When Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham asked William P. Barr, Donald Trump’s nominee for attorney general, whether it would be a crime if “the president tried to coach somebody not to testify, or testify falsely,” Barr was very clear in his answer, saying simply: “Yes. Under an obstruction statute, yes.”
And now this answer — and Graham’s question — have taken on greater importance after the bombshell allegation published by BuzzFeed News Thursday night that Trump had ordered his attorney Michael Cohen to lie under oath during his congressional testimony in 2017.
Barr’s simple and clear answer presents the White House with a dilemma since the president’s choice for attorney general has how described Trump’s alleged conduct as “classic” obstruction of justice.
Barr gave the same answer when asked by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), as well as in his own written statements.
“Didn’t know about @BuzzFeed report when I asked questions of Barr but I did it to get AG nominee to clearly state his view that if a President asks someone to commit perjury or change testimony, it’s obstruction of justice..and (I thought) within the realm of possibility!”
Didn’t know about @BuzzFeed report when I asked questions of Barr but I did it to get AG nominee to clearly state his view that if a President asks someone to commit perjury or change testimony, it’s obstruction of justice..and (I thought) within the realm of possibility! https://t.co/kTiWcE7Gle
— Amy Klobuchar (@amyklobuchar) January 18, 2019
Barr has now affirmed his view at least three times, both in a once-private memo and in sworn testimony.
So there is no doubt — William Barr is on record multiple times saying that Trump’s alleged behavior is criminal — if true. If the president committed the crimes of obstructing justice and suborning perjury, he should leave office immediately.
In response to the BuzzFeed story, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) tweeted Friday morning that the committee would investigate.
“We know that the President has engaged in a long pattern of obstruction. Directing a subordinate to lie to Congress is a federal crime. The HouseJudiciaryCommittee’s job is to get to the bottom of it, and we will do that work.”
We know that the President has engaged in a long pattern of obstruction. Directing a subordinate to lie to Congress is a federal crime. The @HouseJudiciary Committee’s job is to get to the bottom of it, and we will do that work.
— (((Rep. Nadler))) (@RepJerryNadler) January 18, 2019
The White House’s problem now is that Barr’s clearly stated opinion limits his ability to take a different position in defense of the president. Everybody agreed with what Barr said, and his responses actually will make his confirmation easier.
Barr had previously caused concern by writing an unsolicited memo addressed to the Justice Department last year criticizing Mueller for focusing on actions that Barr claimed did not constitute obstruction of justice, such as firing government employees. The memo was published by the Wall Street Journal in December.
But Barr has always been clear about what he called criminal obstruction of justice in the “classic sense.” He defined this as “sabotaging a proceeding’s truth-finding function.” In his June 2018 memo, described the acts he said amounted to obstruction:
“Thus, for example, if a President knowingly destroys or alters evidence, suborns perjury, or induces a witness to change testimony, or commits any act deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence, then he, like anyone else, commits the crime of obstruction.”
So if Donald Trump did in fact order his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, this fits within Barr’s definition of “classic” obstruction.
On Thursday BuzzFeed News, citing two unnamed federal law enforcement officials, reported that Trump told Cohen to mislead Congress about business dealings in Moscow in the run-up to the 2016 election.
When Barr appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, Democrats questioned whether his views as expressed in his memo would restrict his capacity to properly oversee the special counsel’s investigation. They argued that his broad view of presidential power made him too partial to the White House’s defiant stance.
Ironically, the same document that set forth his views that many Democrats feared had endeared Barr to Trump might now create a conflict between the president and his attorney general, should he be confirmed.
One thing is certain: William Barr and the Democrats in Congress are in complete agreement that if the BuzzFeed allegations are true, Donald Trump committed multiple crimes. And he should either resign or face impeachment as soon as possible.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.