The news that a federal judge has issued a scathing denunciation of William P. Barr’s dishonest shilling for President Trump should prompt House Democrats to get much more aggressive in their oversight of the attorney general. This is becoming urgent, yet Democrats have been oddly reluctant to pursue it.

While some Democrats will see such stepped-up oversight as a politically unpalatable relitigation of the past — a species of sore-loserism — this would ideally be all about what’s coming. It’s needed so we can be prepared for the unforeseeable ways that Barr might assist Trump with reelection.

The new rebuke of Barr, courtesy of federal district judge Reggie Walton, bluntly suggests that Barr misled the U.S. public for the express purpose of aiding Trump politically. The judge accuses Barr of a “lack of candor” in his representations of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report, citing Barr’s highly dishonest summary that appeared designed to pre-spin its findings to protect Trump politically.

“This validated what we’ve been saying from the beginning — that Barr deliberately distorted the contents of the Mueller report to pull the wool over America’s eyes,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, told me.

Walton’s criticism came in a lawsuit, brought by a watchdog group and BuzzFeed News, which seeks release of the full, unredacted Mueller report under the Freedom of Information Act. Amazingly, the unredacted report has still not been released, nearly a year after the redacted version was made available.

In his opinion, Walton indicates that he will now review the Justice Department’s redactions, to determine what might be made public. Walton states in unvarnished terms that this is needed precisely because of Barr’s previous covering for Trump:

The inconsistencies between Attorney General Barr’s statements, made at a time when the public did not have access to the redacted version of the Mueller Report to assess the veracity of his statements, and portions of the redacted version of the Mueller Report that conflict with those statements cause the Court to seriously question whether Attorney General Barr made a calculated attempt to influence public discourse about the Mueller Report in favor of President Trump despite certain findings in the redacted version of the Mueller Report to the contrary.

A calculated attempt to influence public discourse in favor of Trump. This GOP-appointed judge adds that the “credibility” of the department’s justifications for its redactions is in doubt.

Hence the need to review those redactions, to determine whether they, too, were undertaken not for legitimate reasons, but in a corrupt manner to protect Trump.

Step it up, Democrats

All this opens the door for House Democrats to unleash the oversight hounds in a serious way, directed at Barr on numerous fronts.

This includes a more robust look at Barr’s handling of the Mueller investigation. Max Bergmann, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, suggests to me that this could focus on several key questions:

  • What incriminating matter about Trump did Barr’s Justice Department redact in the Mueller report, and what was the justification for it?
  • Did Barr coordinate with the White House on those redactions?
  • What sort of constraints did Barr put on the Mueller investigation? Were such constraints responsible for Mueller’s decision not to investigate Trump’s personal finances — which could have shed more light on links to Russia?
  • Did Barr move to bring about a quick end to the Mueller investigation after taking over as attorney general?

It’s crucial to stress here that the utility of this would also be forward-looking. If we fully comprehend what Barr has been capable of doing on Trump’s behalf, we can more forthrightly reckon with what Barr is doing now for Trump, and what he might do heading into the election.

The pattern is unmistakable — and damning.

Barr’s Justice Department worked to keep the whistleblower complaint detailing Trump’s corrupt Ukraine scheme from Congress. Barr has undertaken a review of the Russia investigation that’s plainly designed to discredit its conclusions that Russia did interfere to help Trump. Barr has opened up a special channel to receive information about Joe Biden and his son Hunter directly from Rudolph W. Giuliani, who is Trump’s private lawyer and who is still apparently seeking such information.

Those last two undertakings have direct relevance to the coming election: Trump likely wants Barr’s help in undermining the idea that Russia helped him last time, in the apparent willingness to benefit from foreign interference again. And now that Biden is Trump’s likely opponent, the pipeline of “information” from Ukraine might suddenly become more important to Trump.

Let’s face it: Given what we’ve seen, we can’t rule out the possibility that Barr might use the tools of law enforcement to cast public doubt on the Democratic nominee and/or members of his family in some way.

On top of all that, Barr worked to reduce the department’s sentencing recommendation for Trump confidant Roger Stone after Trump raged over the case. That, too, demands more oversight: The Judiciary Committee is seeking the testimony of Stone’s prosecutors, but it’s unclear how aggressive Democrats will be to get it.

Barr is set to testify to the Judiciary Committee on March 31. All this will be central to Democratic questioning, but they must ramp up the oversight pressure going forward. “The attorney general has repeatedly elevated Trump’s political interests above the rule of law," Raskin told me, “and there’s no sign he’s stopping.”

“We need to establish our readiness to prevent the department from being used as an instrument of political advancement for the president,” Raskin continued, asserting that this is “a moving target that affects the current presidential campaign.”

Let’s hope that House Democratic leaders are listening.

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