The Republican Senate gave Donald Trump a Valentine’s Day present in the form of William Barr when he was confirmed as Attorney General and immediately sworn in. Trump got his very own Roy Cohn; a sychophant legal bodyguard.
Trump’s first Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, proved a bitter disappointment to the president when the AG — after being exposed for lying about Russian contacts — recused himself from matters related to Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. Trump prefers loyalty over law, something he learned from his cruel, self-hating gay lawyer/mentor Cohn.
After Sessions stepped aside, Mueller was appointed Special Counsel to investigate such matters and Trump considered himself “fucked,” as we know now.
Amid a torrent of constant abuse hurled at him by an enraged president, Sessions held on until November 7, 2018 when he submitted his letter of resignation — as demanded by Trump. Sessions’s transgression was, as AG, that he abided by the rule of law (only after being exposed by The New York Times and The Washington Post, of course). We should probably thank Sessions for hanging in there as long as he did, or we might have gotten Barr a lot sooner. After the release of a redacted two-volume Mueller Report last week, former White House Counsel Don McGahn finds himself Trump’s new target for abuse because he took contemporaneous notes during White House meetings and told the truth to Mueller’s team.
Knowing that only dishonor brings presidential praise, Barr readily stepped into his role as yet another liar for Trump. As Trump’s Cohn, Barr proves himself to be the gift that keeps on giving. His four-page letter to Congress on March 24, ostensibly summarizing principle conclusions reached by Mueller, was an exercise in deceit. The press conference held by Barr on Thursday morning was distinguished by lie after lie. We can only expect more truth-bending when Barr testifies before the House Judiciary Committee (if he does). It is clearly Barr’s job to feed distortions of the true findings in the Mueller Report to Trump’s gullible base and independent voters weary of the entire matter of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Barr is no stranger to covering up for Republican presidents. While serving as Attorney General under President George H.W. Bush from 1991 to 1993, Barr deftly thwarted Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh in his investigation of the Iran-Contra scandal that occurred during the Reagan presidency. In 1992 former Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger was prepared to testify that Bush the Elder, while Reagan’s VP, knew about and participated in events leading up to the Iran-Contra scandal (where senior Reagan officials secretly sold arms to Iran to fund a war in Central America).
Weinberger had documents and he was ready to show them to avoid jail. As he was leaving office, Bush, with the assistance of Barr, pardoned Weinberger, who had yet to come to trial along with five other Reagan officials who had been charged or convicted of crimes in covering up the Iran-Contra Scandal. That was the end of Independent Counsel Walsh’s investigation.
Barr’s June 8, 2018 unsolicited 19-page memorandum to Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein and Assistant AG Steve Engel is titled Re: Mueller’s “Obstruction” Theory. The quotation marks say it all, and Barr is once again heading up the Department of Justice and shielding a Republican president.
While Mueller found several instances of Trump’s obstruction of justice, he felt he could not indict because of the long-standing DOJ policy found in two DOJ Office of Legal Counsel memos — from 1973 and 2000 — stating that a sitting president should not be indicted. This is not law, nor has it ever been tested in court.
Mueller makes clear that the Trump campaign did indeed collude with Russia to defeat Hillary Clinton, but the required elements of a federal criminal conspiracy charge cannot be met with the evidence at hand. Volume One of the Mueller Report is worth the read to anyone concerned with the collusion issue. It’s a very chilling read, especially in light of the fact that little is being done to prevent such interference in future elections.
It's evident a hero will not emerge from the on-going saga of the Russian interference in the 2016 election. The debate is on as to whether or not the House Judiciary Committee, now under Democratic control, should commence impeachment hearings on obstruction. Barr and Mueller will both testify before that committee and the full report has been subpoenaed. Mueller must tell us why he did not subpoena Trump to testify, as legal precedent gave him that right. Intent, critical to an obstruction charge, can best be established through in-person testimony, not the written interrogatories Trump made a mockery of. Based on past performance, we can expect Barr will continue to run interference for Trump in front of the House Judiciary Committee and elsewhere. When the Republican controlled House impeached Bill Clinton on December 19, 1998, only to have him acquitted by the Republican-controlled Senate on February 12, 1999, the House Republicans tainted the impeachment process as just another failed political weapon. Now Republicans stand to benefit from that taint as Democrats fear a justified impeachment will politically damage them if a Republican Senate, acting only to protect Trump, acquits.
The looming 2020 presidential election complicates matters further. Trump has to be reelected to run out the statute of limitations on federal charges of obstruction giving him further motivation to accept foreign assistance to win. The 2016 election was the first post Shelby County v. Holder presidential election; the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in Shelby. We know how that worked out in 2016 and can look forward to increased Republican suppression of the vote in 2020. We can only hope the Democratic candidates do not succumb to personal ambition in the primaries and so wound the victor that he or she is too damaged to succeed in the general election. The voters must realize that, as we stand on the dangerous precipice of a slippery slope to an American autocracy, kitchen table issues do not fare well under an autocratic leader. The democracy must be defended above all else.
In a perfect world, Trump would be brought to justice and removed from office now through impeachment and conviction — but if we lived in a perfect world Trump would never be the president.
Susan SurfTone is a musician who previously served as an FBI agent. Her latest EP is Making Waves Again.