Fourteen days. That’s how long Attorney General William Barr has withheld the Mueller report from Congress and the public.
It’s hard to imagine a legitimate reason for his foot-dragging, and disturbing leaks should deepen the urgency for members of Congress who are seeking to pry the full document out of his hands.
Special counsel Robert Mueller spent nearly two years investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and potential obstruction of justice by President Trump. He finished his work two weeks ago and sent a nearly 400-page confidential report to Barr. Two days later, Barr furnished Congress with a four-page letter laying out what he said were its main findings.
According to Barr, Mueller didn’t conclude whether or not Trump obstructed justice — but that in Barr’s view, the evidence Mueller gathered against Trump didn’t add up to obstruction.
It’s become clearer with each passing day, though, that the letter wasn’t a thorough legal analysis. Instead, it was a spin job — an effort by a GOP political appointee to put the best possible gloss on the findings and hope that Mueller’s purported “exoneration’’ of the president becomes the accepted narrative.
But according to reports in The New York Times and The Washington Post, the actual contents of the Mueller report are a good deal more damaging than Barr’s summary implied, and lay out a serious case that the president obstructed justice. Obstruction of justice is an impeachable offense under modern precedent.
There’s ample grounds to be wary of Barr, considering his past. In his previous stint as attorney general, under President George H.W. Bush, Barr recommended pardons for key players in the Iran-Contra scandal just as an independent counsel investigation was focusing on Bush, related to his role in the illegal selling of arms to Iran and funneling the funds from those sales to the Contras in Nicaragua.
Bush handed out the pardons on Christmas Eve in 1992, which had the effect of pulling the rug out from under the investigation and preventing a full accounting of what Bush and president Ronald Reagan knew about Iran-Contra.
Fast forward to 2018, when Barr sent an unsolicited memo to the Justice Department making clear that he thought questioning the president over obstruction allegations would be inappropriate, a move that should raise concerns about whether Barr approached the obstruction section of the Mueller report with an open mind.
Regardless of whether he spun the report, the fact is that only Congress, not Barr, gets to decide whether whatever actions Mueller uncovered constituted obstruction of justice by a sitting president. And they can only do that when they have the complete document. Rightly, House Democrats voted this week to subpoena the report.
It shouldn’t come to that. If the recent reports are wrong, and Barr’s characterization of the Mueller report was an accurate account of the special counsel’s findings, then the attorney general should release the full report for his own sake. But if the news accounts are right, and the public’s understanding of the Mueller report is incomplete and politically skewed, then Barr must release it for the country’s sake.
Until then, this editorial page will feature a daily reminder of how many days it has been since Barr has received the Mueller report without releasing the full document to Congress. Fourteen days and counting.