It’s Mueller time.
We need public, no-holds-barred testimony before Congress by special counsel Robert Mueller, and we need it now. As we saw Wednesday, trying to get the truth out of Attorney General William Barr is like squeezing blood from a stone.
Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee did wring out a few droplets. Thanks to Sen. Kamala Harris of California – the last person any defendant should want to see at the prosecution table – we learned that Barr did not even look at the voluminous evidence underlying Mueller’s report before exonerating President Trump of obstruction of justice.
Barr did this despite the line in Mueller’s report making clear that the evidence “does not exonerate” the president.
Harris also caused Barr to stammer and stumble when she asked whether Trump or anyone in the White House had ever asked him to investigate anyone; Barr didn’t say yes but didn’t say no.
And questioning by other committee members revealed that Barr’s cavalier dismissal of one of the clearest acts of obstruction by the president –telling Don McGahn, then White House counsel, to have Mueller fired – rests on a laughable, made-up distinction Barr pretends to draw between “firing” and “removing” someone.
Given how he has misled the public and Congress, Barr should be, um, removed. But, of course, Trump won’t do that. In Barr he has the attorney general of his dreams, a personal advocate who puts loyalty above duty and honor.
If Barr had nothing to hide, he’d be delighted to face extended questioning by staff attorneys for the House Judiciary Committee. Instead, when Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., convened the committee Thursday, he sat across from an empty chair.
You don’t have to take my word that Barr was dishonest about the Mueller report. Take Mueller’s word, in the letter of complaint he sent to Barr on March 27:
“The summary letter the Department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this office’s work and conclusions.”
The full report, minus redactions, was eventually released – but only after Barr had preemptively decided to ignore its substantial evidence of an effective partnership between the Trump campaign and the Russians, as well as its overwhelming evidence that Trump committed multiple acts of obstruction after taking office.
“It was my baby,” Barr said, referring to the Mueller report, not our infantile president. But the report actually belongs to the American people, and while some Republican members of Congress refuse to read it, I hope their constituents do.
It shows that Trump and those around him are chronic, venal liars who disgrace the White House and dishonor the nation.
Mueller’s letter of quiet outrage, which Barr described as “snitty,” suggests that the special counsel’s view of the import of his findings differs substantially from Barr’s. And that is why the nation needs to hear directly from Mueller.
Barr said his reaction to Mueller’s letter was to protest, “Bob, what’s with the letter? Why don’t you just pick up the phone and call me if there’s an issue?”
Mueller and Barr are both experienced bureaucrats. Both knew that by putting his concerns in writing – as opposed to a chummy phone call between old colleagues – Mueller was creating a record that would inevitably become public.
I see why Barr considered that a “snitty” thing to do, because he knew it would put him on the spot.
Barr is on record saying he does not object to Mueller testifying before Congress, and Nadler said he is working to pin down a date. That will be must-see TV.
Barr’s rationale for clearing Trump of obstruction is so shaky that it is considered risible by many legal experts, including Fox News’ chief judicial analyst, former judge Andrew Napolitano, who wrote, “This sophistry would make the Jesuits proud.”
Reading the Mueller report, the evidence for obstruction seems a slam-dunk. The evidence for collusion, if not conspiracy, is also quite strong and has largely been overlooked.
When Mueller does testify, I don’t expect fire and brimstone; that’s not who he is. But I do expect an honest, forthright, thorough tour through the evidence, led by an honorable public servant with respect for the Constitution and the interests of the nation at heart.
In other words, what we should have gotten Wednesday, but didn’t.
Congress has a decision to make about impeachment, and voters have a decision to make about Trump. Hearing from Mueller will inform those choices.
Eugene Robinson is a Pulitzer Prize winning Washington Post columnist. Reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.