Any serious prosecutor knows that whenever two investigations overlap, you “deconflict”: Make sure that neither investigation touches on the same subject matter and, if necessary, consolidate or coordinate. Prosecutors avoid duplicative investigations because they waste resources and, in some instances, yield inconsistent results. Yet Barr — by adding a new attorney — has seemingly ignored that.
false narrative that the Russia investigation was a “hoax.” In fact, the investigation was extraordinarily productive. It revealed that Russia conducted a criminal effort to influence the 2016 election; that the Trump campaign knew about and “expected it would benefit” from that effort; that the campaign had
dozens of contacts with Russians and lied about those contacts; and that some of the
President’s top aides and advisers, including Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, Michael Cohen and others, committed federal felonies along the way.
incessant Twitter rants about investigating the investigators. During his Senate testimony on May 1, Barr conspicuously sputtered when
questioned by Sen. Kamala Harris.
Harris asked whether Trump or anyone at the White House had “ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone?” Barr — who is certainly smart enough to understand that question and give a straight answer — responded, “Um, the President or anyone else?” He then pretended not to understand the word “suggest” and then went with an inexplicable “I don’t know.”
Do not underestimate how absurd this exchange was. Barr feigned confusion about a word that an average fourth grader understands, then somehow claimed not to know whether the President told him to do something that he clearly must have known one way or the other.
Either Barr decided to accelerate an unnecessary and politically-driven case on his own, or he did it on presidential orders. Either way, Barr has shown terrible judgment and a disturbing willingness to use the Justice Department as a political tool.
Now, your questions
Christine, Washington: Is there a way that Congress can force all matters relating to subpoenas and contempt charges to be heard in court on a fast track?
Congress can and should request that the federal courts speed up review of disputes with the executive branch over enforcement of subpoenas relating to the unredacted Mueller report, former White House counsel Don McGahn’s testimony, Trump’s tax returns and other simmering disputes.
litigation over the congressional contempt citation of former Attorney General Eric Holder spanned nearly seven years. Congress cannot afford to wait even a fraction of that time to vindicate its core oversight authority.
was appointed special master to adjudicate disputes relating to the Michael Cohen search warrant documents. A similar appointment now would provide several benefits: The appointed judge can develop expertise, ensure that rulings are consistent and hear matters on an expedited basis, moving them to the front of the docket if necessary.
has decided to fast-track a congressional subpoena over Trump’s accounting firm’s records and is expected to rule as early as this week.
obscure rule that allows direct appeal to the Supreme Court (enabling Congress to skip the lower courts and save time). The rule applies only if the court decides that “the case is of such imperative public importance as to justify deviation from normal appellate practice” and “require[s] immediate determination.”
rarely grants direct appeal outside of wartime, but it did so in another notable case involving the scope of executive branch authority:
United States v. Richard Nixon.
Harry, Canada: If and when Mueller testifies, what if any limits are there on what questions Congress can ask him?
redactions made by Barr to Mueller’s report, including classified materials and information relating to ongoing criminal investigations. And Mueller cannot discuss
grand jury materials, which ordinarily are secret, without a court order permitting disclosure — which House Judiciary Chair Rep. Jerrold Nadler
has offered to seek in conjunction with Barr, but which Barr has declined.
his letter criticizing Barr for misstating the “context, nature, and substance” of Mueller’s investigation. Even with limitations, the stakes will be stratospheric when Mueller takes his oath before Congress.
Carole, Florida: Since the House holds the “power of the purse,” what’s to prevent House Speaker Nancy Pelosi from clawing back appropriations to the Justice Department and the White House?
power of the purse” — the ability to
raise money for the federal government (through taxes) and
spend it (by allocating it to other federal entities). House leaders, including Rep. Adam Schiff, have begun to
publicly discuss the possibility of withholding federal money as a way to pressure the White House to comply with congressional subpoenas. It remains to be seen whether this is strategic posturing or a genuine threat.
The threat of withholding federal funding may be the House’s most potent tool to force compliance, given the White House’s near-complete stonewalling of all congressional subpoenas thus far. But a purse-strings strategy carries political risks.
The White House surely will portray any congressional denial of federal funds as a temper tantrum imposing harm on the executive branch (and more broadly the American people) to strong-arm compliance with politically-motivated subpoenas. If anything goes wrong within the jurisdiction of any federal agency denied funding, the White House will point to Congress and say, “blame them for cutting off funding.”
House Democrats, meanwhile, will claim Trump forced their hand by ignoring constitutional checks and balances and essentially overriding the authority of Congress to conduct oversight. As House Oversight Chair Rep. Elijah Cummings said: “If a president can get away with blocking any information or anybody from testifying before the Congress, what road are we going down?” This will be a moment of truth and a test of how far Congress is willing to go to protect its constitutional standing.
Trevor, New Jersey: Given this Trump administration’s propensity to subvert the norms of the presidency, can Congress pass legislative changes to uphold them — for example, requiring presidential candidates to disclose tax returns?
The short answer is yes. But why? Our legal system consists of both written laws and an unwritten but widely observed set of behavioral norms. There are things you are strictly not allowed to do (laws) and things that, while legal, you just don’t do (norms).
Task Force on Rule of Law and Democracy recently issued a report on the history of norms becoming laws. For example, it was long understood but not formally encoded in law that a president should serve two terms maximum; after Franklin Delano Roosevelt broke that norm and won third and fourth terms, we
amended the Constitution to explicitly set a two-term maximum. Another norm prevented Presidents from appointing family members to Cabinet positions — until John F. Kennedy nominated his brother Robert Kennedy as attorney general,
prompting Congress to pass a law
prohibiting officials from appointing relatives to federal agencies over which they have jurisdiction or control.
recommends a spate of new laws requiring disclosure of tax returns and financial information by presidential candidates, limiting presidential interference in Department of Justice matters and barring presidential self-pardons, among others. California is
already considering state-level legislation to require presidential candidates to make financial disclosures as a precondition to appearing on the ballot.
Lisa, Washington: What happens if McGahn decides on his own to testify — regardless of whether or not Trump invokes executive privilege of his live testimony?
If Congress and McGahn did somehow agree that McGahn would defy the White House’s invocation of executive privilege and testify anyway, then the White House likely would seek an emergency court order to prevent it. Don’t expect to see McGahn testify in Congress until either all parties agree (which is unlikely) — or a court rules on executive privilege.Original Source