Column: Trump and his sycophants must be challenged
Last month, under oath, Attorney General Bill Barr lied to two members of Congress when he said he didn’t know how Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team felt about how Barr handled the public disclosure of their report.
Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser!
You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription.
Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story.
Last month, under oath, Attorney General Bill Barr lied to two members of Congress when he said he didn’t know how Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team felt about how Barr handled the public disclosure of their report. So, when the attorney general came before the Senate Judiciary Committee, on which I sit, I told him I thought he lied, I told him he was no different from any of the other people who have sacrificed their integrity and reputations in order to protect Donald Trump, and I told him he should resign as attorney general.
It gave me no pleasure to call for his resignation. But these are the times Donald Trump insists that we live in.
I speak plainly to witnesses who come before the committees I sit on, with my colleagues, and with my constituents. I serve in public office to help solve the real problems that confront working people, women, veterans, and any of those among us who are overlooked, left out, or treated unfairly. If we are going to find solutions, honest, straightforward talk is necessary — none of us has time to waste.
American democracy works best when we operate from a base of shared values and rules. The moral dead zone that President Trump has created around him makes this nearly impossible.
Barr is part of that dead zone of non-accountability, continuing to act as Trump’s defense attorney, not our nation’s highest law enforcement officer.
The May 1 Judiciary Committee hearing at which Barr testified was revealing and disheartening. Like many of this administration’s bad actors, the attorney general didn’t hide his views; they were out in the open, under oath.
Barr told Sen. Chris Coons that a political campaign should only report overtures of foreign assistance if they came from a foreign intelligence agency. He told ranking member Dianne Feinstein that there would have been nothing wrong with Trump firing Mueller. Specifically, he said, “that the president can direct determination for the replacement of a special counsel … if the president is being falsely accused … and he felt this investigation was unfair … that is not a corrupt motive for replacing an independent counsel.”
At his January confirmation hearing, Barr acknowledged that the Mueller investigation was not a witch hunt. Yet, in May, Attorney General Barr’s position was that if the president thought he was being unfairly accused, whatever he did to try to stop the investigation was OK. Since when is the president above the law?
When asked, Barr danced around Sen. Kamala Harris’ questioning on whether anyone in the White House has ever “suggested” he open an investigation. Barr, in response, said he was “grappling” with the word “suggested,” and didn’t answer the question. The answer should be “no” because the Department of Justice should make prosecution decisions based on the facts and the law, not the president’s whim.
Barr’s affect at the hearing was so dismissive, so contemptuous of our concerns about Trump’s behavior, that I finally asked him if he didn’t consider what Trump did to be criminal, was it at least wrong? Did he think it was OK for a president to order his White House counsel to fire the special counsel and then order him to lie about it? No answer.
If there was any doubt that Bill Barr had fully embraced Donald Trump’s morally compromised vision of the presidency before his hearing, there was no doubt by the time it concluded.
As far as Barr is concerned, a president can obstruct justice if he thinks he’s innocent. In their world, a president can order the Department of Justice to launch investigations into political enemies. And in their world, the attorney general exists to protect the president who appointed him.
Because I pointed out these simple facts, I was accused of slandering the attorney general. But truth is an absolute defense to that charge. The truth may be rude, it may be uncomfortable to hear, but there you have it.
Anyone who cares about the rule of law in this country knows Barr should resign. I had the chance to say it to his face, and so I did.
U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, representing Hawaii, is a Senate Judiciary Committee member.