What remains of Bill Barr’s sullied reputation was blown up when federal district Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that the government must turn over the memorandum, which the public has yet to fully see and that the Justice Department relied upon in declining to prosecute the 45th president.
Not only was Barr being personally “disingenuous” by announcing his decision before the Mueller report was released and pretending he used the report to reach a conclusion instead of simply announcing the one he’d come to beforethe special counsel’s work had even finished his work, she wrote, “but DOJ has been disingenuous to this Court.”
“The fact that (Trump) would not be prosecuted was a given,” the judge wrote. In reality, it was a given from the moment Barr was appointed by Trump, as the past inevitably became prelude given his first stint as attorney general under George H.W. Bush. Back then, DOJ resisted efforts to get to the bottom of U.S. government-backed financing of Iraq in the run-up to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.
Pressed by House Democrats to appoint an independent counsel, Barr refused, while insisting it was “not a crime,” “simply not criminal in any way,” “nothing illegal.” What he meant was that oversight was for Democratic presidents only.
In 2019, Barr stonewalled then Sen. Kamala Harris when she asked him whether Donald Trump or anyone at the White House had inquired or urged that he open an investigation into anyone.
Watch: Kamala Harris asks Barr whether the White House has asked him to investigate anyone
Think of Barr as an updated version of Roy Cohn, an earlier Trump lawyer. Both men attended Horace Mann, the swank private school in the Riverdale section of New York City, and Columbia University. As with Cohn, things are not ending well for Barr.
For the record, Judge Jackson’s recent opinion was not written on a blank slate. Judge Reggie Walton, a George W. Bush appointee, had already blasted Barr’s allergy to the truth. In a March 2020 decision in a related case, the judge “seriously” questioned Barr’s integrity and credibility, and deployed words like “distorted” and “misleading” to make his point.
He also observed that it appeared that Barr had “made a calculated attempt to influence public discourse about the Mueller Report in favor of President Trump despite certain findings in the redacted version of the Mueller Report to the contrary.”
DOJ is not a public relations shop. Likewise, the department’s client is the U.S., not the occupant of the Oval Office. The imperial presidency is supposed to have limits.
Barr’s reputation also stands to be tarnished by his efforts to put his thumb on the scale in connection with the sentencing of a since-pardoned Roger Stone and the Mike Flynn debacle. Like Stone, Flynn too received a Trump pardon. But along the way, Barr’s handling of Flynn’s case raised eyebrows from the bench.
Specifically, Judge Emmet Sullivan hammered Barr while dismissing, at the DOJ’s request, its own case against Flynn after he had pleaded guilty. Sullivan observed, “In view of the government’s previous argument in this case that Mr. Flynn’s false statements were ‘absolutely material’ because his false statements ‘went to the heart’ of the FBI’s investigation, the government’s about-face, without explanation, raises concerns about the regularity of its decision-making process.”
“Raises concerns”? Talk about understatement.
By the end of Trump’s term, Flynn would call for the imposition of martial law. Meanwhile, Flynn’s brother, Charles Flynn, another general, was on duty during the insurrection. To top it all off, Flynn’s lawyer, Sidney Powell, would emerge as a grim punchline in attempting to “release the Kraken” to try and push through Trump’s Big Lie.
As for the Flynn pardon, it happened on Barr’s watch, on November 25, 2020, more than two weeks before Barr quit. And here too, Barr’s past is relevant.
After Bush 41 lost to Bill Clinton, Barr successfully pushed for pardons for Caspar Weinberger, Ronald Reagan’s defense secretary, and others in connection with the Iran-Contra scandal. “I favored the broadest pardon authority,” Barr explained. There were some people just arguing just for Weinberger. I said, ‘No–in for a penny, in for a pound.’”
To his credit, Barr resisted Trump’s entreaties to find fraud with the election where none existed and, when he finally quit, the outgoing AG took a swipe at Trump and his efforts to undo the election results, and tried to suggest there was still some regularity to DOJ’s decision-making process by declaring that “it is incumbent on all levels of government, and all agencies acting within their purview, to do all we can to assure the integrity of elections and promote public confidence in their outcome.”
Much too little, too late. Meanwhile, AG Merrick Garland has until May 17 to appeal Judge Jackson’s ruling. If he does not, the full memo that Barr used when he was the attorney general to justify the fix that was already in will immediately become public—and the fixer’s reputation will take one more hard hit as his successor begins the hard work of restoring integrity and public confidence in a battered Justice Department.
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