Budowsky: Barr, Mueller, Rosenstein on trial

Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrThe road not taken: Another FBI failure involving the Clintons surfaces Correctional officers subpoenaed in Epstein investigation: report Nadler asks other House chairs to provide records that would help panel in making impeachment decision MORE, Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod Rosenstein10 declassified Russia collusion revelations that could rock Washington this fall Why the presumption of innocence doesn't apply to Trump McCabe sues FBI, DOJ, blames Trump for his firing MORE and special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerMueller report fades from political conversation Trump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony MORE are now on trial before the high court of history; the high court of public opinion in our democracy that is under attack from a foreign enemy that seeks to destroy it; and the highest court in our land that appears destined to decide whether a president is above the law.

The imminent release of the Mueller report will send shock waves throughout the nation. Many Americans — myself included — suspect that Attorney General Barr is executing a cover-up of critical facts surrounding the investigation of the Russian attack against American democracy that continues today.

To protect the nation from the danger of deception that would threaten the rule of law and the defense of our democracy, the full unedited and unredacted Mueller report should be read, immediately, by a bipartisan handful of key legislators selected by congressional leaders.

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If Barr abuses his discretion and acts like a defense counsel representing a client rather than an attorney general representing the nation, and tries to keep fundamental facts secret from every member of the House and Senate and the American people, a dramatic and historic lawsuit should be promptly filed seeking expedited consideration by the Supreme Court.

Barr should not have been named attorney general. He should have unequivocally recused himself from this case. After circulating a memo long before his nomination that could be considered a lobbying campaign to become attorney general or a member of the president’s defense team, Barr is the epitome of bias and conflict of interest as he makes unilateral decisions that will powerfully impact first principles of American law and the defense of America from foreign attack. 

Barr’s four-page letter that was released shortly after he received the Mueller report was challenged by some members of Mueller’s team, who charged that it misrepresented key findings of the report. After the president used Barr’s ill-advised letter to claim he was fully exonerated by Mueller with a farrago of false representations, Barr, Rosenstein and Mueller should have immediately issued a simple statement that these claims of full exoneration were untrue.

There is precedent for courts approving limited release of critical grand jury testimony. Barr’s refusal to seek this approval is a powerful and revealing act of bad faith by an attorney general who has a duty to Congress and the public to provide them the full truth about a matter as momentous as the Russian attack against American democracy, which continues while Barr acts in real time today.

Soon after the report is released, Barr, Rosenstein and Mueller should testify in public. The released report should be itemized and Barr, Mueller and Rosenstein should publicly testify about all probative evidence of potential conspiracy or obstruction of justice, the influence of foreign money on key decisionmakers, the attempt to create secret back channels of communication with Russia before Trump’s inaugural, the repeated firings of officials leading investigations and related matters — whether or not charges were filed.

Since Mueller’s investigation of the Russian attack against American democracy was properly conducted in secret, he now has a profound civic duty to speak clearly and publicly — either as special counsel or as an expert witness — about enormously consequential matters he investigated that create clear and present dangers to our democracy and security. He should disclose whether he “handed off” matters discussed in his report to other federal prosecutors. 

Barr repeatedly misstates the regulations under which special counsels operate. They give the special counsel authority to propose and the attorney general authority to approve actions different from department advisory opinions or policies, if extraordinary circumstances exist. Does Barr not believe that a foreign attack against American democracy constitutes an extraordinary circumstance?

At a critical hour for American security and democracy the high courts of history, public opinion and probably the Supreme Court will ultimately render their verdict about what Barr, Rosenstein and Mueller do in the coming days.

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.