William Barr’s confirmation hearing was dominated by questions about Robert Mueller for obvious reasons.
Donald Trump’s decision to force out Jeff Sessions and replace him with a sycophant (in Matt Whitaker) raised serious questions about the fate of the special counsel probe and news that Rod Rosenstein is on the way out the door only underscored worries that the administration would ultimately move to suppress the final report.
In written responses to questions from senators on Monday, Barr reiterated that he would resign before he’d fire Mueller for something other than “good cause”, but that’s hardly comforting given that it’s not clear what would constitute “good cause.”
Barr’s answers also cast still more doubt on whether he will commit to making sure the public gets to read the Mueller report when it’s finally released. For instance, here’s what he wrote in response to a question from Dianne Feinstein:
If it turns out that any report contains material information that is privileged or confidential, I would not tolerate an effort to withhold such information for any improper purpose, such as to cover up wrongdoing.
Again, Democratic lawmakers are unlikely to be convinced, especially given Barr’s history with special counsel investigations and what he said during his hearing when he appeared to suggest he could suppress the report on certain conditions.
—"interests of uncharged third parties" (think: DJT as unindicted coconspirator)
—DOJ policy "not to criticize individuals for conduct that does not warrant prosecution"
— Ryan Goodman (@rgoodlaw) January 28, 2019
Barr’s written response to Senate Judiciary. Says it’s “very important that the public and Congress be informed of the results of the Special Counsel’s work,” and vows that it will not be withheld for any “improper purpose,” but stops short of vowing to release the full report https://t.co/XeQhSGgo4I
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) January 28, 2019
As you’re aware, Justice Department regulations stipulate that the attorney general will receive a confidential report from Mueller outlining the rationale for charging or not charging those investigated in the probe and the attorney general then gets to decide what will be made public.
Because on Monday, Richard Blumenthal and Chuck Grassley introduced the “Special Counsel Transparency Act”. You can read the full press release below, but suffice to say Congress sounds like they aren’t going to let Trump get away with obscuring Mueller’s findings.
Of course there will be invariably be legal obstacles to writing a public report that contains the same level of granularity that one assumes would be in the confidential report submitted to the AG, but this sounds like a step in the right direction.
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, introduced transparency legislation today to ensure that the work of Justice Department Special Counsels is made available to both Congress and the public. The Special Counsel Transparency Act requires that a Special Counsel submit a report directly to Congress and the public at the conclusion of an investigation, if the Special Counsel is fired or transferred, or if the Special Counsel resigns.
“The Special Counsel Transparency Act is about a simple, bipartisan principle: the public’s right to know. Our legislation would guarantee that every Special Counsel does a report complete with findings and evidence – and that it be directly disclosed to Congress and the American people. A report would be required whenever a Special Counsel finishes the investigation, is fired, or resigns; assuring that the results cannot be sealed or selectively censored,” Blumenthal said. “A Special Counsel is appointed only in very rare serious circumstances involving grave violations of public trust. The public has a right and need to know the facts of such betrayals of public trust. Our bipartisan bill makes it the default that the American people have access to the full story, putting in context any conclusions with findings and evidence.”
“Congress and the American people have a right to know how their government conducts business and spends tax dollars. Special counsel investigations are no different. I was encouraged to hear attorney general nominee William Barr place a high priority on transparency when asked at his confirmation hearing about Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation, and there’s no reason to think that Mueller won’t be allowed to finish his work. This bipartisan legislation ensures that Congress and the American people have oversight of and insight into activities and findings of special counsel investigations under any administration,” Grassley said.
The Special Counsel Transparency Act introduced today requires that any Special Counsel produce a report to Congress at the conclusion of an investigation or within two weeks of a removal, transfer, or resignation. The report must include all factual findings and underlying evidence.