Misleading Congress Appears to Be a Tactic of Barr

This tidbit was reported in an October 13, 1989 Los Angeles Times. In a June 21 (1989) legal opinion requested by Atty. Gen. Dick Thornburgh, Assistant Atty. Gen. William P. Barr reversed a ruling dating back to the Carter Administration denying the FBI authority to take unilateral action overseas in what was then referred to as the President’s snatch authority. The earlier Carter ruling had also warned federal agents could face kidnaping charges abroad if they used such tactics.

The ruling was made with regard to bringing Panama’s Noriega to trial for drug- trafficking. Assistant Atty. Gen. William P. Barr refused to discuss the broad new grant of power, the legal grounds used to justify it, or even to acknowledge its existence even though the earlier ruling in 1980 was made public.

When Congress asked to see the full legal opinion; Barr refused and said he would provide an account that “summarizes the principal conclusions.”

Yale law school professor Harold Koh wrote that Barr’s position was “particularly egregious.”

Congress had no appetite for Barr’s stance and issued a subpoena to acquire the full OLC opinion out of the Justice Department.

Koh posits:

“Barr’s continuing refusal to release the 1989 opinion left outsiders with no way to tell whether it rested on factual assumptions that did not apply to the earlier situation, which part of the earlier opinion had not been overruled, or whether the overruling opinion contained nuances, subtleties, or exceptions that Barr’s summary in testimony simply omitted.”

In 1991, Congress obtained a copy of Barr’s 1989 opinion which was later published by the Clinton Administration. What Barr did not disclose and which can be reviewed in Just Security’s Ryan Goodman’s “Barr’s Playbook: He Misled Congress When Omitting Parts of Justice Dep’t Memo in 1989” was:

• The 1989 opinion asserted that the President could violate the United Nations Charter because such actions are “fundamentally political questions.”
• The Presumption of acts of Congress comply with international law.
• A failure to report to Congress the opinion discussed international law on abduction in foreign countries.

While not the principal conclusions of the opinion and whether wrong or right, Barr “represented to Congress in his written and oral testimony that the OLC opinion did not address these legal issues, even though it did.”