More on how to handle Barr’s mishandling of justice and whether we know how Barr might be questioned or removed. Former prosecutor Joyce White Alene questions Barr’s intentions as does Preet Bharara.
U.S. Attorneys serve at the pleasure of the President. Although Berman’s situation was unusual because he was not Senate-confirmed, even with this quirk, there were legitimate ways Trump and Barr could have chosen to replace him. So the real question is, why did Barr concoct the transparent lie about Berman resigning? It was almost sure to come to light, despite Barr’s late-Friday-night gambit. Why did Barr subject himself and Trump to ridicule and controversy to get Berman out of the way? The answer to that question is important. The independence of the Justice Department and its U.S. Attorneys may well turn on it.
There is plenty of speculation over the reason. It could have been animus over Berman’s prosecutions of Trump cronies or concern regarding ongoing cases. The Southern District’s jurisdiction is broad and the President’s business and now-defunct foundation lie within its borders. Berman is known to have subpoenaed information regarding the President’s inauguration. He is also investigating Deutsche Bank, which made loans worth over $1 billion at a time other banks were hesitant to make loans to pre-presidency Trump, and John Bolton has claimed the President wanted to interfere in the prosecution of a Turkish bank. But Barr isn’t saying why he so desperately wanted to remove Berman from the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York. We only know that it wasn’t competence or performance, as Barr said he offered him the job of Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division, considered a plum role at DOJ. And one thing that is certain is that Barr would not have lied about the decision to remove Berman if it was a legitimate one, made in good faith.
We need answers to the questions that stem from Barr’s misbegotten Friday night massacre. Only Congress, or perhaps the press, can get them. With five months to go until the election, we cannot afford to wait. Congress must subpoena both Barr and Berman.
Berman is now free to testify about whatever pressure was brought to bear upon him during his tenure, even if he may not discuss non-public details of the investigations he was pursuing. Barr is another matter. He canceled scheduled testimony before the House Judiciary Committee in May 2019 after the Committee voted to permit questioning by staff attorneys, who went on to perform so impressively during impeachment. Following a year-long dance with the Committee over his unwillingness to submit to Congressional oversight regarding the Mueller report, Barr was scheduled to testify on March 31. Prior to that hearing, House Democrats noted their intention to question Barr about the removal of another U.S. Attorney, Jessie Liu, in Washington, D.C., who was overseeing the Roger Stone and Michael Flynn prosecutions. Stone’s prosecution had become the subject of controversy due to the Attorney General’s personal interference. Liu was promised another high-ranking job, which failed to materialize after she left the D.C. office and House Democrats wanted to know why. Barr ducked the hearing in March after the coronavirus threat emerged.
It’s time for the House to force Bill Barr to testify and answer the questions the American people have for him. Even if one were to accept Barr’s fringe views about the expansiveness of the powers a President possesses, nothing in the Constitution creates an all-powerful Attorney General. He and his department are accountable to Congress and to the American people, and it’s time to remind him of that. A subpoena to Barr would be a fitting birthday present for the Department of Justice.