Attorney and activist Kamau Franklin dissects the questioning of Attorney General Barr on his handling of the Mueller report
MARC STEINER Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. It’s great to have you all with us once again. If you’re watching the news, you know that there are hearings going on in Washington D.C. that are with Attorney General Barr. It has exploded inside those Senate hearings, has exploded outside those hearings with the things that Nancy Pelosi had to say. This is a deepening of the divide in America we’re seeing being played out on the Senate floor, and it also has to do with the future of our democracy, if not more. And we are joined by Kamau Franklin, attorney and activist who joins us once again here on The Real News. Kamau, welcome. Good to have you with us again.
KAMAU FRANKLIN Thanks for having me.
MARC STEINER Kamau, let me just start with this clip of Senator Kamala Harris and what she had to say in her probing of General Barr.
SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS My question is, in reaching your conclusion, did you personally review all of the underlying evidence?
ATTORNEY GENERAL WILLIAM BARR No. We took and accept—
SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS Did Mr. Rosenstein?
ATTORNEY GENERAL WILLIAM BARR No. We accepted the statements in the report as the factual record. We did not go underneath it to see whether or not they were accurate. We accepted it as accurate and made our—
SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS So you accepted the report as the evidence?
ATTORNEY GENERAL WILLIAM BARR Yes.
SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS You did not question or look at the underlying evidence that supports the conclusions in the report?
ATTORNEY GENERAL WILLIAM BARR No.
SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS As the Attorney General of the United States, you run the United States Department of Justice. If in any US attorney’s office around the country, the head of that office when being asked to make a critical decision about in this case the person who holds the highest office in the land, and whether or not that person committed a crime, would you accept them recommending a charging decision to you if they had not reviewed the evidence?
ATTORNEY GENERAL WILLIAM BARR Well that’s a question for Bob Mueller. He’s the US Attorney. He’s the one who presents the report.
SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS But it was you who made the charging decision, sir. You made the decision not to charge the president.
ATTORNEY GENERAL WILLIAM BARR In a pros[ecution] memo and in a declination memo—
SENATOR KAMALA HARRIS You said it was your baby. What did you mean by that?
ATTORNEY GENERAL WILLIAM BARR It was my baby to let, to decide whether or not to disclose it to the public.
MARC STEINER She’s a tough, a very bright woman. That’s clear and despite the arguments around her role as Attorney General in California, what she had to say here was very clear. What are your thoughts on what that was about, Kamau?
KAMAU FRANKLIN Alright. I think that was clearly an incredible moment in terms of having the Attorney General of the United States say that he didn’t look at the underlying evidence of the report. And it just shows that Barr was brought in to exonerate Donald Trump, that that was his main function. He was willing to go further than Sessions was willing to go and say that I’ll let this case come to its conclusion in terms of the Mueller report, but it’s going to stop there. I think she clearly caught him unexpectedly and admitting that he did nothing except see the report, make conclusions that he thought would exonerate the president, talk about the president not being involved in collusion, and talk about there not being any obstruction. And so, I think Barr played his role, but it was an incredible moment for him to get caught out there and admitting that that’s exactly what he did.
MARC STEINER So I talk about this in the context of Mueller’s letter, and the controversy around this letter. What are your thoughts about how this fits into that, and how do you interpret what that letter said?
KAMAU FRANKLIN I think Mueller’s letter was clear in that he stated that Barr’s comments didn’t fully capture the context, nature, and substance of the office’s work and conclusions. So what he’s putting forth out there is that Barr again, took extra pains to make sure that he exonerated Donald Trump. As we saw in the initial press conference that Barr had right before the report was released to the public, he stated in no uncertain terms that the president was not guilty of criminal conspiracy, collusion, or obstruction. And again, the Mueller report was clear that they left obstruction up to Congress to make a decision about, that he wasn’t making any clear decision about that. And even on a criminal conspiracy charge, they decided not to go forth and charge, but they had a litany of evidence. To be honest, in any other case that wasn’t involving the president of the United States— if this was a street gang or a street organization of young kids, this would be enough evidence for the federal prosecutors, the attorney general’s office to secure an indictment, and to go forth with a trial. In fact, I would bet that in a similar case of that nature, they would have done just that.
MARC STEINER So let me ask this question when we hear another clip here and watch another clip. Deepen that analysis a bit for us. What do you think is at play here? What is the underlying battle going on in this particular investigation, in the Senate, with the Attorney General Barr?
KAMAU FRANKLIN I think right now what we have is a political game. I think that the attorney general is secure that since Congress has split, the Republicans control the Senate, that there is no way that President Trump will be— even if he’s indicted and that seems not to be what’s going to happen— that there’s no way he’s going to be “convicted” by the Senate of an indictment. Right now we can put this out there, we can characterize the Mueller report in a way that we like, but we feel confident that this is going to be a political game. It’s not going to go any further. There doesn’t seem to be the public outrage to necessitate the Democrats going forward on a conspiracy, bringing forth an impeachment charge in Congress. And so, I think they’re going to let this play out. It’s going to be a game of chicken and I think Barr is confident that this will be a he said, she said battle, and it will lead up to the election. As far as Republicans are concerned, this will get their base excited, and I think Democrats on their end are trying to do the same thing.
MARC STEINER Because you probably would agree that the idea of an impeachment is pretty remote?
KAMAU FRANKLIN Yeah. I think it’s a nonstarter. I don’t think that— you’ve heard Nancy Pelosi a few times say that she doesn’t recommend the House bring forth an impeachment. And again, even if they did, the Senate would stop it in its tracks because they would be basically the jury in that scenario. They would decide not to go forth and have him convicted of a crime of impeachment. I think right now it’s a political game. It’s something that folks are trying to rile their base up with. Again, I would emphasize that I do think there’s enough information here to have a crime charge against the president after he leaves office, but whether or not it impacted the election, I think is a totally different discussion. I doubt if it did, but I do think there is evidence here. I do think Barr was brought in specifically to make sure that this report, even if it saw the day of light, was characterized in a way that protected the president.
MARC STEINER So I want to play Senator Blumenthal of Connecticut here and his interaction with Attorney General Barr, going back to the report for a moment to get your perspective on this.
SENATOR RICHARD BLUMENTHAL Attorney General Barr, I wonder if you could tell us about the conversation between yourself and Bob Mueller, shortly after your summary was issued. And as best you can recall in the language that was used, who said what to whom?
ATTORNEY GENERAL WILLIAM BARR And I asked him if he felt that my letter was misleading or inaccurate. And he said no, that the press, he felt that the press coverage was—
SENATOR RICHARD BLUMENTHAL But there’s nothing in Robert Mueller’s letter to you about the press. His complaint to you is about your characterization of the report, correct?
ATTORNEY GENERAL WILLIAM BARR Well, the letter speaks for itself.
SENATOR RICHARD BLUMENTHAL It does. And in fact, in response to your question, why not just pick up the phone? This letter was an extraordinary act— a career prosecutor rebuking the attorney general of the United States, memorializing in writing, right? I know of no other instance of that happening.
MARC STEINER So this is an interesting interaction here. And then later on in the hearing, Senator Cruz from Texas actually defended Barr. And what he said in that clip was to say that here you did a good thing because you didn’t release this until later. So where do you see the reality here? What is the reality?
KAMAU FRANKLIN I think the reality is that both sides are dug-in, that both sides know that this report is basically mostly going to wrap up this interaction around whether or not President Trump colluded and/or had a criminal conspiracy with the Russians to put out information damaging to Hillary Clinton. So I think we’re now in a mode of political spin. For the Democrats, this is really more about how far they’re going to go after not only the president, but Attorney General Barr at this point. Barr now has refused to come to the House hearing, the judicial House hearing on this matter. And so now, the question is whether or not the Democrats will take this to court and have contempt charges filed against him. So these are now political machinations. This is totally up for grabs in terms of public opinion. There’s not going to be any charges filed. Again, even though there may have been— I definitely think there’s enough information here around criminal intent, particularly around obstruction and conspiracy, considering how Donald Trump Jr. had actual meetings. So again, I want to be clear that I don’t think this had an impact. But I think now we’re in this mode of it’s time to spin this to bring out the different political bases to see what’s next.
MARC STEINER Well I want to play another clip here for all of us. This is Mazie Hirono who is a senator from Hawaii, in a very intense moment with Barr, and then as we watch this together, I would really like to talk about as an attorney and as an activist, but as an attorney, what is in play here? Have people broken the law? What does this actually mean? Let’s listen to this.
SENATOR MAZIE HIRONO When we read the report, we knew Robert Mueller’s concerns were valid and that your version of events was false. You used every advantage of your office to create the impression that the president was cleared of misconduct. You selectively quoted fragments from the special counsel’s report, taking some of the most important statements out of context and ignoring the rest. You put the power and authority of the Office of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice behind a public relations effort to help Donald Trump protect himself. Finally, you lied to Congress. You told Representative Charlie Crist that you didn’t know what objections Mueller’s team might have to you March 24th so-called summary. You told Senator Chris Van Hollen that you didn’t know if Bob Mueller supported your conclusions, but you knew you lied. And now, we know.
MARC STEINER So we also have Nancy Pelosi later saying that he lied. So what does this mean? Talk to us as an attorney for a moment. As someone who understands these issues, is there potential that laws were broken? What would they be and what do they really mean?
KAMAU FRANKLIN Well remember that the attorney general is also open to being impeached by Congress. So if they believe that he not only lied to Congress, but he did so to protect the president, there are actions that the Congress can take.
MARC STEINER Congress or the Senate? Not the House, you mean the Senate, right? Or, do you mean the House?
KAMAU FRANKLIN Well the House and the Senate. The House can again impeach the attorney general of the United States. That would go back to the Senate for basically a jury trial and in essence and again, I think Barr is pretty confident that the Senate would not impeach him fully or not convict him of the impeachment. I think the other thing that the House has is that it can hold Barr in contempt of Congress. And I think that is something that would take more court action, and that you would have a long play-out in court. The other thing that Congress can do is that they can censure Barr. And so that’s something that they could do immediately. It would have much repercussions in terms of Barr being the attorney general, but it would be one of those instances of a black mark on his record and something that would be almost unprecedented in terms of having something like that happen to the attorney general. So I think those are some of the next steps that can happen in a case like this. I don’t think he’s in danger of being brought up on any particular charges in a criminal court about this, but I think in terms of the court of public opinion and what Congress can do, there are actions I think the Democrats are now considering based on whether or not Barr agrees to appear at the House hearings and based on whether or not Barr agrees to release the unredacted report that they’ve called for. So I think those things are still very much on the table for Congress to decide what their next steps are.
MARC STEINER So finally and very quickly here, we’re not living in the Watergate period. We’re in a very different climate, probably more tense than it was at the end of the Vietnam War and during Watergate on some levels. So I’m curious as an attorney and as an activist, merging those two things, where you think we are? What is the reality you think that we are facing, and people may be missing here?
KAMAU FRANKLIN Well I do think this is a further erosion of what’s left of American democracy. I think the vile nature and the protective nature of Attorney General Barr in doing everything within his power to protect President Trump sets this up for other presidents, other attorney generals, that this is all political. That this is the open and official Banana Republicization of the United States government. I think there’s always been a section obviously of the populous that’s understood that democracy in the United States was always watered down. But I think we’ve now reached a level where some things are more out in the open. Pretext has the house, let’s say. And we are now in an evolved political fight mode about what’s happening within the US institutions.
MARC STEINER As I like to say sometimes, we’re almost in an 1877 redux with a 21st century version and we have to be careful.
KAMAU FRANKLIN Yes.
MARC STEINER Kamau Franklin, it’s always good to talk to you. Thank you so much for joining us. I deeply appreciate your time.
KAMAU FRANKLIN Thank you for having me.
MARC STEINER And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thank you for your time. Take care.