Opinion | Muftic: Barr’s Mayday distress sparks a bigger mess
The grilling Attorney General William Barr got from Senate Democrats in his appearance May 1 in Senate hearings must have been enough for him. Barr bailed out, failing to appear for a House Judiciary committee hearing the next day on the same subject, special counsel Robert Mueller’s report about Russia’s interference in the 2016 elections. Barr was accused by Senate Democrats of splitting hairs in semantic wrangling, and even outright lying to Congress in his testimonies May 1.
Some Democrats called for impeaching Barr for lying.
Barr had objected to the House appearance May 2 because he did not want to be cross examined. Follow-up questions by staff attorneys are a jeopardy he was not willing to face. Barr objected to being cross examined by House counsel that was not bound by a five minute rule for questioning imposed on House members themselves. Having House staff attorneys do the questioning is not an uncommon procedure when points of law are being argued or there is suspicion of someone lying. Just ask Dr. Blasey Ford who got cross examined by the Senate committee’s specially hired attorney in the Kavanaugh Supreme Court Senate confirmation hearings.
Will any of this lead to President Trump’s or Barr’s impeachment?
Speaker Pelosi is putting on the brakes for now even as she accused Barr of outright lying to Congress, as well as telling her caucus not to proceed for impeachment of the President. She has her eye on 2020 election strategy and impeachment would play into Trump’s hands in portraying himself as a victim.
Instead, the strategy of House Democrats is getting key players quoted in the Mueller Report to testify to repeat in a public hearing the same findings published in the report. This has far more public impact than just hearing excerpts or reading a 448 page report. Barr and Trump media have spun and distorted the findings so effectively, public broadcast of hearings of testimony by the major players would dramatically inform a public of what the findings really were or meant. Today’s voters are more attuned to hearing it themselves than reading it in print and may get a better picture of who is telling the truth about Russian intervention in the 2016 election and whether the President obstructed justice by seeing and hearing those testifying. Polls show increasing public perception already damaging to President Trump. Fifty-eight to 60% of the public believe Trump has lied about the Mueller Report. Another poll finds an even split over whether Trump committed crimes while in the White House and two-thirds of those polled are still not in favor of impeachment. Dramatic House hearings could tilt future polls, just as public testimony turned public views against Nixon in Watergate.
Robert Mueller is scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary Committee meeting May 15 and Trump says he will not allow it.
Another key player is White House Counsel Don McGahn, who had spent hours testifying to the FBI. He is the key witness to some of Trump’s alleged obstruction of justice evidence. Trump and his administration are trying to prevent them from answering a subpoena to testify in person, just as they have made it clear they will try to block any subpoenas to present documents and testimony before Congress Richard Nixon in Watergate tried the same tactic, but court decisions were ruled against him. We know how that saga ended.
In questioning by Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md) and Rep. Charlie Crist (D-F) April 9, 10, 18 Barr had testified Mueller had not objected to his April 24 exoneration letter. Barr lied. He knew better. May 1 his lie was exposed. Barr had received a telephone call and two letters of record from Mueller, one made March 25, and with the March 27 letter later released by the Justice Department May 1, the morning of the Senate hearings. Special Counsel Robert Mueller wrote in the letter to Barr March 27 complaining on record about Barr’s March 24 statement characterizing Mueller’s report. He wrote: “The summary letter the Department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions. We communicated that concern to the Department on the morning of March 25.
So, what can the Democrats do short of impeachment and besides holding public hearings?
Democrats can craft an amendment to the special counsel legislation to require a special counsel’s report to be released to the Attorney General and to Congress simultaneously in order to call out a misleading spin and reinstate a better balance of power between the Executive and Legislative branches. They can charge Barr with Contempt of Congress, if not for lying, for failing to turn over the un-redacted version of the Mueller report. A House vote on contempt charges is scheduled for Wednesday Democrats can pursue by filing suits in the courts. Whenever this makes it through the courts is anyone’s guess, but it is not out of the question it might be decided in the middle of the 2020 campaign. No, Mr. President. This is not over.
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