Bill Barr answered questions from senators Wednesday that confirmed once and for all that rather than conducting himself as the attorney general of the United States, Barr’s title should be attorney specific since he serves a single client—Donald J. Trump.
Barr sounded something like a defendant himself, talking in circles in a display one Democrat grudgingly praised as “masterful hairsplitting” to explain how he managed to publicly exonerate his client before releasing a report that painstakingly detailed his potential crimes.
Some of the hairsplitting wasn’t so masterful, as when he explained why Trump’s praise for Paul Manafort and complaints about people who “flip” didn’t amount to criminal witness tampering.
“Yes,” Barr began, “and that is not obstruction because the president's—the evidence, I think—what the president's lawyers would say is that the president's statements about flipping are quite clear, and express, and uniformly the same, which is by flipping, he meant succumbing to pressure on unrelated cases to lie and compose in order to get lenient treatment. That is not—it's a discouraging flipping in that sense, it's not obstruction.”
Barr’s testimony came the day after a really bad day for Donald Trump, and a great day for accountability, democracy and our Constitution.
Within a few hours Tuesday:
—Trump, as a private citizen, sued two banks his family uses to keep his financial records secret, long after a river of financial details had began flowing from those banks to government investigators.
—A federal appeals court gave the green light to a lawsuit by congressional Democrats who assert that Trump is violating our Constitution’s emoluments clauses. Presidents may not receive money from foreign powers or state governments without explicit congressional approval, which Trump lacks.
—We saw that Barr had lied to Congress on April 10, putting him at risk of prosecution for a felony. Barr testified he had “no idea” what Robert Mueller, the special prosecutor, thought about how Barr interpreted the Mueller report even though Mueller had laid out exactly what Mueller thought in a letter to Barr as well as a telephone call.
Add it up, and the wall of lying and denying Trump built to hide his finances is melting faster than the Greenland ice sheet.
The lawsuit to block Deutsche Bank and Capital One from turning over financial records to House investigators was filed by Trump, his son Eric and daughter Ivanka.
The complaint appears to mostly be aimed at creating talking points for Fox News hosts. A diligent person would have sued as soon as investigations were announced, not long after the banks began cooperating.
The Trumps claim that House subpoenas for their financial records “have no legitimate or lawful purpose… were issued to harass President Donald J. Trump, to rummage through every aspect of his personal finances, his businesses, and the private information of the President and his family, and to ferret about for any material that might be used to cause him political damage. No grounds exist to establish any purpose other than a political one.”
That’s palpable nonsense. Congress had a duty to learn if any president has been compromised by a foreign power or has committed crimes, such as money laundering. Trump is also a tax cheat. He lost two civil income tax fraud trials, as I revealed in The Daily Beast three years ago.
Congress has broad power to investigate officials and their conduct before they assume office. Indeed, that is what Senate confirmation hearings are all about—investigating conduct that occurred before assuming office.
Curiously, the plaintiffs don’t include White House employee Jared Kushner, Ivanka’s husband, to whom the president gave a national security clearance over the vigorous objections of national security officials.
Kushner tried to raise hundreds of millions of dollars from Qataris and developed exceptionally close ties to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in meetings that he kept secret from State Department diplomats. The prince is big on beheading people who call for democracy.
Eric Trump’s financial records would be relevant because he is a trustee of what I call his father’s eyes wide open blind trust that holds the Trump golf courses, hotels and other property.
And how odd that the Trumps are not suing to stop the banks from giving records to Letitia James, the New York state attorney general. She likely has records already.
The green light for the emoluments clause lawsuit was given by U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan, appointed to increasingly higher-level federal judgeships by Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. In a 48-page opinion, Sullivan described the arguments made by Trump’s lawyers as “unpersuasive and inconsistent.”
Establishing that Trump continually violates both the foreign and domestic clauses would put enormous pressure on both parties to impeach Trump, and force Republicans senators to finally choose between Trump and upholding their oaths of office.
The ghost of George Mason, a Virginia delegate to the Constitutional convention for whom a conservative university is now named, is rattling his chains. It was Mason who said that the emoluments clause was critical because “if we do not provide against corruption, our government will soon be at an end.”
Finally, there is the letter that Mueller sent to Barr to express his disapproval of Barr’s summary of Mueller’s findings.
“The summary letter the Department sent to Congress and released to the public... did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions,” Mueller wrote, to memorialize his concerns. “There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation.”
Before the letter’s release but after Barr had received it, Senator Chris Van Hollen, a Maryland Democrat, asked Barr whether Mueller supported Barr’s four-page summary.
“I don’t know whether Bob Mueller supported my conclusion,” Barr testified.
That was a lie, plain and simple. It is grounds for federal prosecution, too, and if convicted Barr would become the third attorney general to become a felon, joining John Mitchell and Richard Kleindienst in that ignominy.
Barr’s lie shows another reason why the Senate should never have confirmed him.
Even as Barr races to build it up, Trump’s wall of secrecy is melting as sunlight, the best disinfectant for political corruption, exposes his lies, denials and deceptions. It will take time but the flow of damning documents will soon turn into a torrent.