|William Barr and George H.W. Bush in the Iran-Contra era
Two 2020 candidates for a U.S. Senate seat from Alabama have made recent statements that indicate they lack the intellectual heft to handle the job. And one of them already holds the job.
We are talking first about Democrat Doug Jones, who currently occupies the seat and said, if given a "do-over," he would not vote to confirm Donald Trump nominee William Barr as attorney general. Then came GOP candidate Tommy Tuberville, best known for his years as head football coach at Auburn University, claiming Barr's predecessor, Jeff Sessions, "had a chance to support the president and blew it."
Let's tackle Jones' statement first. This is from al.com's report on the senator's comments about the Barr confirmation:
Sen. Doug Jones would switch his vote and not confirm Attorney General Bill Barr if he got a shot at a do-over, he said Wednesday.
In a response to a Twitter user, who described themselves as a Jones voter both in 2017 and in the upcoming 2020 election, Alabama’s Democratic junior senator said he would vote against Barr’s confirmation “with the benefit of hindsight.”
When he announced his intention to vote to confirm Barr on Feb. 7, Jones said: “I have concluded that Mr. Barr is qualified for the position of Attorney General and his record strongly suggests he will exercise independent judgment and uphold the best interests of the Department of Justice.”
While Jones said he had concerns about Barr’s views on executive power, the then-nominee’s statements during his confirmation hearing and personal assurances to Jones himself -- including stating that "no one, including the president of the United States, is above the law -- assuaged the senator’s concerns.
Why would Jones need "the benefit of hindsight" to reject Barr when he had the chance. Barr's reputation as a political hack and fixer, dating to his days as AG under President George H.W. Bush during the Iran-Contra Scandal, have been well-known for years -- and received wide coverage at the time Trump nominated him. Consider this NPR report from January 2019:
This won't be the first time that William Barr, President Trump's nominee to become attorney general, will be involved with what's been called a "witch hunt."
Barr, who is scheduled to go before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday for his confirmation hearings, ran the Justice Department once before, under President George H.W. Bush.
Back then, the all-consuming, years-long scandal was called Iran-Contra. On Dec. 24, 1992, it ended when Bush pardoned six people who had been caught up in it.
"The Constitution is quite clear on the powers of the president and sometimes the president has to make a very difficult call," Bush said then. "That's what I've done."
Then-Attorney General Barr supported the president's decision in the Iran-Contra case, which gave clemency to people who had been officials in the administration of President Ronald Reagan, including former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger. He had been set to go on trial to face charges about lying to Congress.
To the man who led the Iran-Contra investigation, however, the pardons represented a miscarriage of justice.
"It demonstrates that powerful people with powerful allies can commit serious crimes in high office, deliberately abusing the public trust without consequences," said Lawrence Walsh, the independent prosecutor in the case, at the time of the pardons.
Barr said later that he believed Bush had made the right decision and that he felt people in the case had been treated unfairly.
Doug Jones was unaware of this information when he voted to confirm William Barr? Or what about this information from a report at Common Dreams, which referred to Barr as the "Cover-Up General":
Back in 1992, the last time Bill Barr was U.S. attorney general, iconic New York Times writer William Safire referred to him as “Coverup-General Barr” because of his role in burying evidence of then-President George H.W. Bush’s involvement in “Iraqgate” and “Iron-Contra.”
General Barr has struck again—this time, in similar fashion, burying Mueller’s report and cherry-picking fragments of sentences from it to justify Trump’s behavior. In his letter, he notes that Robert Mueller “leaves it to the attorney general to decide whether the conduct described in the report constitutes a crime.”
As attorney general, Barr—without showing us even a single complete sentence from the Mueller report—decided there are no crimes here. Just keep moving along.
Barr’s history of doing just this sort of thing to help Republican presidents in legal crises explains why Trump brought him back in to head the Justice Department.
Christmas day of 1992, the New York Times featured a screaming all-caps headline across the top of its front page: Attorney General Bill Barr had covered up evidence of crimes by Reagan and Bush in the Iran-Contra scandal.
Earlier that week of Christmas, 1992, George H.W. Bush was on his way out of office. Bill Clinton had won the White House the month before, and in a few weeks would be sworn in as president.
But Bush’s biggest concern wasn’t that he’d have to leave the White House to retire back to Connecticut, Maine, or Texas (where he had homes) but, rather, that he may end up embroiled even deeper in Iran-Contra and that his colleagues may face time in a federal prison after he left office.
Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh was closing in fast on him, and Bush’s private records, subpoenaed by the independent counsel’s office, were the key to it all.
That's about 27 years of history that managed to elude Doug Jones' attention? Amazing.
What about Tuberville's gaffe? Let's consider this report from Alabama Political Reporter:
Former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville on Saturday criticized Jeff Sessions’ work as U.S. attorney general.
Tuberville spoke with the Alabama Political Reporter before Saturday’s Iron Bowl in Auburn.
“He had his chance to support the president as attorney general, and he blew it,” Tuberville said.
Sessions has praised President Donald Trump and vowed to support the president’s policies if he returns to the U.S. Senate, but the president has been very critical of Sessions’ efforts as attorney general, particularly his decision to recuse himself from the Russia collusion investigation.
Sessions recused himself from the probe after it became public knowledge that he had met twice with the Russian ambassador during the 2016 presidential campaign and did not disclose that to the Senate during his confirmation hearings. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein then became the acting attorney general on Russian collusion probe, and he made the decision to appoint former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel.
Trump blamed Sessions for the Mueller investigation . . . , [and] the president has gone so far as to call his appointment of Sessions as attorney general “my biggest mistake” as president.
How nutty is Tuberville's claim that Sessions "blew" his opportunity to support Trump? Legal scholars have pointed out for years that the AG's role is not to support the president. Yes, the AG is a political appointee, but he is to serve as the nation's chief law-enforcement official, independent of the White House.
If Tuberville were to land in the Senate, he could be faced with voting to confirm, or not confirm, an AG nominee. It's important that he know what the job is supposed to entail.
As regular readers know, I'm hardly prone to supporting Jeff Sessions. His brand of Southern-fried politics -- based in his own racist instincts and a tendency to surround himself with racists -- is abhorrent and detestable. But he had no choice but to recuse from the Russia probe, and it's one of the few honorable and legally correct actions I can recall him taking.
That Tommy Tuberville does not seem to understand that indicates he lacks the intellectual foundation to serve in the U.S. Senate -- but, then, again, the same could be said of Doug Jones, and he already serves in the Senate.