The Case for Attorney General Barr’s Impeachment

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington has previously called on the United States House of Representatives to initiate a formal impeachment inquiry into Attorney General William Barr. Today, CREW outlines the contours of that inquiry, which should assess whether Attorney General Barr abused the powers of his office by engaging in a course of conduct that impaired the Special Counsel investigation of President Trump, the conduct of lawful inquiries by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and the purpose of that agency, and the oversight and impeachment powers of the United States House of Representatives. These actions violate DOJ’s founding principal to maintain the independence and impartiality of federal prosecutions from political intervention. The inquiry should also assess whether Barr directed federal law enforcement officers to violate the First and Fourth Amendment rights of American citizens who gathered to engage in peaceful protest outside of the White House and across the United States.

Article I of the U.S. Constitution vests the House of Representatives with the power to impeach a federal official for “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” and the Senate with the power to try all impeachments and convict if it deems that individual’s removal from office both merited and wise. The term “high Crimes and Misdemeanors” refers to serious abuses of official power (Sunstein at 36-37). As Alexander Hamilton explained in Federalist 65, impeachment proceedings are reserved for “offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men, or, in other words, from the abuse or violation of some public trust.” Cabinet officials have faced impeachment proceedings for such abuses of power, including the 1876 impeachment of Secretary of War William Bellknap and the impeachment inquiry of Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon, which was abandoned after his resignation in 1932.

The impeachment inquiry of Attorney General Barr should focus on a similar question: whether Barr abused the powers of his office by engaging in a course of conduct that was “seriously incompatible with our system of constitutional government.” At a minimum, that inquiry should consider whether Barr:

  • Corruptly subverted the Special Counsel investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and of President Trump for obstruction of justice;
  • Interfered with the lawful functions of the Department of Justice by overturning the actions of career prosecutors in the cases of Roger Stone Jr. and Michael Flynn and by firing United States Attorney Geoffrey Berman;
  • Obstructed lawful investigations of the United States House of Representatives; and
  • Abused and exceeded the powers of the Attorney General to violate the First and Fourth Amendment rights of American citizens.

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