Attorney General William Barr Has A History Of Misleading The Public About Legal Documents

U.S. Attorney General William Barr testifies about the Justice Department's FY2020 budget request.
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A new report by Law & Crime suggests that 30 years ago, while assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel, Trump’s appointed Attorney General William Barr misled the public about contents of a legal memo. The revelation comes amidst accusations that Barr is not forthcoming about the conclusions of Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 United States election.

Although U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has defended Barr and claims that he is being as forthcoming as he can, NYU law professor Ryan Goodman suggests in Just Security that Barr and his surrogates have previously said the same thing while keeping the real information hidden from public view.

As Law & Crime reports, Barr testified before Congress in 1989 about his Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) memo and refused to give his full opinion, citing long-standing department policy.

“Since its inception, the Office of Legal Counsel’s opinions have been treated as confidential.”

After Barr was pressed on this claim, he responded with another different statement.

“It has been the long established policy of OLC that except in very exceptional circumstances, the opinions must remain confidential.”

Barr eventually released a 13-page summary on the conclusions of a “matter of domestic law the President has the authority to authorize actions by the FBI in foreign countries in violation of customary international law.” But it was eventually revealed that his memo was a reconsideration of a 1980 opinion that the FBI “has no authority under 28 U.S.C. § 533(1) to apprehend and abduct a fugitive residing in a foreign state when those actions would be contrary to customary international law.”

James Baker, secretary of state at the time, publicly backed Barr’s opinion, claiming that it was a “very narrow legal opinion based on consideration only of domestic United States law.”

Eventually, the OLC opinion was made public, and it revealed that Barr’s summary did not fully disclose the main conclusions of the opinion. In particular, it omitted some of the most incendiary and consequential findings of the opinion and instead focused on legal citations, quotations from court cases, and language from the piece. Of course, Barr had long since left office when the full OLC opinion was finally released.

Goodman wrote that Barr’s testimony misled the public and did not inform Congress that the OLC piece discussed international law. He added that Barr’s summary was a legal analysis of the FBI’s authority and that he avoided revealing the real conclusions of the piece.