May 2, 2019

Attorney General William Barr Testifies

Editor's note: We couldn’t be more proud of one of our teammates, Isaac Rose-Berman, who penned his first op-ed this week in USA Today: “How college students can bridge American divides: 'Study abroad' in Alabama or New York.” Please give it a read, and share far and wide!

On Wednesday, “in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General William Barr [defended] his handling of the Mueller report and his decision not to bring obstruction of justice charges against President Trump. Lawmakers also [questioned] him on why he didn't disclose Special Counsel Robert Mueller's written concerns about his initial letter to Congress summarizing his findings.” C-SPAN

On Wednesday evening, “several Democrats on the Senate committee called for Barr’s resignation… [accusing] Barr of misleading Congress, by saying in April that he did not know whether Mueller agreed with his characterization of the report - failing to mention Mueller’s March 27 letter that Barr’s initial summary did not ‘fully capture the context, nature and substance of this Office’s work’… Barr was due to face the Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, but pulled out after the two sides were unable to agree on the format for the hearing.” Reuters

See past issues

From the Left

The left takes Mueller’s letter and Barr’s testimony as confirmation that Barr is behaving more like Trump’s defense attorney than the U.S. Attorney General.

“Barr said on Wednesday that he felt releasing parts of the report piecemeal would simply confuse the public. But that same critique could be leveled even more powerfully at his own, misleading-by-omission summary… Even if no specific sentence in the letter was wrong, it misleadingly downplayed the gravity and scope of the report, and misrepresented the thinking behind Mueller’s decision not to bring obstruction charges… as a side-by-side comparison of Barr’s and Mueller’s words shows, the attorney general selectively quoted from the report, and took many of those quotations out of context. The result was, as Mueller noted, that the public was misled about the contents of the report.”
David A. Graham, The Atlantic

“The Barr memo was worded and released in such a way that implied Mueller had given Trump a pass on obstruction, a point which was picked up in news coverage of Barr’s description. When the Mueller report itself became public this month however, it became clear that Mueller had compiled a substantial obstruction case, leaving it to Congress to decide whether to pursue it. Barr’s release of the report’s findings… went to great lengths to set a narrative that Trump was in the clear and give it time to congeal well before there was any information available to refute Trump’s barrage of self-exculpatory tweets.”
Elliot Hannon, Slate

“For an institutionalist like Mr. Mueller, who never once spoke up to defend himself or his work from relentless attacks from the president and his Republican allies, the letter is an unusual (and welcome) breach of protocol… The regulations governing Mr. Mueller’s work call for a ‘confidential’ report to the attorney general at the conclusion of the inquiry, which the attorney general may then release if he determined it ‘would be in the public interest.’ That Mr. Mueller quoted from this regulatory language in his letter to Mr. Barr shows that he cares about rules, perhaps to a fault. But it alsoshows that Mr. Mueller sensed the urgency of his conclusions — and that he couldn’t sit idly by as the chief legal officer of the United States actively undermined them.”
Editorial Board, New York Times

“Barr's Senate testimony on Wednesday was a master class in obfuscation, backtracking and blame-shifting… When asked how a political campaign should react if approached by a foreign national offering dirt, Barr didn't give the only correct and sensible answer -- ‘run and call the FBI’ -- but instead twisted himself in a pretzel, saying the person should first try to ascertain if the foreigner is an intel agent. And Barr pretended not to understand what basic words such as ‘receptive’ and ‘suggest’ mean, when Democrats had the nerve to use such ‘technical’ terms.”
Elie Honig, CNN

“There was a tortured exchange about the fact that, as Mueller details, Trump instructed then-White House Counsel Donald McGahn to have Mueller fired, and then when that was reported in the press, instructed McGahn to deny it publicly. The report even describes Trump insisting to McGahn that because he had not used the word ‘fire,’ that meant he didn’t really tell McGahn to have Mueller fired, and that meant McGahn could publicly insist that Trump never told him to have Mueller fired. McGahn, perhaps realizing how absurd that was, refused… As Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) later said about a separate matter, ‘That’s some masterful hairsplitting.’”
Paul Waldman, Washington Post

Regarding the larger question of the attorney general’s powers over special counsel investigations, some note that “the special counsel regulations [were] produced in 1999 by Janet Reno’s Department of Justice under Bill Clinton’s administration… For the drafters of the special counsel regulations then, the goal was to create a mechanism that would still allow investigation of the president, but would prevent future Starrs from going on what the Clinton administration perceived as witch hunts against future presidents. Putting the special counsel under the supervision of the attorney general was the centerpiece of the strategy…

“Somehow, in the course of building up trust in Mueller over the last two years, many Democrats conveniently forgot that the regulations drafted by Democrats would allow the attorney general to minimize or even subvert Mueller’s findings… Blame the regulations for Barr’s distortions — and fix them. Rest assured, there will be a next time.”
Noah Feldman, Bloomberg

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) “insisted the president couldn’t possibly have done anything wrong because, in the end, Ukraine got its money without committing to any investigations. This point of view has radical implications for America’s system of justice and overcrowded prisons, if Mr. Jordan in fact truly believes that all inmates convicted of attempted crimes are innocent of wrongdoing… Perhaps the most telling remark was offered by a Republican staff lawyer, Stephen Castor, who suggested that while the president’s behavior may have been highly irregular, ‘it’s not as outlandish as it could be.’ Here’s a tip: When ‘not as outlandish as itcould be’ is your strongest defense, it’s time to rethink your position.”
Editorial Board, New York Times

From the Right

The right defends Barr, arguing that concerns over his memo are irrelevant now that the entire report has been released, and that his previous statements were not false.

From the Right

The right defends Barr, arguing that concerns over his memo are irrelevant now that the entire report has been released, and that his previous statements were not false.

“Mueller is a prosecutor employed by the Department of Justice to investigate actual and potential criminal activity and not an investigator employed by Congress to consider the case for impeachment. It was entirely fair for Barr to focus on the top-line legal conclusions in his initial statement… [in any case] within days, Barr released the entire report, with minimal material redactions. The American people have the opportunity to read every word, and so do members of Congress who may seek impeachment.”
David French, National Review

“What are Democrats so upset about? Is it that they lost a precious 25 days — from March 24 to April 18 — to spin Mueller’s findings to their liking?… [Since Trump won the 2016 election, the narrative] that he might be a Russian asset or may have conspired with Russia has been a near article of faith for the resistance. If Democrats can chastise Barr for spinning Mueller’s report for 24 days, then why can’t Republicans ask why Mueller didn’t end all the speculationabout a Trump-Russia conspiracy as soon as he found out it wasn’t true?”
Eli Lake, Bloomberg

“The Democrats’ perjury/contempt/impeachment slander against Barr is based on the fact that, in prior congressional testimony, Barr was asked whether Mueller agreed with Barr’s conclusions about the report, including that there was insufficient evidence to charge obstruction. Barr replied that he did not know whether Mueller agreed. Democrats now contend that Barr must have known Mueller disagreed because he had Mueller’s letter. But Mueller’s letter doesn’t say he disagreed with Barr’s conclusion… Mueller’s complaint is that Barr ‘did not fully capture the context’ of Mueller’s magnum opus – the ‘nature and substance’ of the report…

“Parsed carefully (which you have to do with the special counsel’s Jesuitical work), Mueller is precisely not saying that Barr misrepresented his key findings. He is saying that he and the Clinton/Obama minions he recruited to staff the case wrote the report with a certain mood music in mind. To their chagrin, Barr gave us just the no-crime bottom line.”
Andrew McCarthy, Fox News

“Read the supposedly damning exchange with Sen Chris Van Hollen.Barr is never asked whether Mueller is unhappy with his letter, just whether he’s unhappy with his conclusions, meaning his decision not to charge the president with obstruction… There’s another exchange with Rep . Charlie Crist that people are also focusing on. Barr is asked about anonymous officials from the Mueller probe telling the press they are unhappy with his summary letter. Barr, correctly, says he doesn’t know their discontents (he presumably didn’t talk to any of them about this, and wouldn’t know anyway since they were anonymous).”
Rich Lowry, National Review

Moreover, “Mr. Barr told the Senate Wednesday that he offered Mr. Mueller the chance to review his four-page letter before sending it to Congress, but the special counsel declined. Mr. Mueller worked for Mr. Barr, and that was the proper time to offer suggestions or disagree. Instead, Mr. Mueller ducked that responsibility and then griped in an ex-post-facto letter that was conveniently leaked on the eve of Mr. Barr’s testimony…

Democrats and the media are turning the AG into a villain for doing his duty and making the hard decisions that special counsel Robert Mueller abdicated… This trashing of Bill Barr shows how frustrated and angry Democrats continue to be that the special counsel came up empty in his Russia collusion probe. He was supposed to be their fast-track to impeachment. Now they’re left trying to gin up an obstruction tale, but the probe wasn’t obstructed and there was no underlying crime. So they’re shouting and pounding the table against Bill Barr for acting like a real Attorney General.”
Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

“Ultimately, both Attorney General Barr and Special Counsel Mueller have done the nation a service not just by clearing the President of collusion, but by returning the question of obstruction to Congress, where it belongs… Impeachment must be the only solution to Trump’s challenge to the constitutional order. The Constitution did not envision that the criminal justice system would address abuses of presidential power… The Constitution makes Congress alone accountable for removing a President who abuses his office.”
John Yoo, The Atlantic

Others note, “I’d hate to be a Democratic member of Congress trying to convince Joe Sixpack that this is a whole new ballgame. The transcript shows Trump being Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky trying to ingratiate himself with the big dog by, for instance, mentioning that he stays at Trump hotels. Trump’s conversation is typically scattershot, wandering all over the field, leaving a reasonable listener puzzled about what the takeaways are supposed to be…

“I think Joe Sixpack’s response is going to be a hearty shrug. After all that has emerged about Trump so far, his approval rating is closely tracking Obama’s approval at the same point in his presidency. To get Mr. Sixpack’s attention you are going to have to do better than this.”
Kyle Smith, National Review

President Trump should be happy. As much as Warren is articulate, obviously intelligent, and energetically supported by Democrats, she would also be far easier to defeat than Joe Biden… Considering Trump's economy, the president is well placed to defeat Warren.”
Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

A libertarian's take

“After adding in the ultra-millionaire’s tax and factoring in the other capital taxes Warren wants to levy — on financial transactions, on unrealized capital gains, on corporations — we’d be asking every billionaire to hand over more than two-thirds of their total wealth over a 10-year period. If the government actually managed to collect it, their fortunes would rapidly erode — and so would tax collections. The plan might be a good way to smash wealth, but it’s a terrible way to fund the nation’s health-care system…

“If Warren makes it to the White House, and tries to pass a plan, the Congressional Budget Office will eventually attach more reasonable numbers, with more defensible assumptions, sparking an even more spectacular political blowback than the one that greeted Friday’s announcement. Outside of the progressive Twitterati, there isn’t necessarily an enormous constituency for spending $20.5 trillion to herd every American into a national health insurance program; there would be even less support for spending what Warren’s plan would actually cost.”
Megan McArdle, Washington Post

On the bright side...

Man brings bag of moose poop to airport, says he collected it as gift for politicians.
Fox News

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