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On Wednesday, April 10 Attorney General William Barr appeared before the Senate. Why does that merit a post on Ricochet? For one thing, I wouldn’t have blamed the man if he’d headed back to retirement from government service after the contemptuous disrespect he was shown the day before by House Democrats at their DOJ budget hearing. A Trump administration official has to be made of some pretty stern stuff to weather an appearance before Congress, but he made it to his scheduled Senate appearance.
This clip where he answers why he wants to evaluate the genesis/conduct of investigation(s) into the Trump campaign prompted my post.
“I want to pull together all the information from the various investigations that have gone on, including on the hill and in the department. See if there are any remaining questions to be addressed.”
When asked why he felt a need to do that, Barr responded:
“Well, for the same reason we’re worried about foreign influence in elections. We want to make sure that — I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal. It’s a big deal.
“The generation I grew up in which is the Vietnam War, a period, you know, people were all concerned about spying on anti-war people and so forth by the government and there were a lot of rules put in place to make sure that there’s an adequate basis before our law enforcement agencies get involved in political surveillance…”
“I’m not suggesting that those rules were violated, but I think it’s important to look at that. And I’m not just — I’m not talking about the FBI necessarily, but intelligence agencies more broadly.
Not shown in this CBS clip, but Barr was also asked by Dem Senator Shaheen, “You’re not suggesting that spying occurred?’ To which Barr replied, “I think spying did occur. The question is whether it was adequately predicated. I’m not suggesting it was not adequately predicated, but I need to explore that.”
Predictably, not everyone was happy with AG Barr’s comments. It’s to be expected given coverage over the past two years that most media and Democrats like Adam Schiff and Eric Holder are of course taking exception to the United States Attorney General’s use of the word “spying”, claiming he’s merely carrying water for POTUS or that it’s not spying if there’s a legitimate basis. Trump supporters like Sean Hannity obviously feel vindicated.
I’m not familiar with the US Code or regulations about spying, but a simple dictionary working definition includes “keep[ing] close and secret watch on the actions and words of another or others.” Grammatically speaking, some of the previous administration’s justice/intelligence actions regarding the GOP candidate then incoming POTUS — actions uncovered/corroborated by two congressional committees (House Intelligence and Senate Judiciary) and a few reporters – were spying.
To me, an average conservative American citizen with a strong sense and love of country, those words from the head of the Dept of Justice were a breath of fresh air. Just maybe we finally have an AG who’s neither POTUS wingman nor recusal-happy single issue figurehead; one who knows the law, and perhaps most importantly: how and when to apply it.
I’ll admit to skepticism about whether William Barr was the right person for AG. To be blunt, Justice needs an enema, and Barr’s CV puts him in Establishment territory on paper; exceptionally qualified, but Establishment nonetheless. Frankly, I wondered if there existed a really good attorney who would willingly subject themselves to the House investigations coming toward the Executive Branch and the challenge of a boss who history shows can be quite vocal in his displeasure with low functioning AGs. Also, Mueller’s choices and methods turned out to be far less stellar than the “impeccable reputation” “he’ll be fair-minded and get to the bottom of it” mantra even many in the GOP chanted when he was appointed, leaving one to wonder if their similar pleasure in Barr was misplaced.
There have been glimmers of hope that Barr might be just what DOJ needs. Glimmers like his memo last year to Rosenstein and Engel (head of Office of
Special Legal Counsel) well before he was being considered for AG expressing concern as a former AG and private citizen that there needed to be clear and incontrovertible indication of serious obstruction (e.g., destroying evidence) to cite/indict a POTUS for obstruction of justice – not something cobbled together from existing guidelines in never-before-used ways. A second point in his favor is that Barr knows the job very well yet doesn’t need it, making it highly improbable that he’s doing it for any reason other than wanting to right the Ship of Justice he saw foundering.
Barr’s capable-without-being-arrogant demeanor and responses April 10th were masterful. The man used two of the Dems’ own talking points – Russian election interference and Watergate (without ever mentioning the word) – in ways that not only left them with nowhere to go but also explained to Americans watching/reading his statements what was wrong with what the government did and why it’s important to know. Barr has seen/read/heard enough to have a good idea he was right to be concerned and plans to address it, or he would never have said what he did in public to the Senate today.
At least 10 years now, maybe 20, we’ve needed an ethical, tough son-of-a-gun with the mental acuity of a SCOTUS justice in the AG chair. Boys and girls, I think we’ve got one, one who will do the right thing at the right time for the right reason. An AG who can balance what the law requires with what the country needs to know, no more and no less…all of which makes him an AG I can believe. Here’s hoping we can keep him long enough to finish the much-needed clean-up on Aisle 9.
Update: Edited to correct to Engel as head of Office of Legal Counsel (OLC)