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The Constitutional Crisis Created by Bill Barr and the Congressional Russia Caucus

     During the Trump Presidency, the self-labelled House Freedom Caucus of Republican extremists transformed itself into what is effectively the Russia Caucus, focused almost entirely on shamefully supporting the Trump Administration’s blatant efforts to cover up Russian interference in the 2016 Election and its own related misconduct at all costs.  Their intensive efforts to undermine investigations and denigrate federal law enforcement clearly displayed their motivation and the depths to which they would sink to blindly protect this President even after his most atrocious moments of abject failure to the country and the American people.  History will hold them all accountable, but the country must first survive this ugly, disgraceful chapter of Republican assault on our Constitution and democracy.   

     Their new Senate Republican allies, now led by Judiciary Chair Lindsay Graham, are using their committee to do much the same.  They act against the interests of the American people, against the interests of our country, and in violation of the oaths they swore.  Many of these Republicans call themselves Constitutional Conservatives, but they hypocritically work against the fabric of the Constitution in blatantly undemocratic fashion.  They change or ignore long standing rules to force through judiciary and governmental nominees, entirely circumventing the normal, critical, necessary vetting that comprises the confirmation process.  Their tactics and rhetoric effectively prevent, or at least significantly reduce, the ability of the House and Senate committees to perform their duties.  This is a Constitutional crisis along with their ongoing campaign of deceit being waged against the American people.  Our government isn’t working.     

     Contrary to Republican myth, the Mueller Report did not in any way exonerate President Trump or his team.  First, the investigation confirmed the overwhelming, irrefutable evidence that Russia actively interfered in the election, did so to benefit Trump and hurt Clinton, and that the Trump campaign knew it was benefitting from Russia’s efforts.  The investigation concluded there was insufficient evidence to charge conspiracy with the Russians; however, it also condemned the Trump campaign for its conduct.  The report was replete with examples of impropriety involving Trump campaign contacts with Russian officials.  The investigation, in part constrained by DOJ policy, chose not to seek Trump’s indictment for obstruction of justice, but again condemned him for extensive personal misconduct.  The report included a dozen examples of ongoing Trump efforts to interfere with the investigation such as improperly influencing witnesses, public denigration, attempts to fire Mueller and shut down the investigation, etc.  Trump and his allies ignored the substantial evidence of wrongdoing, focused solely on the lack of indictment, and fallaciously declared total victory. 

     May 1, 2019, saw a new low in Trump’s ongoing degradation of our government institutions – the hallmark of our Democracy and Constitution – with the testimony of AG Bill Barr.  Barr further confirmed his role as yet another Trump sycophant, an extremely precarious role for the AG.  He has assumed the role of Trump’s main defender, forfeiting his role as the nation’s top law enforcement officer (a role that has always required independence).  Foregoing accusations of perjury or lying for the moment, it was clear based on this and prior testimony that Barr engaged in a scheme to conceal relevant information, resist answering fair questions, and to support the Trump cover-up.  Here are several examples (there are too many to list):

     * Barr was dishonest when he told Rep. Charlie Crist that he had no knowledge of any disagreement by Mueller or his team concerning Barr’s letter to Congress summarizing the Mueller Report.  Mueller had earlier sent a letter to Barr and the two had spoken by phone.    

     * Barr was dishonest when he told Sen. Chris van Hollen that he did not know what Mueller thought about Barr’s conclusions in his letter to Congress concerning obstruction.  Mueller had earlier sent a letter to Barr and the two had spoken by phone.

     * Barr mischaracterized Mueller’s concerns about Barr’s letter to Congress, stating Mueller was concerned about media coverage.  Mueller’s letter to Barr never addresses the media but does express concern about how Barr characterized Mueller’s Report.   

     * Barr tried to assert that the Trump campaign never provided election data to the Russians.  The Mueller Report includes a direct finding that Paul Manafort, on behalf of the campaign, provided Russia with election information, specifically concerning their efforts in the battle ground states. 

     * Barr repeatedly testified that the investigation cleared Trump, finding no evidence of collusion with Russia.  Mueller did not look at collusion (not a crime).  He investigated conspiracy and found insufficient evidence to indict, while still condemning the Trump campaign for improper conduct.  Trump was not cleared or exonerated in any way.

     * Barr continuously attempted to excuse, minimize, or even deny Trump’s actions that constituted obstruction of justice or other impropriety.  He was an advocate for Trump, not the DOJ or American people. 

     * Barr denigrated members of the DOJ and FBI, repeating Trump’s tired narrative, politicizing federal law enforcement, supporting efforts to harass Trump’s political opponents, and deflect public attention asway from the truth.  This is not how a leader serves his agency or the nation. 

     * Barr stated the President could properly end any investigation into his own misconduct if he thought it was unfair to him, in effect for any reason.  That is obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contrary to our rule of law system.

     * Barr attempted to conceal efforts by the White House to push him to investigate specific individuals (arguably misusing the DOJ against his political opponents).

     On May 2, 2019, Barr willfully violated his subpoena to testify before the House Judiciary Committee.  He claimed he opposed the plan to allow staffers (30 minutes total for each side) to ask questions after the members concluded their questions.  Members are limited to five minutes of questioning.  Barr, and other Trump Administration obstructionists, previously routinely filibustered the questions for most of the 5 minutes, providing a small, nonresponsive answer at the end and forcing the member to yield to the next.  Providing staff 30 minutes at the end was a proper attempt to facilitate substantive dialogue to get truth and information out to the American people.  Barr attempted to argue this was unusual, but in fact this has been done before on both the House and Senate when the committee deemed it necessary.  Barr was simply a coward, afraid to answer questions, especially knowing he has already been caught in dishonesty and deception to Congress.       

     Lindsay Graham said the Mueller Report matter was entirely closed and would not allow any further hearings, to include Mueller himself testifying.  In the absence of indictments, the mantle passed to Congress to act in response to Russian interference and Trump misconduct.  Graham ignored the fact there are still 14 open investigations that involve additional serious allegations.  Senator Graham and Russia Caucus – this matter is not over.  What IS over, however, is the Clinton email matter and the matter pertaining to improper text messages between FBI Agent Strzok and DOJ Attorney Lisa Page.  The FBI concluded investigations into both matters and the DOJ took action.  Nevertheless, Graham and the Russia Caucus continue to push for needless hearings to open new superfluous, baseless investigations into both matters.  This is a blatant attempt to attack Trump’s political opponents – a direct affront to freedom and democracy.  It is also a despicable effort to distract the American people from Trump Administration serious misconduct and threats to our democracy.  These are not leaders; they are vile operatives.

    The ongoing Russia Caucus efforts undermine the ability and effectiveness of the government to operate.  The American people should not tolerate leaders who stand with Trump, more beholden to Russia’s interests than our own national interests. The Constitution mandates that Congress has the duty, authority, and responsibility to both legislate and provide oversight of the administration as the key to checks and balances between equal branches of government.  Republican leaders eschew the Constitution now as something they deem inconvenient to their mission to support Trump misconduct at all cost.  They work to sow discord, generate mistrust in our government, and stagnate the government.  Our government is now increasingly unable to function despite myriad complex, critical issues facing the nation.  It has become more important than ever to vote Republicans out of office at all levels and restore normalcy to our government, enabling long overdue action to address key challenges at home and abroad.            

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