Lib law prof methodically demolishes Congress’ contempt case: ‘Could do great harm, but not to Barr’

(File photo: screenshot)

Jonathan Turley unloaded a scathing rebuttal of House Democrats and their “weakest possible contempt claim” against Attorney General William Barr.

The law professor and CBS News legal consultant warned House Democrats that moving ahead with their efforts could cause lasting damage to themselves and not their target, the Trump administration, as he analyzed the contempt complaint in a piece published by The Hill.

(File Photo: screenshot)

Turley argued that “the contempt action against Barr is long on action and short on contempt,” referring to the House Judiciary Committee vote under chairman Jerrold Nadler to hold the attorney general in contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena to appear and to hand over a small, unredacted portion of Robert Mueller’s report.

“As someone who has represented the House of Representatives, my concern is that this one violates a legal version of the Hippocratic oath to ‘first do no harm.’ This could do great harm, not to Barr, but to the House,” the left-leaning law professor wrote. “It is the weakest possible case to bring against the administration, and likely to be an example of a bad case making bad law for the House.”

Turley proceeded to dismantle the Democrats’ case point by point, noting that although Nadler has targeted Barr for false statements, the unredacted report and failing to appear before the committee, it is the report that has drawn the most focus in the contempt claim.

“That leaves us with the only ground cited by the Democrats for contempt, which is Barr refusing to release the unredacted report,” Turley wrote. “The report inevitably would contain some grand jury material, which under the law is information that cannot be publicly released without a court order. It is a crime to unveil such information.”

He noted that Barr “promised to release as much of the report as possible, and he has delivered.”

Turley added:

Indeed, he is not expressly given the authority to release the confidential report. Yet, he not only released it but declared executive privilege waived on its content. The key obstruction portion of the report is virtually unredacted. Just 8 percent of the public report was redacted, largely to remove material that could undermine ongoing investigations. The sealed version of the report given to Congress only had 2 percent redacted. Democrats are therefore seeking a contempt sanction on a report that is 98 percent disclosed and only lacks grand jury material.

 

Barr is seeking to protect evidence impacting ongoing prosecutions, the George Washington University law professor noted, and though he has offered to allow other lawmakers and staff to see the portions, he still “insists on it remaining protected.”

“But this has nothing to do with the redactions. It is the 2 percent solution to a major political dilemma of the left,” Turley wrote, exposing the goal of Democrats who have refused to view the documents Barr is making available.

“Faced with a report that rejected the collusion theories of their running narrative, Democrats want to focus on those 2 percent of redactions rather than over 400 pages of findings,” he explained. “So Congress now will ask a court to find civil contempt for Barr refusing to release grand jury information.”

Turley noted that a federal court recently stood by the precedent that public interest is not enough reason to release secret grand jury records. And with President Trump invoking executive privilege over the entire report, it is clear that the contempt claim will be “even less likely to prevail over the long run.”

“Democrats are launching the weakest possible contempt claim against the administration in a civil action with a long track through the courts,” Turley concluded. “In the end, there is utter contempt in this action, but not in the case of Barr.”

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Frieda Powers

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