Commentary: 'We're Gonna Have to Boot Trump from Office the Old Fashioned Way—at the Ballot Box' by Kerry Eleveld
Donald Trump might yet face impeachment by House Democrats, but given Attorney General William Barr's partisan hatchet job on the Russia investigation, any chance of enough Senate Republicans joining Democrats in a vote to oust Trump is all but dead.
Since the conclusion of the special counsel's probe into Russian election interference and links to the Trump campaign, Barr has sent two letters to Congress. The first 4-page effort came last Sunday, reading just vague enough on the Trump campaign's coordination with Russia to allow Trump to declare Robert Mueller had found "no collusion." At the same time, the letter was narrowly tailored enough on obstruction to declare that even though Mueller hadn't exonerated Trump (in other words, obstructive evidence certainly existed), Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein decided to do so because they felt like it. Neither of the two assertions are provably true because Barr's 4-page summary disclosed none of the evidence that either Mueller or WillRod weighed in coming to their decisions.
After burying his first letter on a day when reporters would have an impossible time fully vetting it and gathering responses, Barr did the same thing Friday afternoon with his second letter to Congress in which he disclosed what a joke his initial 4 pages were in the face of a report that numbers nearly 400 pages, "exclusive of tables and appendices." Don't let that number fool you—the tables and appendices, which surely include imperative information, just as surely increase that page count by a bunch.
Even so, Barr buried that 400-page number the first time around for a reason—it would have immediately rendered preposterous his 4-page effort to, as he wrote, "summarize the principal conclusions" of Mueller. In fact, in his second letter, Barr sounds aggrieved, citing "some media reports and other public statements mischaracterizing" his flimsy 4 pager as a "summary." In effect, that's the Attorney General saying, if only people hadn't quoted me, their reports would have been more accurate. Remember that, because it may well prove true for the entirety of Barr's first letter in which he advanced the notion that Trump & Co. didn't behave improperly toward Russia and the evidence on Trump's obstruction was meager.
Mercifully, whatever round of good headlines Trump got out of Barr's public relations campaign, the public wants the Mueller report, not Barr's "interpretation" of the Mueller report, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi put it. In the four polls released this week, two things became perfectly clear: most Americans don't think Trump has been cleared of anything, and an overwhelming majority want the Mueller's report made public. In fact, both CNN/SSRS and NPR/PBS/Marist found that 56 percent of respondents say Trump has not been exonerated of anything. Additionally, three separate polls found 75 percent or more of respondents want Mueller's report made public, NPR/PBS, Q poll, CBS.
These numbers are remarkably consistent and should buoy House Democrats as they gird for what is surely going to be a showdown with the Justice Department. Barr's letter explicitly names four areas of exclusion he is scrubbing from the report, including "material subject to Federal Rule and Criminal Procedure 6(e)," or grand-jury material. Democrats have taken the posture that excluding grand-jury information from the report delivered to Congress is tantamount to a cover-up.
"There is nothing stopping Barr from giving us the grand-jury material” that informed Mueller’s findings, a Democratic aide toldThe Atlantic's Natasha Bertrand. “If he doesn’t, then that amounts to a cover-up.”
While it's true that Barr cannot unilaterally make the information public, a court can do so. Indeed, House Judiciary chair Jerry Nadler was quick to invite Barr on Friday to work jointly with him to get all the grand-jury material to his committee "as has occurred in every similar investigation in the past," Nadler added. Getting a court order to transmit the grand-jury materials to Congress is definitely something other independent counsels, such as Ken Starr, have done in other investigations. Mueller appears not to have done so, but he was also governed by a different set of rules than Starr, and there's no reason Barr couldn't or shouldn't work with the Judiciary Committee to make this possible. In fact, former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance told MSNBC Friday that Barr could have had that order in hand by the time Mueller delivered his report, especially given the fact that Mueller gave Barr three weeks notice.
Barr also plans to redact information that is deemed "sensitive" from an intelligence perspective. As former acting Attorney General Sally Yates pointed out, anything redacted for that purpose should "not be accepted without clear justification."
In addition, Barr has come up with a category of exclusions for “peripheral third parties” whose reputations might be unduly harmed by disclosure. There appears to be no legal standard for who qualifies as such, meaning Barr has created a completely subjective category of exclusions.
Barr has also asserted in his letter that he will miss the April 2 deadline set by House Democrats for release of the report. On that point, a Democratic aide offered, "We'll have more to say on April 3." And although Barr offered to testify to both the Senate and House Judiciary committees on May 1 and May 2, respectively, Chairman Nadler responded that he would take that date "under advisement." In other words, thanks but that ain't gonna cut it.
In short, Barr isn't giving up anything quickly or easily and Democrats are going to be forced to scrap for every piece of information they get. Barr's letter also reads as if he feels falsely accused of misrepresenting the facts. Perhaps, if he had come clean about simple things like the page count of the report from the get-go, people wouldn't feel like he was deliberately trying to hide important information from the public in service of a public relations campaign for Trump.
In fact, Barr's letter with it's 400-page admission was really the first step in what will surely be a long process of unwinding the wild tale Barr seems to have spun. While Trump has spent the week attacking his critics and claiming victory with no end in sight, Democrats have begun to regain their footing day by painstaking day since Barr's initial pro-Trump rendering. There's clearly more in that 400 page-plus analysis and accompanying information and Congress has a responsibility to investigate the underlying facts of an investigation for which taxpayers footed the bill and from which they still haven't seen a single full sentence.
Democrats should keep in mind that while polling shows the Barr report didn't seem to move the needle of public opinion one bit regarding Trump's Russian collusion, one thing that did appear to impact voters was the testimony of Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen. Fully a third of respondents said Cohen's testimony worsened their opinion of Trump.
In the meantime, Democrats need to press forward with the gift Trump has handed them with yet another effort to strip tens of millions of Americans of health care insurance and throw the markets into complete chaos without even a hint of a workable replacement plan. Democrats won the House on that issue in 2018 and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is clearly going to make Trump and Republicans pay for their sheer shambolic ignorance all over again.
Remember that 56-57 percent of voters who, in two separate polls earlier this year, pledged to "definitely" vote against Trump in 2020?
By the time they walk into the voting booth in 2020, they will know two things: Trump helped the rich get richer while abandoning the needs of every other American, and that he engaged in a highly corrupt and traitorous, if not criminal, effort to invite a foreign adversary to subvert our elections. That is most likely the winning formula for finally ridding our government of Trump. No one said it was going to be easy, and it won't be.
Editor's note: This article was originally published at the Daily Kos, which specifies that its "content may be used for any purpose without explicit permission unless otherwise specified."
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