In response to a House demand that he explain his actions in the Roger Stone criminal case, Attorney General Bill Barr has agreed to testify to the House Judiciary Committee on March 31st. This has set off a whole lot of confusion as to what’s really going on, a fair amount of skepticism from those who don’t understand the leverage involved, and some anger from those who simply don’t understand why they have to wait that long.
For starters, Bill Barr will almost certainly show up. Why? Because he’s a calculated villain, not a mustache twirling cartoon character. Barr knows that if he fails to show up, the House will impeach him. Then Barr would have to spend months playing defense during his impeachment process, meaning it would be a major hindrance to his plans, even if the Senate does then acquit him. So yes, Barr will show up, because he knows it’s the least bad outcome for himself.
Barr will probably lie during his testimony, but so be it. The point of the hearing will be to fluster Barr, get him off script, and get him to either accidentally tell the damaging truth, or screw up and tell a lie that can be disproven. If he’s caught in a lie, the Democrats can use that to persuade undecided voters that Trump and Barr are indeed running a criminal racket.
As for the timing, unless you think Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats have suddenly dissolved into hapless idiots, it’s clear that March 31st is simply the soonest that Bill Barr was going to be willing to show up under any circumstances. No, impeaching Barr right this minute wouldn’t magically cause him to show up sooner. No, sending the House Sergeant-at-Arms after Barr wouldn’t cause him to testify any sooner either; that would just set off a prolonged court battle, ensuring that he never testifies.
If you understand that this is simply about how much leverage each side has, it’s pretty straightforward. The House was able to use its leverage (the threat of impeachment) to get him to agree to testify at all. In turn, Barr was able to use his relative leverage (the threat of taking it to court and never testifying) to give himself a bit of time before he testifies. This is simply what leveraged negotiations look like. Neither side ever has a magic wand.
So yes, Bill Barr will show up, and yes, the House Democrats will have an opportunity to either catch him in a lie or fluster him into blurting out the damaging truth. It’s a win for our side, if an incremental one. But nearly all of the Resistance’s wins have been incremental. It’s why so much of Trump’s corrupt agenda remains unfulfilled, and it’s why we’ve survived to keep fighting him.
The sky is not suddenly falling. Donald Trump has been meddling in the criminal cases of his co-conspirators (Flynn) and vindictively firing people (Comey) since his first months on the job. There is absolutely nothing new about what we’re seeing right now. He’s not magically “emboldened” now. It’s the same old Trump as ever. He won’t have magically become emperor before Bill Barr testifies. We’re still in the exact same incremental fight we’ve been in since day one – and no amount of sudden doomsday narratives will change that.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report