Justin Amash: Let's face it, Bill Barr misrepresented Mueller's findings

He’s right, although all complaints about Barr’s summary ultimately have to reckon with the fact that (a) he released nearly the entire Mueller report within three weeks of its submission, (b) the baseline finding, that there wasn’t probable cause to believe Trump conspired with Russia, tore the heart out of Russiagate suspicions, and therefore (c) it’s hard to believe that Barr’s characterization of Mueller’s findings mattered much to public opinion. Nothing seems to matter much to public opinion when it comes to Trump, after all.

Although I think I know what Amash would say to all of that: Who cares? If the Attorney General is misrepresenting the findings of one of his own prosecutors to help the president politically, however marginally, that’s grossly improper whether or not it’s politically significant. If you believe in good government and the integrity of the Justice Department then you care about what Barr did. Ethical standards aren’t contingent upon whether they might affect the president’s job approval. If they were, any misdeed could be justified on grounds that it’s unlikely to affect Trump’s polling. Amash is worried that unanimous Republican silence about Barr’s behavior will normalize that behavior by letting people assume that objections to it can only be motivated by partisan axe-grinding, so he’s speaking up to signal to the contrary.

You can read his entire Twitter thread here by clicking here and scrolling down. It’s too long to reproduce in full but boils down to a few points. One: Barr made it sound like Mueller was iffy about the evidence against Trump on obstruction when in reality it was constitutional and prudential concerns that kept him from indicting, not the strength of the evidence. Two: Barr made it sound like the collusion case was a big fat baseless zero when in truth there were various “concerning” contacts between the campaign and the Russians, albeit not anything that reached the level of probable cause. Three: Barr played dumb before Congress when he was asked if anyone on Mueller’s team had concerns about his summary, as Mueller himself had sent Barr a letter a few days after the summary was published saying exactly that. Four:

Why he published all of that today, I don’t know. Probably he was anticipating questions that will be raised at the town hall he’s holding with his constituents tonight in Michigan. (It hasn’t happened yet as I write this mid-afternoon but will likely be over by the time this post is published.) But partly, I’d guess, he did it to defy Trump and his pals in the House Freedom Caucus, which took the extraordinary step of formally condemning him last week after he accused Trump of obstruction in a different Twitter thread. I hope they kick him out of the caucus over this latest one, not because I want to see him punished but because the Freedom Caucus has waaaaaay outlived its usefulness as a voting bloc for, ahem, “small government.” They have no power now as a minority of the minority in the House and achieved little when they were a minority of the majority under Paul Ryan. Like most of the party, their political identity has shifted from pretending to worry about growing federal power to serving the president in whatever capacity he requires. Kicking out their last principled member would be appropriate. And if they decline to do it, Amash should quit.

Speaking of serving the president, Senate Republicans are making it clear to Pelosi that any impeachment will be defeated, and defeated quickly, in the upper chamber:

“I think it would be disposed of very quickly,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

“If it’s based on the Mueller report, or anything like that, it would be quickly disposed of,” he added.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), an adviser to McConnell’s leadership team, said “nothing” would come of impeachment articles passed by the House.

Given the Senate GOP firewall, Cornyn, who’s also a member of the Judiciary Committee, said he doubts that Democrats will commence the impeachment process.

Not only would the Senate obviously not vote to remove Trump (67 votes are needed, remember) but matters of evidence are determined by a majority vote. If the GOP voted on a party line, they could exclude any testimony they wanted to. In theory, I suppose, McConnell could allow the Mueller report into evidence, call an immediate vote on removal, and be done with the whole matter in the span of a day or less. (John Roberts would be sworn in to preside over the “trial,” for decorum’s sake.) Pelosi doesn’t want to risk inflaming Republicans by going to the trouble of impeaching when the outcome is a completely foregone conclusion, but I keep thinking that a dismissive quickie trial by the Senate GOP might mitigate the political risk to Democrats or even inflame the Democratic base and boost their own turnout. If, given the certainty of the outcome in the Senate, impeachment in this case amounts to nothing more than a symbolic gesture by House Dems, how much would it really hurt them to do it? Pelosi could point to McConnell’s utter contempt for the process afterward and say that the only way to get the Senate to take Trump’s misconduct seriously is to flip it to blue, never mind that even a Schumer-controlled Senate won’t be anywhere near 67 votes for removal.

As for Amash, everyone’s expecting a Trump-backed primary challenge in his district. I’m not so sure. Amash comes from the crucial swing state of Michigan, remember. He’s a principled libertarian, arguably the most well-known in the country at this point outside the Paul family, and would be a serious contender for the Libertarian Party presidential nomination if he sought it. He’s also raised his national profile over the last 10 days by becoming the only Republican in Congress to accuse Trump, and now Barr, of misconduct. If Trump decides to try to take away Amash’s House seat, Amash might decide to jump into the presidential election and compete for the 15 percent or so of Republican voters who remain Trump-skeptical. If he pulled even half that number from Trump in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, it might be enough to end Trump’s presidency. POTUS might prefer a “don’t primary me and I won’t primary you” approach to Amash.

Update: Ah, here’s a taste from the town hall. He seems to have been well received.