Anyone who thought that the completion of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report — after 22 months of investigating allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian agents in the 2016 elections — would put an end to the matter once and for all, was not only mistaken but woefully naive.
That Mueller found no evidence of such collusion makes no difference to the House Judiciary Committee, which has summoned Attorney General William Barr to testify on the report. Mueller’s statement that neither Trump nor any of his aides ever “conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities” is not plain enough. They insist on having it all, including the parts that were redacted for legal reasons, and will subpoena Barr if he won’t comply voluntarily.
Regarding the related charge of obstruction of justice, this too was not what impeachment-crazed Democrats had been salivating for during nearly two years of ominous leaks and speculation about the horrors lurking in the supposed Mar-a-Lago-Moscow secret channels.
The Russia collusion trope should be dead and buried by this point, but the Democrats refuse to so honor the deceased. As Abraham Lincoln, in his lawyer days, once said of a person who was supposed to be dead but turned up alive, that “he persists in not dying,” so too the Democrats persist in not letting these flimsy allegations be put to eternal rest.
So now the scene shifts to Congress, where both the House and Senate Judiciary committees are demanding the right to cross-examine Barr in their separate ventures to get to the nonexistent bottom of this bottomless business.
The attorney general has objected to testifying in a closed session concerning the redacted portions of the Mueller report (which he redacted) and said that he may not come to a committee hearing scheduled for Thursday.
Barr is within his rights. The attorney general was not legally required to release any of the Mueller report to the public, not even to Congress. As Katy Harriger, a professor at Wake Forest University and an expert in the role of the special prosecutor, told the Atlantic:
“The DOJ [Department of Justice] regulations really do leave it up to Barr to decide. The only constraints on that are public pressure, which, if loud and consistent enough, is likely to make him release more, rather than less, of the report.”
In the event, Barr did release more than he had to: most of the 448-page document. Only 12 pages were completely deleted, about a third bore the tell-tale whiteout on selected words and phrases.
Barr’s main concern has apparently been to redact grand jury and other information which by law should not be disclosed. Rep. Nadler’s position that the report should be sent out in its entirety was characterized by Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the senior Republican on the Judiciary Committee, as tantamount to calling for “the attorney general to break the law.”
But refusal to go along with congressional dictates, no matter how principled, is red meat for Democrats. The chairman, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), declared on Sunday that he, and not any Trump-appointed attorney general, is in charge here. “The witness is not going to tell the committee how to conduct its hearing, period,” Nadler told CNN.
If Barr doesn’t appear on Thursday, committee member Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.) said she and her colleagues are ready to “fully use our subpoena power.”
President Trump has vowed to fully use his executive power in response, telling reporters at the White House a few days ago that he would fight “all the subpoenas” coming from Democrats.
How far this constitutional turf war between the legislative and executive branches of government will go is anybody’s guess. Impeachment has been all but ruled out even by Democratic leaders, who are realistic enough to know that the Republican majority in the Senate would block it.
Rather, the multiple investigations are a kind of legal character assassination, aimed at causing as much damage to Trump’s reputation as possible by November 2020. Though the strategy could well backfire, as the political motives driving it become increasingly transparent, and as the evidence fails to appear.
Meanwhile, the problems facing the nation cry out for attention. The country is falling to pieces, literally. There’s still a bipartisan consensus for repairing the roads, bridges and railways, but it doesn’t get done. The distractions of getting Trump seem to get in the way. And then there’s health care, and a slew of other problems.
It’s time to end the endless investigations and get back to work. In the national interest.