The Stakes of Barr’s Obstruction
The Trump administration’s repeated refusal to deliver the full, unredacted Mueller report to Congress is worse than just dirty politics; it’s a constitutional crisis in the making.
Balance of powers sits at the center of the American constitutional system. An executive branch that refuses to allow congressional oversight has declared itself exempt from that balance.
The administration’s recent actions – Attorney General William Barr’s refusal to appear before the House Judiciary Committee last week, and the recent assertion of executive privilege to withhold the Mueller report from Congress – are direct attacks on congressional oversight. Congress needs to respond by giving the public a full and transparent investigation.
Let’s review the events that have brought us to this point. Special Counsel Robert Mueller spent two years investigating Russian election meddling and potential obstruction of justice by Trump to cover it up. That investigation has already led to 37 indictments or guilty pleas before wrapping up last month – and Barr should have let Mueller’s findings speak for themselves.
Instead, Barr tried to muddy the waters by putting out a biased, misleading 4-page summary of Mueller’s 448-page report – falsely claiming Trump was exonerated. Of course, Mueller disputed that – saying Barr “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of the report, and rightly pointing out that he had caused “public confusion” about the investigation’s results.
In fact, just Monday hundreds of former federal prosecutors went on the record to say that if Trump were not President, he’d have been charged with obstruction of justice by now — directly contradicting Barr’s repeated claims.
An Attorney General with a track record of putting the president’s interests ahead of the truth can’t be trusted as the gatekeeper of the Mueller investigation. Barr needs to step out of the way of the congressional investigation and stop covering for Trump.
Congress needs to fully assert its constitutional oversight powers by:
- Continuing to demand the full, unredacted Mueller report and underlying evidence;
- Giving Special Counsel Mueller the opportunity to testify before Congress about what he found;
- Compelling Attorney General Barr to testify about his handling of the report and hold him in contempt — with fines and other legal consequences — if he refuses.
We’ve already learned about 10 potential instances of Trump obstructing justice that Mueller uncovered. We need a full inquiry to determine exactly what happened, and whether Trump abused the office of the presidency to obstruct Mueller’s investigation – or any of the dozen-plus ongoing federal and state criminal investigations into Trump, his businesses, family, campaign, and associates.
If the administration succeeds in placing itself above the law, the consequences for our democracy will extend far beyond President Trump’s tenure. Our democracy cannot function in a world of unlimited executive privilege. A full investigation is necessary not only to ensure proper oversight of this presidency, but to preserve the principle of oversight for the future.