Bill Barr’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday taught us nothing of substance. Barr is a Trump lackey with an expansive view of executive power. We knew that. Barr minimized the findings of the Mueller report by grossly underselling the ways in which Trump attempted to thwart the Mueller investigation. We knew that. Barr misled Congress but likely didn’t perjure himself last month. We knew that.
Perhaps the biggest “reveal” from Barr’s testimony Wednesday was that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein didn’t look at the underlying evidence in the case before deciding not to move forward with obstruction charges against Trump. But as has been pointed out many times before, it is against current Justice Department guidelines to indict a sitting president. I don’t agree with this policy, but this is another reason Barr’s actions aren’t surprising.
Not every suspect move by the Trump administration is worthy of a collective liberal freakout. Nevertheless, some Democrats are trying to make hay of this, but it’s hardly unusual for an Attorney General to defer to the conclusions of subordinates. You could say that since this case involves the president of the United States, Barr should have indeed examined the underlying evidence, and that’s fair. But if he had, do we really think Barr would have come to a different decision on obstruction? Mueller decided against indictment while making clear it’s possible Trump did in fact commit obstruction. But Mueller punted, and not surprisingly so did Barr.
Many Democrats, including members of Congress and presidential candidates have been calling on Barr to resign. And the comparisons of Barr to Nixon Attorney General John Mitchell are rampant on Twitter, which is ridiculous. Mitchell ran a slush fund out of Nixon’s reelection campaign that he tapped to fund illegal surveillance and other dirty tricks like the Watergate break-in. He also had his wife physically accosted, sedated, and “kidnapped” (as one of the Watergate burglars put it) to prevent her from talking about the corruption perpetrated by her husband and Nixon.
Bill Barr declined to indict the president and got semantic in testimony before Congress.
In short, Bill Barr is not John Mitchell.
Barr’s decision not to testify Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee as scheduled is an unforced error, foolish even. Yes, Thursday’s hearing likely would have been more brutal since it would be run by House Democrats as opposed to Senate Republicans. Hours of tough questions and awkward responses would be in store. But at the end of the day, the hearing would likely have been as uneventful as Wednesday’s. That’s not to say it would be irrelevant, but in the cable news era we have a tendency to place enormous importance on what is going on at any given moment.
So yes, when Barr says he’s not testifying, it sure looks like he’s got something to hide. Maybe he does, but as far as I can tell the most unfavorable aspects of his role in the Trump administration seem to be already out in the open, just like the major elements of the Trump campaign’s relations with Kremlin-connected Russians were before the Mueller report dropped.
I’ve said before that I had hoped the Mueller report would conclude that Trump had committed crimes. And even though the DoJ would likely decline to prosecute Trump while he’s in office, adding criminal wrongdoing to Trump’s already grotesque resume would help Democrats in 2020. But that ship has sailed for now as we wait to see the findings from ongoing investigations into Trump, such as the ones in the Southern District of New York and in the New York state Attorney General’s office.
Until then and maybe even beyond, Barr – and Trump – aren’t going anywhere.
Democrats should take a breather from their ongoing freakout, lest they become the BUT HER EMAILS version of 2020.