Budowsky: Senate must protect Mueller from Barr, President Trump

Budowsky: Senate must protect Mueller from Barr, President Trump
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In his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, attorney general nominee William Barr suggested he would keep secret the final report of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE by refusing to release it to Congress and the American people and releasing, instead, his own summary of that report.

The Senate should not confirm Barr unless he makes a public and unequivocal commitment to release the full Mueller report minus any redactions that national security officials request for solely national security reasons.

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Similarly, it is profoundly wrong for Barr to suggest he may disrespect and reject any possible opinion by Justice Department ethics officials that he should recuse himself, in whole or part, from power over the Mueller investigation.

If Barr is confirmed with his testimony as the final authority on these matters, here is what I predict.

Justice Department ethics officials will recommend Barr recuse himself from the Mueller investigation of potential obstruction of justice because of his aggressive prenomination attacks against this aspect of the Mueller investigation, at least. Barr will reject this and refuse to recuse. Mueller will issue a comprehensive report and request Barr to release it to Congress and the public.  Barr will reject this, refuse to release the Mueller report, and execute a cover-up of the Mueller report by releasing only an aggressively edited and limited version of the report under his own name.

If this occurs there will be an intense firestorm of public outrage demanding the release of the full Mueller report.  There will be an intense backlash against any Republican senator who supports President TrumpDonald John TrumpImpeachment? Not so fast without missing element of criminal intent Feds say marijuana ties could prevent immigrants from getting US citizenship Trump approval drops to 2019 low after Mueller report's release: poll MORE and voted to confirm Barr without demanding the release of the full Mueller report now, before he is confirmed.

If this occurs there will be televised hearings of the House Judiciary Committee, led by Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), that would be the most-watched congressional hearings since Watergate, with testimony from Barr and Mueller.

America is fortunate that Nadler is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. His rock-solid integrity and fairness, and his lifetime commitment to justice and the rule of law, make him the ideal chairman when democracy is under attack from a Russian dictator whose continuing crimes against America are being investigated by Mueller.

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Mueller is fiercely defended by Nadler and all leading House and Senate Democrats.  There are Republicans in Congress doing their patriotic duty to defend America from the Russian attack and defend Mueller from partisan attacks. I have repeatedly praised a long list of these Republicans and principled conservatives in columns, including the two previous Republican presidents, GOP presidential nominees in 2008 and 2012 and principled conservatives in media from George Will and Joe Scarborough to The Weekly Standard.

But some congressional Republicans adamantly refuse to protect Mueller and his investigation.  Others tolerate, support or initiate vicious attacks against the Justice Department, the FBI and Mueller.

In my view the “Barr memo” aggressively attacking a key aspect of the Mueller investigation, written at a moment when rumors swirled that then-Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsThe Memo: Mueller's depictions will fuel Trump angst Collins: Mueller report includes 'an unflattering portrayal' of Trump Trump frustrated with aides who talked to Mueller MORE would be fired by the president under investigation, to facilitate the firing of the special counsel who is investigating him, provide a decisive reason to require his recusal from this case.

Reasonable people might suspect that Barr was campaigning to succeed Sessions as attorney general.  At a minimum Barr, who circulated his memo to a long list of Trump attorneys and Trump defenders, was acting like an unofficial pro bono adviser or advocate for the Trump defense team.  

It would be grossly inappropriate for an attorney general appointed by a president under investigation, after previously demonstrating an extreme bias against key aspects of that investigation, to have power over that investigation, ignore a possible opinion of Justice Department ethics officials that he should recuse himself from that investigation, and then cover up and keep secret from Congress and the public the full report of that investigation.

Hopefully Mr. Barr will set this right promptly.  Otherwise his nomination should not be confirmed.

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas) and former Rep. Bill Alexander (D-Ark.), who was chief deputy majority whip of the House of Representatives. He holds an LLM in international financial law from the London School of Economics.