AP NEWS

Trump, Barr set new low with political AG

May 6, 2019

Opponents of President Donald Trump could probably find something every day to criticize him for, many of them serious. We have tried to avoid that kind of knee-jerk reaction to his presidency despite our concerns about his behavior. We’ve even made sure to praise him when he deserves it, as we did on Feb. 17 to note policies that have revitalized the petrochemical industries.

But what happened this week in Washington was not something that we — or you — should overlook. Attorney General William Barr removed all doubt that he has perverted one of the most trust-demanding jobs in government. Instead of serving as the people’s lawyer and defender of all that is lawful and ethical, he is acting as if he were Donald Trump’s personal attorney.

His testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, based on his earlier summary of the report by special counsel Robert Mueller, was a disgrace. Mueller stonewalled and spun before that respected committee instead of speaking the plain truth. He consistently tried to put the president’s questionable actions in the best possible light, and he didn’t mind fudging or prevaricating when he did it. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi even said he lied to Congress and thus committed a crime.

It was hard to imagine someone with Barr’s previously well-regarded reputation stooping so low, but in a sense he had to.

That’s because the release of the full Mueller report, minus a few redactions, paints an entirely different picture of Trump’s conduct than the one Barr indicated in his infamous four-page summary. That summary cleared the president of virtually every charge hanging over him. It suggested that Mueller ran into few if any roadblocks from the White House. Barr even echoed the very words that Trump used so often — “no collusion” — even though Mueller himself noted that collusion was not a legal term and he was focusing on criminal conspiracy instead.

For a while, and maybe longer, it worked. Many Americans now believe that the Mueller investigation is a closed issue — or that Trump was unfairly hounded during this inquiry.

The reality, as Congress and the American people are learning, is quite different. Russia did indeed meddle in our election and the Trump campaign welcomed it. While Mueller found no conspiracy with Russia, he did list 10 separate ways in which the president and his aides may have obstructed justice. That’s a serious offense, one of the reasons that President Nixon was impeached. Yet Justice Department policy advises against indicting a sitting president for crimes like obstruction, so Mueller didn’t cross that bridge.

Barr’s kind of political misdirection isn’t supposed to happen with the leader of the “Justice” Department. The attorney general isn’t supposed to meet Trump’s oft-stated desire to act like Roy Cohn, a famously pugnacious and surly lawyer who worked for the Trump family years ago but is best known as chief counsel to Sen. Joseph McCarthy during a real congressional witch hunt in the 1950s.

Sadly, Barr has shown his true colors. He might not be as rough as Cohn, but he doesn’t mind bending a few rules to help a president who hired him after he essentially campaigned for the job for months.

The only way now to clear the fog that Barr has pumped out is for Mueller to testify before Congress, as soon as possible. Mueller sent Barr a letter objecting to his summary of the report, and it will be interesting to hear him elaborate on those points and ways in which the president may have obstructed justice or committed impeachable offenses.

The American people deserve the facts on this exhaustive investigation, not partisan spin. No one expected the president to speak honestly about it, but that task should have been a slam-dunk for any attorney general. William Barr sadly failed that test, and frankly, it’s hard to see how he can be trusted any more.