Attempts by Democratic leaders and the mainstream media to smear Attorney General William Barr as a stooge of the president, or worse — suggesting that the attorney general is involved in a “cover-up” — are both factually baseless and the worst form of partisan demagoguery. This continued narrative in the face of an exhaustive Mueller report snatches away whatever credibility the Democrats and commentators who aggressively tried to sell the public on the Russia collusion hoax have left.
At every step in this process, Barr handled the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report with the utmost professionalism, candor and adherence to long-standing Justice Department policy.
The first important takeaway from the 400+ pages produced by the special counsel’s office is how accurate Barr’s initial characterization to Congress was. The “Barr Letter” was drafted on the attorney general’s own initiative, and with the input of the former Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, less than two days after he himself received Mueller’s report.
Barr’s summary is a careful, thoughtful distillation of Mueller’s findings, which were themselves the product of interviews with hundreds of people, including many close to President Donald Trump, the review of hundreds of thousands of documents and the execution of almost 500 federal search warrants.
Barr’s characterization of Mueller’s topline conclusions — most crucially that there was absolutely no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government officials who sought to interfere in our elections — were entirely accurate.
Moreover, the letter expressed clearly that Mueller and his team related certain incidents and actions by the president that they felt could be perceived as an attempt to obstruct their investigation — but did not feel it was their role to make a prosecutorial decision. Barr’s letter was transparent about the process by which he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein considered those actions and determined that no obstruction had occurred.
What we see for the first time today only reinforces these conclusions. We can now see just how thoroughly the special counsel’s office, with the assistance of the intelligence community, dug into the exact mechanisms that Russian intelligence operatives employed during the 2016 election cycle. We can see just how thoroughly they looked for — and failed to not find — evidence of any American co-conspirators.
On the obstruction element, the Mueller report only reinforces the perception of Barr and Rosenstein’s professionalism. As Barr related in his letter, they did not invoke decades of opinions from the Office of Legal Counsel that the Justice Department lacks the authority to indict a sitting president. Instead, Barr emphasized in his news conference this morning that, for the sake of argument, he fully accepted Mueller and his deputy Andrew Weissmann’s legal theories on obstruction.
The fact that Weissmann, Mueller’s senior deputy, has been the architect of two aggressive prosecutions — his convictions were overturned by the Supreme Court in the Arthur Andersen case and by the Fifth Circuit in the Merrill Lynch case, due to his overly aggressive concoction of crimes not found in the statute books — is likely to be the subject of extensive commentary in coming days on the flawed standard applied by the Mueller investigation team, which still failed to find any obstruction.
Even analyzed under these proposed theories — with which Barr and Rosenstein disagreed — the country’s top two law enforcement officials determined that the facts did not support a finding of the corrupt intent necessary for obstruction. And they’ve shown their work, exposing the entrails of those fact patterns on the page for Americans to see.
That transparency concerning his own actions explains, in part, why Barr’s growing army of detractors are accusing him of a “cover-up.” The irony is that it is Barr’s very professionalism that has exposed him to those attacks. Barr even invited lawyers from the special counsel’s office to participate in the redactions, debunking accusations of a conspiracy at every turn.
Attorney General Barr’s report to Congress is as close to a “full” Mueller Report as he could legally and ethically release. Barr’s decision not to repeat the mistakes FBI Director James Comey made in 2016 and instead adhere closely to the law, Justice Department policy, and the traditions of the intelligence community are the very antithesis of a “cover-up.”
The secrecy of grand jury material is not only a central tenet of the Anglo-American legal tradition — it is also mandated by federal law. If Democrats believe the grand jury material contained in the Mueller reports meets the exceptions to that rule, they may argue so before a federal judge, but it is not within the authority of the attorney general to make that determination unilaterally.
Refusing to disclose information that could damage the reputation of an uncharged third party, meanwhile, is long-standing DOJ policy, as is redacting information that could affect ongoing investigations. Running afoul of these policies in the Clinton email investigation, as Comey did, inflicted immeasurable harm to public confidence in the Department’s impartiality, which will take years if not longer to repair.
To demand that Barr now do the same thing Comey did — blurt legally protected information into the public record to satisfy voyeurs or political partisans — exposes the partisan motives of the president’s detractors, who now appear more concerned with their frenzied hunt for politically-useful dirt on Trump and his associates, than with getting to the bottom of Russian election meddling.
Executive privilege, like any other legal privilege, disappears the moment it is broken. Therefore, if the president’s well-established right to assert executive privilege were to have any practical meaning, Barr had no choice but to give Trump’s legal team the opportunity to review the report before it became public.
Trump’s lawyers, in turn, made no assertion of executive privilege. Yet again, obstruction truthers are stymied in their accusations.
Attorney General Barr was appointed attorney general for the second time in his career in large part because he possesses the finesse and consummate professionalism necessary to bring the Special Counsel investigation to a graceful close. What we’ve seen from Barr over the last few weeks proves he was the right man for the job.
Harmeet K. Dhillon is a nationally recognized lawyer focusing on commercial litigation, employment law, First Amendment rights and election law matters. She is the vice president of the Republican National Lawyers Association.
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