Lawmakers on the Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee voted 24–16 on May 8 to hold U.S. Attorney General William Barr in contempt for his failure to release to them an unredacted copy of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
Democrats have asserted that Barr is trying to shield the president through redactions that block certain information in the report from disclosure.
In April, Barr sent a letter to Congress outlining four categories of information that would be redacted: “(1) material subject to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e) that by law cannot be made public; (2) material the intelligence community identifies as potentially compromising sensitive sources and methods; (3) material that could affect other ongoing matters, including those that the Special Counsel has referred to other Department offices; and (4) information that would unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties.”
With respect to the full Mueller report, there are several interesting things to note. First, The New York Times reported that 90 percent of the 448-page report was unredacted. So, Congress and the public had access to most of it already. The few redactions in the report were consistent with existing federal law and long-held Department of Justice (DOJ) practices.
Second, the White House had the prerogative to exert executive privilege over the report itself and have additional portions of the special counsel’s report redacted and chose not to do so. This is important because not everything in the publicly available report reflected positively on the White House.
Yet, the Trump administration chose to allow it into the public sphere anyway. If the goal was to obfuscate the findings, the administration abstaining from redacting content of its own choosing runs contrary to that end.
Third, the DOJ already provided Congress a copy of the special counsel report with less than 2 percent of the report redacted, for the purpose of allowing them oversight. Democrats have declined to even view it.
Fourth, Barr complying with the subpoena would have put him in violation of federal law, which prevents disclosure of certain information (as listed above). Democrats certainly know that the law prevents Barr from disclosing the redacted material, but subpoenaed it anyway. Why? Because this process isn’t an oversight, it’s political theater.
With the pendulum now swinging the other way—after Barr’s assurances, he would investigate the illegal spying on the Trump campaign, along with assurances that he would determine exactly how the Mueller investigation began—Democrats are on a mission to try to destroy him, along with the president.
The vote to hold Barr in contempt also comes on the same day that the White House asserted executive privilege to prevent the release of Mueller’s unredacted report and its supporting documentation to Congress.
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement, “The Department’s decision reflects President Trump’s blanket defiance of Congress’s constitutionally mandated duties. In the coming days, I expect that Congress will have no choice but to confront the behavior of this lawless administration.”
But, the Trump administration isn’t in violation of the law.
“Democrats want to know what is in there that is negative about the president, but not negative enough to meet the level of ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ that prosecutors have to meet in order to charge him,” Judge Andrew Napolitano told Fox News. “They don’t need to know it, they want to know it for political reasons.”
Even setting aside legal concerns, considering the staggering number of leaks during the Trump administration, the DOJ and White House have cause to err on the side of caution in the release of sensitive information.
“Agencies transmitted 120 leak referrals to the Justice Department in 2017, and 88 leak referrals in 2018, for an average of 104 per year,” the Federation of American Scientists reported. “By comparison, the average number of leak referrals during the Obama Administration (2009–2016) was 39 per year.”
Based on a two-year track record of Democrats using any means possible to attack the Trump administration, a reasonable assumption would be that information in a fully unredacted Mueller report would be leaked and used to try to smear people who weren’t indicted by the special counsel.
In this process, Nadler has revealed himself to be somewhat of a hypocrite. In 2012, he wrote on Twitter that he “joined the #walkout of the House chamber to protest the shameful, politically motivated GOP vote holding AG Holder in contempt.”
But, that contempt charge was for Eric Holder’s refusal to provide information on a 2009 operation by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, that “allowed illegal gun sales” to Mexican drug cartels; two guns were linked to the killing of a U.S. Border Patrol agent the following year. Barr (unlike Holder) is complying with federal law, not circumventing it.
Additionally, in 1998, Nadler fought the release of the report by independent counsel Kenneth Starr, showing the findings of his investigation into Democratic President Bill Clinton.
Nadler stated at the time: “Mr. Starr in his transmittal letter to the speaker and the minority leader made it clear that much of this material is Federal Rule 6(e) material, that is material that by law, unless contravened by a vote of the House, must be kept secret. It’s grand jury material. It represents statements which may or may not be true by various witnesses, salacious material, all kinds of material that it would be unfair to release.
“So, I assume what’s going to have to happen before anything else happens is that somebody—the staff of the Judiciary Committee, perhaps the chairman and ranking minority member of the Judiciary Committee—is going to have to go over this material, at least the 400 or 500 pages in the report, to determine what is fit for release and what is, as a matter of decency and protecting people’s privacy rights, people who may be totally innocent third parties, what must not be released at all.”
Those are the same arguments being made by Republicans on why the full Mueller report can’t be released, and Nadler seems to have forgotten his prior support of the rule of law.
The true motivation of House Democrats was summed up by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) during the May 8 hearing, when he slipped and actually said something honest: “How can we impeach if we don’t have the documents?”
Impeachment—either the real thing, or talking about it ad nauseam as a rallying cry to fire up the party’s base for the 2020 election—is the real goal.