Opinion

Now That Barr Is Attorney General, Congress Has a Duty to Demand Mueller’s Findings

“Special Counsel Mueller has finished his investigation. In adherence with Justice Department regulations, I cannot provide any additional information about what he uncovered.”

That could very easily be Attorney General William Barr’s report to Congress and the public at the end of the special counsel investigation now that he’s officially heading to the fifth floor of Main Justice – unless Congress acts, and unless Americans demand better.

While nearly all Americans, Republicans included, believe they have a right to see Robert Mueller’s final report since they paid for it as taxpayers, Barr told the country during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing he would not allow the special counsel’s full findings to be released. He said, “Under the current regulations, the special counsel report is confidential. … The report that goes public would be a report by the attorney general” and followed up about the attorney general’s report in written answers, saying “it is Department policy and practice not to criticize individuals for conduct that does not warrant prosecution.”

We are learning a lot about the crimes Mueller has found through his “speaking indictments,” but the final conclusions, facts and findings of his investigation will only be in the final report — and Americans deserve to see them. Barr supports the notion that a sitting president cannot be indicted, and he’s suggested he may not reveal what Mueller has found about the president’s involvement — even if it is evidence for which any other American would be indicted and prosecuted, or evidence of wrongdoing which implicates the president. Certainly that information is important for Congress to know since the Constitution tasks the Senate and House with holding a sitting president accountable. Senate Judiciary Committee Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) made this point, saying of Barr, “If you agree you can’t indict the president it’s probably not a good reason not to share with us the derogatory information.”

As Barr said in his unsolicited June 2018 memo to the White House and the Justice Department, under “the Framer’s plan,” the “proper mechanism for policing the President’s” actions “is the political process — that is, the People acting either directly, or through their elected representatives in Congress.” Given Barr’s own reasoning, he should know that Congress or the American people will not be able to exercise this important responsibility unless they are provided with the Mueller’s findings about the president’s actions and those of his closest advisers — both before and after he took office. It’s the only way we will be able to prevent future foreign interference in our elections and hold the president and his advisors accountable to the rule of law.

Now that Barr is headed to the Justice Department, Congress has to find another way to make sure the special counsel’s full findings are made available to Congress and the American people: Through subpoenas, the appropriations process, or, ideally, by passing legislation introduced by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has indicated he might support the Grassley bill, saying “I would like for as much as possible of the Mueller report to be open. … I think it ought to be as fully open and transparent — whatever the recommendation is — as possible.” That’s a signal to GOP Sens. Cory Gardner of Colorado and Susan Collins of Maine, who have supported the investigation, that they will have political cover to support the Grassley bill. Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana is the latest Republican to announce he will vote for the Grassley bill, saying, “The American people are entitled to see the facts and judge for themselves.”

Action now will prove to Barr that he cannot resist pressure to release Mueller’s findings. Without Congress stepping in, the American people will never be able to read the full findings for themselves, Congress will have been kept from doing its duty as a coequal branch of government, and President Trump will have succeeded in a cover-up. That’s not an outcome any member of Congress of any party should tolerate.

 

Kevin McAlister is the director of Law Works, a bipartisan group committed to defending the rule of law.

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