Senators Fail To Grill Barr On His CIA Past, Iran-Contra Cover-up


The two-day Senate confirmation hearing for William Barr, President Trump’s nominee for the vacant Attorney General post, concluded on Jan. 16 with the curious incident involving the nominee’s early career in the CIA and equally strange incident of his role in obtaining pardons in 1992 for fellow Republicans convicted of crimes in the Iran-Contra national security scandal.

william barr senate hearing cnn screengrab jan 15 2019Barr is shown at left in a screengrab from the hearing, with his wife at top right.

Remarkably, no one apparently raised (at least in depth) the nominee’s CIA background and his role facilitating pardons while he served as attorney general during the presidency of George H. W. Bush.

That’s this reporter’s recollection after attending part of the hearing, watching much of the rest cable television. An expert law professor afterward told me that he had watched the entire hearing and neither topic was mentioned by anyone.

Let’s invoke the famous Sherlock Holmes story “The Adventure of Silver Blaze” to reflect on why what we can call the "curious incident" of the omissions might be important in Barr's confirmation proceeding.

arthur conan doyle the adventure of silver blaze 1892 illustration by sidney pagetIt's one of the most popular Sherlock Holmes detective stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle. "Silver Blaze" describes s the apparent murder of the trainer of a successful race horse, Silver Blaze (shown in an 1892 illustration by Sidney Paget), and the horse's disappearance on the eve of an important race.

“The tale is distinguished by its atmospheric setting in 19th Century England and the late-Victorian sporting milieu,” according to the Wikipedia entry from which this summary is excerpted, including in language below:.

The story also features some of Conan Doyle's most effective plotting, hinging on the "curious incident of the dog in the night-time" that Holmes, a private detective, raises with Scotland Yard’s official detective Gregory:

Detective Gregory: "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"

Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."

Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."

Holmes: "That was the curious incident."

cia logoIn the matter at hand: 

William Barr kick-started his professional career with three years’ work from 1973 to 1978 for the CIA while he attended the George Washington University's School of Law. This was a period of intense change for the agency following devastating disclosures of major scandals in the post-Watergate era.

Vice President George H. W. Bush had been CIA director for about a year beginning in 1976 in the Republican Ford administration until the presidency of Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1977.

george hw bush HRFollowing a judicial clerkship, meanwhile, Barr went on to serve in a number of Justice Department posts in the Reagan-Bush administration, beginning in 1981.

Under President Bush (shown in an official photo), Barr heled progressively higher Justice Department positions. He became Deputy Attorney general in 1990. Barr served as Bush's second attorney general beginning in November 1991 following the resignation of former Pennsylvania Gov. Dick Thornburgh.

Barr left the post in January 1993 as President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, installed his own team via the normal cycling of political appointees during a change of presidential parties.

Shortly before Barr left, he helped Bush facilitate the 1992 post-election pardons of six prominent Republican fellow appointees, most of them convicted of serious crimes involving the Iran-Contra scandal.

That scandal is best known because it revealed that Reagan-Bush administration officials knowingly violating a law enacted by Congress forbidding sensitive transactions involving Iran or right-wing rebel groups in Central America known as the “Contras.”

Iran, then as now, was particularly notorious because radical Muslims had seized American hostages during the Carter administration and voiced many anti-American threats.

Conniving, Then Convicted

ronald reagan and aides caspar weinberger george schultz ed meese donald reganon Nov 25 1986 before irgan contra press conferenceRonald Reagan with, from left, Caspar Weinberger, George Shultz, Edwin Meese, and Donald Regan in the Oval Office prior to the President’s press conference on the Iran-Contra affair on Nov. 25, 1986. (Photo courtesy of the Ronald Reagan Library)

Revelations that American officials were conniving with Iranian officials in ways secret from Congress and the public -- and in violation of American law -- to funnel arms to Central America raised a threat of impeachment or other deep shame implicating both President Reagan, below right, and his vice president Bush.

Bush was more closely involved in supervising intelligence operations, based in part on his experience leading the CIA and elsewhere, as we have reported in the 2013 book Presidential Puppetry.

ronald reagan oLawrence Walsh, a distinguished Republican attorney in private practice and former federal judge, was named independent counsel in 1986 to investigate  Reagan and Bush denied any significant wrongdoing and detail knowledge of what their subordinates had been doing.

The trials and revelations created a huge scandal. But, as described by former Associated Press and Newsweek reporter Robert Parry in describing his early reporting, mainstream news organizations were extremely reluctant to report on some of the more sensational allegations, such as reported drug smuggling by well-connected American operatives, including those suspected of involvement with rogue figures in the CIA and Drug Enforcement Administration.

Since then many trials, articles, books and memoirs have documented major drug-smuggling as well as arms smuggling during the Iran-Contra period that purportedly benefited high-level U.S. intelligence operatives and their patrons both in government and in the private sector, involving  both Republicans and Democrats.

Many such books implicating both republican and Democratic figures, built with first-hand experience or in-depth research upon the seminal book The Politics of Heroin by Professor Alfred W. McCoy (subtitled CIA Complicity in the Global Drug Trade and first published in 1972). Other major books include:

The Crimes of Patriots: A True Tale of Dope, Dirty Money, and the CIA by Jonathan Kwitney, a Wall Street Journal reporter for 16 years (1987); Cocaine Politics: Drugs, Armies and the CIA in Central America by professor and former diplomat Peter Dale Scott (popularizer of the term "Deep oliver north mugshotState" and "Deep Politics" to describe unelected and often covert power centers) and newspaper economics editor Jonathan Marshall (1992); Compromised by former pilot Terry Reed and John Cummings (1994), Dark Alliance by former newspaper reporter Gary Webb (1998); and Barry and The Boys, based on the life of CIA operative and smuggler Barry Seal, by researcher Daniel Hopsicker (2001 and 2016).

On Christmas Eve of 1992, Bush pardoned five officials, all but one convicted after expensive trials and congressional hearings. Separately, one of the leaders, White House aide Oliver North (shown in a mug shot), won exoneration on a technicality, that his congressional testimony violated his fair trial rights. Barr helped provide cover for the parsons by justifying them.

A sense of the tensions of that era, not dissimilar to controversies today over the Mueller probe, is summarized by 2014 article by the George Washington University-affiliated National Security Archive on the occasion of Walsh's death at age 102.

"The Iran-Contra affair stirred up profound political passions," according to the article Iran-Contra: How Lawrence Walsh Exposed Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and High-Level Malfeasance. "Walsh found himself at the center of seemingly perpetual controversy from the time of caspar weinberger ohis appointment in late 1986 until his last major case against a former cabinet official — Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger — jolted to a halt in December 1992. By then the former judge had become the villain to supporters of the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, as well as those he targeted for prosecution."

The following account from Wikipedia is congruent with that judgment and much of the extensive literature then and since:

On 24 December 1992, nearing the end of his term in office, President George H. W. Bush pardoned six administration officials who had been found guilty on charges relating to the affair. They were:

Elliott Abrams; Duane Clarridge; Alan Fiers; Clair George; and Robert McFarlane. Bush also pardoned Caspar Weinberger [above at right], who had not yet come to trial.

lawrence walsh“In response to these Bush pardons,” the Wikipedia report continues [in congruence with this editor’s understanding of the facts gleaned separately from many books and similar materials], “Independent Counsel Lawrence E. Walsh (shown at right), who headed the investigation of Reagan Administration officials' criminal conduct in the Iran-Contra scandal, stated that "the Iran-Contra cover-up, which has continued for more than six years, has now been completed."

Walsh noted that in issuing the pardons Bush appears to have been preempting being implicated himself in the crimes of Iran-Contra by evidence that was to come to light during the Weinberger trial. Walsh noted that there was a pattern of "deception and obstruction" by Bush, Weinberger and other senior Reagan administration officials.

Relevance To Mueller Probe?

There are clear (albeit not perfectly aligned) similarities to the current national security criminal scandal by the Republican administration of President Trump, which is currently being investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller III (left), a former FBI director and lifelong Republican who has overseen or assisted in the indictment of more than 30 suspects in the current probe.

robert mueller full face fileMany Democrats and others, including in the media, are voicing suspicions that Barr’s likely role is to squash Mueller’s investigation in largely secret ways to protect fellow Republicans, much like Barr is suspected to doing in 1992.

That narrative fits into a larger context, including the “U.S. Attorney Firing Scandal” two decades ago when President George W. Bush’s White House and Justice Department forced the firing of up to nine of the nation’s 93 regional U.S. attorneys for political reasons.

All but one of nine presidentially appointed Republican U.S. attorneys lost their jobs after the 2006 mid-term elections for reputed lack of sufficient loyalty (some would say an excess of ethics) in bringing legally dubious criminal charges against targets selected by the Bush White House’s senior presidential advisor Karl Rove, right, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and their minions.

karl rove HRThis reporter followed that scandal closely and obtained a university research appointment to research both the facts and broader implications. The implications of the near-nationwide pattern included dubious or even obviously corrupt prosecutions that some the remaining 84 U.S. attorneys perpetrated in order to keep their jobs in the Bush administration.

This research led to the founding in 2010 of the non-partisan Justice Integrity Project, which continues to reveal and otherwise examine similar abuses in the Obama and Trump administrations.

One of our projects explored how first the Bush and then the Obama administration and Congress successfully minimized the U.S. Attorney Firing Scandal by appointing Nora Dannehy,  a secretly compromised but outwardly illustrious regional prosecutor based in Connecticut and affiliated with the intelligence sector, to investigate the matter. She contacted only one of the fired attorneys and apparently none of the major Justice Department victims improperly prosecuted nationwide, and then she issued a superficial report that amounted to cover-up.

The Justice Department dealt with the then-current CIA torture scandal in a similar manner by another such appointment, that of Dannehy's colleague John Durham, also based in Connecticut. He issued whitewashed report recommending minimal accountability or even exposure for those CIA personnel who had tortured suspected radicals.

The Barr Hearing

michael mukasey o 2007Michael B. Mukasey, a well-connected Republican and former federal judge shown in a 2007 official photo, was the top Bush administration official who appointed those “investigators” and supervised their initial investigation before handing-off the matter to Obama Attorney General Eric Holder, a former Reagan-appointed judge who become friend of the incoming Democratic president.

Mukasey, speaking of Barr in glowing terms, was one of the witnesses before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Jan. 16. Among others on the nine-person panel with additional supporters of Barr, two law professors, two leaders of major civil rights organizations, and an advocate for victims.

Far from grilling Mukasey on the suspected cover-ups in his past or other controversial aspects of his career, the senators ignored such topics and treated him with great deference, illustrating anew the lack of institutional memory or accountability regarding past scandals and cover-ups, aside from a relatively few (such as Watergate and Bill Clinton’s dalliance with Monica Lewinsky) that are constantly invoked in public discourse as if to show that accountability in fact exists.

The senators, particularly Republicans and Barr supporters, repeatedly praised Barr for his “integrity,” compassion, experience and supposed commitment to a “rule of law.” These qualities were praised also by a submission of more than a hundred of his former Justice Department colleagues.

Those qualities were said to deserve public trust in his position, despite his highly unusual campaign to win favor with Trump and his aides last summer for Barr’s theory that Mueller’s largely secret investigation is flawed.

Barr's argument against Mueller, conveyed in a 19-page memo delivered in secret to Trump attorneys last summer, argued that Mueller's probe is especially if it targets Trump for firing Justice Department officials such as former FBI Director James Comey, a Republican who sought to maintain independence from the president in sensitive law enforcement decisions, particularly those involving foreign powers such as Russia and Turkey suspected of exerting corrupt influence over the Trump 2016 election campaign and other matters.

Barr's memo to Trump’s attorneys has prompted critics to suspect that is was an aggressive effort to help Trump by prejudging the Comey firing matthew whitaker headshot recentand other elements of the Mueller probe.

The memo is suspected also, but not proven, to have helped pave way for Barr’s nomination following similar vows of support by Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, left, following Trump’s firing of his supporter Jeff Sessions for the Attorney General’s post after Sessions recused himself on ethics grounds from supervision of Mueller’s probe.

dianne feinstein judiciaryBarr has responded that he is a longtime friend Mueller and that his memo was purely speculative because he doesn't know the facts of Mueller's investigation. Thus, Barr argued, he can be trusted to treat Mueller, his staff and their probe fairly, according to law.

Committee Democrats

The Senate committee’s Democrats, led by Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein of California (shown at right), mounted a number of blunt, carefully researched and otherwise telling challenges to Barr’s vow of non-partisan, independent and honest future service if confirmed.

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved Barr as attorney general nearly three decades ago, with a voice vote by the full Senate reported to have been unanimous also.

This time confirmation seems likely because of a 53-47 GOP senate majority and the lack of any major revelations unduly disrupting either the hearing or Barr’s benign demeanor and his series of high-status positions in industry and law following departure from the Justice Department in 1993.

Yet the high-stakes of Barr's appointment come at a time when a new congressional Democratic majority and many others are eagerly awaiting Mueller’s findings.

These factors combine to make it all the more “curious” that no one grilled Barr, at least in any depth that was reported, on his CIA background or Bush-era pardons that thwarted Walsh's Iran-Contra probe of another era’s top Republicans.

Those omissions by Senate Democrats were all the more remarkable because most of Senators have extensive experience in relevant law, political history and media relations. Additionally, all of them have been vocal, including two or three reputed presidential aspirants for 2020, in creating significant track records of trying to attain accountability for Trump and his administration’s many alleged malefactors.

We shall seek to answer questions about omissions of such topics in our final column in this series. We are proceeding in the spirit of Conan Doyle’s “Silver Blaze” and other Sherlock Holmes detective stories, which were first seen by the public in magazine serial form.

Our two previous stories were A Tale Of Two Barrs on Jan. 16, which covered the first day of the nominee’s Senate hearing, and Trump's New Acting AG Is Unfit To Serve on Nov. 10, documenting how Trump's replacement of Sessions with Matthew Whitaker generated a storm of well-merited criticism regarding the appointment's constitutionality, ethics, politics and potential criminality by both Whitaker and Trump, among others.

Those matters remain to be explored here and elsewhere, unless of course, Barr, Trump and others orchestrate another cover-up.

To that end, Barr raised concerns by refusing to promise either that he would make the so-called “Mueller Report” available to Congress, much less to the wider public, including media.

Barr said that he was inclined to let Mueller proceed on his investigation but would retain ultimate authority.

Barr also said that that he would seek ethics advice from career Justice Department professionals on whether he should recuse himself like Sessions from supervising the Mueller probe. But, Barr said, he would not commit to following that advice if it called for recusal and thus could potentially remain in the post like Whitaker (who is also under criminal investigation by the FBI for his former leadership of a scam company)

Many Mysteries

There are many voices urging the public to trust Barr, including more than 100 former Justice Department employees.

Among such prominent voices are former Clinton-era Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, who published an op-ed on Jan. 17, The Integrity of William Barr, urging the public to trust Barr, his integrity and fairness.

Starr, a Republican former federal judge with high-level connections, also led the impeachment crusade against Clinton, represented the billionaire sex pervert Jeffery Epstein in a controversial Bush-era plea deal and most recently was forced out of his positions as chancellor of Baylor University for presiding over a long-running sports team recruiting sex scandal that allegedly victimized more than 80 female Baylor students.

Still, the big mystery is: why didn't the Democrats "bark" at Barr's 1992 pardons, at least?

In sum, many mysteries remain about who decides who can be trusted. With this background, our next column proposes a solution to the Barr mystery that may shock many readers, but probably not those who follow intrigues closely in the nation’s capital.

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Previous Recent, Relevant Justice Integrity Project Columns

(Arranged in reverse chronological order)

Feb. 7

washington post logoWashington Post, Barr’s attorney general nomination clears Senate panel. If confirmed, he would oversee Mueller probe, Matt Zapotosky​, Feb. 7, 2019. The procedural step sets the stage for William P. Barr’s confirmation vote next week before the entire Senate.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday along party lines to advance William P. Barr’s nomination to become attorney general, a procedural step that sets the stage for his confirmation vote next week before the entire Senate.

Because Republicans control the Senate, Barr is likely to be confirmed easily — though potentially without any Democratic support. At the Judiciary Committee’s hearing richard blumenthal portraitThursday, all 10 panel Democrats voted against moving the nomination forward, while all 12 Republicans voted to advance it.

Democrats said they were particularly concerned that Barr would not specifically commit to letting the public see whatever report results from the special-counsel investigation into President Trump’s campaign.

“They paid for it,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn., right), who has co-sponsored a bill requiring the findings be released. “They deserve to see everything that’s in it.”

washington post logoWashington Post, Whitaker says he won’t testify before House panel unless Democrats drop subpoena threat, Karoun Demirjian and Devlin Barrett, Feb. 7, 2019. The House Judiciary Committee voted to give its chairman the authority to subpoena the acting attorney general, should he fail to appear or answer lawmakers’ questions.

Acting Attorney General Matthew G. Whitaker said he will not appear before Congress on Friday without assurances that he won’t be subpoenaed — giving Democrats a deadline of 6 p.m. Thursday to respond.

matthew whitaker headshot recentWhitaker’s move came shortly after the House Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to give its chairman the authority to subpoena Whitaker’s testimony, should he not appear or answer lawmakers’ questions.

[Read the Justice Department’s letter to the House Judiciary Committee]

The confrontation highlights efforts by Democrats to assert their newfound control of the House of Representatives as a check on the Trump administration’s power, and the administration’s determination to push back against congressional investigations decried by the president. However the Whitaker subpoena standoff ends, it may set the tone for months or years more of wrangling between the White House and congressional Democrats.

Jan. 16

Justice Integrity Project, A Tale Of Two Barrs: AG Nominee's Senate Hearing, Andrew Kreig, Jan. 16, 2019. Former U.S. Attorney General William Barr, President Trump's nominee to return to the post, presented two starkly different images at his U.S. Senate confirmation hearing on Jan. 15 in Washington, DC.

Barr, 68, stressed through his words and manner the appearance of an independent lawyer dedicated to public service and a "rule of law" according to relatively neutral principles on the conservative side of the political mainstream with his principles honed by his long experience and integrity.

These esteemed qualities, nationwide cable audiences saw throughout the day, included Barr's respect and friendship for such former U.S. Justice Department colleagues as the current Special Counsel Robert Mueller III and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
Barr's Republican supporters on the Senate Judiciary Committee eagerly promoted that Barr persona, which is most likely to maximize Barr's votes for confirmation. The supporters include the new chairman of the Republican-controlled committee, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

Barr's other persona was that of a pushy supplicant eager to butter up President Trump with dubious legal theories granting the president strong protections from federal corruption and similar investigations. Those probes most notably involve Mueller's ongoing probe Russian influence helping enable Trump's 2016 presidential election victory, among other alleged misconduct or crime.

Nov. 10

Justice Integrity Project, Trump's New Acting AG Is Unfit To Serve, Andrew Kreig, Nov. 10, 2018. President Trump's replacement of the U.S. attorney general on Nov. 7 has generated a storm of well-merited criticism regarding the appointment's constitutionality, ethics, politics and potential criminality.

matthew whitaker headshot recentFor these reasons, the Justice Integrity Project strongly opposes for these reasons the appointment of Matthew Whitaker, right. The project was founded in 2010 to report on abuses by the Justice Department, courts and those who appoint such officials. That remains the core of our mission even though our coverage has expanded to include the consequences of injustice, including globally.

Whitaker is a "lackey" of Trump in ways that undermine the independent role of the Justice Department, as many expert commentators have stated recently. Vox also reported Trump loyalist Matthew Whitaker was counseling the White House on investigating Clinton.

Feb. 8, 2015

Justice Integrity Project, Moralist Ken Starr Explains His Help For Billionaire Pervert Jeffrey Epstein, Andrew Kreig, Feb. 8, 2015. Famed educator Ken Starr Baylor Universityand legal scholar Ken Starr, left, led a forum last week at the National Press Club to inspire faith-based instruction — and then was asked to describe why he had helped billionaire Jeffrey Epstein avoid serious prison time in 2008 on allegations Epstein had molested dozens of underage girls.

The president and chancellor of Baylor University, responding to a question after the close of a forum he led Feb. 4 on “The Calling of Faith-based Universities,” told me he was “very happy” to help serve a client [Epstein] of Starr's former law firm, Chicago-based Kirkland & Ellis.


Related News Coverage

Editor's Note: The Justice Integrity Project excerpts with hot links extensive news coverage on a near-daily basis of alleged Trump campaign and administration misconduct, including that encompassed by the Mueller and congressional probes. These materials may be found under the link "Trump Watch" on this project's homepage here. There is no attempt to replicate them below, with the exception of a major project published by The Atlantic Magazine on Jan. 17 attempting to catalog all of the major alleged grounds to impeach President Trump.

Jan. 18

Alliance for Justice: Opinion: The Judiciary Committee Whiffs, William Yeomans (right, senior fellow at Alliance for Justice, which does not bill yeomans afj cropped Customnecessarily endorse his opinions that follow), Jan. 18, 2019. William Barr’s testimony did not surprise. He is experienced, smart, and a committed proponent of virtually unlimited presidential power.

While he sought to reassure critics by professing the importance of allowing Special Counsel Robert Mueller to complete his investigation and promising to be as transparent as the law allows when Mueller is done, he failed to commit on two of the largest issues facing his nomination: recusal from the Mueller probe and public release of Mueller’s findings.

Regarding recusal, he agreed to consult career ethics officials in the Justice Department (DOJ), but he refused to commit to abide by their determination. For those of us who care deeply about the integrity of the Mueller probe and the process for policing ethics at DOJ, Barr’s position was disappointing, but predictable.

Trump has made clear that he will not tolerate an attorney general who will step aside from supervision of Mueller. Jeff Sessions was hounded from office because of his recusal decision. Matthew Whitaker was selected because of his hostility to Mueller’s investigation and refused to recuse himself despite the proper determination of career officials that he should. Barr understood that he could not accept the attorney general nomination and recuse himself.

Pursuant to 5 C.F.R. 2635.502(c), employees are required to follow ethics officials’ recusal determinations, but Whitaker and Barr apparently do not consider themselves bound like other employees. There is no doubt that Barr will decline to recuse himself.

The case for Barr’s recusal rests largely on his op-ed in support of the firing of James Comey and his curious 19-page memo criticizing Mueller’s investigation of Trump’s obstruction of justice.

While Barr argued that the memo offered a narrow interpretation of one statutorily based theory of obstruction, the language of the memo lays out a dangerously expansive view of presidential power that would seem to empower the president to interfere fatally in Mueller’s investigation. This theory of the unitary executive places all executive power within the person of the president and prevents Congress from limiting the president’s exercise of his constitutional powers. As a witness, Professor Neil Kinkopf did a masterful job of laying out the consequences for the Mueller investigation, noting that Barr’s long-held view would create an imperial presidency.

alliance for justice logoIn view of the appearance of prejudgment created by Barr’s memo and other comments on the Mueller investigation, senators needed a commitment from Barr that he would honor the determination of neutral, career ethics officials. He could not give it.

Regarding release of Mueller’s findings, Barr sought and found refuge in DOJ’s special counsel regulations. While committing to transparency, he refused to go beyond the bare requirements of the regulations.

Senators seemed ill-informed about the limited reporting measures in the regulations. The regulations require that Mueller submit to the attorney general “a confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions reached by the Special Counsel.” The attorney general is obligated to report to Congress at the close of the investigation regarding any proposed actions of the special counsel that he blocked. Beyond that, there is no reporting obligation.

djt handwave fileThe regulations rest on traditional DOJ practice that discourages public comment on prosecution decisions. Barr emphasized this practice in his appropriate criticism of James Comey for commenting on Hillary Clinton’s conduct while announcing his decision against prosecution. This traditional practice is reflected in the minimal reporting obligations of the regulations. Together, tradition and the regulations empower Barr to bury Mueller’s findings.

For that reason, senators needed a commitment from Barr to exceed the minimal reporting required by the regulations. They should insist on a promise to forward as much of Mueller’s confidential report to Congress as the law permits. He also should have been pressed to agree to forward as much of Mueller’s raw evidence as possible for oversight and possible impeachment purposes. If the House undertakes impeachment, it will need Mueller’s material to show the way. Finally, senators should press for revision of the DOJ regulations to require greater transparency and pursue a legislative solution if DOJ resists.

Given the circumstances in which this nomination occurs, senators seemed far too accepting. Democrats seemed resigned to Republican unity and their own minority status. They should have done more to demonstrate their awareness of the magnitude of the threat emanating from the White House and the need to take extraordinary measures to reassure the public and buttress the rule of law. Barr is a dramatic improvement over Matthew Whitaker and he brings measures of intelligence, legal sophistication, and institutional knowledge rarely seen in Trump cabinet picks. But the times demand more, and senators on the committee could have pressed for it.

Bill Yeomans is the Senior Justice Fellow for Justice at Alliance for Justice. He previously taught constitutional law, civil rights, and legislation at American University Washington College of Law. He also served for 26 years in the Department of Justice, where he litigated cases involving voting rights and discrimination in employment, housing, and education, and prosecuted police officers and racially motivated violent offenders before assuming a series of management positions, including acting Assistant Attorney General. 

Jan. 17

The Case For Impeachment

donald trump gage skidmore portrait

Donald J. Trump (Gage Skidmore photo)

atlantic logoThe Atlantic, Advocacy: The Case for Impeachment, Jeffrey Goldberg (Editor in chief, right), Jan. 17, 2018. Dear Reader : Earlier this week, I wrote to you about “Unthinkable" [subtitled "50 Moments That Define an Improbable Presidency", an Atlantic special project that catalogs jeffrey goldberg Smallsome of the most outlandish and norm-breaking moments of Donald Trump’s first two years in the White House.

I’m writing now to tell you that we’ve decided to bring forward the release of our next cover story, “The Case for Impeachment” by Yoni Appelbaum. We’re always hesitant to release our cover stories early, but I’m motivated to do so by two events: The Trump-caused government shutdown, unmatched in length and consequence, and the debate over whether the 45th president of the United States is secretly operating on behalf of Russia.

atlantic logoThe Atlantic, Investigative Commentary: Impeach Donald Trump, Yoni Appelbaum, March 2019 Issue, Jan. 17, 2019. On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump [shown in a Gage Skidmore photo] stood on the steps of the Capitol, raised his right hand, and solemnly swore to faithfully execute the office of president of the United States and, to the best of his ability, to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States. He has not kept that promise.

atlantic logo horizontalInstead, he has mounted a concerted challenge to the separation of powers, to the rule of law, and to the civil liberties enshrined in our founding documents. He has purposefully inflamed America’s divisions. He has set himself against the American idea, the principle that all of us — of every race, gender, and creed — are created equal.

This is not a partisan judgment. Many of the president’s fiercest critics have emerged from within his own party. Even officials and observers who support his policies are appalled by his pronouncements, and those who have the most firsthand experience of governance are also the most alarmed by how Trump is governing.

Jan. 16

ny times logoNew York Times, William Barr Vows to Let Mueller Finish Investigation, Charlie Savage, Nicholas Fandos and Katie Benner, Jan. 16, 2019 (print edition). William P. Barr (shown above in a screengrab), President Trump’s nominee for attorney general, assured senators at his confirmation hearing on Tuesday that he would permit the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, to complete the Russia investigation and said he was determined to resist any pressure from Mr. Trump to use law enforcement for political purposes.

Mr. Barr, whose confirmation seems virtually assured, pointed to his age and background — he served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993 — as buffers to potential intrusions on the Justice Department’s traditional independence. He suggested he had no further political aspirations that might cloud his judgment, the way that future ambitions might give pause to a younger nominee, as well as the experience to fight political interference.

us senate logo“I am in a position in life where I can provide the leadership necessary to protect the independence and reputation of the department,” Mr. Barr, 68, told the Senate Judiciary Committee, adding that he would not hesitate to resign if Mr. Trump pushed him to act improperly.

“I will not be bullied into doing anything I think is wrong — by anybody, whether it be editorial boards or Congress or the president,” Mr. Barr said. “I’m going to do what I think is right.”

jeff sessions ag oHe also pledged that he would refuse any order from Mr. Trump either to fire Mr. Mueller without good cause in violation of regulations or to rescind those rules first.

Mr. Barr’s first stint as attorney general came under President George Bush, who was known for his prudent and measured approach. If confirmed, Mr. Barr would serve under a president hardly known for self-restraint. Mr. Trump repeatedly excoriated Jeff Sessions, the former attorney general, for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, which Mr. Trump has called a “witch hunt,” and pushed him to open criminal investigations into political adversaries like Hillary Clinton.

New York Times, Opinion: The Integrity of William Barr, Kenneth W. Starr, Jan. 16, 2019. He should not be required to recuse himself from the Mueller investigation. After the stormy tenure of Jeff Sessions as attorney general, the likely return of William Barr to the job — which he held with distinction under President George H.W. Bush — has been greeted with sighs of relief at the Justice Department. The reason is not hard to divine: Bill Barr is an accomplished lawyer with a deep respect for the law and for the integrity and independence of the department — something I know from having served under him. After his solid performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, he seems almost certain to be approved by the full Senate.

His critics have focused on a 19-page legal memorandum he sent over the summer to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein questioning whether the special counsel, Robert Mueller, could investigate the president for violating criminal obstruction-of-justice laws. Democrats have demanded that if confirmed, Mr. Barr should recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller inquiry. But that response to Mr. Barr’s meticulous legal analysis is wildly overwrought.

A more dispassionate review of Mr. Barr’s memo shows that he was trying to prevent an unprecedented expansion of a federal criminal statute intended to prevent crimes such as destroying evidence, bribing prospective jurors, intimidating witnesses and the like. The memorandum expressly acknowledges that presidents, like other citizens, can run afoul of the criminal laws. But he questions whether a president can be investigated for actions that are expressly within his constitutional powers — such as firing an F.B.I. director. He is sounding a clear warning against prosecutorial overreach.

Mr. Starr was the independent counsel during the Whitewater investigation.

ny times logoWashington Post, Barr vows to protect Russia probe but says Mueller report might stay secret, Devlin Barrett, Karoun Demirjian, Matt Zapotosky and Seung Min Kim, Jan. 16, 2019. attorney general nominee said a report from the special counsel would probably be treated like internal Justice Department prosecution memos that are kept secret.

A poll released last month found that 3 in 4 American adults believed the entire Mueller report should be made public. Two-thirds of Republicans agreed with that statement, while 9 in 10 Democrats agreed, according to the poll from NPR/“PBS NewsHour”/Marist.

Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) expressed concern that Justice Department regulations might keep important information from the public.

“The American people deserve to know what the Department of Justice has concluded,” Kennedy said. “I would strongly encourage you to put this all to rest. To make a final report public, and let everybody draw their own conclusions so we can move on. If somebody did something wrong, they should be punished. But if they didn’t, let’s stop the innuendo and the rumors and the leaking, and let’s move on.”

The committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), told Barr: “We should be able to see the full information that comes out.”

Jan. 15

CNN, Barr: Vitally important Mueller finishes investigation, Staff report, Jan. 15, 2019. Attorney general nominee William Barr (shown above in a CNN screengrab from Jan. 15 Senate testimony) says he would allow special counsel Robert Mueller to finish his report, and that the public and Congress would be allowed to see the results.

washington post logoWashington Post, Barr fields questions on Mueller probe, independence from Trump at attorney general confirmation hearing, Matt Zapotosky, Karoun Demirjian, Devlin Barrett and Seung Min Kim, Jan. 15, 2019. William P. Barr, President Trump’s nominee to be the next attorney general, is appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where senators will question him to determine whether he should lead the Justice Department.

Barr, a former attorney general, deputy attorney general and head of the department’s Office of Legal Counsel, unquestionably has the experience for the post. But he will likely face tough questioning on how he would remain independent from a president who attacks the Justice Department log circulardepartment constantly, and how he will treat special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian election interference.

[Trump confirms he will nominate William Barr to be attorney general]

dianne feinsteinSen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), the Senate Judiciary Committee’s ranking Democrat, has said she would seek to be “reassured” that Barr will treat Mueller fairly, while Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) has said Barr already has intimated he “is committed to allowing Mr. Mueller to finish.” Barr has raised questions about Mueller’s probe publicly and to Justice Department leaders.

The hearing began shortly after 9:30 a.m., and we will have live updates throughout the day here. The testimony will likely last the entire day; Graham decided that each senator will get 10 minutes to question Barr in a first round of inquiries and five in a second. Lawmakers are expected to question other witnesses on Wednesday.

Jan. 12

robert mueller graphic IMG 6401

ny times logoNew York Times, F.B.I. Opened Inquiry Into Whether Trump Was Secretly Working on Behalf of Russia, Adam Goldman, Michael S. Schmidt and Nicholas Fandos, Jan. 12, 2019 (print edition). In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.

The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.

FBI logoThe investigation the F.B.I. opened into Mr. Trump also had a criminal aspect, which has long been publicly known: whether his firing of Mr. Comey constituted obstruction of justice.

Agents and senior F.B.I. officials had grown suspicious of Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia during the 2016 campaign but held off on opening an investigation into him, the people said, in part because they were uncertain how to proceed with an inquiry of such sensitivity and magnitude. But the president’s activities before and after Mr. Comey’s firing in May 2017, particularly two instances in which robert mueller full face fileMr. Trump tied the Comey dismissal to the Russia investigation, helped prompt the counterintelligence aspect of the inquiry, the people said.

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III [shown above in a graphic and at right in a file photo], took over the inquiry into Mr. Trump when he was appointed, days after F.B.I. officials opened it. That inquiry is part of Mr. Mueller’s broader examination of how Russian operatives interfered in the 2016 election and whether any Trump associates conspired with them. It is unclear whether Mr. Mueller is still pursuing the counterintelligence matter, and some former law enforcement officials outside the investigation have questioned whether agents overstepped in opening it.

Jan. 10

Law & Crime, Ken Starr Among 100-Plus DOJ Officials Endorsing Trump’s Pick for U.S. Attorney General, Matt Naham, Jan. 10, 2019.  Anticipation is building for William Barr‘s scheduled appearance on Capitol Hill, when the Attorney General nominee’s confirmation hearings will occur.

In case you missed it, the Senate Judiciary Committee announced last week that Barr would be answering lawmakers’ questions on Jan. 15 and 16. The hearing will take place in the Hart Senate Office building. The news release from the Judiciary Committee said that Barr “will receive the same fair and thorough vetting process as the last five nominees to be Attorney General.”


Jan. 15-16, 2019 Senate Judiciary Committee Barr Confirmation Hearing Witness List

Witness List

Hearing before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary On “Attorney General Nomination”

Tuesday, January 15 and Wednesday January 16, 2019


The Honorable Orrin G. Hatch
Former United States Senator
State of Utah

Panel I

The Honorable William P. Barr, to be Attorney General of the United States

Panel II

The Honorable Michael B. Mukasey
Former United States Attorney General
Former U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of NY
Of counsel, Debevoise & Plimpton LLP
New York, NY

Mr. Derrick Johnson
President and Chief Executive Officer
Baltimore, MD

The Honorable Larry D. Thompson
Former United States Deputy Attorney General
Partner, Finch McCrannie LLP
Atlanta, GA

The Honorable Marc Morial
President and Chief Executive Officer
National Urban League
New York, NY

Ms. Mary Kate Cary
Former speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush
Anne C. Strickler Practitioner Senior Fellow
The Miller Center, University of Virginia
Washington, DC

Professor Neil J. Kinkopf
Professor of Law
Georgia State University College of Law
Atlanta, GA

Professor Jonathan Turley
J.B. and Maurice C. Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law
The George Washington University Law School
Washington, DC

Reverend Sharon Washington Risher
Ordained Pastor
Charlotte, NC

Mr. Chuck Canterbury
National President
Fraternal Order of Police
Washington, DC