Attorney General William Barr takes part in the “2019 Prison Reform Summit” at the White House, April 1, 2019. (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)
The current progressive effort to demonize attorney general William Barr is creepy, but then again not so strange. He came into the office with singular experience and an excellent reputation from past service. As attorney general, he has followed the law to the letter in handling the release, redactions, and dissemination of the Mueller report. His summaries of the report proved factual. They were not contested by Robert Mueller or his team. His decision not to pursue “obstruction” was not just his own, but logically followed from the Mueller report that did not find enough evidence to make such a positive recommendation. His congressional testimony that there was “spying” during the 2016 campaign is, of course, factually undeniable, and Barr added the qualifier of being interested in finding whether such surveillance was warranted or not.
As for the charge that Barr, a former Bush appointee, is Trump’s “hand-picked” choice –how odd, given that all attorney generals are presidents’ hand-picked selections. How could they not be?
It is not as if Barr has referenced himself, in Eric Holder’s partisan fashion, as Trump’s “wing-man.” Nor has he ordered surveillance on, for example, a Fox News reporter, or had the communication records of 20 Associated Press journalists seized, as happened during the Obama administration in efforts to stop leaks of unwelcome news stories. Nor has he been held in contempt of Congress for failure to turn over subpoenaed documents under the cover of a presidential order of executive privilege. There is no suggestion that Barr has abused the perquisites of the office, for example, by using a government jet to go to the horse races with his family. He has avoided controversial value judgements about the nature of the American people and polarizing rhetoric.
So, more likely, the effort to delegitimize the professional Barr is the opening, preemptory salvo in the second and quite different round of investigations.
Soon Mr. Barr will be tasked with collating and adjudicating criminal referrals and arguments for indictments coming variously from Inspector General Michael Horowitz, possibly special counsel John Huber, Devin Nunes the ranking Republican and former chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and perhaps later even from Lindsey Graham, Chair of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, along with any conclusions arising from federal attorneys within the Justice Department itself.
In toto, these sources variously may present evidence to Barr on matters of lying to federal investigators, perjury, obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and abuse of government surveillance — and the charges could, in ironic fashion, involve top-ranking former administrative state investigators during the Obama administration, who for the last two years have been quite prominent as cable news analysts and, in their memoirs at least, as self-described ethicists. Add that there will be a completely different sort of news cycle as it intensifies in approach of the 2020 election. In such investigations, no one has any idea what possible defendants may do or say to federal prosecutors in efforts to lessen their own criminal exposure.
In sum, the progressives’ preventative efforts to destroy Barr’s reputation take on a certain sort of sick partisan logic, especially as he is neither the sort to recuse himself during cycles of journalistic hysteria nor to appoint a special counsel, after the ill-starred odyssey of the Mueller all-stars and dream team. Given his age, past tenures, reputation, and professional demeanor, Barr does not seem to be much worried over transient unpopularity, partisan criticism, political pressure, or making tough decisions that might adversely affect his future career.
So the fear is not that Barr broke or will ever break the law, but rather just the opposite: He seems the sort who will follow the law wherever it leads him and without worry over the consequences — and that reality is now apparently seen by some as quite scary indeed.