William Barr told Congress to trust that his summary of a major legal opinion was fair and complete. It was anything but.
Last month, Attorney General William Barr issued an incomplete, and likely deceptive, summary of the Mueller report — a summary that was very favorable to Donald Trump. It turns out that isn't the first time Barr has misleadingly summarized a report rather than providing the report to Congress as requested, according to legal analysis website Just Security.
Barr worked in the Office of Legal Counsel for the Department of Justice (OLC) — the branch of the DOJ that advises the president — when George H.W. Bush was in office. In that role, he oversaw the issuance of a highly controversial memo that said that the FBI could apprehend fugitives abroad without the consent of the foreign government — a stance that allowed the FBI to ignore the sovereign authority of other countries.
When news of that memo leaked, Congress demanded to see the full legal opinion. Barr refused, saying "I just don't discuss the work of the office of legal counsel." Instead, he offered to provide something that "summarizes the principal conclusions." That's the same phrase Barr used when he explained what he was doing with the Mueller report.
That isn't the only way in which events of the past played out in a way distressingly similar to the present day.
When Barr was called to Congress to testify, he said that OLC opinions were confidential and that's why he could only provide a summary. That was an outright lie, as the OLC had previously routinely released a collection of opinions available to anyone.
It bears quite a resemblance to Barr's actions right now, where he's asserting it is necessary to massively redact the Mueller report. This ignores the fact that the complete text of previous special counsel investigations has been made available in the past.
The full memo didn't see the light of day until Congress had issued two subpoenas, with the Bush administration resisting at first. It turned out that Barr had omitted a great deal from his summary. Perhaps most shocking, the full opinion said that the president could violate the charter of the United Nations because the decision to arrest someone abroad and ignore the authority of another country was a "political question."
This was a huge change from previous legal analyses and was therefore a "principal conclusion" of the memo. Barr's summary, notably, had excluded it. The summary also didn't mention Barr's conclusion that certain statutes could be interpreted to allow the executive branch to violate international law — definitely a "principal conclusion" as well.
This incident just serves to underscore that Barr's goal is to protect the president, not to serve the people. It's highly likely Congress will have to work hard to wrench the full Mueller report free of his clutches, just like they had to back in 1989.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.