Losing Bill Barr

Terry H. Schwadron

Dec. 17, 2020

William P. Barr’s departure as attorney general was welcome news, seeming timed, as always, to preserve a little of the daily spotlight for Donald Trump on a day when the Electoral College was declaring him Loser-elect.

But somehow, because Barr pushed back in one of his few attempts to uphold actual law, against Trump’s fantasies about unproved election fraud and having kept secret any investigation involving Hunter Biden, son of the president-elect. Barr seems to be leaving as a bit more hero than goat.

That send-off message feels wrong.

And before we walk away believing that we are better off without Barr as our top law enforcement officer, we need a better appraisal.

Barr’s damage to trust in an independent Justice Department, in his willful rewrite of Mueller Report findings, of politicizing the law in efforts to save Michael Flynn, Roger Stone and others in the Trump inner circle has been extensive. Barr’s virtual abandonment of Civil Rights and voter rights enforcement, of a hands-off approach to promoting better community policing, to supporting Trump’s refusal to recognize Congressional oversight laid down a series of wholly objectionable patterns that will take years to make right.

Barr has been an ideologue who put personal loyalty to Trump over fairness and transparency. Barr has been a mouthpiece for an ever-expanding view of presidential power that will get sharply reined in only because a Democratic Joe Biden is taking Trump’s place in the Oval.

What Barr Wrought

Here’s where Barr has led us on behalf of a Donald Trump, whose presidency was mostly about making Donald Trump look good.

“The Republican Party used to be the party that championed judicial restraint and the idea that courts were wrong to impose policy preferences on society. Now it has no legitimate, consistent jurisprudential philosophy. For Republicans, it is all about the results: killing the Affordable Care Act, granting President Trump kinglike power with “absolute immunity“ from subpoenas and, worst of all, overturning a presidential election based on no evidence at all,” all the opinion of Jennifer Rubin in The Washington Post.

Here’s another assessment, from The Post’s Ruth Marcus: “William P. Barr told friends, when he was tapped for attorney general two years ago, that he was returning to the position to help save the Justice Department. Barr failed spectacularly at that task and ruined his reputation in the process.” She added that Barr’s views of expanded presidential powers was wrong, but “Barr’s description of pandemic restrictions as ‘the greatest intrusion on civil liberties’ since slavery was jaw-dropping.”

It was Barr who found nothing wrong in the handling of whistleblower reports of the call with the Ukrainian president that led to impeachment. It was Barr who ordered the clearing of Lafayette Square during racial justice protests last summer so Trump could march to his Bible-holding photo op in front of St. John’s Church.

He ordered and actually went on international interviews to launch repeated investigation into those who investigated the many contacts between the Trump campaign from 2016 and Russian operatives. Barr apparently made good on forcing an FBI investigation of Hunter Biden business affairs but must have failed Trump in not publicizing the fact that there was an investigation under way before the election — ironically, the basis that Trump cited in the firing of former FBI head James B. Comey Jr.

It is Barr who is insisting on five federal executions just days before the inauguration of Biden, a death penalty opponent.

And, unlike other independent prosecutors, Barr spoke out for Trump’s political fortunes, and seemed okay with overt efforts at racial voter suppression in places like North Carolina.

Say Good-bye

Rather than speak about the endless work facing the career prosecutors in his department or the work of the FBI or of law enforcement across the country, Barr’s official letter of resignation instead heaped the praise he had to offer on his benefactor, Trump.

Of course, in the end, even a suck-up like Barr could not fulfil the endless egotistical desires for adoration by Trump. That could only come from someone who would ignore federal law at the will of Donald Trump, for whom law seems only a loose guideline that can be twisted to suit the political need at the moment.

By statute, Barr’s deputy, Jeffrey Rosen, will sit in the chair for 30 days. Just as a perfect end to a four-year Justice nightmare, Rosen has zero experience as a prosecutor and had been a political appointee to the Transportation Department. The only good news here is that Rosen has little time to try to carry out whatever frivolous legal challenge to elections, or naming a harder-to-dismiss special prosecutor to go after Hunter Biden, or to okay pardons for family and Trump himself that Trump will desire in his remaining days. Will Rosen agree to open new fraud investigations for which Barr said there was no basis? Will we keep firing attorneys general until Trump gets a fully compliant one?

All in all, Barr’s departure is weirdly timed, but perhaps he wanted to get out before the last insulting debasement is ordered from the White House.






Journalist, musician, community volunteer

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Terry Schwadron

Terry Schwadron

Journalist, musician, community volunteer

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