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The Fixer


Some good on history on professional Republican cover-up artist Bill Barr:

On Friday the thirteenth October 1989, by happenstance the same day as the “Black Friday” market crash, news leaked of a legal memo authored by William Barr. He was then serving as head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC). It is highly uncommon for any OLC memo to make headlines. This one did because it was issued in “unusual secrecy” and concluded that the FBI could forcibly abduct people in other countries without the consent of the foreign state. The headline also noted the implication of the legal opinion at that moment in time. It appeared to pave the way for abducting Panama’s leader, Gen. Manuel Noriega.

Members of Congress asked to see the full legal opinion. Barr refused, but said he would provide an account that “summarizes the principal conclusions.” Sound familiar? In March 2019, when Attorney General Barr was handed Robert Mueller’s final report, he wrote that he would “summarize the principal conclusions” of the special counsel’s report for the public.

When Barr withheld the full OLC opinion in 1989 and said to trust his summary of the principal conclusions, Yale law school professor Harold Koh wrote that Barr’s position was “particularly egregious.” Congress also had no appetite for Barr’s stance, and eventually issued a subpoena to successfully wrench the full OLC opinion out of the Department.

What’s different from that struggle and the current struggle over the Mueller report is that we know how the one in 1989 eventually turned out.

When the OLC opinion was finally made public long after Barr left office, it was clear that Barr’s summary had failed to fully disclose the opinion’s principal conclusions. It is better to think of Barr’s summary as a redacted version of the full OLC opinion. That’s because the “summary” took the form of 13 pages of written testimony. The document was replete with quotations from court cases, legal citations, and the language of the OLC opinion itself. Despite its highly detailed analysis, this 13-page version omitted some of the most consequential and incendiary conclusions from the actual opinion. And there was evidently no justifiable reason for having withheld those parts from Congress or the public.

Sure, Barr has been covering up Republican malfeasance for decades and got his current job in substantial part by writing a lengthy unsolicited memo asserting that it was unpossible for the president to have obstructed justice, but he definitely deserves the benefit of the doubt now!

I’m being sarcastic, but sadly Glenn isn’t:

Yes, the fact that Democrats have consistently called for the report to be released but have noted that Barr’s redactions should be viewed skeptically while Republicans including the guy in charge of letting everyone skate on Iran Contra have tried to suppress it, means Democrats don’t won’t people to see it. Because, as Glenn has long argued, the state can always be trusted to present information at face value, and the leaking of secret information never reveals anything in the public interest. Oh, and anyway we can be sure nothing will rise to the level of being SUPER incriminating.

Anyway, why know why Glenn is doing this — he’s a one-note anti-anti-Trump doll with a string at the point — but why did so many reporters take Barr’s tendentious summary at face value given his history? I agree with Matt that part if it is the tendency, as we approach the 20th anniversary of Bush v. Gore, to still believe that Republicans who are lawyers are somehow less hacky and partisan than other elite Republicans:

Cf. also “Brett Kavanaugh, person of the greatest honesty and personal integritude.”

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