Benjamin Wittes at Lawfare has finally admitted that giving Attorney General Bill Barr the benefit of the doubt was a "catastrophic" idea.
I was willing to give Bill Barr a chance. Consider me burned.
When Barr was nominated, I wrote a cautious piece for this magazine declining to give him “a character reference” and acknowledging “legitimate reasons to be concerned about [his] nomination,” but nonetheless concluding that “I suspect that he is likely as good as we’re going to get. And he might well be good enough. Because most of all, what the department needs right now is honest leadership that will insulate it from the predations of the president.”
When he wrote his first letter to Congress announcing the principal conclusions of the Mueller report, I wrote another piece saying, “For the next two weeks, let’s give Attorney General William Barr the benefit of the doubt” on the question of releasing the report in a timely and not-too-redacted fashion.
I took a lot of criticism for these pieces—particularly the second one, in which I specifically said we should evaluate Barr’s actual performance in regard to releasing the Mueller report, and thus wait for him to act, rather than denouncing him preemptively.
Barr has now acted, and we can now evaluate his actual, rather than his hypothesized, performance.
It has been catastrophic. Not in my memory has a sitting attorney general more diminished the credibility of his department on any subject. It is a kind of trope of political opposition in every administration that the attorney general—whoever he or she is—is politicizing the Justice Department and acting as a defense lawyer for the president. In this case it is true.
And yet, there is very little that Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats can actually do.
Attorney General William Barr’s snub of a House hearing on Robert Mueller’s Russia report exposed that Democrats are in an awkward position: They don’t have any good options for forcing the Trump administration to cooperate with their multiple investigations.
Democrats seeking to compel -- or punish -- Barr and others who ignore Democratic invitations and subpoenas could pursue contempt proceedings, which carry no tangible penalty when branches of government face off, or take action in court, which would be protracted.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leaders are resisting the other obvious option -- moving to impeach the president -- even as Republicans goad them on.
Barr didn’t show up as scheduled Thursday to testify before the House Judiciary Committee, complaining about the format for questioning. That came as Barr and the Justice Department defied a committee subpoena to turn over the full, unredacted version of Special Counsel Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and the evidence behind it.
“This is a great danger to American democracy,” Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler said. "We are going to use what process we have in the courts and elsewhere to get the answers and the information we need."
Meanwhile for his next trick, Bill Barr is arguing that all of Obamacare is unconstitutional because Congress eliminated the individual mandate penalty in 2017.
We're maybe one, two SCOTUS summers max away from an autocracy, guys.