It is hard for something to go off the rails if it was never on track in the first place. Such was the case today at the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, featuring Attorney General William Barr testifying about the Mueller report. The bizarre series of verbal exchanges showcased two tracks moving along without touching.
One of the tracks, also known as reality, involved a man misusing his position as head of the Department of Justice to advocate shamelessly on behalf of Donald Trump as his personal attorney. The other track, led by the witness, and reflected in most of the GOP’s questioning, portrayed an alternate universe where the rule of law gets stretched and flipped around until it fits snugly and retroactively around all of Trump’s questionable conduct.
John Cornyn is one example of a Republican Senator who wasted no time in showing us which track he is on. He used the beginning of his allotted time in the most surreal way possible, praising Barr for doing the very job we expect of an Attorney General, but that Barr himself has not done. “Thank you for agreeing to serve again as Attorney General,” Cornyn told Barr, “and help restore the department’s reputation as an impartial arbiter of the law and not as a political arm of any administration.” If the United States’ future as a sustainable democracy were not at stake here, Cornyn’s shout-out would have been laughable.
By contrast, Democratic Senator Kamala Harris shined a spotlight on reality, pointing out perhaps the most egregious revelation in Barr’s testimony today. Addressing reporters in the hallway after the hearing, Harris called out Barr for his “deeply troubling” admission that he has not even reviewed the evidence underlying the Mueller report. “No prosecutor worth her salt would make a decision about whether the President of the United States was involved in an obstruction of justice without reviewing the evidence,” she asserted. “This Attorney General lacks all credibility and has, I think, compromised the American public’s ability to believe that he is a purveyor of justice.”
After 22 months of painstakingly gathering and reviewing evidence, Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team chose not to reach a conclusion about obstruction. But after only two days of reviewing the Mueller report, Barr managed to do what Mueller could not, finding that Trump’s actions do not rise to the level of a crime. We now know that Barr did not even care to review the evidence before jumping to his conclusion. As Barr admitted to Harris during questioning, “We accepted the statements in the report as the actual record. We did not go underneath it to see whether or not they were accurate. We accepted it as accurate.” Barr has been Attorney General for not even three months. But in just one day, Barr has managed to show that he is quickly losing his grip on both reality and his job.