This Isn’t The First Time William Barr Has Sought to Hide Information From the Public

We’ve been on to Barr since 1992.

Joel BleifussApril 19, 2019

Attorney General William Barr (Mark Wilson / Staff / Getty Images)

With the orches­trat­ed release of the Mueller Report, Attor­ney Gen­er­al William Barr has again proven his met­tle as a fix­er for pres­i­dents plagued by nation­al secu­ri­ty scandals.

I last wrote about Barr in Octo­ber 1992 in a sto­ry about Iraq­gate. The arti­cle fea­tured a 12-year time­line of the scan­dal, revolv­ing around the fact that, pri­or to the 1990 Gulf War, the admin­is­tra­tions of Ronald Rea­gan and George H.W. Bush pro­vid­ed Sad­dam Hus­sein with bil­lions of dol­lars to sub­si­dize the devel­op­ment of Iraq’s nuclear, chem­i­cal and bio­log­i­cal weapons infrastructure.

In 1987, then-Vice Pres­i­dent Bush had argued the Unit­ed States must build a sol­id rela­tion­ship with Iraq for the future.” In Feb­ru­ary of that year, the Unit­ed States pro­vid­ed $2.1 bil­lion in secret com­mer­cial loans to Iraq, laun­dered through an Ital­ian state bank, Ban­ca Nazionale del Lavoro, or BNL. Two years lat­er, in 1989, Bush took the Oval Office and House Bank­ing Com­mit­tee Chair­man Hen­ry Gon­za­lez (D‑Texas) opened an inves­ti­ga­tion into the covert fund­ing oper­a­tion, against the wish­es of Attor­ney Gen­er­al Dick Thornburgh.

In 1992, Bush’s new attor­ney gen­er­al, William Barr, entered the picture.

1992

May 15: Attor­ney Gen­er­al William Barr writes Gon­za­lez charg­ing that he has harmed nation­al secu­ri­ty” by reveal­ing details of the Bush administration’s pol­i­cy toward Iraq pri­or to the Gulf War, but Barr pro­vides no evi­dence of how nation­al secu­ri­ty was harmed. Gon­za­lez writes back that Barr’s com­plaints are polit­i­cal­ly motivated. …

July 24: CIA Direc­tor [Robert M.] Gates writes Gon­za­lez, claim­ing that the CIA has coop­er­at­ed ful­ly with fed­er­al pros­e­cu­tors in the BNL case. Gates chides Gon­za­lez for dis­clos­ing the fact that U.S. intel­li­gence agen­cies were aware of Iraq’s mil­i­tary devel­op­ment program.

July 30: Gon­za­lez pub­licly releas­es Gates’ letter. …

August 10: Barr rejects the House Judi­cia­ry Committee’s request for appoint­ment of an inde­pen­dent coun­sel to inves­ti­gate the Bush Administration’s pre-inva­sion pol­i­cy toward Iraq.

Sep­tem­ber 4: Barr informs Gon­za­lez in writ­ing that he will not com­ply with a House Bank­ing Com­mit­tee sub­poe­na for BNL-relat­ed infor­ma­tion. [The State Depart­ment, the Com­merce Depart­ment, the Cus­toms Ser­vice, the CIA, the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Agency and the Defense Intel­li­gence Agency fol­low Barr’s lead, and refuse to cooperate.]

Sep­tem­ber 23: Gon­za­lez announces that he has received clas­si­fied infor­ma­tion show­ing that in Jan­u­ary 1991 the CIA knew that BNL head­quar­ters in Rome had approved the loans. He writes CIA Direc­tor Gates, admon­ish­ing him for lying to fed­er­al pros­e­cu­tors about the BNL scandal. …

Octo­ber 13: Sen. Howard Met­zen­baum (D‑Ohio) of the Sen­ate Select Com­mit­tee on Intel­li­gence writes Barr, ask­ing him to appoint a spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor. He explains that alle­ga­tions raised in the BNL-Atlanta court pro­ceed­ings indi­cate that this case could involve secret U.S. gov­ern­ment involve­ment in arms sales to Iraq, as well as a pos­si­ble cov­er-up.” … Gon­za­lez writes to Barr, ask­ing him to appoint a spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor and to address the repeat­ed, clear fail­ures and obstruc­tion of the lead­er­ship of the Jus­tice Depart­ment.” The best way to accom­plish this, advis­es Gon­za­lez, is to do the right thing and sub­mit your res­ig­na­tion at once.”

Octo­ber 14: [Sen. David] Boren (D‑Okla.) writes to Barr ask­ing him to appoint an inde­pen­dent coun­sel. [Boren] states, A tru­ly inde­pen­dent inves­ti­ga­tion is required to deter­mine whether fed­er­al crimes were com­mit­ted in the government’s han­dling [of the BNL case].” Boren charges that both the Jus­tice Depart­ment and the CIA have engaged in a BNL cover-up. …

Octo­ber 19: The Sen­ate Select Com­mit­tee begins to inves­ti­gate charges that CIA or NSA front com­pa­nies were used, in vio­la­tion of fed­er­al law, to sup­ply Iraq with arms and weapon tech­nol­o­gy. Democ­rats on the Sen­ate Judi­cia­ry Com­mit­tee call for Barr to appoint an inde­pen­dent prosecutor.

An inde­pen­dent pros­e­cu­tor was nev­er appoint­ed. On March 20, 2003, the Unit­ed States, under Pres­i­dent George W. Bush, invad­ed Iraq once again, osten­si­bly to search for weapons devel­oped by the infra­struc­ture his father had helped pro­vide 16 years prior.

—Joel Blei­fuss

Joel Blei­fuss, a for­mer direc­tor of the Peace Stud­ies Pro­gram at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri-Colum­bia, is the edi­tor & pub­lish­er of In These Times, where he has worked since Octo­ber 1986.

Blei­fuss has worked at In These Times for 34 years, includ­ing as man­ag­ing edi­tor and senior edi­tor. He tack­les the state of nation­al and inter­na­tion­al events with a blend of crit­i­cal insight and humor, and over the years has devel­oped a niche for inves­tiga­tive reporting.

His report­ing on envi­ron­men­tal health issues, nation­al secu­ri­ty scan­dals and the Iran Con­tra affair has land­ed in news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines around the coun­try, includ­ing the New York Times, the Utne Read­er, the Cap­i­tal Eye and many others.

He is the co-author of the book Was The 2004 Pres­i­den­tial Elec­tion Stolen?,” with Steven F. Freeman.

Before join­ing In These Times, Blei­fuss was direc­tor of the Peace Stud­ies Pro­gram for the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri, a fea­tures writer for the Ful­ton Sun in Ful­ton, Mis­souri, and a free­lance jour­nal­ist in Spain.

Blei­fuss cur­rent­ly serves on the advi­so­ry board of The Pub­lic Square, a pro­gram of the Illi­nois Human­i­ties Council.

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