William Barr, the Trump defense attorney and cover-up commandant who masquerades as America’s attorney general, declared yesterday that he will not share the full Mueller report with the constitutionally co-equal congressional branch of government. Which again prompts the question: If the full report totally exonerates Trump, as he claims, why is his regime so intent on suppressing it?
Take a wild guess.
Trump’s inner circle, talking privately to the press, admits that Trump’s victory lap was “premature,” and that even a partial release of the report will likely contain “embarrassing or politically damaging information.” And according to one Republican close to the White House, Trump’s confidence of a total exoneration has waned. Trump is again tweeting about Mueller’s so-called “13 Angry Trump hating Dems,” which has promoted this Republican source to say, “He wouldn’t be bringing this up still if everything was hunky dory.”
It would be nice if our elected representatives in Congress could examine the full report, and all its underlying evidence, and determine on our behalf whether things are hunky dory. For instance, what evidence in the report stopped Robert Mueller from exonerating Trump on obstruction of justice? Barr was asked about that earlier today, by a Senate committee, and he replied: “That’s why it’s important to get the whole report out.” The hitch, of course, is that he has no intention of putting “the whole report out.”
Back when America was a democracy, there was a constitutional concept called “checks and balances.” We the people paid for Mueller’s report — actually, it was heavily financed by Trump criminal Paul Manafort’s asset forfeitures – and we are therefore entitled to find out what’s in it, without William Barr playing damage control and threatening to ink out whatever he pleases. In the words of Mimi Rocah, who served 16 years as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, Barr is behaving “like a lawyer trying to protect his client, not a public servant.”
His gig yesterday, in front of a House subcommittee, was proof of that. In Rocah’s words, the Department of Justice is supposed to be a place where decisions “are based on facts, evidence, and law, not political considerations.” But Barr, acting as Trump’s shield, “wading waist deep into political territory,” is debasing the institution.
Consider how he behaved yesterday on Capitol Hill. Sometimes he was downright candid about his cover-up: “I don’t intend at this stage to send the full, unredacted report.”
Sometimes he bobbed and weaved; when asked to explain why Mueller — according to Barr’s own summary — has declined to exonerate Trump on obstruction of justice, Barr replied: “I’m not in a position to discuss that further until the report is all out and then what is meant by exonerate is a question that I can’t answer.” (Yet he’d already said that the report will not be “all out.”)
Sometimes he made lame excuses for his four-page summary. Mueller investigators told the press last week that they’d written summaries intended for public release, but that Barr had ignored them. Barr rationalized his decision this way: “In my view, I was not interested in putting out summaries or trying to summarize, because I think any summary, regardless of who prepares it, not only runs the risk of being under-inclusive or over-inclusive but also would trigger a lot of discussion and analysis that really should await everything coming out at once.” (Wow. Where to begin. If every summary “runs the risk of being under-inclusive or over-inclusive,” why should we believe his? And doesn’t he keep telling us that “everything” will not be coming out?)
And, yesterday, sometimes he simply stonewalled. When asked whether he has given Trump a back-channel briefing on the Mueller report, he replied: “I’ve said what I’m gonna say about the report today. I’m not going to say anything more about it until the report is out.”
Barr says that the Justice team is inking out all kinds of stuff — grand jury information, classified information, information about ongoing prosecutions, and information that may adversely affect the privacy and reputation of “peripheral third parties.” Trump’s defenders and online trolls have seized on those provisions, anticipating that the released report will have more holes than Swiss cheese. What they fail to realize, of course, is that congressional committees handle classified information, ongoing case information, and third-party information all the time — and that, as recently as 2016, the FBI and the Justice Department shared its Hillary Clinton e-mail investigation documents with the Republican-led House Judiciary Committee.
And the Justice Department in the past has shared grand jury information with the people’s representatives. In 1974, a federal court authorized the release of such material to the House Judiciary Committee. Barr was asked earlier today, by a Senate committee, whether he has sought federal court authorization to release such material in connection with the Mueller report. He replied, “No.” Of course he hasn’t. His prime role — the reason Trump chose him — is to serve his client’s political needs.
An argument can certainly be made that suppressing large swaths of the Mueller report could damage Trump politically — four new polls report that landslide majorities of Americans, ranging from 75 to 84 percent, want the report released in full and that any suppression effort poses an extreme stress test for the rule of law. But in this particular era, the national interest typically gets trumped by scandalous self-interest. In the words of former Watergate prosecutor Philip Lacovara and constitutional professor Laurence Tribe, “Trump’s selection of his new attorney general may prove to be his best line of defense.”