Things were a mess inside the Beltway this week thanks in large part to William Barr, whose evasive testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee and subsequent refusal to appear before Jerry Nadler’s House panel raised still more questions about the attorney general’s involvement in assisting the White House in perpetuating a false narrative about the special counsel report.
Revelations that Robert Mueller sent Barr an irritated letter three days after the Justice Department’s public exoneration of the president made things immeasurably worse. Simply put, the tone of Mueller’s letter suggested Barr may have lied to Congress last month when he claimed to not know whether the special counsel had any reservations about the four-page summary delivered to lawmakers on March 24.
By Thursday afternoon, calls for Barr’s resignation were getting louder. Nancy Pelosi claimed to have “lost sleep” after watching Barr testify. “He lied to Congress,” she said. “If anybody else did that it would be a crime.”
And that, right there, underscores the essence of the problem. Just because it’s the attorney general doing it doesn’t mean it’s not still a crime, just like obstruction is still a crime even when it’s carried out by the president.
The White House appears to be relying on a combination of immunity (i.e., claiming Trump, Barr, etc. are above the law), the public nature of Trump’s various transgressions (i.e., “Is it really a conspiracy if it’s done in plain sight?”) and downright ignorance (i.e., “Does the president seem like someone who is smart enough to be involved in an intricate plot?”) to claim innocence. That needs to stop, because if it’s allowed to persist, it will set a dubious precedent, as Nadler attempted to explain on Thursday while chastising Barr for his refusal to appear before the committee.
On Friday, Nadler made yet another overture to the Justice Department, telling Barr that House Democrats would settle for the redacted sections of the report that don’t include grand jury material.
“The committee is prepared to make every realistic effort to reach an accommodation with the department,” Nadler wrote to Barr. “But if the department persists in its baseless refusal to comply with a validly issued subpoena, the committee will move to contempt proceedings and seek further legal recourse.”
Meanwhile, Lindsey Graham offered to “let” Mueller testify before the Senate Judiciary panel regarding Barr’s contention that the phone call between the two men was mainly about the media. The attorney general claims Mueller’s complaints weren’t centered around Barr’s four-page summary of the special counsel report, but rather about the way the media portrayed it. The actual letter from Mueller to Barr seems to a tell a different story, though. “Please inform the committee if you would like to provide testimony regarding any misrepresentation by the attorney general about the substance of that phone call”, Graham wrote to Mueller.
Of course, that’s a pretty narrow line of inquiry. Graham could have just invited Mueller to, you know, tell the Senate anything and everything he wants to tell them about this debacle and weigh in on whether it was in fact the special counsel’s intention that Congress decide whether Trump obstructed justice.
As if all of the above weren’t enough, America learned that Emmet Flood wrote a silly letter to Barr on April 19 which served to i) justify Trump’s efforts to prevent administration advisors and officials from complying with congressional oversight investigations, ii) justify a probe into the origins of the investigation into the campaign’s alleged coordination with Moscow, and iii) castigate Mueller for not rendering a judgement on obstruction (Flood called the special counsel report “a prosecutorial curiosity – part ‘truth commission’ report and part law school exam paper”).
All of that as Trump resorts to lawsuits to prevent Elijah Cummings from obtaining accounting records from Mazars and to block Deutsche Bank from complying with congressional document requests. Oh, and don’t forget about Richard Neal’s crusade to secure Trump’s tax returns.
Given how stressful all of that must be for the president, you can appreciate that he needed to take a break from it all on Friday to talk with a trusted friend. That friend: Vladimir Putin, with whom Trump chatted over the phone for a solid hour, according to his own account.
Among the topics discussed were Venezuela, North Korea, nukes and, naturally, the Mueller report.
Here’s Trump to explain that, despite the assessment of Mike Pompeo (who said this week that Moscow was influencing the Maduro regime’s decision making), Putin is “not looking to get involved” in Venezuela:
That is beyond ridiculous. Everyone on the planet knows Russia is already “involved” with Venezuela and, again, both Pompeo and John Bolton this week detailed the Kremlin’s recent efforts to convince Maduro to stay in power.
When a reporter asked whether Trump told Putin “not to get involved in the next election”, the president called the reporter “very rude.”
A fitting end to another work week in Trump’s America.