We cannot fulfill our roles as citizens if we are unable to evaluate the president’s conduct vis-à-vis Russia and the Special Counsel’s investigation. And we cannot evaluate that conduct unless we can read the full Mueller Report. A four page cherry-picked summary written by an Attorney General who won his job by promising to have the president’s back will not suffice.
When he auditioned for the job, Attorney General William Barr sent to the White House an unsolicited 20 page Memorandum in which he gave an extremely expansive view of presidential power. He suggested that the president has all-encompassing constitutional authority over actions by the executive branch in enforcing the law.
Although Barr’s sweeping view on presidential power has scant support in precedent, the Memorandum had its intended effect. Trump wanted someone who would protect him and Barr was the man for the job. But lest we forget, the Attorney General is not the president’s lawyer. He’s our lawyer; he’s the people’s lawyer.
For two years, the American people patiently waited for Special Counsel Mueller to complete his investigation and make his findings. From all outward appearances, Robert Mueller and his team of prosecutors and investigators operated with the utmost professionalism, cutting square corners, working long hours, and, in a city known for leaking like a proverbial sieve, the Mueller investigation was absolutely leak-proof.
Now that Mueller has finished his work and submitted his Report, it languishes on the Attorney General’s desk. There is no legitimate excuse for this delay. One could be forgiven for thinking that the only reason Barr has not yet provided even a redacted version to Congress is to give the president’s narrative of complete exoneration time to set in the public mind. But finally, it seems, the public is not so easily fooled.
Not so long ago, Mr. Trump said he wanted the full report to be made public. In fact, he declared that millions upon millions of Americans wanted to see the Report. Indeed we do.
But now the president rattles his saber and threatens to direct the Attorney General to hide the entire document. What has changed? Why does Mr. Trump, who was quick to take a premature victory lap, now fear letting the report see the light of day?
Perhaps it is because poll after poll tells us that the American people aren’t buying what Mr. Trump is selling. He claims the Mueller Report gave him total, across the board exoneration. It did nothing of the kind. With regard to obstruction of justice issues, Mueller wrote: "while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."
Mr. Barr has noted that Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure forbid the production of grand jury testimony and materials. That’s true. What is also true is that the rule of grand jury secrecy is subject to exceptions.
For instance, a government attorney can petition a federal court to authorize release of grand jury materials in special circumstances. But to the best of our knowledge, Barr has done nothing more than sit on his hands and whistle in the wind.
His failure to take this obvious step to seek judicial authorization to release grand jury materials is inconsistent with his testimony at his confirmation hearing when he promised under oath to make public as much of the Report as possible. He appears to be breaking that promise.
And when it comes to obstruction of justice, we need to know why the Attorney General rushed in to decide the issue when Robert Mueller did not. Special Counsel Mueller is no shrinking violet. In his long career, Mueller has made very tough calls in some of the most complex and challenging investigations of some of the most notorious criminal actors.
Did Robert Mueller expect the Attorney General to take it upon himself to draw a conclusion that Mueller refrained from drawing? I don’t think so.
The whole concept of a Special Counsel is to take prosecutorial decision-making out of the hands of political appointees, such as William Barr. I believe Robert Mueller intended that the Report go to Congress and that the responsibility to decide on obstruction of justice rest with Congress.
But we cannot know for sure because we have yet to see the report.
Our founding fathers wisely divided federal power among three branches of government: the legislative, the executive, and the judicial. Congress, as the legislative branch, must fulfill its role as a check and balance on the executive branch and that includes oversight, determining whether officials were obeying the law.
Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates recently wrote that the Mueller investigation was “not about some tangential issue. It was about a foreign adversary’s attempt to subvert our election; it cuts to the very core of our democracy.”
With each passing day, Congress is limited in its knowledge of what really happened and hamstrung in its ability to keep our elections free from Russian interference. To this very day, Mr. Trump has ignored the findings of his own intelligence agencies and taken no steps whatsoever to protect future elections. Whether he conspired or not, Mr. Trump benefitted from Russia’s interference in our election, and it appears he wants to benefit again.
It’s time Mr. Barr honor his oath of office; it’s time he keep the promise he made to the U.S. Senate at his confirmation hearing. He must stop acting as the president’s wingman and start acting as the attorney for the American people. It’s time he releases the full Mueller Report to Congress. Indeed, it is past time.