The Jury Talks Back

5/10/2019

Democrats’ Dopey Contempt Citation Against Bill Barr

Filed under: Uncategorized — Patterico @ 7:11 am

I am not a fan of Bill Barr, whom I consider to be a smugly partisan Attorney General who has enlisted himself in the service of the person of Donald J. Trump, rather than in service of the law and his country. That said, Democrats’ current effort to hold Barr in contempt is an absurd and silly unforced error. Here’s the New York Times on Wednesday:

The House Judiciary Committee voted Wednesday to recommend that the House hold Attorney General William P. Barr in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over Robert S. Mueller III’s unredacted report, hours after President Trump asserted executive privilege to shield the full report and underlying evidence from Congress.

The committee’s 24-to-16 contempt vote, taken after hours of debate over the future of American democracy, was the first official House action to punish a government official in the standoff over the Mueller report. The Justice Department denounced the move as unnecessary and intended to stoke a fight.

After the vote, the Judiciary Committee chairman, Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, swatted away questions about possible impeachment, but added, “We are now in a constitutional crisis.”

Oh, please. Commence your eye-rolling now.

Democrats could do better than this. After all, Trump has announced his intent to stonewall House Democrats on basically every front. This announcement has already created quotes that will inevitably be used against the White House in litigation over dubious future assertions of executive privilege. When your lawyers go into court to argue that you are making a narrow and reasonable claim of executive privilege, it doesn’t help to have a client who is telling the press “we’re fighting all the subpoenas” — even ones that haven’t yet been issued.

That said, some subpoenas should be fought, and this is one of them. Democrats are picking fights over relatively sparse redactions, and rejecting legitimate offers to review basically everything to which they are legally entitled to review. From the NYT link above:

Democrats say Mr. Barr’s version is not good enough, and they have accused the attorney general of stonewalling a legitimate request for material they need to pick up an investigation into possible obstruction of justice and abuse of power by Mr. Trump. The Democrats’ request includes secretive grand jury information and other evidence.

The committee’s 27-page contempt report lays out the panel’s need for the report and offers an accounting of attempts to get Mr. Barr to share the materials first voluntarily and then under subpoena.

The Justice Department had tried to stave off the committee vote, offering to lawmakers some concessions around a less redacted version of the Mueller report, which omitted only grand jury material. Democrats deemed the offer insufficient.

The Justice Department had other objections to the subpoena. Compliance would require the department to violate “the law, court rules and court orders” as well as grand jury secrecy rules, a Justice Department official, Stephen E. Boyd, wrote. Republicans on the committee seized on that point to accuse Democrats of forcing Mr. Barr to choose between complying with their subpoena or the law.

You know how those damned Republicans are with their seizing, but here they happen to be exactly right. (Which, by the way, they almost always are right when described by the media as “seizing” on something, because the “seizing on” trope is the only way to disparage people who are publicly advancing an undeniably correct position.) It’s illegal to share grand jury information. DoJ is willing to show Congress everything else — including the redacted bits about how Don Jr. committed a computer crime by using a password provided by Wikileaks to access a Web site. DoJ just won’t show Congress grand jury information — because DoJ can’t legally do that.

Democrats should be spending precious time and resources fighting to have people like Don McGahn and Corey Lewandowski testify regarding matters already discussed in the Mueller report. Trump can fight “all the subpoenas” all he likes, but the White House has already waived executive privilege as to the matters discussed in the report and released to the public. The White House may have a remaining privilege over related materials, but Trump can’t prevent McGahn and Lewandowski from being forced to testify about what is already in the publicly disclosed report. That is where the real action is.

Instead of focusing on legitimate battles like that, Democrats are opening with a dumb salvo, and claiming a “constitutional crisis” where there is none. There is legitimate reason to be very concerned with the conduct described in the Mueller report, but the Democrat clowns in Congress are unlikely to do anything effective to address it.

3 Comments »

  1. I’m perplexed as to why the white house invoked executive privilege. I’d have thought the law against disclosing grand jury material would have been sufficient to quash this, due to making it explicitly illegal for the AG to release said material?

    I will, however, make a prediction; had AG Barr released the full unredacted report to congress, democrats in congress would have slapped him with a criminal complaint for breaking the law.

    Comment by Arizona CJ — 5/10/2019 @ 12:09 pm

  2. I bet you are right about that last sentence, CJ!

    Comment by DRJ — 5/10/2019 @ 12:15 pm

  3. As to executive privilege claims, I don’t think anyone can answer your questions until Trump identifies what he wants to withhold. Obviously much of the report is already released but we don’t know if Trump is claiming privilege as to everything in the report, the redacted portions, or only part of the report/redactions.

    If it helps, I think this article is a fair and good primer on executive privilege and this case.

    Comment by DRJ — 5/10/2019 @ 12:21 pm

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