Barr prepares to investigate the investigators
House Democrats were preparing for a lengthy legal fight this week after Attorney General William Barr refused to hand over the full version of the nearly 400-page Mueller report—and announced his intention to examine whether federal authorities improperly spied on members of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign. Barr told a House panel that he hoped to release a redacted copy of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference “within a week.” Federal law, he said, required him to scrub it of classified information, secret grand jury testimony, material connected to ongoing investigations, and details that could violate the privacy of “peripheral” figures in the probe. Since almost every page in the report is expected to contain grand jury material, the redactions could be extensive. Barr said that he didn’t plan to ask a federal judge for permission to release the full report to Congress, as he is empowered to do. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said he would have “a look at what we get” before issuing subpoenas for the unredacted report.
Barr told the Senate the next day that he believed the Trump campaign had been spied on by FBI agents attempting to find out if any of the candidate’s aides were colluding with Russia to sway the 2016 election. “Spying on a campaign is a big deal,” he said. “The question is whether it was adequately predicated.” He added that he intends to examine the “genesis and the conduct” of the investigation and the Justice Department officials who approved it, saying, “I have an obligation to make sure government power is not abused.”
What the editorials said
What is Barr trying to hide? asked The Boston Globe. We already know that his four-page summary of Mueller’s voluminous report and his decision to exonerate the president of obstruction of justice was “a spin job.” Members of Mueller’s team have complained that the report’s contents “are a good deal more damaging” to Trump than the summary implied, associates told The New York Times. Others have griped that the evidence they gathered on obstruction was alarming and significant, reported The Washington Post. There’s one way for Barr to clear all this up: Give Congress the full report. Democrats are sore losers, said The Wall Street Journal. Furious that Mueller concluded that the Trump campaign did not collude with Moscow, “they’ve hit upon a political comeback strategy: Accuse Barr of a cover-up.” This is, of course, preposterous because the attorney general knows that he’d be open to contradiction by Mueller if he misstated the report’s conclusions. Democrats aren’t really worried about the truth being hushed up, they just want “to tarnish Trump officials.”
What the columnists said
Trump must be delighted with his attorney general, said Paul Waldman in The Washington Post. The president fired Barr’s predecessor, Jeff Sessions, because he wouldn’t mess with the Russia investigation. But Barr is now busy making sure that little of Mueller’s report ever sees the light of day. And by investigating the investigators—who were rightly worried about multiple contacts between the Trump team and Russia—he’s accommodating “the president, Fox News bloviators, and every right-wing internet troll in their fevered fantasies of a Deep State anti-Trump conspiracy.”
Barr has a good reason for not giving Congress “the full Mueller monty,” said Kimberley Strassel in The Wall Street Journal. Democrats will “cherry-pick and leak every uncorroborated claim to fan the collusion-and-obstruction flames.” Sure, the Left’s demands for “transparency” sound reasonable, but openness isn’t always a good thing. Grand jury witnesses, often innocent private citizens, can be compelled to reveal all manner of intimate details: banking records, text messages, loan defaults. If it were you, would you want all that information made public?
If the fight over the full Mueller report does go to court, said Asha Rangappa in Politico.com, expect the argument to turn on one point of law. Congress will argue it needs the unredacted report to determine if Trump obstructed justice—and thus fulfill its constitutional mandate of policing the executive branch. If Congress were blocked from seeing the report and rendering its judgment, “then the president would effectively be immunized from accountability for wrongdoing while he is in office, putting him above the law.”