBC on Monday that Republican sources tell him the Democrats are being “political” and have no right to hold hearings that are impeachment inquiries in all but name. I think we know how to solve that problem, don’t we?
President Trump has asserted executive privilege on all the material in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report that House Democrats have demanded in a major escalation of the continuing fight over access to the documents.
The move came as Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee planned a vote on holding Attorney General William Barr in contempt for his refusal to comply with a subpoena issued by the committee for the unredacted Mueller report and its underlying evidence.
The White House accused the House panel of acting only to damage Mr. Trump politically—calling Mr. Nadler’s actions “unlawful and reckless” and saying they would invoke executive privilege over the papers.
“Faced with Chairman Nadler’s blatant abuse of power, and at the Attorney General’s request, the President has no other option than to make a protective assertion of executive privilege,” said White House press secretary Sarah Sanders in a statement.
The dispute centers around the unredacted version of the Mueller report and the underlying evidence—some of which the Justice Department says by law it cannot provide because, in part, it involves grand-jury testimony that is secret. Democrats subpoenaed the material last month—saying that it was necessary for Congress to independently examine the material and the basis for Mr. Mueller’s findings.
.. The Justice Department, in its recommendation to Mr. Trump on executive privilege, said it was necessary to preemptively invoke the privilege to protect the administration’s prerogatives.
In response to the department’s ongoing refusal to provide the documents, the House Judiciary Committee is considering a contempt resolution against Mr. Barr
What happens if re-election is Trump’s best hope of avoiding an indictment?
Donald Trump — or, as he’s known to federal prosecutors, Individual-1 — might well be a criminal. That’s no longer just my opinion, or that of Democratic activists. It is the finding of Trump’s own Justice Department.
.. . The prosecutors argued that, in arranging payoffs to two women who said they’d had affairs with Trump, Cohen broke campaign finance laws, and in the process “deceived the voting public by hiding alleged facts that he believed would have had a substantial effect on the election.”
.. “While many Americans who desired a particular outcome to the election knocked on doors, toiled at phone banks or found any number of other legal ways to make their voices heard, Cohen sought to influence the election from the shadows,” prosecutors wrote.
.. In other words, lawyers from the Justice Department have concluded that Trump may have committed a felony that went to the heart of the process that put him in office.
.. Trump’s potential criminality in this case, which raises questions about his legitimacy as president, creates a dilemma for Democrats. Assuming prosecutors are right about Trump’s conduct, it certainly seems impeachable; a situation in which a candidate cheats his way into the presidency is one the founders foresaw when they were designing the impeachment process. As George Mason argued at the Constitutional Convention, “Shall the man who has practiced corruption, and by that means procured his appointment in the first instance, be suffered to escape punishment by repeating his guilt?”
.. But in our current moment, removing the president through impeachment is essentially impossible, given that at least 20 Senate Republicans would have to join Democrats. Representative Jerrold Nadler, the New York Democrat who will soon lead the House Judiciary Committee, told me he wouldn’t consider impeachment proceedings without at least some Republican support.
.. Experts on both the left and the right believe that if Trump is voted out of office in 2020, before the five-year statute of limitations on campaign finance violations runs out, he could find himself in serious legal jeopardy.
.. The 2020 presidential election was always going to be extraordinarily ugly, but one can only imagine what Trump will do if the alternative to the White House is the big house. “It’s dangerous,” said Swalwell, who worries that Trump could become even more erratic, making decisions to save himself that involve “our troops or internal domestic security.”.. as long as Individual-1 is on the ticket, the 2020 election is set to be a banana republic-style death match. Trump will almost certainly try to criminalize his opponent — crowds at his rallies have taken to chanting “Lock her up” at the mention of virtually any Democratic woman’s name. And Democrats won’t be able to uphold the general principle that in American elections, losing doesn’t mean personal ruination, because for Trump it will and it should... There are ways to lower the stakes somewhat. Nadler told me he plans to introduce legislation that would freeze the statute of limitations for crimes committed by presidents, so they could be charged when their terms end. Such a law would at least mean that Trump couldn’t evade justice forever just by winning re-election... That would mitigate the peril to our democracy, but it wouldn’t come close to eliminating it. Our best hope may lie in the emergence of irrefutable evidence of further presidential crimes, enough to finally test the tolerance of at least some fraction of Republicans... After two years of hearing people say we were all trigger-happy on impeachment, now I’m hearing we’re all constitutional fraidy-cats. Give us a chance to do the fact investigation and figure out what happened.”.. But if the president has committed felonies, we also have to figure out how Republicans might be induced to care.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in an appearance on NBC’ News’s “Meet the Press” that Thursday’s guilty plea by Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, raises the question of whether Russia continues to have leverage over Trump.
.. “Does the Kremlin have a hold on him over other things?” Nadler said. “There certainly was leverage during the campaign period and until recently because they knew he was lying, they knew he had major business dealings or that Cohen on his behalf had major business dealings.”
.. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) said Sunday that “most Republicans who were about to nominate Donald Trump in the summer of ’16 would probably have thought it was a relevant fact” that Trump was still trying to do business with Russia at the time.
.. “What I find particularly interesting with the revelation of Cohen’s plea is that he’s saying he lied to protect then-candidate Trump’s stories that he had nothing to do with Russia,”
.. “So, the president seemed to already be changing his story a little bit and say, ‘well, it was all legal.’ ”
New York Democrat may not impeach president, but his rigorous oversight will be a thorn in his side
Jerrold Nadler remembers when he began to figure out that you’ve got to fight back when life seems unfair.
It was 1957. Nadler was 10. He was at home in Brooklyn watching Disney’s film production of the 1943 novel “Johnny Tremain,” a young apprentice of silversmith Paul Revere on the eve of the American Revolution.
In the movie’s climatic scene, colonial lawyer James Otis delivers a rallying speech to revolutionaries in a cramped wooden attic in Boston.
Otis was the colonial lawyer whose five-hour speech in 1761 decrying British “writs of assistance” would later become the foundation of the Fourth Amendment protecting Americans from unreasonable search and seizure.
At the end of his winding speech, the fictionalized Otis scans the room and leaves his comrades with a parting message: “We fight and die for a simple thing — only that a man can stand.”
“I still remember watching it,” said Nadler, whom aides and confidants claim has a photographic memory.
.. First elected to Congress in 1992, Nadler is poised to become the next chairman of the House Judiciary Committee in January after the Democrat-controlled 116th Congress is sworn in.
Immigration, voting rights, and Justice Department oversight — read: Mueller investigation — are just three of the politically charged issues under the committee’s jurisdiction.
.. Nadler has likewise skirted around such questions, though he said he is eager to conduct oversight hearings on the Trump administration’s policies of
- separating immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border,
- increases in anti-Semitic incidents and hate crimes since the president took office, and
- voter suppression, not to mention
- Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.
.. “The question of impeachment is down the road,” Nadler told Roll Call in a wide-ranging interview in which he cast doubts over whether Democrats would ever reach a point where they would seriously pursue impeaching Trump.
“As far as impeachment is concerned, we have to see what Mueller comes up with,” Nadler said. “I certainly wouldn’t predict it.”
.. Though he hails from one of the most liberal districts in the country, New York’s 10th, Nadler’s political demeanor more closely resembles the calculated coolness of party leaders than the pot-stirring of liberal firebrands such as California Rep. Maxine Waters, the presumed next House Financial Services chairwoman
.. Multiple former aides could not identify a single hobby of his that didn’t include reading or debating public policy with his friends.
.. “Hobbies? He doesn’t have any,” said Brett Heimov, Nadler’s former Washington chief of staff. “Reading books — that’s his hobby.”
.. the only yeshiva-educated member of Congress. He does not drink. The most alcohol Nadler will consume is on Jewish holidays: a sip or two of Manischewitz for the Kiddush ritual.
.. He has retained senior staff in Washington and field directors in his district at an astonishingly high rate. Nadler’s Washington director, John Doty, has been with him since the congressman’s first full term. Same with his scheduler, Janice Siegel.
“Twelve years, 20 years, they’ve stuck with him,” said Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, a longtime friend. “He’s always had good staff around him.”
.. Just about the only thing that has changed about Nadler since the 1990s is his weight.
In the early 2000s, the congressman peaked at a gargantuan 338 pounds. The butt of countless bodyweight jokes, even among his peers, during the Clinton impeachment trial, Nadler used to take the elevator up to the second floor of the Capitol for votes because he just couldn’t make it up a lone flight of stairs. He underwent a stomach-reduction surgery during Congress’ August recess in 2002 and eventually cut his weight roughly in half.
.. Since arriving in Washington in 1992 after a 15-year stint in the New York state Assembly in Albany representing liberal Manhattan, Nadler has lived out of a suitcase in a series of hotels whenever he’s in town for work. For the first few years, he stayed at the Howard Johnson’s near the George Washington University campus.
.. From the start, Nadler opposed the sweeping 1994 crime bill that originated in the Judiciary Committee over the “three strikes” statute for previously convicted felons.
After the GOP picked up 54 seats and a majority in the Newt Gingrich-led Republican Revolution in the 1994 midterm elections, Nadler confronted Democratic leadership in a head-on clash to chip away at senior members’ monopoly of power at the committee and subcommittee level.
.. After the midterm trouncing, they agitated for a vote on a party rule that would bar Democratic chairs and ranking members from leading subcommittees, too. When Democratic leader Richard A. Gephardt refused, Nadler collected the requisite 50 petition signatures to force a vote.
The caucus voted to adopt the new rule, infuriating some members, including former Energy and Commerce Chairman John D. Dingell of Michigan, who was forced to give up one of his subcommittee posts.
“There were a number of committee chairmen who wouldn’t talk to me for years after that,” Nadler recalled. The clash over the rule, still the party standard, is largely forgotten these days.
Nadler didn’t make waves on the national scene until four years later, though, in 1998 when he emerged as one of Clinton’s most outspoken defenders during the impeachment proceedings.
Nadler relished being a nettle for Republicans as they pursued allegations that Clinton had perjured himself when he told independent counsel Ken Starr in a deposition that he never had a sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
The New York congressman was a frequent guest on CNN and other TV networks, on which he argued that Clinton may well have perjured himself — but that alone was not grounds for impeachment.
.. “An impeachable offense is an abuse of presidential power designed to or with the effect of undermining the structure or function of government, or undermining constitutional liberties,” he told the crowd of several hundred.
.. “The fact is, impeachment is not a criminal punishment,” Nadler told Roll Call. “There are crimes that you could commit that are not impeachable offenses and there are impeachable offenses that are not crimes. They’re different tests.”
.. During the Clinton impeachment proceedings, Nadler believed a crucial function of the Judiciary Committee was to educate Americans about that distinction between crimes and impeachable offenses.
He pushed for, and secured, a Judiciary hearing in 1998 to answer what constitutes an impeachable offense, even though Democrats were in the minority.
.. “The purpose of the whole impeachment process is to protect the integrity of liberty and of the rule of law and of government, to protect against a person with aggrandized power or who destroys the separation of powers or something like that,” Nadler said.
.. “If you’re serious about removing a president from office, what you’re really doing is overturning the result of the last election,” Nadler said. “You don’t want to have a situation where you tear this country apart and for the next 30 years half the country’s saying ‘We won the election, you stole it.’”
.. And by bipartisan support for impeachment, Nadler does not mean winning over Republican lawmakers.
“I’m talking about the voters, people who voted for Trump,” he said. “Do you think that the case is so stark, that the offenses are so terrible and the proof so clear, that once you’ve laid it all out you will have convinced an appreciable fraction of the people who voted for Trump, who like him, that you had no choice?
.. He has already promised to investigate the circumstances surrounding Sessions’ firing.
.. Part of that probe will focus on “cooperation” between Russians and Americans, including, potentially, some members of Trump’s inner circle
.. Legislatively, one of his top priorities will be to strike a deal with the Republican president and Senate on immigration, an elusive feat for recent administrations.
When House Republicans impeached Bill Clinton, in 1998, for lying about his affair with the former intern Monica Lewinsky, Nadler emerged as one of Clinton’s most ardent and public defenders, trading his obscurity for a brief moment in the national spotlight. The impeachment, he warned in the House Judiciary Committee, was a spectacular misuse of the power granted to Congress by its founding fathers, a “partisan coup d’état.”
.. The #MeToo movement had just claimed the eighty-eight-year-old congressman John Conyers, of Michigan, who resigned after multiple women came forward to accuse him of harassing and propositioning them.
.. That left a prime opening to succeed Conyers as the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, which would oversee an impeachment of Trump if Democrats were to win control of the House in November’s midterm elections.
.. a leaflet he wrote and handed out to Democratic members said he was “the strongest member to lead a potential impeachment.”
.. Nadler, a stubborn seventy-year-old who spent the better part of two decades battling to stop Trump from rerouting the West Side Highway.
.. if and when it comes to impeachment, he will in no way be a neutral arbiter of the President’s fate but an implacable foe who has already pronounced judgment on Trump’s fitness for office.
.. After Trump fired the F.B.I. director, James Comey, last spring, Nadler said that there was a “very strong case” that it constituted obstruction of justice.
.. saying, “This President presents the greatest threat to constitutional liberty and the functioning of our government in living memory.”
.. he believed that Trump’s refusal to retaliate for the Russian intervention was as serious as if an American Commander-in-Chief had failed to respond to the 1941 Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
.. “It’s a fundamental attack on our way of life. It’s a very fundamental attack on the U.S.
.. “What if Roosevelt had said, after Pearl Harbor, ‘We’re not sure who did it. Maybe it was the Chinese. Maybe it was somebody else’? And used that as an excuse not to respond?”
.. A vocal and growing minority of House Democrats is not waiting for the results of Mueller’s investigation to make that judgment on impeaching Trump.
.. a resolution to begin the process of impeachment authored by Congressman Al Green, of Texas, has twice been put to a vote. In early December, it received fifty-eight Democratic votes.
.. forty-one per cent of Americans support impeachment
.. “We started this knowing it’s a marathon and not a sprint,” Steyer told me. “And that it has to do with the information reaching the American people so that people understand this is a deeply unfit and dangerous American President.”
.. But Steyer’s rallying of the Trump-hating party base has put him at odds with Nadler and other Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill, who believe it is both premature and politically damaging to call for impeachment now.
.. Bernie Sanders has publicly pleaded with Steyer and others to avoid “jumping the gun” and pushing for Trump’s removal before it’s possible to achieve it. Other Democrats, especially the campaign strategists who have to advise the Party’s candidates in the midterm elections, fear that impeachment is a political loser with voters, who will cast ballots on more traditional pocketbook issues.
.. “But I would also quote Nelson Mandela: ‘Everything is impossible until it happens.’
.. He considers Steyer’s Need to Impeach campaign “premature at best,” he told me. “I don’t think it’s constructive. We don’t have the evidence now that would be convincing enough to people to justify impeachment.”
.. As a political matter, Nadler added, “I don’t think the election campaign should be fought on the basis of impeachment or no impeachment.
.. In Nadler’s reading of history, Nixon was forced from office because Democrats enlisted enough Republicans in the impeachment case to make Nixon’s presumed conviction in the Senate, by a two-thirds majority, likely; then and only then did Nixon step aside.
.. In the Clinton case, conversely, Democrats stuck together and voted en masse against the House impeachment, and Republicans were unable to secure a conviction on the basis of just their own party’s votes in the Senate.
.. Removing the President is a dramatic move against the popular will; in effect, Nadler said, “you are nullifying the last election,” which is not something to be undertaken “without having buy-in, at least by the end of the process, by an appreciable fraction” of Republicans as well as Democrats.
.. The alternative? “Twenty or thirty years of recriminations. Of almost half the country saying, ‘We won the election; you stole it from us.’ You don’t want to do that. Which means you should not impeach the President unless you really believe that, by the end of the process, you will have not only Democrats agreeing with you but a good fraction of the people who voted for him.”
.. he successfully urged Republicans on the Judiciary Committee to hold hearings on just what would constitute an impeachable offense, an exercise that convinced him that “the real test for an impeachable offense is, is this a threat to the constitutional order, to the protection of liberty, to the checks and balances system that the Constitution sets up?”
.. “The impeachment clause was put into the Constitution as a political tool with which to defend the republic, to defend the constitutional order, to defend against a would-be tyrant.”
.. he expected that Mueller, like previous special counsels before him in the Clinton and Nixon cases, would deliver a report to Congress laying out his evidence related to the President, and he promised it would have to be sufficiently serious and specific.
.. I would certainly have to be convinced if I were going to help lead it—that the President has committed impeachable offenses, and that those impeachable offenses are so serious that the constitutional order is threatened if he is not impeached and removed from office,” Nadler said. “That’s the real test.”