Attorney General William Barr stands ready to storm the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday with a forceful critique of Democrats who are itching to paint him as a loyal minion eager to put protecting President Trump over the nation’s best interests.
In his prepared opening remarks, obtained by the Washington Examiner, Barr is poised to jump ahead of the onslaught of questions about his dogged uncloaking of the politically charged secrets of the Russia investigation, which Trump and his allies view as a plot to sabotage his campaign and presidency, with the 2020 election fast approaching.
“Ever since I made it clear that I was going to do everything I could to get to the bottom of the grave abuses involved in the bogus ‘Russiagate’ scandal, many of the Democrats on this Committee have attempted to discredit me by conjuring up a narrative that I am simply the President’s factotum who disposes of criminal cases according to his instructions,” Barr plans to say.
“The Attorney General has a unique obligation … He must ensure that there is one standard of justice that applies to everyone equally and that criminal cases are handled evenhandedly, based on the law and the facts, and without regard to political or personal considerations. I can tell you that I have handled criminal matters that have come to me for decision in this way,” Barr will add.
Barr’s testimony comes just under the 100-day mark ahead of the November election — a contest which will likely pit Trump against Joe Biden, the former vice president, who according to a flurry of recent document disclosures was at least privy, if not involved, in the counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.
Robert Mueller’s special counsel report, released in April 2019, said that Russians interfered in the 2016 election in a “sweeping and systematic fashion” but “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government.” But the scars of the “witch hunt,” as Trump calls it, remain, and Republicans are impatient to see what findings U.S. Attorney John Durham comes up with in his now-criminal inquiry into law enforcement and intelligence officials who worked behind the scenes of the Russia investigation.
Democrats have decried the investigation as another ploy to damage Trump’s political enemies, but Trump’s allies believe the president was unfairly targeted and have often emphatically talked up their hope for indictments.
Barr has been central to all elements of the inquiry since he came back to the Justice Department (he previously served as attorney general in the George H.W. Bush administration), from his controversial rollout of Mueller’s report to his oversight of prosecutions against Trump associates who got caught in Mueller’s web.
All are expected to be fodder for questions from Democrats and Republicans in Tuesday’s public hearing.
“I revere the Department and believed my independence would allow me to help steer her back to her core mission of applying one standard of justice for everyone and enforcing the law even-handedly, without partisan considerations,” Barr will say in his opening remarks. “Since returning to the Department, I have done precisely that.”
Republicans believe they have the wind at their back in terms of the so-called Russiagate controversy. Giving them ammunition to pick apart the inquiry into Trump’s orbit are recent document disclosures and DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s lengthy December report, which criticized the DOJ and the FBI for at least 17 “significant errors and omissions” related to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants against Trump campaign associate Carter Page and for the bureau’s reliance on British ex-spy Christopher Steele’s flawed and Democrat-funded dossier. Declassified footnotes now show that the FBI was aware that Steele’s dossier might have been compromised by Russian disinformation.
Democrats will likely focus on loyal Trump associates subject to prosecution, who they believe have now gotten off easy.
Roger Stone, for example, was one such confidant who was swept up in Mueller’s investigation and was found guilty on five separate counts of lying to the House Intelligence Committee about his attempted outreach to WikiLeaks.
In February, after the Justice Department recommended a prison sentence of up to nine years for Stone, Trump tweeted that he “cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!” The Justice Department reversed itself, and the four line prosecutors withdrew. The department said its decision to reverse course was made before Barr was aware of Trump’s position, and the president denied placing any pressure on the agency. The agency walked back the “unduly high” sentence recommendation, suggesting three to four years instead. Barr called it “a righteous prosecution.” Trump commuted Stone’s sentence earlier in July.
Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to FBI investigators about his December 2016 conversations with a Russian envoy, but the former national security adviser now claims he was set up by the FBI. The Justice Department told the district court in May “that continued prosecution of this case would not serve the interests of justice” as it sought to drop the charges after a host of evidence deemed exculpatory by Flynn’s team was unearthed by U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Jensen, whom Barr had assigned to do a deep dive on the Flynn case.
The judge overseeing Flynn’s case has resisted DOJ’s efforts to dismiss the charges, and the Justice Department is continuing its battle in court.
“The President has not attempted to interfere in these decisions,” Barr will tell Congress. “On the contrary, he has told me from the start that he expects me to exercise my independent judgment to make whatever call I think is right. That is precisely what I have done.”
The attorney general has played a key role in helping declassify a number of investigative documents revealing flaws in the Trump-Russia investigation. Last year, Barr appointed Durham to conduct an inquiry into the origins and conduct of the investigation into allegations of Trump-Russia collusion. Barr said he expects developments in that investigation by the end of the summer.
During his opening remarks, Barr also plans to touch on a host of other topics, including the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody and the federal response to violence and rioting in a number of U.S. cities, especially Portland.