By Robert A. Vella
The first day of confirmation hearings for President Trump’s Attorney General nominee William Barr went about as expected with no surprises or fireworks. The top issue on everyone’s mind is whether Barr will allow Special Counsel Robert Mueller to complete his investigation and release the results to the public, or whether he will act in various ways to protect the president from it. Here’s my perspective for what it’s worth:
Barr is undeniably a political conservative. He supports Trump’s border wall, and his tenure as Attorney General under President George H.W. Bush facilitated the failed war on drugs among other questionable actions such as assenting to the Iran-Contra scandal pardons. Barr is also an advocate for expansive executive power, and has showed deference to presidential decisions regardless of their intent or merit. Furthermore, his unsolicited memo to the Department of Justice and a White House attorney which criticized the Mueller investigation suggests that Barr was personally interested in the job to replace interim AG Matthew Whitaker.
On the other hand, Barr is also a highly respected institutionalist whose adherence to the rule of law is widely acknowledged in the legal profession. His opening remarks in yesterday’s hearing asserted that he will be supportive of the Mueller investigation, and that he won’t attempt to undermine it. When questioned by senators, however, Barr said that he wouldn’t necessarily recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation if recommended to do so by DOJ ethics officers, his answers regarding obstruction of justice were rather murky, and he wouldn’t commit to fully releasing the Mueller report to either Congress or to the public. It was apparent that Barr was reserving the right to make these decisions for himself if and when each situation arises; yet, that is not an unreasonable position to take.
Additionally, Barr cited his long legal career as an indicator for his independence if he is confirmed as AG. While it is true that his successful professional career is nearing its end, and that this makes him less susceptible to political manipulation, it does not indicate which direction his independence might lead him. If he has nothing to fear from political retribution, would this make him more inclined to boldly defend Trump or more inclined to boldly defend Mueller?
Since Barr’s confirmation seems assured, we’ll find out what he’ll do soon enough. I suspect that Barr will not deviate much if at all from established legal boundaries. When Muller’s confidential report is submitted to him, he’ll in turn submit his own summary report to Congress. Depending on what it contains, and what it does not contain, Congress may call him to testify for a thorough explanation. That is the safeguarding provision written into the Special Counsel mandate.
Further reading: William Barr carefully distances himself from Trump on key issues
The Democratic leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives has “uninvited” President Trump from making his State of the Union speech before a joint session of Congress on January 29th citing security concerns arising from the ongoing government shutdown.
Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen will testify in an open hearing before the House Oversight Committee on February 7th. His testimony will be restricted by the Mueller investigation; however, he is expected to reveal shocking details about working for a “madman.”
Interim Attorney General Matthew Whitaker will testify before the House Judiciary Committee on February 8th.
Mueller’s office filed court documents yesterday requesting a delay in the criminal sentencing of Trump’s former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates. The request suggests that Gates is still cooperating with federal investigators.
Mueller’s office also filed court documents yesterday detailing the false statements made by Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort which violated the conditions of his plea deal and which reveal new information about his contacts with Russians.
An escort from Belarus who said she had tapes of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election is to be deported from Thailand.
Young adults are dropping out of church in large numbers, a new survey finds.
Global tensions are holding back climate change fight, says World Economic Forum.
Documents reveal union-busting attacks on organized labor by Verizon.