During William Barr’s confirmation hearings this week to become U.S. Attorney-General, Senator Amy Klobuchar asked him questions that have become highly pertinent.
“The president persuading a person to commit perjury would be obstruction, is that right?"
"Well, yes. Well, any person who persuades another to – yeah,” replied Mr. Barr, the once and future Attorney-General, if he is confirmed.
“You also said that a president or any person convincing a witness to change testimony would be obstruction, is that right?"
Mr. Barr testified to that effect on Monday and Tuesday. Now his words face an immediate test: On Friday, Buzzfeed News reported that U.S. President Donald Trump personally ordered Michael Cohen, his former attorney and long-time confidant, to lie to Congress about his efforts to build a Trump Tower in Russia, rocking a Washington already in crisis over a partial government shutdown.
If the report holds up, it is arguably the most incriminating evidence against Mr. Trump to date. With its allegation of suborning perjury, it strongly advances an obstruction case which could very well trigger an impeachment process.
Rather than collusion, obstruction of justice – which was the first article of impeachment against Richard Nixon in 1974 – has become the big hook on which to bring down Mr. Trump. Collusion with Russia during an election presents a tougher legal challenge than an obstruction case.
Back in November, Mr. Cohen admitted that he misled Congress, saying that Mr. Trump’s bid to build a Trump tower in Moscow ended in January 2016, when in fact negotiations continued through June of that year. But in his guilty plea, Mr. Cohen didn’t say he had been specifically ordered by Mr. Trump to deceive lawmakers. In his election campaign, Mr. Trump said he had no business interests in Russia.
GOP lawmakers were strangely silent in response to the report, but Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani disputed it, calling Buzzfeed “the equivalent of those tabloids you buy at the grocery store on the way out that introduce you to Martians.” If you believe Mr. Cohen, he added, “I can get you a great deal on the Brooklyn Bridge.”
Then late Friday, a spokesman for the Mueller inquiry put out a statement denying the Buzzfeed report, at least in so far as references made into what information the Mueller inquiry possessed. The denial carried a lot of weight, allowing Mr. Trump to feel some vindication in his campaign against what he calls the Fake News media.
As could be expected, Democrats were bloodthirsty. Eric Holder, Barack Obama’s attorney-general, came out of the woodwork to say that Congress should start impeachment hearings if the story is accurate. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House intelligence committee, said the allegation that Mr. Trump “may have suborned perjury before our committee in an effort to curtail the investigation and cover up his business dealings with Russia is among the most serious to date.”
Mr. Trump has previously attacked Mr. Schiff. In a tweet last fall, the President replaced the two last letters in the congressman’s name with two letter T’s.
In his testimony, Mr. Barr left some doubts about whether the Mueller report might be made public. In a number of areas, the President could claim executive privilege. But lawmakers who have been pursuing the Russia story in committees can move on their own track on an obstruction case.
In addition to Ms. Klobuchar, Senate judiciary committee chairman Lindsey Graham also questioned Mr. Barr about false testimony this week and got the same answer she did. The senators’ line of questioning suggested they knew ahead of the Buzzfeed report how serious the obstruction case was becoming.
On Twitter, Mr. Trump mostly stuck to arguments for his wall, but cited what Fox News correspondent Kevin Corke had to say in regard to Mr. Cohen. “Don’t forget, Michael Cohen has already been convicted of perjury and fraud, and as recently as this week, the Wall Street Journal has suggested that he may have stolen tens of thousands of dollars.… Lying to reduce his jail time!”