Democracy 21 Calls on DOJ OPR to Ensure AG Barr’s Recusal from Active Mueller-Related Cases

In a letter sent today to the Justice Department Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR), Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer wrote that Attorney General William Barr “must recuse himself from any supervision of, or other involvement in, the 14 active Justice Department matters that stem from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.” A copy of the letter was also sent to the Department’s Inspector General.

“The basis for this recusal is Attorney General Barr’s demonstrated bias in his handling of the report issued by Special Counsel Mueller, and Barr’s public statements and congressional testimony, which have mischaracterized the Mueller report and misled the American people,” the letter stated.

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According to the letter:

The “primary mission” of the Office of Professional Responsibility is, among other things, to ensure “that DOJ attorneys perform their duties in accordance with the high professional standards expected of the nation’s principal law enforcement agency.” The “mission” of the Justice Department is “to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.”

Attorney General Barr’s actions regarding Special Counsel Mueller and his report have not complied with this core Justice Department mission and have not met the Department’s “high professional standards.”

“Attorney General Barr has repeatedly demonstrated his bias and favoritism towards President Trump without justification and at the expense of the Mueller investigation and report,” according to Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer.

“In our letter to OPR, we document numerous examples of Attorney General Barr’s actions that demonstrate Barr has irreparably undermined his public credibility and compromised public confidence in his ability to supervise in a fair and impartial manner the 14 pending Justice Department cases stemming from the Mueller investigation,” Wertheimer said.

Democracy 21 called on OPR to uphold the DOJ’s commitment to the “high professional standards expected of the nation’s principal law enforcement agency” by ensuring that Attorney General Barr recuses himself from pending matters stemming from the Mueller investigation.

The letter stated:

In a four page letter describing the Mueller report that he sent to Congress and released to the public on March 24, 2019, Attorney General Barr mischaracterized the report and then left that mischaracterization as the only information available to Congress and to the public for almost a month prior to releasing the Mueller report.

Barr’s March 24 letter allowed President Trump to claim, without contradiction, that the Special Counsel report exonerated Trump on collusion and obstruction of justice. In fact, the report did not do so: it did not deal with collusion at all, but only with the legal issues of conspiracy and coordination, and it explicitly stated that it did not exonerate President Trump on obstruction of justice.

Instead the report said Mueller had accepted the position of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) that a sitting President could not be indicted. The report said:

“Given the role of the Special Counsel as an attorney in the Department of Justice and the framework of the Special Counsel regulations, see 28 U.S.C. § 515; 28 C.F.R. § 600.7(a), this Office accepted OLC’s legal conclusion for the purpose of exercising prosecutorial jurisdiction.”

According to the letter:

The strength of the case compiled by Special Counsel Mueller against Trump on obstruction of justice is illustrated by a public statement signed by more than 600 former Justice Department prosecutors who worked in every Republican and Democratic presidential administration since President Eisenhower. The prosecutors state that the evidence shown in the Mueller report would “result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice” for “any other person not covered by the Office of Legal Counsel policy against indicting a sitting President.”  This has raised further serious public credibility problems for Attorney General Barr and his role in these matters.

Barr’s inaccurate description of the Mueller report on March 24 resulted in Mueller sending a letter to Barr three days later, on March 27, protesting Barr’s characterization of the report.

The letter continued:

Barr subsequently stated in public testimony to congressional committees on April 9 and April 10, 2019 that he did not know if Mueller and his office disagreed with the portrayal of the report contained in Barr’s March 24 letter.

However, given Mueller’s March 27, 2019 letter to him, Barr clearly did know at the time of his testimony that Mueller objected to his characterization of the report.

The letter further said:

On April 18, 2019, hours before the public release of the redacted report, Barr held a lengthy press conference in which he again mischaracterized the Mueller report. Once again the Attorney General presented the report to the media and the public in the light most favorable to President Trump at the expense of what the Mueller report actually said.

In the press conference, Barr repeated the President’s “no collusion” refrain a number of times in saying that the report found there was “no collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia.  However, Barr knew that the report explicitly said it was not addressing “collusion” and instead was dealing only with the legal issues of coordination and conspiracy.  By using Trump’s invented framing of the investigation as a question of “collusion,” Barr knowingly mischaracterized the analysis in the report and validated Trump’s repeated claims of “no collusion.”

According to the letter:

Finally, and perhaps most egregiously, Barr’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 1 was, as Benjamin Wittes, a respected observer of the Justice Department wrote, “a disinformation campaign being run by the senior leadership of the Justice Department” that is “utterly beneath the United States Department of Justice.”

In his testimony, Barr inaccurately portrayed the President as having “fully cooperated” with the Mueller investigation, when this is obviously not true.

President Trump refused to be interviewed by the Special Counsel and instead provided written responses to limited questions submitted by the Special Counsel under terms demanded by Trump that prohibited the Special Counsel from asking any questions about obstruction. This was anything but full cooperation.

Furthermore, the Mueller report lays out in detail the multiple acts of apparent obstruction of justice that Trump engaged in to frustrate or derail the investigation.

The letter continued:

Barr was not credible in his description of Trump’s instruction to former White House Counsel Donald McGahn to take steps to have Special Counsel Mueller removed on grounds of  conflict of interest. In Barr’s view, this was not an instruction to “fire” Mueller because removal for reasons of conflict would “presumably” lead to appointment of another Special Counsel while “firing” Mueller would not.

To the contrary, McGahn certainly believed Trump was directing him to fire Mueller, because he was ready to resign rather than carry out an instruction that he feared would be a second Saturday Night Massacre[.]

According to the letter:

Barr’s attempt to rationalize and defend what otherwise seems to be a plain effort at obstruction of justice has yet again created the public appearance that his fealty to Trump comes at the expense of his obligation to the Justice Department’s stated mission “to ensure fair and impartial administration of justice for all Americans.”

Collectively, these actions and statements by Attorney General Barr demonstrate a repeated willingness to use his role as Attorney General to amplify and defend unjustifiable positions of President Trump at the expense of the Mueller report.  This is an inappropriate role for the nation’s chief law enforcement official and fails to comply with his obligation, or the Department’s obligation, to administer “fair and impartial” justice.

The letter continued:

In light of Attorney General Barr’s actions and statements described above that collectively create the appearance by the Attorney General of bias and favoritism to President Trump, Attorney General Barr should be required to recuse himself from any continuing involvement in the 14 pending matters that stem from the Mueller investigation. The Attorney General also should be required to recuse himself from any other Department matters that arise from the Mueller investigation or the 2016 Trump presidential campaign.

The letter concluded:

The Attorney General’s demonstrated baseless favoritism towards President Trump has irreparably undermined Barr’s credibility and compromised public confidence in his ability to continue to supervise the 14 pending matters in a fair and impartial manner.

Democracy 21 strongly urges you to exercise your responsibility as the Director of the Office of Professional Responsibility to enforce the Department of Justice’s high standards of professional responsibility by taking prompt action to ensure that Attorney General Barr is recused from the 14 pending investigations that stem from the Special Counsel investigation.

Read the full letter here.