Law & the Courts

Constitutional Crisis As Absurdist Theater 

House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Jerry Nadler has declared a constitutional crisis.

The proximate cause is a couple of redacted lines, including one footnote, in a 400-page report. Let’s be glad for the sake of the republic that an entire page wasn’t withheld.

To review the plot: Robert Mueller conducted what was in effect an impeachment inquiry from within the executive branch for two years. In defiance of the spirit of the special-counsel regulations, he wrote a long, detailed narrative account of what his investigation found, even though he didn’t accuse the president of a crime (he did, however, “not exonerate” the president on obstruction, a bastard concept hitherto unknown to American law).

Nothing in the regulations required Attorney General Bill Barr to release any of the report, let alone release it in its entirety. He did anyway with minimal, entirely defensible redactions that the DOJ worked through with Mueller. He then testified for hours in public before a Senate committee about his handling of the report, while declining to appear for more voluntary testimony before a House committee the next day over a process issue (the committee wanted a counsel to question Barr; the attorney general objected, likely because he didn’t like the optics).

Collectively, then, and often working at cross-purposes, the Trump administration has done Congress an enormous favor the last two years. It appointed a special counsel; not only let him finish his work, but cooperated with him (despite Trump’s ineffectual scheming against the investigation); didn’t object to his writing a narrative for public and especially congressional consumption; and with only a brief delay handed the full report, signed, sealed, and delivered, over to Congress to potentially to use as a roadmap for impeachment. (And, oh yeah, the report has been published as a book and is being sold on Amazon.) Most of Jerry Nadler’s work has been done for him.

For the New York Democrat to turn around and have his committee vote to hold Bill Barr in contempt is truly bizarre. Barr’s alleged offense is the redactions. But he has made an almost entirely un-redacted report available to top Democrats to review. They have refused to do so, boycotting the further information that they say they so desperately need.

The redactions that Barr can’t undo relate to grand-jury material. These are extremely minor in the obstruction volume — now the most politically relevant part of the report — amounting to a few lines. The notion that they would change anything is absurd, and regardless, the rules written by Congress forbid their release to Congress (something Congress might have considered prior to the onset of this purported crisis).

Nadler also wants the underlying evidence from the Mueller report. This is a more plausible-sounding demand, although it is highly unlikely that Mueller and his team left any damaging facts out of the report. Also, some of this material, especially the testimony and notes of the former White House counsel Don McGahn, is highly sensitive and a natural for a claim of executive privilege by the White House, which, for now, is claiming privilege over everything.

Barr is clearly being targeted so Democrats can make a show of punishing someone in the administration, without taking the much more politically perilous step of impeaching the president. Although her statements have been a bit all over the map lately, Speaker Nancy Pelosi still must realize that impeachment would likely be a political mistake. But the more Nadler and others inflate the current faux crisis, the greater the likelihood that Democrats crab-walk their way to the impeachment proceedings they may think they are forestalling by scapegoating Bill Barr.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

Most Popular

Culture

Cold Brew’s Insidious Hegemony

Soon, many parts of the United States will be unbearably hot. Texans and Arizonans will be able to bake cookies on their car dashboards; the garbage on the streets of New York will be especially pungent; Washington will not only figuratively be a swamp. And all across America, coffee consumers will turn their ... Read More
National Security & Defense

The Warmonger Canard

Whatever the opposite of a rush to war is — a crawl to peace, maybe — America is in the middle of one. Since May 5, when John Bolton announced the accelerated deployment of the Abraham Lincoln carrier group to the Persian Gulf in response to intelligence of a possible Iranian attack, the press has been aflame ... Read More
World

Australia’s Voters Reject Leftist Ideas

Hell hath no fury greater than left-wingers who lose an election in a surprise upset. Think Brexit in 2016. Think Trump’s victory the same year. Now add Australia. Conservative prime minister Scott Morrison shocked pollsters and pundits alike with his victory on Saturday, and the reaction has been brutal ... Read More
NR Webathon

We’ve Had Bill Barr’s Back

One of the more dismaying features of the national political debate lately is how casually and cynically Attorney General Bill Barr has been smeared. He is routinely compared to Roy Cohn on a cable-TV program that prides itself on assembling the most thoughtful and plugged-in political analysts and ... Read More