William Barr Weighs In
It was more like a weigh-in than a first round. William Barr spoke to Congress yesterday in what turned into a short preview of the actual fight that should come when the redacted Mueller report is released. We did learn a few things from the spectacle.
First and most important, Barr made it clear that he would do what the President tells him to do, even if that goes against his own judgement. To quote, in an exchange with Rep. Lawrence, Barr said an attorney general should give his best advice to the President and “if the president disagrees with that advice, then the AG should take that position even if it’s not the position AG would take as a judge.”
The chief law enforcement officer of the US said that he “should” override his own legal judgement and obey the president. In this case, that would be Trump. Remember that next time someone suggests that Barr’s letter exonerates Trump, or that Barr is anything but a partisan hack brought into his office for one purpose, to defend the President.
In another interesting moment, Barr was asked by Rep. Crist whether he had consulted with anyone about his summary letter. Barr hemmed a bit, then said not that he recalled. Historic echoes of the Ollie North hearings must have reverberated through the room. Crist pressed him, and Barr said he was, “pretty sure” he hadn’t, then finally mumbled “I am sure.” This was the only specific lie that I noticed. When Rep Meng pressed him further on this, he answered more definitely that he didn’t “consult” anyone about his summary.
The only time Barr smiled through the whole proceedings came when asked a question by a Republican member about whether some Democratic congressmen held information that Mueller did not have. The questioner asked if Barr thought that would be equivalent to obstruction and Barr smiled broadly (it was actually pretty creepy!) and answered through the grin, “I wouldn’t want to speculate about that.” He is obviously relishing going after Trump’s enemies. Or perhaps he was just struck by the irony of answering a question about someone else’s obstruction of justice while he was in the middle of obstructing justice himself.
This signals the epic clown fight to come. Barr made it clear that his counter-attack on the investigation of Trump will be to accuse the accusers. His responses to Alabama Rep. Aderholt’s question about pursuing an investigation of the sources of the investigation was far more enthusiastic and definite than most of his other answers. Barr made no attempt to hide the threat.
Early in the hearing, Aderholt said one of the most amazingly cognitive dissonant things I’ve heard in a while. With all the passion of an experienced political speaker, he pontificated, with a straight face, that “the most sacred right of Americans is the right not to be spied on.” Before I could stop laughing he went on to explain that Trump of all people has had that right violated. Perhaps Aderholt never heard of Ed Snowden.
From the side, hearing something like that makes me laugh. But, like the blues song says, “I’m laughing just to keep from crying.”
You can watch for yourself. Try not to cry.
A few quick news clips:
If you were wondering whether it’s legal for Congress to request Trump’s tax returns, Vox asked 12 legal scholars and only one expressed even the slightest doubt that it was legal and fully with the rights of the judiciary committee to see those tax returns.
Daniel Shaviro, law professor, New York University says this:
This is not an issue on which there is any possibility of reasonable disagreement. Any well-informed person who disagrees either that the Ways and Means Committee has an obligation to demand Trump’s tax returns as part of fulfilling its oversight duties or that Trump is legally obliged to turn them over is either a partisan hack or contemptuous of the rule of law.
Trump has credibly been accused of engaging in criminal activity for decades. It’s undisputed that he is still profiting from his businesses. There is substantial information in the public record suggesting that he is for sale (or subject to blackmail) and that many of his public policy decisions have been made for corrupt reasons. The tax returns may help provide information that sheds light on his motives. It’s an indispensable part of congressional oversight, and Republicans as well as Democrats in the Congress ought to recognize this (and in private probably do, whether or not they care).Daniel Shaviro
The law seems clear, from what these scholars write. But the case will most likely end up in the Supreme Court. And there, I’m very sad to say, the law ends.
In other news, Trump is finally cleaning the swamp. His own swamp. And he is filling it with a sewer. Putting a border agent in charge of DHS could spread the border crackdown throughout the country. This sort of purge in the internal security apparatus of the US ought to put us all on alert. If this happened in, say, Russia, what would the headlines in the US say?
It’s hard to imagine what he wants the new fookers to do, if the old fookers won’t do it for him.
Last note: after 17 years, American troops are still dying in Afghanistan.
The US war in Afghanistan, begun under younger Bush, continues on, now 17 years later, the longest war in US history. A few American troops and many Afghanis, die each year. Through 8 years of Democratic leadership under President Obama the wars continued and spread to Libya and Syria, Sudan. Both political parties, it seems, are war parties. It makes me ashamed to think I didn’t work harder to stop this endless war, especially when the party I was in could have stopped it.
I don’t want to be part of any war party.
It makes me glad I’ve stepped to the side.