Attorney General William Barr’s letter to Congress, delivered Sunday, purports to brief lawmakers about the Mueller report.
What it really does is set the stage for a battle royale with Trump and Barr doing everything in their power to keep secret the full report and, equally important, the materials underlying the report. They’re likely to fight Democrats in Congress, if not both parties, over the materials’ release. And while they’ll probably cite a range of reasons for their objections to revealing the report, they also share an expansive view of a president’s right to keep his discussions secret.
The public and Congress are unable to judge whether Barr’s conclusions are justified because Barr’s letter is mostly silent about the underlying Mueller report conclusions and evidence. This would be remedied in time if Barr were required to provide the full report and its supporting witness and documentary evidence.
But Trump and Barr each have tools to minimize the access of House investigations to the report and evidence. Despite the end of Mueller’s probe, those investigations continue: Democrat Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, made it clear on Sunday that he plans to “move forward” with his committee’s investigations, “into obstruction of justice, abuses of power, corruption, to defend the rule of law, which is our job.”
It’s Been Done Before
To be sure, these grounds for withholding, properly and narrowly applied, have support in precedent.
But I believe that Trump and Barr can be counted on to use every means available to overstate and exaggerate the degree to which these doctrines justify withholding this information from justifiable, duly-authorized House investigations.