Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The best predictor of AG Barr's behavior toward the Mueller report is Barr's past behavior

As we await the release of the redacted Mueller report, Mrs. Scriber, alerted me to the danger of trusting Barr to do the right thing. So I consulted some of my usual sources. Here’s a short version of what I found.

Trump and the GOP are chittering “no collusion”, “no obstruction”, “exoneration.” But all that is unwarranted in the absence of the Barr report (ok, Barr’s version of the Mueller report). And when it comes down on this Thursday, it might put a damper on the chitters. Then again it may not given Barr’s history.

Steve Benen (MSNBC/Maddow Blog) reports that Barr’s credibility faces new questions ahead of Mueller report’s release. Benen asks “there’s a question that lingers over the debate: why exactly are so many so quick to take Barr’s assessment at face value?”

The president’s allied attorney general has faced a series of legitimate questions about his credibility, stemming from years of controversies, his unsolicited memo criticizing the Mueller investigation, and more recently, his willingness to endorse a Trump conspiracy theory.

Yesterday, a new area of concern came to light. NYU law professor Ryan Goodman wrote at Just Security (Barr’s Playbook: He Misled Congress When Omitting Parts of Justice Dep’t Memo in 1989):

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?

Goodman’s piece is worth reading in its entirety, but to briefly summarize, Barr wrote a summary of an important document for lawmakers, and a few years later, it became obvious that his account omitted key conclusions from the original document.

In effect, Barr took a major legal report, used his discretion to remove relevant portions, and told lawmakers what he wanted them to know.

Three decades later, Barr has the Mueller report, which he’s already been accused of mischaracterizing for political reasons, and we’re waiting for his office to complete a redaction process before sharing the findings with the public.

Maybe the history is irrelevant. Maybe the attorney general will handle this in a perfectly responsible manner, the redactions will be minor and defensible, and the questions about his independence and credibility will be answered in a satisfying way.

But given the circumstances, it’s difficult to blame skeptics for having doubts.

I am one of those skeptics. You might recognize this old saying in psychology: the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Benen’s report makes it clear that we should view Barr’s version of the Mueller report in the context of Barr’s past, and bad, behaviors.

The Arizona Blue Meanie (Blog for Arizona) provides more details about Barr’s past saying that William “coverup” Barr has a history of covering up illegal acts by Republican presidents.

A history of cover-ups? And we should trust Barr because …?

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