Barr be­sieged by al­le­ga­tions of be­ing pres­i­dent’s pro­tec­tor

The News-Times - - NATION / WORLD -

WASH­ING­TON — At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr por­trayed him­self as an apo­lit­i­cal el­der states­man at his con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing. He de­clared he would rather re­sign than be asked to fire spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller with­out cause and in­sisted the pros­e­cu­tor he had known for decades would never in­volve him­self in a witch hunt as the pres­i­dent claimed.

But now Barr has emerged as ar­guably the most di­vi­sive fig­ure in Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ac­cused him on Thurs­day of ly­ing — a charge the Jus­tice Depart­ment called reck­less and false — and House Democrats are poised to hold him in con­tempt.

His ap­pear­ance this week be­fore the Senate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee ac­cel­er­ated calls for his res­ig­na­tion af­ter he said Trump had been falsely ac­cused and he spun po­lit­i­cally damn­ing episodes in Mueller’s re­port in the pres­i­dent’s fa­vor.

Barr might have seemed an un­likely light­ning rod given his long govern­ment ca­reer, his dis­tance from Trump’s inner circle and his age, 68, that he said made him un­con­cerned with po­lit­i­cal ad­vance­ment. But he had tele­graphed his sym­pa­thetic view of strong pres­i­den­tial pow­ers — surely a use­ful view­point for Trump — in a memo to the Jus­tice Depart­ment last year that crit­i­cized Mueller’s Trump-Rus­sia ob­struc­tion of jus­tice in­ves­ti­ga­tion. His lat­est tes­ti­mony, in­clud­ing that Trump’s ac­tions weren’t crim­i­nal, reaf­firmed that phi­los­o­phy and, to crit­ics, es­tab­lished Barr as the pres­i­dent’s pro­tec­tor .

“We have a chief law en­force­ment of­fi­cer who is def­i­nitely the de­fense lawyer for the pres­i­dent,” Demo­cratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii said Thurs­day.

The Senate tes­ti­mony was the lat­est episode in a turnabout in pub­lic per­cep­tion for Barr, whose se­lec­tion was greeted by some with high hopes that he would re­turn the Jus­tice Depart­ment to sta­bil­ity fol­low­ing two years of lead­er­ship up­heaval. He re­placed an at­tor­ney gen­eral, Jeff Ses­sions, who was ridiculed by the pres­i­dent and ul­ti­mately pushed out, and an act­ing one, Matt Whi­taker, who was dis­missed by Democrats as un­qual­i­fied and a Trump loy­al­ist.

It’s the sec­ond time around for Barr, who was at­tor­ney gen­eral un­der Ge­orge H.W. Bush be­tween 1991 and 1993 and in­volved in some of that ad­min­is­tra­tion’s weight­i­est de­ci­sions. He was Mueller’s Jus­tice Depart­ment boss back then, and at his Jan­uary con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing he de­scribed the spe­cial coun­sel as a long­time friend and a “straight shooter” who would be al­lowed to fin­ish his Trump in­ves­ti­ga­tion with­out in­ter­fer­ence.

At the same hear­ing, he par­ried ques­tions about his memo by say­ing it was writ­ten with­out know­ing facts of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. He also ac­knowl­edged con­straints on pres­i­den­tial power, con­ced­ing that it could be a crime if a pres­i­dent granted a par­don in ex­change for si­lenc­ing some­one with in­crim­i­nat­ing in­for­ma­tion. Even if most Democrats didn’t sup­port him, they didn’t ap­pear to dread his ap­point­ment.

“Con­fir­ma­tion hear­ings are easy in the sense that the smart nom­i­nee knows the right an­swer to all the ques­tions, which is not to com­mit to any­thing but agree to con­sider ev­ery­thing,” said Greg Brower, a for­mer as­sis­tant di­rec­tor in the FBI’s of­fice of con­gres­sional af­fairs. “Now that he’s in the mid­dle of the af­ter­math of the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion, he’s ob­vi­ously be­ing pinned down to more spe­cific an­swers to very spe­cific ques­tions, and that is ob­vi­ously prov­ing to be more prob­lem­atic for him.”

While House Democrats have al­ready asked Mueller to tes­tify, Senate Democrats, as the mi­nor­ity in that cham­ber, are more lim­ited. They don’t have the power to set hear­ing sched­ules or com­pel of­fi­cials to ap­pear. But they are try­ing to build a case in pub­lic opin­ion that it’s Mueller, not Barr, who needs to tell the in­ves­ti­ga­tion story.

Tes­ti­mony from Mueller is es­pe­cially in de­mand now that his ap­par­ent rift with Barr has been ex­posed. It stems from Barr’s de­ci­sion to com­mu­ni­cate Mueller’s main con­clu­sions of his two-year in­ves­ti­ga­tion in a four-page let­ter. The let­ter said Mueller had not es­tab­lished a crim­i­nal con­spir­acy be­tween Rus­sia and the 2016 Trump campaign and had not reached a con­clu­sion on ob­struc­tion de­spite lay­ing out ev­i­dence on both sides of that question.

The de­ci­sion to avoid a de­ter­mi­na­tion on ob­struc­tion caught Barr by sur­prise, Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cials said, and he and Deputy At­tor­ney Gen­eral Rod Rosen­stein re­solved to reach a con­clu­sion in place of Mueller’s team. They de­cided Mueller’s ev­i­dence didn’t add up to a crime, a de­ci­sion that puz­zled some Democrats and le­gal an­a­lysts given the vivid ac­counts of Trump’s con­duct in the re­port.

Days later, Mueller com­plained to Barr that his sum­mary let­ter had “not fully cap­tured the con­text, na­ture and sub­stance” of the spe­cial coun­sel’s work or con­clu­sions. Barr said Wed­nes­day his goal had been sim­ply to re­lease the re­port’s bottom-line con­clu­sions as he read­ied the entire doc­u­ment for re­lease. Nei­ther Barr nor Mueller went pub­lic with their con­ver­sa­tion.

When Barr was asked weeks later at an un­re­lated con­gres­sional hear­ing about re­ports of dis­con­tent within the spe­cial coun­sel’s team, he said he didn’t know what those re­ports re­ferred to. Pelosi said Thurs­day “the at­tor­ney gen­eral of the United States was not telling the truth to the Congress of the United States — that’s a crime.” The Jus­tice Depart­ment ve­he­mently de­nied that.

House Ju­di­ciary Democrats now are poised to hold Barr, who skipped a hear­ing Thurs­day in a dis­pute over its terms, in con­tempt af­ter the Jus­tice Depart­ment missed a com­mit­tee dead­line to pro­vide an unredacted ver­sion of Mueller’s re­port.

Andrew Harnik / Associated Press

Rep. Steve Co­hen, D-Tenn., left, places a prop chicken on the wit­ness desk for At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr af­ter he does not ap­pear be­fore a House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee hear­ing on Capi­tol Hill on Thurs­day.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.