Newly confirmed Attorney General William Barr will soon be forced to walk “a political and legal tightrope,” Reuters reports, when it comes to deciding how much, if any, of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s final report to release.
According to the report, Barr is facing a “political nightmare” as he is forced to balance “competing demands from President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats.”
Should Barr give in entirely to Trump and not reveal any of Mueller’s final report, then Democrats will undoubtedly seek Freedom of Information requests or formal investigations into the Justice Department. Similarly, should Barr choose to resist Democrats, then they could mount a political campaign aimed at removing him from atop of the Justice Department.
But, should Barr give entirely to Democratic demands and release as much of the final report that is not redacted for national security reasons, he would undoubtedly face the president’s scorn. Barr was recently tapped to be the next attorney general after Trump fired former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
So, the ultimate decision will probably rest between those two extremes, Reuters reports.
“I think Barr is in a terrible position from the standpoint of having two masters to please, each of which has a very different desire,” said Michael Zeldin, a former federal prosecutor. “He has a political nightmare on his hands.”
Mueller, who has headed the investigation since May 2017, is due to submit to Barr his confidential report on whether Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia and whether the Republican president has unlawfully sought to obstruct the probe.
Democrats, who have expressed concern Barr will try to shield Trump and bury parts of the report, already have threatened to subpoena it and go to court if necessary to force its release. Trump may pressure Barr to conceal damaging parts of Mueller’s report and release any findings that may exonerate him.
The Democrats took control of the House of Representatives in January and now wield subpoena power, with multiple committees investigating Trump’s actions. Republicans control the Senate. Mueller’s findings could be instrumental in any move in Congress to try to impeach Trump and remove him from office.
If the report includes “evidence of misconduct by the sitting president of the United States,” then “I think you have to believe the public interest is so extreme that there will be a mechanism for release, and I think Barr’s easy way out is to say, ‘It’s up to Congress,’” said Matthew Jacobs, a former federal prosecutor now with the law firm Vinson & Elkins.
Barr is legally obligated to at least notify House members, both Republican and Democrat leaders on the House and Senate Judiciary committees when Mueller completes the probe.
There are no congressional rules or rules from the Justice Department which would require Barr to release the report, in part or in its entirety, Reuters reports.
Here’s even more:
In deciding what to release, Barr may face thorny legal issues involving secrecy of grand jury testimony, protecting classified information, communications with the White House possibly subject to the principle of executive privilege shielding certain information from disclosure, and safeguarding confidential reasons for why some individuals were not charged.
Several Trump campaign figures already have pleaded guilty or been convicted in Mueller’s investigation, while others have not been charged. If the report provides evidence that Trump committed obstruction of justice or other crimes, Barr must decide how much should be revealed.
The Justice Department has a decades-old policy that a sitting president cannot face criminal charges, though some lawyers take issue with that conclusion. As a matter of policy, the Justice Department also does not give a public explanation for why any individual has not been charged.