Category: Congress

Turley Testifies In House Judiciary Committee On Trump Executive Privilege Assertions

I will be testifying this before the House Judiciary Committee on President Donald Trump’s assertion of executive privilege and congressional oversight. The Hearing will be held 10 a.m. on Wednesday, May 15th, in Room 2141 in the Rayburn House Office Building. My testimony is linked available below.

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Turley To Testify Before House Judiciary Committee On Executive Privilege

I will be testifying tomorrow before the House Judiciary Committee on President Donald Trump’s assertion of executive privilege and congressional oversight. The Hearing will be held 10 a.m. on Wednesday, May 15th, in Room 2141 in the Rayburn House Office Building.

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Graham Encourages Trump Jr. To Defy Senate Subpoena

There was a curious moment this weekend when Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, publicly advised Donald Trump Jr. that he should ignore the subpoena issued to him by the Senate Intelligence Committee. It is virtually unprecedented for the chairman of one Senate Committee to encourage a witness to defy another chairman of a Senate Committee. It is even more bizarre when the first chairman heads the Judiciary Committee.

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Constitutional Or Conceptual Crisis? The Atonal Strategy of the House Investigations

Below is my column in The Hill Newspaper on the increasingly disconnected elements in the investigations by the House of Representatives. The question is whether there is a true strategy behind these moves other than an investigation for investigation’s sake.

Here is the column:

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A Question Of Contempt: Why The Barr Vote Could Prove Costly For Congress

Below is my column in The Hill newspaper on the vote of the House Judiciary Committee to hold Attorney General Bill Barr in contempt of Congress. There are a number of conflicts with the Administration that present favorable grounds for Congress in a court challenge. This action is the least compelling and could ultimately undermine congressional authority with an adverse ruling.

I am honestly confused by some of the criticism including the recent column by Andrew Napolitano in where he states “Barr knows the DOJ is not in the business of exonerating the people it investigates. Yet he proclaimed in his letter that Trump had been exonerated.” I like and respect Napolitano a great deal but that is not what the letter said. What the letter said was “The Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. As the report states: ‘[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.’” That is true. Indeed, it was odd that Napolitano would focus on the collusion/coordination issue when many people have accepted that the conclusion of no criminal conduct was clear from the report. At no point does Barr say that Trump was exonerated. Indeed, he included the most damaging line from the report on obstruction in saying that Mueller expressly did not exonerate him on that question. Barr was addressing the conclusions on criminal conduct and I still do not see where, as stated by my friend Andrew, where Barr in the letter was “foolish,” “deceptive,” “disingenuous,” or “dumb and insulting.” Those are powerful accusations against any lawyer and should be tethered to a clear example in the letter of a false or deceptive statement.

The Napolitano letter also ignores Barr’s statement that the report would have been released relatively quickly (removing the need for the summary) if Mueller complied with his request and that of Rod Rosenstein to identify grand jury material. It remains inexplicable that Mueller allegedly ignored those reasonable requests from his two superiors. As a result, Mueller’s people had to go back through the report to identify the Rule 6(e) material, a previously requested.

Update: The Democrats are now arguing that they are not demanding the redacted Grand Jury information despite weeks of calling for the full and unredacted report — and a subpoena that demands the entire unredacted report. They now insist that they want Barr to ask the Court to release the small percentage of Grand Jury information. That is not likely in light of the long record at the Justice Department.

Here is the column:

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Pelosi: Trump Wants Us To Impeach Him

Before the midterm elections, I wrote about the dubious pitch to voters that, if given back the House, the Democrats could impeach President Donald Trump. The fact is that the Democratic leadership was never willing to impeach Trump and, once the House flipped, proceeded to place as many delays and barriers in the path of impeachment as possible. The challenge is to appear like you want to impeach without actually moving to impeach. The result is a strategy of planned obsolescence — to run out the clock on impeachment while convincing voters that they are actually eager to impeach. The problem is that voters still believe the rhetoric and are getting ticked off by the failure to start impeachment inquiries when the leadership insists that Trump has committed impeachable offenses. Indeed, I have written that if these politicians are speaking truthfully about their belief that impeachable offenses have occurred, they have a duty to impeach and not shrug off their responsibility by blaming the expected result in the other house. This week Pelosi took a different spin: we cannot impeach Trump because that is what he wants.

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Cohen Goes To Prison After Prosecutors Refuse To Meet With Him

I was hiking on my birthday when Michael Cohen finally went to prison. By the time that he made the walk, few of Michael Cohen’s former clients or associates are likely returning his calls these days. After revealing that he taped clients without their consent and confessing to various felonies, Cohen is radioactive. However, one group of people joining the “lose my number” list is apparently chilling for Cohen: the federal prosecutors. Cohen’s counsel Lanny Davis has confirmed that Cohen has repeatedly tried to arrange meetings to share new information with prosecutors in the hopes of delaying his prison stint beginning tomorrow or securing a reduction in his sentence. They have refused. For a man who has made his career on being willing to do anything for powerful figures, Cohen is in the one place that he most feared: he is alone and out of options. In his final statement as a free man, Cohen again dangled the prospect of his sharing more information — a repeated suggestion that must truly irritate prosecutors and congressional investigators who have been repeatedly told by Cohen that he has shared everything that he knows.

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More Scream Than Substance: Why the Senate Missed The Point Of Barr’s Testimony

Below is my column in The Hill newspaper on Barr hearing and its aftermath. The Democrats continue to focus on Barr rather than the report. Congress now has 98 percent of the original report available to it. Only two percent was redacted from the sealed copy in conformity with federal law barring the release of grand jury material. Less than ten percent of the report is redacted in the public version and only a small percentage in the key obstruction section is redacted. However, the leadership prefers to fight over the remaining two percent and the Barr letter than to commence actual impeachment proceedings against Trump. I wrote back in 2017 that the Democratic leadership has long been opposed to any actual impeachment of Trump. There are obvious reason why the Democratic leaders are opposed to removing Trump. That position has held firm as leaders struggle to assure voters that they want to impeach without actually impeaching. The result is a mutual effort by Congress and White House to run out the clock. The result is political theater at its worst.

Here is the column:

High profile hearings in Congress often look like a casting call for B-Grade actors reading a low budget slasher film script. The key is that look of shock and disgust regardless of what the witness answers. The standout performer is Senator Cory Booker, who has mastered that “I Know What You Did Last Summer” look, even when asking the most mundane or mixed questions. He knows that, in this genre, the script is less important than the optics.

Indeed, the hearing with Attorney General William Barr this week seemed, at times, to involve two scripts for two different movies, with Barr reading from the 2000s “Drag Me To Hell” while Senate Democrats read from the 1970s “I Spit On Your Grave.” Senator Mazie Hirono did not even stop to listen for his responses before denouncing his failure to answer questions.

Some new information was shared, such as the fact that special counsel Robert Mueller slowed the release of his report by ignoring requests from Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to identify grand jury information in advance. There was also Barr stating he and Rosenstein asked Mueller to reach a conclusion on all crimes. Barr effectively shifted the burden over to Mueller on such questions. Claims by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that Barr lied under oath are simply unfounded and unfair.

Yet, Barr stumbled to answer when Senator Kamala Harris asked, “Has the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested you open an investigation of anyone?” Barr got caught up with the meaning of “suggest” then categorically denied that anyone had asked he open any investigation but said, “I’m trying to grapple with the word ‘suggest.’ I mean, there have been discussions of matters out there.” Just like the seasoned former prosecutor she is, Harris pounced on his answer and suggested that someone might have “hinted” or “inferred.”

This is why both compound and vague questions are generally barred in actual cross examination. Barr looked evasive and uncomfortable, even though he explained that his concern was that conversations clearly did cover possible investigations but he was never asked to open one. The distinction makes for bad television but is a legally important point here.

President Trump has repeatedly crossed the traditional line of separation between the White House and the FBI, with his probing of officials like former FBI Director James Comey on the status or direction of the Russia investigation. While I have been critical of Comey, he was absolutely right in his objections to the inquiries from Trump. Past presidents generally avoided meeting alone with FBI directors, much less recklessly pressing them on investigations that touched on political or personal interests.

A demand from the White House for an investigation can raise serious questions of political influence over prosecutorial decisions. However, the line can be blurry. Presidents often call for investigations on issues of national importance. After a police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, for example, President Obama held a press conference in which he was heralded for announcing that he had ordered the Justice Department and the FBI to both “independently investigate the death of Michael Brown.”

The Justice Department is part of the executive branch, and there is often discussion of the priorities and controversies involved in its investigations. For that very reason, Democrats were not aghast when former Attorney General Eric Holder publicly proclaimed he was a “wingman” for Obama. Likewise, Democrats applauded Obama when he ordered the Justice Department not to prosecute certain immigration cases. The line that cannot be crossed is the direction or influence of such an investigation.

Anyone can ask the Justice Department to look into allegations of criminal conduct. The Justice Department then makes an independent decision on whether to investigate. This includes members of Congress, who often call upon the Justice Department to investigate individuals despite their interests. Indeed, Harris has repeatedly done so, including calling for the Justice Department inspector general to investigate Barr. There is nothing improper in such a request, even if it has more political than legal merit.

Take the latest request from Senate Democrats for an investigation into Barr and Rosenstein reaching a conclusion on the obstruction evidence after Mueller had refused to do so. They wrote in a letter to the Justice Department inspector general, “It is unclear what statute, regulation, or policy led the attorney general to interject his own conclusion” that the conduct of the president did not amount to obstruction of justice here.

It is a bizarre question since the United States Code says, “All functions of other officers of the Department of Justice and all functions of agencies and employees of the Department of Justice are vested in the attorney general,” with a couple narrow exceptions dealing with administrative judges and prisons. The Justice Department makes the prosecutorial decisions, and the ultimate decision maker here is the attorney general.

What makes the request even more curious is the omission of the more obvious question. Why did Mueller not reach a decision? As I wrote on the day that Barr released his summary of the Mueller report to Congress, it is perfectly incomprehensible that Mueller did not reach a conclusion. After reading his report, his reasons for refusing are even more inscrutable.

The special counsel is mandated to “provide the attorney general with a confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions reached by the special counsel.” While the report references the Justice Department policy not to indict a sitting president, nothing suggests that a special counsel cannot reach a conclusion on the evidence of criminal conduct by a president. If there was any doubt on Justice Department policy, it should have been clarified when Barr and Rosenstein, who oversee Mueller, pressed him to reach a conclusion. Barr still cannot explain the rationale for a special counsel not reaching a conclusion.

He is not alone. Democrats have also called for an investigation of what they view as a “lack of impartiality” under the attorney general. Harris expressed surprise that Barr did not personally review the underlying evidence, consisting of millions of documents and records, collected by Mueller before reaching his conclusion on obstruction. What she ignored is that such an independent review would have negated the work by Mueller. As Barr correctly stated, “We accepted the statements in the report as factual record. We did not go underneath it to see whether or not they were accurate.” Democrats presumably would want him to do that instead of substitute his own facts for those of the special counsel.

Harris was not wrong in pressing Barr on any White House pressure to open investigations. However, there is nothing improper with the White House raising priorities and controversies with the attorney general. What raises serious ethical concerns is when those cases directly impact a president or his campaign. An attorney general should push back on anything he or she views as efforts to influence prosecutorial decisions.

Of course, every good slasher film has a sequel, and there are several in the works in this case with the calls for Mueller, Rosenstein, and former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify. Congress has every right to call on these officials, and the suggestion from Trump that he will block McGahn would be entirely unjustified. But if Congress truly wants answers and not just optics, it might try keeping the jump scares to a minimum.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can follow him on Twitter @JonathanTurley.

Trump Opposes Mueller Testimony As Declaring That McGahn Will No Testify

President Donald Trump has continued to oppose the testimony of key witnesses like former White House Counsel Don McGahn. He has now added his opposition to the testimony of Robert Mueller himself. It is a position that signals a certain defensive, if not fearful, posture with regard to the report. Congress clearly has a legitimate interest in hearing from these witnesses and will prevail in forcing their appearance. More importantly, it is not in the public’s interest for the White House to seek to silence such witnesses with lingering questions over the allegations against the President. I have long expressed my skepticism over the chances of a collusion or obstruction charge against Trump. However, Congress should move quickly to challenge any such block on key witnesses.

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Barr Testimony: Mueller May Have Some ‘Splainin’ To Do

One of the big takeaways from the first day of the testimony of Bill Barr concerns a number of failures that may be attributed to Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The most significant failure concerns his decision not to reach a conclusion on obstruction, as I discussed in today’s column. With an hour of the release of the Report, I criticized Mueller for his decision not to reach a conclusion which has no basis in law or policy. The only question was whether Mueller had been told not to reach such a conclusion. Barr answered that questions today in no uncertain terms. Not only could Mueller reach a conclusion, both Barr and Rosenstein pressed him to do so. Mueller’s decision remains both unsupported and incomprehensible. And that is not all that Mueller will have to explain.

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The Black Jersey: How Trump And Congress Are Competing For Last Place

Below is my column in The Hill newspaper on a curious aspect to all of the posturing taking place in Washington. Putting aside the bluster on both sides, there is strange alliance coalescing between the Democratic Leadership and the White House in running out the clock for impeachment. The only essential element is that they do not look like they are playing for time. Both sides derive political benefit from stirring up their bases with impeachment talk but neither side actually wants to see an impeachment. The rest is classic D.C. kabuki.

Here is the column:

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Holder: Barr Needs To Learn That He Is “The People’s Lawyer, Not The President’s Lawyer”

Attorney General William Barr has faced considerable criticism over his press conference before the release of the Special Counsel report. Many have objected that his account seemed designed as a prebuttal to the report to support Trump. While I disagree with the extent of the criticism, I can see why there are such objections. Yet, the one person who one would not expect to hear from would be former Attorney General Eric Holder who was viewed as a highly political and intensely loyal member of the President Barack Obama’s cabinet. That reputation was highlighted when Holder proclaimed that he was “I’m still the president’s wingman.” Yet, Holder went public this week to remind Barr that he is “the people’s lawyer, not the president’s lawyer.”

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Democratic Leadership: Trump Should Be Impeached But . . .

Rep. Adam Schiff, the head of the House Intelligence Committee, maintained the curious line of the Democratic leadership this weekend in declaring Trump’s conduct as more serious than Nixon but trying to dampen demands for impeachment. I have written for the last year that the calls for impeachment leading to the midterm elections as a transparent bait-and-switch in the making. As made clear by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, impeachment is not on their “agenda.” Indeed, it is doubtful that the leadership ever wanted to impeach Trump. However, they must look like they want to impeach so Schiff and others are just blaming the expected opposition by Republicans as relieving them of the need to impeach. It doesn’t. While I think this would be a difficult impeachment case given the mixed and incomplete findings of Robert Mueller, that has nothing to do with Schiff and others fulfilling their oaths if they believe impeachable conduct has occurred. Nixon was certain to be impeached when he resigned and Schiff is saying that Trump’s conduct is “far worse.”

The line was apparent last night when Speaker Nancy Pelosi fought back members demanding impeachment proceedings and insisted that they would just continue to investigate out of fear of possible political backlash.

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Mueller’s Mess On Intent Leaves Democrats In A Muddle On Impeachment

Below is my column in The Hill newspaper on a missing element in the Mueller report not just for obstruction but impeachment: intent. As I discuss, I am still baffled by the logic of Mueller in not reaching a conclusion on obstruction. It simply makes no sense given his actions on collusion and the ultimate rendering of a decision by Main Justice on obstruction. While the Justice Department (wrongly) maintains that a sitting president cannot be indicted, there is no bar on finding probable cause to believe that a president has committed a crime.

Here is the column:

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Turley To Speak On Trump Border Emergency Order At National Constitution Center

On Monday, I will be traveling to Philadelphia to debate National Review editor Rich Lowry on President Donald Trump’s emergency declaration to build the wall on the Southern border. I have previously testified and written on the subject. Jeffrey Rosen, president and CEO of the National Constitution Center, will moderate the debate to be held 6:30 – 7:30 p.m at the National Constitution Center.

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