If the Justice Department and Donald Trump feel like the Mueller report does in fact represent a “total exoneration” of the president, the administration sure has a funny way of showing it.
A generous take on the White House’s decision to assert executive privilege over all of Mueller’s investigative documents is that Jerry Nadler backed William Barr into a corner ahead of Wednesday’s planned vote to hold the attorney general in contempt for refusing to turn over the full, unredacted version of the special counsel report and the underlying evidence. Wednesday would have marked just the second time in history a sitting AG has been held in contempt of Congress.
A less generous interpretation might be that Barr intentionally stonewalled Democrats knowing the whole thing would dead-end in an assertion of executive privilege, which Trump could then blame on Democrats.
Sarah Sanders’s statement was comical, to say the least. There are apparently no adults in the room anymore or at least none brave enough to tell the president that the phrases “no conspiracy”, “no obstruction” and “no collusion” cannot be transformed into adjectives simply by hyphenating them.
In addition to the childlike cadence, Sanders’s contention that Nadler “wants a redo” simply isn’t true. Democrats want to see the full, unredacted document and all the evidence, not rewrite the report.
Additionally, the idea that, somehow, Nadler’s efforts to get his hands on the unredacted version and the supporting evidence is a ploy to distract from the “booming economy” is nonsensical. The two things have absolutely nothing to do with each other.
Finally, it is not an “abuse of power” for the House Judiciary Committee to ask to review an unredacted version of a report which, even in redacted form, appears to implicate the president in obstruction of justice. There are all manner of half-decent “abuse of power” arguments you can level at House Democrats right now, but this isn’t one of them.
In any event, here is the DoJ’s letter to Nadler which finds Assistant AG Stephen Boyd “terminating” negotiations.
Trump’s move came at the request of Barr, who sent the president the following letter laying out the rationale, which one imagines the president didn’t even both to read.
Suffice to say Nadler is not amused.
During the session convened to hold Barr in contempt, the chairman laid out a scathing rebuke of the Justice Department’s efforts to maintain an iron grip on the unredacted special counsel report and the evidence which went into producing it (evidence which includes accounts of interviews and notes of witnesses, by the way). Here’s Jerry:
“The president has stated that his administration will oppose all subpoenas. That is unprecedented”, Nadler continued, adding that “if allowed to go unchecked this obstruction means the end of Congressional oversight.”
This touches on something we’ve brought up on a number of occasions over the past year. America has reached a point where Trump is, essentially, running roughshod over checks and balances at every possible opportunity and in the most flagrant manner imaginable. On Tuesday, the White House instructed Don McGahn not to comply with a congressional subpoena and Steve Mnuchin this week stonewalled Richard Neal on what, on the surface anyway, is a legally valid request for Trump’s tax returns.
Meanwhile, Trump is suing Deutsche Bank and Capital One to block the banks from complying with congressional subpoenas and the president is also taking legal action against Elijah Cummings for trying to compel Mazars USA to produce financial records.
We appear to have reached a point where Trump is prepared to almost literally declare himself above the law, rendering America’s entire system of governance null and void in the process.
That isn’t so much an attempt at hyperbole or a lapsing into hysterics as it is a sober (and somber) assessment of the situation.
Ultimately, the assertion of executive privilege doesn’t preclude Mueller from testifying, but over the weekend, Trump of course tweeted that the special counsel “should not” appear before Congress. You can absolutely expect the White House to try and block Mueller from speaking out if the special counsel tries.
At the risk of coming across as fatalistic, it’s difficult to discern any clear limits on what Trump can do if he simply refuses to adhere to democratic norms. It’s no longer a matter of what can he legally do, but rather who’s going to stop him if he simply decides that the law doesn’t apply to him?
So far, the answer to that latter question is “nobody”.