Protecting the work of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, isn’t the Attorney General’s only job

Protecting the work of the special counsel, Robert Mueller, isn’t the Attorney General’s only job

Jeffrey Toobin writes:

When William Barr testified last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee as President Trump’s nominee for Attorney General, he gave the impression that he would be an aberrational figure in the Administration. Unlike many members of the President’s Cabinet, Barr is experienced, knowledgeable, and clearly qualified, in any formal sense, for the job, which he has held before, under President George H. W. Bush. In addition, he has a reputation for integrity and straight dealing. Most of the questions at his confirmation hearing concerned the work of Robert Mueller, the special counsel, whom Barr will supervise if he is confirmed. He made a convincing case that he would allow Mueller to complete his investigation of President Trump. He was less definitive about how much of Mueller’s report he would release, but he seemed receptive to the sentiment, expressed by Democrats and even by some Republicans, that the public has a right to know what Mueller has learned.

Based on the hearing, one might think that supervision of the special counsel is the Attorney General’s main responsibility. But that’s far from true, and it’s regarding the other work of the Justice Department, particularly its central mission of protecting the civil rights of all Americans, that the prospect of Barr’s service appears dismaying. By and large, he seemed prepared to sustain the work of his predecessors in the Administration: the belligerently right-wing Jeff Sessions and the comically unqualified Matthew Whitaker, the acting Attorney General.

Consider voting rights. In the past decade, Republicans have changed and applied electoral laws to make it harder for Democrats, especially people of color, to vote. The Supreme Court abetted these practices with its decision, in 2013, in the Shelby County case, which gutted the Voting Rights Act. The midterm elections brought home the consequences. In states around the country—especially Florida and Georgia, where African-Americans ran competitive statewide campaigns—voter suppression, in various forms, demeaned the process and may have affected the outcome.

And what has the Trump Justice Department done about these outrages? It’s encouraged them, in part by withdrawing legal challenges to discriminatory laws which were filed during the Obama Administration. (In Ohio, the department switched sides in a suit that had been brought to halt a purge of registered voters.) Last week, Barr said that he would enforce the Voting Rights Act, but he did not seem perturbed by the problem of voter suppression. He allowed that low voter turnout was likely the result of public disengagement, adding that “turnout shouldn’t be artificially driven up.” Actually, turnout by eligible citizens should be driven up, whether artificially or otherwise.

Indeed, the Trump Justice Department has had something of an obsession with making sure that minorities don’t count. [Continue reading…]

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