Category Archives: McGurn

Robert Mueller’s Revenge

WSJ  5/11/2021  By William McGurn

Federal Judge Amy Berman Jackson has an answer for all those hoping to heal and move on from the Trump years: Nothing doing.

Her answer comes by way of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the left-leaning Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. In her ruling, Judge Jackson orders the Justice Department to make public an internal March 2019 memo to then-Attorney General Bill Barr about whether to prosecute President Trump.

The pretense is that this is about Mr. Barr, whom the judge accuses of being “disingenuous” about his handling of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. In reality, her tirade is but the latest expression of Mueller Madness: the great liberal frustration that, in the end, there was no “there” there in the Mueller report.

We know this not from Mr. Trump or Mr. Barr but from their fiercest foes. When Democrats finally did get around to impeaching Mr. Trump, they made a conscious decision to ignore the Mueller report. Instead, their (first) impeachment was over a phone call Mr. Trump made to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

On Dec. 10, 2019, the New York Times reported that, after consulting with her caucus, Speaker Nancy Pelosi decided the House would move ahead with two articles of impeachment. Each would focus narrowly on Ukraine. A third impeachment charge, tied to Mr. Mueller’s report, was “too much of a reach.”

In short, Mr. Mueller’s first shot at Mr. Trump was collusion with the Russians, for which he found no evidence. His second shot was obstruction of justice, but he punted on a decision about whether what he found was a crime. This shot didn’t hit its mark either when Congress declined to act on it.

Plainly the judge is hoping the third time’s the charm. If she can’t get Mr. Trump, maybe she can at least tarnish his attorney general.

One of the judge’s complaints is that in reducing the 448-page Mueller report to a four-page summary of its principal conclusions and releasing it to the public, Mr. Barr was trying to “hide the ball.” The idea is ludicrous, given that Mr. Barr made public almost the full report—complete with its hundreds of pages detailing Mr. Trump’s bad behavior—only three weeks later. In his letter Mr. Barr duly noted Mr. Mueller’s point that the report didn’t “exonerate” the president.

Now, two years later, Judge Jackson revives the special counsel’s complaint that the attorney general’s letter didn’t fully capture “the context, nature, and substance” of his report. What the judge doesn’t point out is that Mr. Barr then called Mr. Mueller to ask what he’d got wrong and, according to a Justice spokesman, Mr. Mueller conceded there was nothing inaccurate but felt the media coverage was misinterpreting it and wanted more released. Weeks later, when Mr. Mueller testified before the House Judiciary Committee—the perfect opportunity to tell the world about the ball Mr. Barr had hidden—he again retreated into vague generalities.

We are left with a federal judge reaching into internal Justice Department communications in a way that, if allowed to stand, would jeopardize the ability of any attorney general to get candid advice from his staff. In an argument that sounds less like the words of a dispassionate judge than the fantasies of a naked partisan such as Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, Judge Jackson claims to know—without proof and apparently without appreciation for how the Justice Department functions—that Mr. Barr had already made his decision before the memo. Her opinion is a reminder of how egregious prosecution could be if left to judges.

After her ruling, gleeful headlines reported that a judge had all but called Mr. Barr a liar. Some who should know better—e.g., Neal Katyal, acting U.S. solicitor general during the Obama administration—have piled on by talking up possible criminal charges.

This is a test for Merrick Garland. As attorney general he surely has an interest in keeping confidential his own department’s internal deliberations on controversial issues. Whether the Justice Department appeals Judge Jackson’s outrageous decision will tell us whether Mr. Garland really is a square shooter, as he has been sold.

Meanwhile, there have been almost no public defenses of Mr. Barr. Partly this is because he is loathed by Democrats for launching an investigation into the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 2016 Trump-Russia probe. Partly it’s because some Republicans are also sore at him for not backing Mr. Trump’s claims that Mr. Biden won the 2020 election because of widespread election fraud.

None of this changes the reality of Mr. Mueller and his report: He found no underlying crime, his investigation was not obstructed, and he was never able to cite a single case involving the obstruction statute in which a government official—much less a president—was prosecuted for exercising his legitimate authority. In ruling as she has, Judge Jackson has shown herself to be another bitter partisan who cannot bring herself to face these facts.

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All Trump’s Codependents

3/29/2021  WSJ  by William McGurn

“My predecessor. Oh God, I miss him.”

So spoke Joe Biden Thursday in his first press conference as president. In February Mr. Biden had said he was “tired of talking about Donald Trump ” and vowed to spend the next four years talking about the American people. Evidently it’s not to be. Mr. Biden’s presser was chockablock with references to Mr. Trump, including the accusation that he’d let unaccompanied minors “starve to death” on the other side of our southern border.

Mr. Biden’s inability to stop talking about his predecessor speaks to the Trump codependency that has followed the Trump presidency. For the whole promise of Mr. Biden’s 2020 campaign was this: Elect me and we will put Donald Trump behind us.

Voters bought it, but the Biden administration remains as fixated on Mr. Trump as ever. We saw this after the horrific shootings in Atlanta that took the lives of eight innocent people, including six women of Asian descent. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the president had no desire to “attribute motive.” But she then went right for the old go-to when she claimed “there’s no question that some of the damaging rhetoric that we saw during the prior administration” has “elevated threats against Asian-Americans.” The message was unmistakable: The shootings were partly Mr. Trump’s fault.

Not a single member of the press questioned this assertion. [So do you still argue that the MSM and The Left aren’t biased?? mrossol] Meanwhile, investigators say they have no evidence the killer was even motivated by anti-Asian bias.

In this way Mr. Trump functions much the way the deposed Farmer Jones does in Orwell’s “Animal Farm.” Each time the animals that replaced Jones as rulers of the farm do something contrary to their promises, they deflect difficult questions by bringing up the farmer. “Surely, comrades,” they ask, “you don’t want Jones back?” Same with Democrats and Mr. Trump.

Nancy Pelosi understands this perfectly. Unlike the president, the House speaker admits the situation at the border is a crisis. But she says it’s all Mr. Trump’s fault. That’s the beauty of the Trump codependency: If something your side does blows up in your face, blame it on Mr. Trump.

Likewise with Mrs. Pelosi’s call for a 9/11-style commission to investigate the Jan. 6 storming of the Capitol. As the speaker proposed it, the commission would be stacked with seven Democrats against four Republicans. It’s a handy way to distract attention from the Bernie Sanders agenda she’s pushing through Congress while damning the opposition implicitly as white supremacists, insurrectionists or the equivalent of al Qaeda.

Then there’s Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York. No one benefited more from the Trump presidency than Mr. Cuomo, especially over the past year.

As Mr. Trump played the heavy, Mr. Cuomo wrote a book on “Leadership Lessons From the COVID-19 Pandemic,” which landed on the New York Times bestseller list. The International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences threw in an Emmy for his press conferences. Alas, karma has caught up with Mr. Cuomo. Without Mr. Trump as his foil, he’s become just a governor whose administration covered up Covid deaths in nursing homes—and another male pol accused by women he worked with of sexual harassment. Plainly Mr. Cuomo has a bad case of Trump withdrawal.

He’s not alone. Turns out that among the most codependent are the same news outlets that spent the past four years as proud members of “the resistance.” In a 2017 interview with the New York Times, President Trump alluded to this by predicting he’d be re-elected because “newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I’m not there because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes.”

He didn’t win, of course, but a Washington Post piece last Tuesday conceded Mr. Trump had a point. “Trump’s various scandals and outbursts helped reporters build résumés, sell books, land lucrative commentary gigs and win awards,” it reported. By contrast, post-Trump “traffic to the nation’s most popular news sites” has “plummeted” over the past five weeks. CNN and MSNBC have respectively lost 45% and 26% of their prime-time audiences over the same time.

But no one has suffered more for its codependency than the Lincoln Project, a super PAC launched in 2019 by Republican Never Trumpers. The group has emerged from the elections as discredited as Mr. Trump. When news broke that co-founder John Weaver had regularly sent young men explicit messages soliciting sex in exchange for help with their careers, several key players in the organization resigned.

In response to the scandal, the board announced an external investigation, with co-founder Steve Schmidt insisting that he and the group’s leaders were unaware of any inappropriate behavior until this January. But the Associated Press reports that the leaders learned of the allegations against Mr. Weaver last summer. The question has become distinctly Nixonian: What did the Lincoln Project leaders know and when did they know it?

On top of this, the Lincoln Project increasingly looks like a clever grift. According to Federal Election Commission data, of the nearly $90 million in donations it raised, more than half was directed to consulting firms controlled by the Lincoln Project’s founders. In short, they lined their own pockets.

When Mr. Biden won in November, the received wisdom was that Mr. Trump’s voters would be absolutely lost without him. Who would have thought that would be even truer of his critics?