By Robert A. Vella
The Attorney General is barring justice (pun intended). William Barr has spent his entire legal career cleverly constructing the image of an honorable professional who adheres to the rule of law without exception. In reality, he is little more than a conservative ideologue possessing the acumen and style necessary to advance the legal interpretations he prefers regardless of the wording and intent of the law. If Barr had pursued a career in politics instead of law, he would’ve been a superb speech writer or propaganda composer for the Republican Party.
Barr’s ability to effectuate right-wing objectives through the legal system is the reason why President Trump selected him for Attorney General. It was an astute choice which I’m sure the irascible Trump did not make without guidance. However, by taking on the job of concealing the Mueller report, Barr’s impressive skill is surpassing the societal tolerance level for anything he had done previously. In other words, he is now treading into dangerous waters where no attorney general before him had ever dared to test.
Neal Katyal, who wrote the Special Counsel statute under which Robert Mueller’s investigation operated, reacted strongly to Barr’s brief summary submitted to Congress last Sunday (see: Neal Katyal: Barr’s Problematic Summary Makes It Critical That Report Is Made Public). Ironically, it was Katyal’s own statute which is allowing Barr to conceal the Mueller report because it placed that authority into the hands of a single individual – the Attorney General of the United States. Katyal would probably argue that such authority is not unlimited and that Barr is obligated to report to Congress all of Mueller’s decisions to prosecute or not to prosecute individuals/entities under investigation (which Barr has not yet done). It is also ironic that Katyal’s task to write the Special Counsel regulations was prompted by an overreaction to the more powerful Independent Counsel statute under which Ken Starr investigated President Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
Regardless of that legal history, what Barr is doing now is tantamount to de facto obstruction of justice by impeding the functional practice of democracy in the U.S. How? Because the American people cannot make informed judgments about their president – exemplified by voting – without knowing the full extent of Trump’s potential collusion with Russia as well as attempts to keep it secret. Such an affront to democracy may be the worst crime of all.
WASHINGTON — The still-secret report on Russian interference in the 2016 election submitted by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, last week was more than 300 pages long, according to the Justice Department, a length that raises new questions about Attorney General William P. Barr’s four-page summary.
Mr. Barr wrote to Congress on Sunday offering what he called the “principal conclusions” of the report — including that Mr. Mueller had not found evidence that the Trump campaign took part in a conspiracy to undermine the election. But he had notably declined to publicly disclose its length.
The total of 300-plus pages suggests that Mr. Mueller went well beyond the kind of bare-bones summary required by the Justice Department regulation governing his appointment and detailed his conclusions at length. And it raises questions about what Mr. Barr might have left out of the four dense pages he sent Congress.
Trump Admin’s secret dealings
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry has approved six secret authorizations by companies to sell nuclear power technology and assistance to Saudi Arabia, according to a copy of a document seen by Reuters on Wednesday.
The Trump administration has quietly pursued a wider deal on sharing U.S. nuclear power technology with Saudi Arabia, which aims to build at least two nuclear power plants. Several countries including the United States, South Korea and Russia are in competition for that deal, and the winners are expected to be announced later this year by Saudi Arabia.
Perry’s approvals, known as Part 810 authorizations, allow companies to do preliminary work on nuclear power ahead of any deal but not ship equipment that would go into a plant, a source with knowledge of the agreements said on condition of anonymity. The approvals were first reported by the Daily Beast.
The recent government shutdown cost the US economy billions of dollars, but one industry largely dodged its worst effects — the industry previously represented by the Interior Department’s acting secretary David Bernhardt.
In contrast to other shutdowns in recent decades, the department’s Bureau of Land Management continued to process applications from oil and gas companies to drill on public land as other offices remained closed, which environmentalists and some former BLM employees argue reveals a bias that favors the energy industry.
During the 35-day government shutdown, the BLM approved 267 onshore drilling permits and 16 leases applied for by oil and gas companies, the agency said, a number far greater than previously known. Two of Bernhardt’s former clients were among the range of companies that submitted the approved applications.
A federal judge on Wednesday ruled that the U.S. government’s study of drilling projects in Colorado wasn’t in compliance with federal law and ordered the government to do further analysis.
U.S District Judge Lewis Babcock agreed with conservation groups that the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service were not in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in their analysis of a drilling project called the Bull Mountain Master Development Plan and the adjacent 25-well Project.
WI court fight
MADISON, Wis. — A Wisconsin appeals court on Wednesday reinstated laws Republicans passed during a lame-duck session to weaken the Democratic governor and attorney general, but the statutes remain blocked because of a ruling in a separate case.
AZ legislator resigns
PHOENIX — Arizona Rep. David Stringer resigned Wednesday amid an ethics investigation of 1983 sex charges and his comments on race and immigration.
The Prescott Republican lawmaker stepped down as he faced a 5 p.m. deadline to hand over documents demanded by the House Ethics Committee. Earlier in the day he made an emergency request for a judge to block the Legislature from expelling him, then withdrew it as a hearing was scheduled to begin.
His resignation temporarily ends the Republican governing majority in the House and will likely delay some of the GOP’s top priorities just as the legislative session heats up. Without Stringer, the House is divided 30-29 between Republicans and Democrats. Legislation requires 31 votes to pass.
Members of Parliament (MPs) held “indicative votes” on Wednesday, casting ballots for eight different options on how the United Kingdom should break up with the European Union. The goal of the process was to reveal what kind of Brexit plan might win a majority in the House of Commons, after MPs twice rejected Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal.
There’s just one problem — no option won a clear majority.
A plan for a second referendum, in which any Brexit deal approved by Parliament would go back to the public for a vote, received the most “aye” votes. A customs union arrangement, where the UK would follow the same customs rules as the EU, came in second.
Earlier that day, the prime minister had announced that she would resign if Parliament backed her Brexit plan, which has twice been defeated in Parliament by very large margins. May is still planning to bring her deal for a third vote, possibly Friday, though nothing is decided yet.