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Attorney General Faces Deadline To Comply With Congressional Subpoena


Today is the deadline for the attorney general, William Barr, to comply with a congressional subpoena. The chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Congressman Jerry Nadler, said, if Barr doesn't hand over the full, unredacted version of Robert Mueller's report and the underlying evidence, he will hold the attorney general in contempt. That warning comes after Barr decided not to testify before that committee last week.

The Justice Department said it was unreasonable to make the AG face questions from staff attorneys. For more on the fallout from the Mueller report, we've got Jonah Goldberg with us in studio. He is senior editor for National Review. Jonah, thanks for coming in.

JONAH GOLDBERG: Always great to be here.

MARTIN: So Nadler set this deadline of today, threatened to hold the attorney general in contempt if he doesn't produce the unredacted report. If you're Jerry Nadler, though - I know you're not, but let's say you were - do you really have a choice in this? I mean, he says the attorney general is basically standing in the way of his obligation to conduct oversight.

GOLDBERG: Yeah. No, look, I think Jerry Nadler has every right to subpoena the documents. I think - and Jerry Nadler has every right to subpoena William Barr. You know, but it's worth pointing out that, you know, the news cycle last week was that William Barr was in contempt of Congress and lied to Congress. Both of those things I don't think are true.

And so what Nadler's got to do is he's got to check the boxes and actually go through the motions. And if he wants to try to compel the attorney general to come before Congress, he has every right and authority to do that. And he's the guy who's basically the conductor on the impeachment - or almost-impeachment train. And so that's what he's got to do.

MARTIN: So you think Barr is making a mistake here?

GOLDBERG: I don't know. I mean, I think that - I think Barr has handled himself in ways that he's taken a major reputational hit. But I also think that the media feeding frenzy trying to turn him into - I don't know - some Trump crony, Corey Lewandowski type, I think, is ridiculous.

I still see Bill Barr - and this is going to make - makes a lot of people angry when I say this - I still see him more as a General Mattis type who is in there trying to do what's best for the institution, what's best for the DOJ. I may - reasonable people may disagree with some of his interpretations of what the law is or what the right thing to do is. But this attempt to turn him into some sort of ill-motived villain I just think is off-base, and there's not enough evidence for it, at least.

MARTIN: So let's talk more about that because, as you note, I mean, there were a lot of people who watched his testimony and said that he is the - he is serving as the president's personal lawyer. He is not serving as the American people's representative in these hearings. And they point to this back-and-forth between Mueller and Barr and Mueller expressing concerns with his mishandling in the early days of the aftermath of the Mueller report and saying that his own summary - Barr's own summary - was insufficient and unnecessary because Mueller had done his own summary that could've been released. I mean, do you not - how do you read that?

GOLDBERG: Yeah. So first of all, look, as I said, I think Bill Barr has taken a reputational hit. He does seem like he is erring on the side of protecting the president more than perfect optics should allow. At the same time, that is hardly new. Originally, the attorney general really was the president's personal attorney. And compared to the behavior of Robert Kennedy or even Eric Holder, this is not so far beyond norms.

MARTIN: Right. But now, more than ever, you would expect the attorney general to take all precautions to protect the institution.

GOLDBERG: I agree. At the same time, one of the things he did, which Donald Trump can't possibly like, is actually release the entire Mueller report with only very limited redactions. He made even a less redacted version available to Democrats and Republicans on the Hill. Democrats didn't take him up on it. What we are witnessing now, I think - so it is not a grave, impeachable crime to offer spin on a report that you're going to release anyway that doesn't feed the news cycle the way some people want it to.

MARTIN: Well, it was about the vacuum, right? For 27 days, I believe, the only word on the Mueller report was this summary from Bill Barr, which ended up shaping the public perception of it.

GOLDBERG: Yeah. OK. That's right. But at the same time, Mueller himself doesn't say it was inaccurate. He says it was accurate. And I completely understand why some partisans and others - and not even non-partisans, just normal Americans - might be annoyed that Bill Barr did it this way.

But at the same time, if Bill Barr is working from the assumption - which I don't think is entirely unreasonable, even if I have personal disagreements with it - that the Mueller probe was flawed, that since they didn't find evidence of criminal collusion, that Bob Mueller decided not to go ahead with charging obstruction of justice and leaving this decision in the hands of the attorney general, that the attorney general decided the best thing for the country is to put this chapter to an end. And that's how he has handled this as a matter of his public statements.

You can disagree with all that, but to - there's - pundit after pundit is out there saying that to damage the - essentially, the feeding frenzy and get-Trump spin cycle for 27 days is some grave crime against the republic. I can see why it's annoying, but it doesn't really rise to the level of some sort of truly evil deed, in my eyes.

MARTIN: President Trump was talking about it over the weekend. I mean, he talked about the strong job numbers. But he still was talking about collusion delusions and witch hunts. I mean, does this help him in 2020?

GOLDBERG: I don't think so. You know - and, look, the - waiting for Donald Trump to have message discipline is like waiting for Godot. Right? It - we're not going to see that. And I think that's his biggest problem going into 2020, is he's got this very strong economy, and yet, he's the one who keeps picking these weird fights, whether the culture war fights or the collusion stuff. I don't see how it helps him because it reminds a lot of voters of the chaos of his presidency.

MARTIN: Jonah Goldberg with National Review. We appreciate it, Jonah.

GOLDBERG: Great to be here. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.