Here’s what this legal scholar (more biographical details in next few paragraphs) has determined about William Barr. He likes to scan over large legal documents and give “principal conclusions,” which is in fact shaping the final legal take.
Goodman argues and Washington Post follows this line of reasoning as well that Barr is in fact trying to be the final legal arbiter…and we lose the underlying detalis, and possible actionable legal arguments underpinning his conclusions.
Wapo article quoting Goodman
Particularly given Barr’s track record, as New York University professor of law Ryan Goodman wrote on Monday at the site Just Security, where he’s a co-editor-in-chief.
Goodman, who is a former Defense Department special counsel, details a remarkably similar fight from 1989 in which Barr, then head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, was involved. The OLC had determined that the FBI was allowed to take people into custody in foreign countries without the consent of those countries’ governments — a ruling that seemed to pave the way, Goodman notes, for the eventual arrest of former Panamanian leader Manuel Antonio Noriega.
Goodman quotes Boston University’s Jeanne Woods, writing in 1996: “Barr’s congressional testimony attempted to gloss over the broad legal and policy changes that his written opinion advocated.”
Goodman spoke with The Post by phone on Monday.
"What happened in 1989 is that Barr, in a sense, actually provided a redacted version of the underlying OLC opinion,” he said. “That’s the problem, because the redactions of what he omitted are very significant for legal practice — yet he told the Congress that he was including all of the, quote unquote, ‘principal conclusions’ that time around as well.”
"I think that for me it’s significant in that breeds a lot of distrust of relying on Barr’s assurances that he’s handling this process in a way that’s faithful to the principles that he’s announced,” he added, “and will let the public know what the public should know at this time.”
While Barr suggested in testimony last week that he would indicate the broad principles under which various parts were redacted, Goodman noted that he can choose to interpret his redaction authority in broad terms — something that would be hard even for members of Congress to evaluate as appropriate.
Asked if he felt Barr was acting in good faith in 1989, Goodman hesitated.
"I think it’s difficult to imagine that Barr didn’t know what he was doing in failing to inform the Congress that he had concluded that the president of the United States could violate the U.N. Charter,” he said. “In fact, that proposition has proved to be highly controversial ever since the OLC opinion was publicly released and significant executive branch practice turns on that proposition.”
There was one specific reason to think that Barr might be more willing to hew to a narrow set of redactions this time, Goodman said: a muscular Congress.
“In 1989, the Congress appeared somewhat shy to actually subpoena the full opinion,” he said, noting that it took nearly two years for them to do so, by which point Barr had left his position at the OLC. “Here you have the House Judiciary Committee already authorizing to subpoena the full Mueller report. That may change Barr’s calculation because he might think, this time around, the full document will be revealed at the same period of time that he’s still in office.”
Unless, he added, the administration fights the subpoena. In which case we may be left with another extended period in which it’s unclear how accurately Barr’s conveying what Mueller said — a period overshadowed by knowing that he’s underplayed or obscured significant information in the past.