The insanity of these people knows no bounds. Did you see where Bill Barr compared himself to a first-wave D-Day soldier?
No, really. He said at the FBI Academy last Friday that watching the D-Day coverage had him reflecting that his return to the Justice Department in 2019 made him feel “a little bit, I think, like jumping into Sainte-Mère-Église on the morning of June 5, trying to figure out where you could land without getting shot.”
I can assure you that a Democrat who had hijacked such a solemn anniversary to employ that analogy would have been forced to apologize. It would have led cable news for two days. (And, by the way, June 5? They landed on June 6, which is kinda why June 6 is the anniversary. What am I missing here?)
Barr will get his on Tuesday, when the House Democrats vote to hold him and Don McGahn in contempt of Congress. Again, I think of the puerile depths to which this president has sunk us. Just as, a few years ago, no chief law enforcement officer of the United States—of either party—would have compared his own travails, no matter how arduous, to those of the men who were storming Omaha Beach; it’s also the case that a few years ago, for a Cabinet official and a high-ranking executive branch ex-official to be held in contempt of Congress over the same controversy would have been an extraordinary, stop-the-presses development.
The contempt vote is without precedent in the modern history of the country. Never before (that I’m aware of) have two very high-ranking officials been charged with contempt on the same matter and on the same day. Yes, Republicans then in control of the House held Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, in contempt of Congress over the Fast and Furious episode. But, except in the fevered imaginations of Sean Hannity and Darrell Issa, that episode was never going to lead to Barack Obama—to a higher conspiracy in which the president played a part.
Tuesday’s vote isn’t just symbolically nailing some hapless AG to the cross to make him bleed in public for a few hours. This is part of an investigation into genuine presidential obstruction of justice. And it involves both Trump’s attorney general and his former White House counsel, who is described in the Mueller Report as saying that the president directed him to obstruct justice.
Congresses of both parties do throw contempt citations around for political purposes. And sure, there’s a political element to these, too. But this is very serious business. Barr and McGahn are showing their contempt of the legislative branch by refusing to testify under oath before it on a matter of the highest importance. And Trump is vowing to see to it that the executive branch will refuse to honor a power that the legislative branch has held since literally the very first Congress of the United States.
That’s why the wording of this resolution, which goes beyond censure of Barr and McGahn, is important. It sets in motion future court battles, and it adds a shortcut for future legal confrontations with the Trump administration in that future resolutions of this sort will not require passage by the full House, but merely approval by a five-member panel of House leaders, led by Speaker Pelosi.
That’s an extreme step, but it’s one the House is justified in taking. Remember—no modern administration has so completely tried to stonewall Congress before. Richard Nixon had his aides cooperate with the Senate Watergate Committee in 1973. The Democrats have no choice now but to act and hope the courts finally order Trump and company to honor Congress’s subpoenas and see what unfolds from there.
Assuming Barr doesn’t budge, the next step against him should clearly be impeachment. That he is failing to uphold the duties of his office is laughably obvious. Indeed, he took the job only for the reason of mocking the duties of the office—so that he could insulate Donald Trump from the proper, lawful execution of those duties.
And McGahn? He can’t be impeached. But he can be disgraced. What the Democrats need to understand here is that the contempt vote is not the end of anything. It’s the beginning. Holding the two attorneys in contempt is step number one in bringing them before the bar of justice—in working what remains of their consciences, which in Barr’s case particularly seems to be pretty close to nothing, and in forcing them to capitulate to what both surely know is a justified pursuit of the truth, and threatening them with a pretty bad next 10 or 20 years if they don’t.
They are the models. Everyone is watching. If the Democrats somehow let them scoot, everyone will know that this whole thing isn’t serious.
But if the Democrats put their onions in a mincer and squeeze, then everyone else will get scared. It may not be what Aristotle had in mind, but it’s the only language that Trump, and they, understand.
NOTE: This column originally said the contempt vote is Wednesday. It is Tuesday, June 11.