By Jon Dougherty
Government and constitutional expert Prof. Jonathan Turley has made no bones in the past about being a supporter of Democratic politicians and policies, but he’s also been forthright about what comes first, to him: The Constitution, American institutions, and the country.
During the Obama administration, for instance, he became so alarmed at the administration’s flagrant and routine violations of the law and the Constitution he wondered aloud during congressional testimony if the Legislative Branch would even survive 44’s presidency:
He followed that testimony with a presentation that hit even harder in terms of just how abusive Barack Obama was of our constitutional system:
So the point is, Turley — an avowed liberal — has credibility because he can also tell it like it is when it comes to improper uses of power by any branch of government.
And he’s concerned, again, about Democrat overreach.
In a column this week, he lambasted House Democrats over their flimsy claims that Attorney General William Barr somehow deserves to be held in contempt of Congress for doing his job — not releasing a very small, redacted portion of the Mueller report because it contains secret grand jury testimony that, by law, must be protected.
Turley writes that this is “the weakest possible contempt claim,” warning that pursuing it will damage the House, not the administration.
Here is the crux of his argument regarding the redactions-based contempt complaint:
The problem is that the contempt action against Barr is long on action and short on contempt. Indeed, with a superficial charge, the House could seriously undermine its credibility in the ongoing conflicts with the White House…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.
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…Barr promised to release as much of the report as possible, and he has delivered. 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 restricted access to the 98 percent disclosed report, as opposed to the 92 percent public report, due to the inclusion of evidence impacting ongoing prosecutions. He has offered to expand the number of members and staff to review that material but 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. 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. So Congress now will ask a court to find civil contempt for Barr refusing to release grand jury information.
The District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals recently rejected a district court claim to have the “inherent supervisory authority” to disclose grand jury matters because of great public interest. To make matters worse, the Justice Department has now said the president has invoked executive privilege over the entire report, making this contempt claim even less likely to prevail over the long run.
Turley went onto note his own congressional testimony regarding AG Barr’s confirmation process that when Democrats asked the nominee to preemptively pledge to ‘release the entire Mueller report,’ they were in effect asking him to break the law because it likely contained grand jury testimony.
“As a witness, I testified that they were asking Barr to commit to a potential criminal act to secure his own confirmation. 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,” Turley wrote in a separate column for The Hill.
"As of this writing, not one of the six Democrats granted access to what amounts to 99.9 percent of volume II of the Mueller report, which details the president’s behavior as it relates to obstruction of justice, have taken the opportunity to examine it." https://t.co/2vqDL65uJT pic.twitter.com/OUettoDvSE
— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) May 9, 2019
In a town full of partisan hacks, it’s refreshing to see a D.C. expert offer an analysis based on factual data and constitutionality. Turley has demonstrated time and again that he, like Barr, is more interested in protecting our form of government and ensuring it survives than scoring virtual-signaling political points with the party he votes for.
- Follow Jon Dougherty on Twitter at @JonDougherty10