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Barr: Important for Mueller to complete probe

Attorney General nominee William Barr said that, if confirmed, he would let special counsel Robert Mueller finish his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and believes the results should be made public.

Posted: Jan 15, 2019 7:32 AM
Updated: Jan 15, 2019 8:05 AM

Richard Nixon must have wished for friends in Congress like the ones Donald Trump has. Nixon resigned in 1974, when any remaining loyalists in Congress found themselves outnumbered. Not so this time. The Senate is about to ratify President Trump's slow-motion sequel to the Saturday Night Massacre.

In the original Saturday Night Massacre, the attorney general and his deputy refused to carry out Nixon's order to fire the special prosecutor investigating the Watergate scandal. Moving down the line after they resigned, Nixon found that Solicitor General Robert Bork was willing to do the deed.

The resulting public outcry forced Nixon to agree that he would let Bork appoint another special counsel and would not fire this one without the concurrence of a group of eight members of Congress. This agreement wasn't enough to save Nixon's presidency, though, and, among other things, his subsequent forced resignation established the principle that a president may not select his investigator.

Now with the Senate's likely confirmation of William Barr as attorney general, Trump may succeed in destroying this principle. Barr's nomination is before the Senate only because Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions for refusing to stop special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation. (Sessions technically resigned, but a "resignation" requested by the president is Washington-speak for "fired.")

Trump, who had railed against Sessions since Mueller's appointment, later tweeted that "Jeff Sessions should be ashamed of himself for allowing this total HOAX to get started in the first place!"

Sessions was not the first casualty of Trump's attacks on investigators. Trump fired former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey for investigating him. He also successfully advocated for the firing of career FBI officials Andrew McCabe and Peter Strzok.

Whatever level of culpability McCabe and Strzok may have had in violating Justice Department rules or procedures, Trump's interference tainted the personnel actions against them. Presidents are expected to stay out of career-level personnel actions to protect certain functions of government from political influence. Indeed, Congress investigated the firing of career officials in the White House travel office under President Bill Clinton. Rather than doing the same during the Trump administration, the congressional majority launched its own attacks on career officials.

Barr is infinitely more qualified than acting attorney general Matthew Whitaker, but Barr and Whitaker have something in common: They both auditioned for the job by making sure Trump knew they opposed the special counsel investigation. Whitaker made his views known in television appearances and op-eds, and Barr sent the Justice Department an unsolicited 20-page memorandum challenging the scope of the investigation.

Barr has also displayed his partisanship in the media. In an October 2016 Washington Post opinion piece headlined, "James Comey did the right thing," Barr defended Comey for releasing information about an investigation of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton shortly before the election. Trump later fired Comey. Then, on May 11, 2017, Trump admitted on television that the firing was motivated by the investigation of his campaign. The next day, Barr raced to Trump's defense with a new opinion piece condemning Comey for having released information about the Clinton investigation.

Barr tried to explain away the incongruity in his writings by claiming his October 2016 piece was based on a mistaken belief that Attorney General Loretta Lynch had authorized Comey to act independently. But Barr's October 2016 piece never mentions Lynch and, instead, asserts that Comey had a duty to refute statements made by the Clinton camp. What changed between October 2016 and May 2017 was that Barr learned Comey was also investigating Trump.

Barr's shifting opinion of Comey is consistent only in its unquestioning loyalty to Trump. Loyalty, after all, is the quality Trump prizes most in his appointees. This month, Whitaker raised eyebrows with his praise of Trump for working over the holidays. In contrast, Sessions' decision to recuse himself from oversight of the special counsel investigation led Trump to lament, "I don't have an attorney general. It's very sad." Indications are that Trump won't have the same problem with Barr, who has a reliable track record.

Barr supported President George H.W. Bush's granting clemency to former officials caught up in the Iran-Contra scandal. NPR reports that Barr later said, "I favored the broadest pardon authority" and "There were some people just arguing just for (Caspar) Weinberger. I said, 'No -- in for a penny, in for a pound.'"

Barr has said he will not end the special counsel investigation, but that is no comfort. Barr is a savvy Washington operator who would know how to use his authority to influence the investigation in subtle ways. He may narrow its scope, influence key investigative or prosecutorial decisions, or edit the final report. If Barr has the principles to put his country first, he will recuse himself entirely from the investigation.

But the problem is bigger than Barr. Confirming any Trump nominee for the attorney general position, without requiring the nominee to commit to recusing from the special counsel investigation, would put an end to the principle that presidents may not choose their investigators. The Senate majority put this principle on life support when it confirmed an FBI director after Comey's firing. If it confirms a replacement for Sessions without demanding recusal, the Republican majority will pull the plug on the patient.

Maybe Mueller and the US attorneys will yet outwit the conspirators against them, but Barr's confirmation without a commitment of recusal would change the presidency. It would set a dangerous new precedent that presidents are free to fire law enforcement officials for investigating them, and to choose their replacements.

To protect the rule of law, the Senate must demand, as a condition of confirmation, that Barr agree to recuse himself from the special counsel investigation.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

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Confirmed Cases: 86722

Reported Deaths: 1994
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin25264915
Ramsey10267314
Dakota6942124
Anoka5531131
Stearns362923
Washington345955
Scott232532
Olmsted223726
Nobles191416
Blue Earth15406
Wright14777
Carver13037
Rice12798
Mower12534
St. Louis123329
Clay119940
Sherburne105013
Kandiyohi9082
Winona72718
Lyon6244
Steele5062
Freeborn4903
Nicollet48716
Watonwan4844
Benton4793
Todd4722
Le Sueur4403
McLeod4332
Chisago4151
Waseca4118
Crow Wing40218
Otter Tail3674
Beltrami3624
Goodhue3179
Martin2809
Polk2574
Itasca25513
Becker2352
Carlton2261
Isanti2210
Douglas2191
Cottonwood2130
Pipestone2059
Pine1980
Morrison1841
Chippewa1821
Dodge1820
Sibley1663
Wabasha1640
Brown1582
Unassigned15752
Meeker1552
Murray1492
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Faribault1290
Cass1203
Jackson1201
Renville1176
Pennington1071
Houston1050
Roseau1050
Swift991
Fillmore980
Koochiching983
Kanabec958
Lincoln930
Redwood910
Stevens911
Pope810
Aitkin691
Hubbard650
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Grant574
Wilkin553
Norman510
Lake480
Marshall481
Mahnomen441
Red Lake370
Lac qui Parle360
Traverse290
Clearwater240
Lake of the Woods201
Kittson130
Cook60

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 76924

Reported Deaths: 1241
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk14988255
Johnson490727
Woodbury475459
Black Hawk425184
Linn3640102
Story321417
Dallas263238
Scott261427
Dubuque251840
Buena Vista191812
Pottawattamie189437
Marshall175234
Sioux12243
Wapello122057
Webster117914
Muscatine105152
Clinton102418
Cerro Gordo97721
Plymouth97520
Crawford9444
Warren9186
Jasper72032
Des Moines7137
Marion6874
Tama67830
Carroll6085
Lee5727
Wright5491
Henry5104
Dickinson4666
Bremer4497
Boone4346
Washington41411
Louisa41314
Franklin33017
Hamilton3123
Mahaska30919
Delaware3053
Jackson2803
Floyd2793
Winneshiek2745
Clay2663
Hardin2661
Benton2611
Clarke2533
Butler2512
Winnebago24711
Emmet24210
Shelby2381
Allamakee2355
Jones2313
Poweshiek2308
Clayton2243
Lyon2233
Buchanan2181
Cedar2101
Guthrie2095
Chickasaw1970
Kossuth1950
Grundy1932
Madison1922
Howard1764
Sac1760
Fayette1751
Iowa1741
Cherokee1732
Mitchell1720
Hancock1702
Humboldt1682
Harrison1642
Calhoun1612
Mills1541
Pocahontas1492
Palo Alto1480
Monroe1409
Page1400
Jefferson1291
Lucas1296
Cass1262
Monona1251
Taylor1171
Appanoose1163
Osceola1130
Union1123
Davis1104
Van Buren1081
Worth990
Keokuk841
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Greene790
Ida770
Wayne762
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