A couple of key regime figures found themselves on Capitol Hill Tuesday testifying before lawmakers, some of whom are furious.
William Barr is facing all manner of criticism for what Democrats and Trump critics have variously suggested is a deliberate attempt to spin the Mueller report in the interest of shaping the narrative prior to turning a redacted copy of the document over to Congress. The idea, some say, is to crystallize public opinion around the “no obstruction” story before releasing the report because, as Barr wrote in his initial summary, Mueller made it clear that the investigation did not exonerate Trump in the obstruction case. Therefore, Barr and Rosenstein had to do the exonerating and it’s not entirely clear that’s what the special counsel intended.
Regardless of who Mueller meant to make that determination, the Justice Department appears keen on making the “no obstruction” headline so indelible, that any subsequent attempts by Democrats to point out that the full report actually makes a clear case for obstruction and that the only thing standing between that case and Trump is in fact Barr’s discretion, will be seen as illegitimate.
You’re reminded that Barr essentially ignored an April 2 “deadline” from Jerry Nadler to produce the full, unredacted report along with the underlying evidence, opting instead to stick with an existing plan to release the report with redactions by “mid-April” and then follow up by testifying before the House and Senate on May 1 and 2.
In the meantime, Nadler has threatened to issue subpoenas. He’s also tried to make it abundantly clear that anything short of the full, unredacted report will be considered unacceptable.
When it came to light that members of Mueller’s team had produced their own summaries, the pressure on Barr was ratcheted higher still. Media reports that some of the special counsel’s team feel as though Barr misrepresented (inadvertently or otherwise) their findings didn’t help. Nadler wants those summaries too. “If these recent reports are accurate and the Special Counsel’s office prepared summaries ‘in a way that minimum redactions, if any, would have been necessary,’ then those summaries should be publicly released as soon as possible”, he said last week.
In any event, Tuesday’s proceedings weren’t supposed to be about Mueller. Barr was testifying before the House appropriations subcommittee on the administration’s fiscal 2020 budget request for the DoJ, but invariably, it turned into a hearing about Mueller and, naturally, the ACA.
The headline-grabber from Barr’s Tuesday remarks was the moment when he revealed that he still expects to release the “full” (scare quotes there for a reason) report “within a week”. Here’s the video:
As you can see, Barr also goes to great lengths to insist that he will provide reasons for any redactions which is welcome news, although, frankly, it’s still not entirely clear why the House Judiciary Committee can’t see the full report without those redactions.
When it comes to whether unreported evidence of obstruction will show up, unredacted, the answer is that it will be “identifiable”.
Oh, and if you’re wondering whether the White House has seen the report or whether Trump’s recent back-tracking on the idea that the administration has no problem releasing it in its entirety, the answer is that Bill “has said all he’s going to say”.
Moving right along, when quizzed about whether the DoJ has properly evaluated the consequences of its position on the ACA, Barr suggested that Democrats “have nothing to worry about” because DoJ’s position is “ridiculous” anyway. And yes, you read that correctly. Watch this:
Barr might as well have just said this: “Look, you and I both know the president is tilting at windmills here and this isn’t ever going to work, so let’s just leave it at that.”
His comments come a week after Trump essentially punted on health care, all but admitting that the administration’s “great” plan doesn’t actually exist and probably won’t until at least 2021.
Meanwhile, Steve Mnuchin was on the Hill as well and as you might imagine, he was peppered with questions about Richard Neal’s demands for Trump’s tax returns.
Pressed on whether he’s been in contact with Trump about the request, Mnuchin (again) said that he hasn’t, but he was careful to distinguish “personal” communications from communications between the White House and Treasury’s legal team.
Steve went on to clarify, noting that “our legal department has had conversations prior to receiving the letter with the White House General Counsel.” Mnuchin said he was “not briefed… as to the contents of that communication” but he “believes” it was “purely informational.”
Over the weekend, Mick Mulvaney insisted that Democrats will “never” get the president’s tax returns, a bold claim considering tax attorneys have suggested there is virtually no legal basis for the White House to defy the request. Ultimately, the issue could find its way to the Supreme Court.
Here’s how the afternoon ended for Mnuchin, who found himself on the wrong end of Maxine Waters’s gavel:
So, that’s what kind of day Bill Barr and Steve Mnuchin had – hopefully their performance was satisfactory, otherwise Stephen Miller might have to summarily “purge” them.