Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) asked Attorney General William Barr if President Donald Trump or anyone in the White House has ever suggested that he open an investigation into anyone. After fumbling over his words, Barr claimed that he wasn’t sure.
The answer to this question matters because Trump has already abused his power by pressuring his previous attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to open investigations into Hillary Clinton on imaginary charges. Trump has also made repeated public requests for the Department of Justice to open investigations into his political opponents for imaginary crimes, including for treason.
After a bit of hemming, hawing and silence, Barr chose to rest his dodge on the definition of the word “suggest.” He then claimed not to know if the president sought retaliatory investigations into his political opponents.
“Has the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation of anyone?” Harris asked.
“Um … uh … I wouldn’t … I wouldn’t … uh … ” Barr sputtered.
“Yes or no?” Harris requested.
Barr asked Harris to repeat the question, which she did.
“The president or anybody else … ” Barr trailed off.
“Seems you’d remember something like that and be able to tell us,” Harris said.
“Yeah, but I’m trying to grapple with the word suggest,” Barr replied. “There have been discussions of matters out there that they have not asked me to open an investigation―”
“Perhaps they’ve suggested?” Harris tried to help Barr.
“I don’t know. I wouldn’t say suggest ―”
“Hinted?” Harris asked.
“I don’t know,” Barr stammered.
“Inferred?” Harris tried another word.
“You don’t know,” Harris finally said.
There are few bigger abuses of power than the president of the United States using the power of the state to punish his political opponents with criminal investigations and prosecutions. This is not a criminal act under the law, but is rather one that has precedent as an impeachable offense.
One of the three articles of impeachment drafted for President Richard Nixon targeted him for ordering the IRS to launch tax audits and investigations into his political opponents and the FBI, Secret Service and other agencies to spy on his opponents.
Harris also asked if Barr or anyone in his office reviewed the actual evidence compiled by special counsel Robert Mueller before coming to his own legal determination that Trump did not obstruct justice.