Here’s a radical idea: For the next two weeks, let’s give Attorney General William Barr the benefit of the doubt.
I understand why so many people are suspicious of Barr and are lining up to denounce him—and there may well come a day, and it might come soon, when I will get in line and join them.
Barr’s initial letter summarizing the top-line conclusions of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation allowed President Donald Trump to claim exoneration and vilify those who had called for the investigation, even as it managed not to answer any substantive questions about L’Affaire Russe. What’s more, the letter put the attorney general’s personal stamp on the exoneration of the president for obstruction of justice, an outcome that is apparently not what Mueller himself intended. It is not clear to me why Barr needed to do this, and it certainly had the effect of helping the president seize control of the narrative. So I understand why many people are suspicious.
Yet I am still inclined to give Barr the benefit of the doubt on the release of the Mueller report, if only in a kind of “trust but verify” sort of way. The reason, in short, is that Barr has promised numerous times to show his work. He has promised to do so in the short term. The equities he has insisted on protecting are, in my view, reasonable ones. And he has taken in his most recent letter an appropriate, even gutsy, stand on executive privilege with respect to the White House. He has, in short, described a reasonable process by which Congress and the public should shortly get access to Mueller’s findings. I am inclined to assume him serious about this until he fails to deliver on what he has promised. There will be plenty of time to criticize his failures if and when they materialize.