There are, I believe, positive developments -- even reasons for cautious good cheer – as 2019 faces conservatives, even as the assault on our constitutional order continues (and I use this phrase advisedly).
The most obvious positive result is to be found in the results of the midterm elections. True, the GOP lost the House, yet on the positive side, Paul Ryan -- who played a key role in slowing down the House investigations into the Russia Hoax and even, as it turns out, the initial dissemination of the Clinton campaign's "dossier" -- is gone. That alone is a positive development, as is the emergence of a more unified Republican caucus.
On the Senate side the news is even better. The GOP majority has been expanded -- an historically unlikely achievement. Traitorous members have been discarded -- McCain, Flake, Corker -- and replaced by either more conservative new senators or new senators who owe their election to Trump's remarkable campaign effort and who will therefore be in his debt. This bodes well for confirmations, both of judges -- including very possibly another seat on the Supreme Court -- but also for perhaps the key cabinet position: the confirmation of a new attorney general to replace the feckless Jeff Sessions.
Already, in that regard, we have good news. Matt Whitaker, the acting AG, has been cleared by an internal ethics review at DoJ to supervise Team Mueller. Of course, emboldened by their success with Sessions, the usual Democrat suspects brought forward the by now standard demands for recusal, citing Whitaker's past criticisms of Mueller. Whitaker, despite anonymous DoJ sources suggesting recusal out of "an abundance of caution," wisely and out of a strong sense of principle refused to recuse himself. The notion that anyone who has paid attention to ongoing events in the public life of the nation and who has both an opinion and the gumption to express that opinion should recuse himself from a position of authority is too bankrupt for serious consideration.
The stage is now set for Whitaker to play an active role in oversight of Team Mueller. If the Democrats have a problem with that, there is a ready solution. They can try their luck with Bill Barr by allowing his confirmation as AG to proceed expeditiously.
Barr is, as former AG Michael Mukasey wrote in "The Phony Attack on William Barr", "probably the best-qualified nominee for U.S. attorney general since Robert Jackson in 1940... Mr. Barr has already served as attorney general under George H.W. Bush, as well as assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Legal Counsel [OLC], the authoritative voice within the Justice Department on issues of law throughout the government."
Beyond his obvious qualifications, Barr has demonstrated over the past few years a degree of principle and even courage in his concern for the public weal that recommends him for the position of Attorney General. For a lawyer of his accomplishments, to have remained silent at his stage in both his life and his career would have been easy. Instead, he has spoken out forcefully regarding what he has been able to discern of the direction that Mueller has been leading his team of Clinton partisans. Even more notable in a way, Barr took the unusual step of embodying his views not in an op-ed piece but instead in a tightly reasoned 19-page memo to Rod Rosenstein and Stephen Engel (the Ass't AG currently in charge of OLC).
In this memo Barr takes Mueller to task for what Barr describes as a theory of obstruction of justice (regarding the firing of James Comey) that is "fatally misconceived." Mueller's theory, says Barr, is "premised on a novel and legally insupportable reading of the law." And he goes on to examine Mueller's theory in detail, analyzing both the relevant statutory law as well as the past positions on obstruction that DoJ itself has taken.
Barr's sense of public duty and principle as well as his courage in expressing views that are bound to be unpopular with the Washington establishment that knows him well, speaks volumes about his character. Predictably, the release of this memo has been greeted with howls of outrage and calls for his preemptive recusal from all matters concerning Team Mueller. I'm not much of one for predictions, but in this case, I'll go out on a limb a bit. I predict that Barr will refuse to offer any sort of preemptive pledge of recusal, and I further predict that, when confirmed, he will not recuse himself but will instead examine Team Mueller's legal theories and their prosecutorial practices with a critical eye focused on justice.
Those qualities of principle, sense of public duty, and courage were on display late last year, as noted by the New York Times, when the paper questioned former AGs regarding Trump's continued calls for investigation of Hillary Clinton:
Of 10 former attorneys general contacted Tuesday, only one responded to a question about what they would do in Mr. Sessions’s situation.
“There is nothing inherently wrong about a president calling for an investigation,” said William P. Barr, who ran the Justice Department under President George Bush. “Although an investigation shouldn’t be launched just because a president wants it, the ultimate question is whether the matter warrants investigation.”
Mr. Barr said he sees more basis for investigating the uranium deal than any supposed collusion between Mr. Trump and Russia. “To the extent it is not pursuing these matters, the department is abdicating its responsibility,” he said.
Regarding the utterly predictable and unprincipled calls for Barr's recusal or rejection as AG, former AG Mukasey stated, with a touch of irony:
The logical implication of opposing Mr. Barr’s appointment or seeking his recusal because he has opined on a matter of substantial public concern is that the only people suitable for public office are those who are ignorant of public issues or indifferent to them. That in itself should silence his critics.
All this, I submit, offers reason for hope.
Mark Wauck is a retired FBI agent who blogs on philosophy, religion, and national security at meaning in history. In his previous life he had over two decades of experience in counterintelligence matters.