Bill Barr Telegraphing His Punches Like A Frat Boy At A Kegger
In April, Donald Trump stood on the White House lawn and told reporters, "We're fighting all the subpoenas." This admission that the Trump administration is fighting just to fight, rather than based on the validity of any particular congressional inquiry, was distinctly unhelpful to Attorney General Bill Barr, whose job requires him to swear that he's defending the sacred privacy of the executive branch, rather than a petulant dotard who thinks he's America's god king. No one ever accused Trump of being a longterm, strategic thinker.
But Bill Barr and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone have a job obstructing Congress, so they got down to it. We're now well into the second round of this nonsense, and the parties' tactics are becoming more clear. Basically, it's going down like this:
- Congress demands information on White House fuckery -- the Census, or the Mueller Report, or how the hell Jared Kushner got a security clearance, etc.
- The White House tells them to go piss up a rope.
- Congress subpoenas the information.
- The White House says congressional oversight is ILLEGAL and defies the subpoena.
- The relevant House committee schedules a committee vote on criminal and civil contempt citations.
- The White House threatens to invoke executive privilege over every piece of paper in the federal government if the contempt motions against Bill Barr aren't withdrawn, although they don't give a damn if Don McGahn, Hope Hicks, Annie Donaldson, or anyone else goes to jail.
- The committee votes to bring civil and criminal contempt charges to the full House for a vote.
- The White House disgorges some portion of the disputed material and promises to keep negotiating, and the committee chair withdraws the criminal contempt motion, sparing Barr the prospect of being prosecuted by a future AG for criminal contempt.
- The civil contempt motion proceeds to a vote in the full House, where it passes on party lines.
Step 10 is probably litigation to enforce the subpoena and allow the court to find Barr in contempt of court, but we just got to Step 9 yesterday, when the House passed a bill authorizing Judiciary Committee Chair Nadler to sue McGahn and Barr to get them to comply with committee subpoenas and allowing the committee to petition a court to give them an unredacted copy of the Mueller Report. Nadler says he'll hold off on suing Barr immediately, to see if he actually forks over the documents on Trump's cough, cough alleged obstruction of justice, or if he tries to claw it all back with Steve Bannon's Hot Tub Time Machine Executive Privilege Defense. But Nadler is coming for McGahn TOOT SWEET, and Hope Hicks and Annie Donaldson should also expect a visit from their friendly neighborhood process server, since the bill authorizes the committee chair to git his sue on with them, too.
Meanwhile, over at the House Oversight Committee, Chairman Cummings is on Step 7 in the fight to get Census documents from the White House. Trumpland is extra-sensitive about this at the moment, since the Supreme Court is currently deciding whether to accept Wilbur Ross's laughable assertion that they added the citizenship question to protect the rights of minority voters, rather than entrench Republicans in power forever. Ross and his deputies appear to have lied to Congress, and they'd very much prefer not to hand over evidence of that, thankyouverymuch.
So, last night Barr's deputy Stephen Boyd sent a letter -- you want snitty, Steve will show you snitty! -- whining that mean Elijah Cummings never negotiates with the DOJ and threatening to have Donald Trump throw a blanket of executive privilege over the entirety of the Census if Cummings went ahead with the contempt vote against Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Just to make this extra clear, the Justice Department is threatening to make a sham invocation of executive privilege as a weapon to protect Barr and Ross personally and to "reevaluate its current production efforts in ongoing matters," an unsubtle threat to shut down document production entirely based on events that have nothing to do with Congress's right to see the disputed materials.
Cummings responded with a HAHA FUCK YOU letter saying, "The Committee has a responsibility under the Constitution to conduct rigorous oversight of the Census, and we will not delay our efforts due to your ongoing obstruction." So Oversight went ahead with the contempt vote this morning, and the DOJ invoked some non-existent, bullshit version of executive privilege over the Census documents. As we type, the committee hearing is ongoing, but there are 18 Republican Oversight members and 24 Democrats so ... not exactly a nailbiter. Then they'll schedule a contempt vote before the entire House, as Nadler did with the Judiciary Committee.
Look for Bill Barr to have a miraculous change of heart about document production when Cummings withdraws the criminal contempt charge. But John Gore, the Census department employee who defied a congressional subpoena to testify without a department lawyer present to protect Trump's "executive privilege interests," and Carl Kline, the official who overrode career agents to grant Javanka's security clearances and defied a subpoena to tell Rep. Cummings about it, might want to start saving their pennies. Particularly since yesterday's bill empowered Cummings to start suing immediately.
This map leads directly to the federal courthouse in DC. And it's not likely to go well there for the Trumpers.
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.