Amid a deluge of analysis after release yesterday of Barr's letter to Congress, the statement from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) -- plus insights the day before from St. Louis-based journalist and author Sarah Kendzior -- stand as perhaps the words Americans should most remember from a weekend of political intrigue.
Meanwhile, a veteran journalist and a prominent conservative commentator posed perhaps the most compelling questions of the past two days.
Nadler's take came in a Raw Story report titled "I wonder if Barr pressured special counsel." From the article:
When answering questions, Nadler repeated that Barr “auditioned” for his position as attorney general by writing a report on his “extreme view of obstruction of justice in presidential power.”
“Given the fact that the special counsel found ample evidence of obstruction so as not to be able to say they’re not guilty of obstruction, so he said, we’re not exonerating the president, after 22 months for the attorney general reviewing that record in 22 hours is a bit much. I would, in fact, wonder if the attorney general pressured the special counsel into not making that finding so he could make the finding. I’m not aware of any case where an attorney general made the decision on a prosecution or non-prosecution for obstruction of justice.”
Nadler clearly was not impressed with Barr's handiwork:
“Earlier today, I received a four-page letter from Attorney General Barr outlining his summary of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report while making a few questionable legal arguments of his own,” Nadler said. “I take from this letter three points: First, President Trump is wrong. This report does not amount to a so-called total exoneration. Special counsel Mueller was cleared that his report ‘does not exonerate,’ the president. . . .
"Second, given these questions, it is imperative that the attorney general release the full report and that the underlying evidence,” Nadler continued. “The entire unfiltered report, as well as the evidence underlying that report, must be made available to Congress and to the American people. . . . ”
“Third, the attorney general’s comments make it clear that Congress must step in to get the truth and provide full transparency to the American the president has not been exonerated by the special counsel, yet the attorney general has not decided to go further or to share the findings with the public,” Nadler said. “We can’t rely on what may be a hasty partisan interpretation of the facts.”
Kendzior, author of The View from Flyover Country: Dispatches from the Forgotten America, suggests Barr is so ethically compromised that he likely did not need to pressure Mueller. From Raw Story, via an interview with Joy Reid at MSNBC:
“We know Trump demands loyalty oaths from the people who work for him,” MSNBC anchor Joy Reid noted. “For all we know, William Barr is operating under an oath to the president.”
“The challenge I’m having is having confidence that whatever his report — it’s not the Mueller report, it’s the Barr report — and now we’re supposed to trust whatever he writes is true?”
“Yeah, I don’t think you should trust it,” authoritarianism expert Sarah Kendzior replied.
“And the loyalty is not to the United States, it’s not to the Constitution, it is not to the American people — it is purely to Trump, his money, his family, his personal interest and that is why Barr was selected,” she continued.
Kendzior did not stop there. She said, in so many words, that Barr is an untrustworthy political hack:
“Barr is also a GOP loyalist. The GOP is equally invested in covering up these crimes because the broad scope of the Mueller implicates them,” Kendzior noted. “You may remember that Michael Cohen was the RNC deputy finance chair.”
“So they need somebody who has a record of, you know, exonerating the GOP — which Barr does,” she reminded. “He exonerated people in Iran-contra — some of whom are now appearing again in the Trump administration.”
“So Barr is ideal — unfortunately — for this role,” Kendzior concluded.
As for profound questions raised over the weekend, one came from Elizabeth Drew, long-time Washington journalist and author. Drew cut right to the chase in this item from her Twitter account:
If none of Trump's aides conspired with Russians why was [Paul] Manafort sharing detailed polling data with a Kremlin agent?
David Frum, a conservative commentator and former George W. Bush speechwriter, takes a similar approach, in an article at The Atlantic titled "The Question the Mueller Report Has Not Answered: Why?" Writes Frum:
Good news, America. Russia helped install your president. But although he owes his job in large part to that help, the president did not conspire or collude with his helpers. He was the beneficiary of a foreign intelligence operation, but not an active participant in that operation. He received the stolen goods, but he did not conspire with the thieves in advance.
This is what Donald Trump’s administration and its enablers in Congress and the media are already calling exoneration. But it offers no reassurance to Americans who cherish the independence and integrity of their political process.
The question unanswered by the attorney general’s summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report is: Why? Russian President Vladimir Putin took an extreme risk by interfering in the 2016 election as he did. Had Hillary Clinton won the presidency—the most likely outcome—Russia would have been exposed to fierce retaliation by a powerful adversary. The prize of a Trump presidency must have glittered alluringly, indeed, to Putin and his associates. Why?
As for specific questions, Frum has those, too:
Did they admire Trump’s anti-NATO, anti–European Union, anti-ally, pro–Bashar al-Assad, pro-Putin ideology?
Were they attracted by his contempt for the rule of law and dislike of democracy?
Did they hold compromising information about him, financial or otherwise?
Were there business dealings in the past, present, or future?
Or were they simply attracted by Trump’s general ignorance and incompetence, seeing him as a kind of wrecking ball to be smashed into the U.S. government and U.S. foreign policy?
Many public-spirited people have counted on Mueller to investigate these questions, too, along with the narrowly criminal questions in his assignment. Perhaps he did, perhaps he did not; we will know soon, either way. But those questions have always been the important topics.
Is it too early to label the Mueller report a "whitewash"? Probably. Is it too early to wonder if William Barr is engaging in a cover-up? Probably not -- and that's because key sections of his summary make no sense, when examined in light of what we already knew.