After more than four hours of opaque testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General William Barr made one thing quite clear.
Only special counsel Robert Mueller can give the nation the honest answers it needs to determine whether President Donald Trump’s actions during the Russia investigation were consistent with his constitutional oath to uphold the law. Barr will not.
Mueller, the former head of the FBI, is the only one who could provide a straightforward assessment of his investigation, its conclusions and its aftermath that would have a chance of convincing the American people that the truth is being told. Mueller needs to detail why there was no finding of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia. And he is the only one who can explain why he did not make a recommendation to prosecute Trump after citing multiple instances of conduct that would support an obstruction charge. Was it because of a Department of Justice policy not to indict a sitting president or because of a lack of evidence?
Wednesday’s hearing provided more facade than facts, more charade than candor. Instead of true oversight, ugly partisan routines got ginned up again. Democrats pressed Barr hamfistedly on his interpretation of the 448-page Mueller report, while Republicans went back to their song-and-dance routine over Hillary Clinton’s emails.
But Barr’s performance was even more problematic than the Senate’s. After misleading the public with his initial four-page summary of the Mueller report, and then misleading the public again with his remarks before the report’s release, Barr went three-for-three Wednesday as he attempted to explain his infamous letter, his remarks since, and his decisions. But with each vague, evasive response, Barr showed just how little we should rely on, believe, or have confidence in the nation’s top law enforcement officer.
Sen. Kamala Harris asked him, “Has the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone?”
Barr responded, “Could you repeat the question?” Then he fumbled to an answer: “I’m trying to grapple with the word ‘suggest.’ ” He finally allowed that he had no direct requests from a president who in public has often called for investigations of his political enemies.
So to Barr, his four-page summary wasn’t a summary. In his eyes, Trump wanting to get rid of Mueller wasn’t illegal. But then why did those around Trump, like former White House counsel Don McGahn, refuse to act on Trump’s requests?
After Barr’s dishonest presentation Wednesday, it’s not surprising that he is refusing to testify Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee. And honestly, there is nothing more he can tell us about Mueller.
Not only do we need the special counsel to provide forthright, complex answers, in proper context, about his investigation of Trump. We also need to know whether, in Mueller’s view, Barr violated his oath as attorney general in service of Trump.
Correction: An earlier version of this editorial contained an incorrect page count for the Mueller report. It has been corrected in this version.