Why you should care
Because there’s an impeachment brewing. But it’s not Trump’s.
“Today’s vote is the regrettable culmination of what became a misguided — and politically motivated — investigation,” said the attorney general.
“Instead of engaging with the president in efforts to create jobs and grow the economy, today we saw the House of Representatives perform a transparently political stunt,” the White House spokesperson said.
The latest from William Barr and Sarah Sanders? Nope. The quotes are from 2012, via Eric Holder and Dan Pfeiffer, from the first and only time a Cabinet official was held in criminal contempt of Congress.
This being the Donald Trump era, everything is heightened. We are now staring down not just a contempt vote but impeachment for Barr in the ongoing tug of war over Robert Mueller’s report on the 2016 campaign. This week we learned that on March 27, Mueller wrote Barr to say the attorney general’s public letter a few days earlier “did not fully capture the context, nature and substance” of his report. Then there was a follow-up phone call between the two men. Through a highly selective quoting of the underlying report — rather than using his old pal Mueller’s own introductions — Barr effectively spun the conclusions in a friendly light for Trump, then gave a “no collusion” press conference the morning before releasing a redacted version of the report, on April 18.
Even Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has been cautious about impeaching Trump, said straight-up that Barr “lied to Congress.”
The report, of course, had voluminous examples of Trump trying to obstruct the investigation, his campaign contacts with Russia and how they welcomed the help. But, as Barr pointed out in his summary, Mueller did not find a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, and did not reach a firm conclusion on whether the president obstructed justice.
Then came Barr’s Senate Judiciary Committee throwdown this week, where he called the Mueller letter “snitty” and sparred with Democrats. Then he canceled an appearance before the House of Representatives because Democrats had demanded he take questions from committee lawyers — more challenging opponents than blowhard Congress members, for sure, but a highly unusual requirement.
This sparked more posturing, and even Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has been cautious about impeaching Trump, said straight-up that Barr “lied to Congress.” When? During his April 10 appearance in the Senate, when he said: “I don’t know whether Bob Mueller supported my conclusion.” By then, Barr had read Mueller’s letter, which makes clear the special counsel did not support Barr’s summary. Perhaps it depends on your definition of “conclusion.”
So let’s go back to Holder. The 2012 blowup came over the “Fast and Furious” investigation, in which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives officials tried to track guns flowing to Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel by following — but not arresting — straw purchasers. It took a tragic turn when two of the guns turned up near the scene of the murder of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry in the Arizona desert.
Whistleblowers in the department informed Republicans in Congress, who launched an investigation. Holder’s Department of Justice falsely denied the gunwalking claims. President Barack Obama exerted executive privilege over some of the documents Republicans requested, related to internal deliberation about how to respond to Congress’ investigation. Congress didn’t like the stonewalling and voted to hold Holder in criminal contempt — with 17 Democrats even joining Republicans. Holder’s DOJ, shockingly, decided not to prosecute him.
Holder now leads a political organization focused on improving Democrats’ positioning in redistricting. Pfeiffer is a co-host of Pod Save America, a podcast beloved by his party’s base in which he called this week for Barr’s impeachment as a way to go after Trump while staying a step short of impeaching the president himself.
In the Mueller Report, Trump repeatedly pines for a Holder of his own as he vents about then Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had recused himself from overseeing the Mueller probe. “You’re telling me that Bobby and Jack didn’t talk about investigations?” he says to then White House counsel Don McGahn, referring to the Kennedys. “Or Obama didn’t tell Eric Holder who to investigate?”
McGahn had been trying to make a point about the independence of the Justice Department. But Trump didn’t want to hear it, and neither McGahn nor Sessions work for him anymore.
On Wednesday, Sen. Kamala Harris, a California Democrat who is one of the leading contenders for the presidency, asked Barr: “Has the president or anyone in the White House ever asked or suggested you open an investigation of anyone?” After some hemming and hawing, Barr acknowledged “there have been discussions of matters out there.” Barr has already started investigating whether the FBI illegally spied on Trump’s 2016 campaign. A New York Times story this week about the dealings of Joe Biden’s son in Ukraine indicates Barr’s DOJ could look into the family of the man Trump considers his chief competition in 2020.
So it sure looks like Trump got the attorney general he was looking for.