It had been evident, for some time, that congressional Democrats were not going to simply accept the findings of the office of special counsel (OSC) and move on. The sheer pace of recrimination, accusation, and counter-accusation that followed the release of Robert Mueller’s report, though, may have taken even the most seasoned political analysts by surprise.
Mere weeks after Attorney General William Barr received the OSC report, he delivered the minimally redacted version to Congress and to the American people. Curiously, President Donald Trump’s political foes continue to act as if that report has been withheld from them, and Barr now finds himself at the center of a cover-up conspiracy theory.
…a clear and present danger…
The Assualt on William Barr
Eric Holder, President Barack Obama’s attorney general, effectively swore personal allegiance to his president, describing himself as Obama’s “wingman.” Though Barr has done no such thing, Democrats accuse him of acting more out of loyalty to Trump than out of a duty to the country. Specifically, leading Democratic Party figures seized upon the AG’s four-page letter to Congress, in which he recounted the underlying conclusions of the Mueller report.
During a recent Senate hearing, the party’s Judiciary Committee members attempted to spring a perjury trap for Barr. Unnamed and unverified sources within the OSC allegedly objected to the way in which Barr’s letter represented the report’s conclusions. Mueller, or one of his staff, wrote to the attorney general to express concerns over the lack of context in the Barr letter, but the former did not object to Barr’s presentation of the report’s conclusions.
This was not a dispute over the accuracy of Barr’s depiction of the OSC findings but a concern that, in the absence of more detail, the AG’s letter did not fully describe the way in which the OSC arrived at its final determinations. Essentially, Mueller believed Barr should have released a series of executive summaries of the report.
The real disconnect is that Mueller understood that the attorney general was under no legal obligation to release the full report. Even if Barr had chosen to release it, many more weeks – or even months – could pass before that happened, since the process of redacting sensitive information could have been lengthy. Barr, on the other hand, intended to expedite the report’s release and saw no need to feed it piecemeal – via the executive summaries – to the public.
Questioned about the alleged concerns of the OSC, Barr told the Senate committee that he had been unaware of them. Democrats now accuse him of lying to Congress, pointing out that the AG had already received Mueller’s letter and was therefore well aware of those concerns.
In fact, Barr did not mislead Congress at all. He was not aware of any concerns over the accuracy of the content of his letter. In that letter, Barr had quoted the OSC report directly, and so disputing its accuracy was entirely baseless. The fact that the full report, redactions notwithstanding, has already been made public renders this entire argument pointless – perhaps ridiculous.
Unable to agree to the proposed format of a scheduled House Judiciary Committee hearing, Barr declined to appear, and committee chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) announced May 5 that he would initiate contempt proceedings against the attorney general.
What really concerns Democrats is that Barr is opening – or may have already opened – a Department of Justice investigation into the origins of the Trump-Russia collusion story and why Trump campaign associates were spied on by the FBI. The attorney general is now a clear and present danger to those Democrats, and many other former government officials, who were involved in creating the Russian conspiracy theory.
White House Strikes Back Against Mueller
In the meantime, Special Counsel to the President Emmet T. Flood wrote to the attorney general to express grave concerns over the way in which Mueller conducted his investigation. In his letter, Flood accuses Mueller of having turned the prosecutorial process on its head.
In Volume II of the Mueller report – which deals primarily with the question of potential obstruction of justice – the OSC stated: “The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred.”
Flood takes issue with this statement on the ground that “conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred” is not the role of a prosecutor. A prosecutor is not supposed to begin an investigation with the assumption that an individual is guilty and then attempt to determine whether the evidence conclusively proves him or her innocent. The very basis of the American system of justice is that an accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
“When prosecutors decline to charge, they make that decision not because they have ‘conclusively determin[ed] that no criminal conduct occurred,’ but rather because they do not believe that the investigated conduct constitutes a crime for which all the elements can be proven to the satisfaction of a jury beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Flood’s letter appears very much to be a foundation for the potential legal defense of the president against the charge of obstruction of justice. Essentially, Flood challenges the legal credibility of the Mueller report – which Flood described as “part ‘truth commission’ report and part law school exam paper.”
In a further new development, the House Judiciary Committee is reportedly in talks with Mueller about a potential appearance to testify. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee, does not intend to call the special counsel to testify unless Mueller wishes to dispute the attorney general’s portrayal of the OSC report’s conclusions.
Rather than bring an end to the entire Russia affair, the release of the OSC report has sparked a major confrontation between congressional Democrats and the executive branch. Russian President Vladimir Putin could not possibly have engineered a more destructive campaign against the U.S. political system than that which Democrats have unleashed – all because they could accept neither the result of the 2016 election nor the findings of the special counsel investigation.
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