An Equal Opportunity Piss-er Off-er
Attorney General William Barr may be the most dangerous man in Washington DC right now. Within a week he managed to get both Republicans and Democrats to break out the pitchforks and torches and call for his head.
First, Barr took issue with the sentencing of Roger Stone and intervened in lowering the sentencing the DOJ was asking for. I wrote about that here last week. The news of this was released as President Trump tweeted about the overly harsh sentence, opening AG Barr to claims that he was acting upon Trump’s wishes in doing so. Then the DOJ declined to bring charges against former FBI assistant director Andrew McCabe, which enraged Trump supporters who promptly accused the DOJ of having a two-tiered justice system, one for little people like Stone and another for powerful and protected insiders like McCabe. Barr then did an ABC interview where he mildly rebuked Trump for making public statements that Barr said made it impossible for him to do his job while also stating: “I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody….whether it’s Congress, newspaper editorial boards, or the President.”
By Saturday there were partisans on both sides calling for Barr to resign.
Friendless in Washington DC
A group of conservative and libertarian lawyers calling themselves, “Checks and Balances” told Americans they should all be terrified of an AG who does the President’s bidding.
This group was formed by George T. Conway III, husband of Counselor to the President, Kelly Ann Conway. It is comprised of members of the Federalist Society which has been responsible for making many of the suggested appointments to vacancies on the federal bench that Trump has been filling. Mr. Conway is also a very vocal critic of the President and also heads up a super PAC called the Lincoln Project which states as its aim: “Defeat President Trump and Trumpism at the ballot box.”
If you have problems wrapping your head around the seeming contradictions of members of the Federalist Society seeking and getting the cooperation of President Trump in reshaping the federal bench for generations to come, while at the same time prominent members of the Society are working their hearts out to get rid of him by supporting Democrats you are not alone…
Wait, it gets even better: In November 2019, AG Barr gave a speech at the annual National Lawyer’s Convention of the Federalist Society that was mostly about preserving the power of the Executive in the Constitution. It was received with a standing ovation. This is the world we live in now.
A group calling itself “Protect Democracy” published a letter, dutifully reported on by the New York Times, which called for William Barr’s resignation for politicizing the DOJ. It was signed by 1,100 former employees of the DOJ. What the Times did not disclose was that Protect Democracy was formed and is led by Ian Bassin. Bassin was an Associate White House Counsel in the Obama Administration, which just so happens to be the administration AG Barr is now investigating for criminal acts related to the issuance of fraudulently obtained FISA warrants. This was the presumably non-politicized DOJ that had Obama’s AG Eric Holder famously saying that he was the President’s “Wingman.”
His replacement, Loretta Lynch required FBI Director James Comey to refer to the criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server as a “matter,” which was the language Hillary’s campaign was using at the time.
If AG Barr was intentionally trying to be friendless in Washington DC, he could not have done a better job of it.
A Dangerous Man
Maybe Barr doesn’t want friends in DC, which would make him a very dangerous man right now. The decision to decline prosecution of Andrew McCabe seems consistent with a philosophy that Barr has expressed before, that the DOJ ought not to take a case to trial that it is not 100 percent certain that it can win. And in this case, there is fair reason to think it might not win. The criminal referral by IG Horowitz was presented to a federal Grand Jury and they refused to bring in an indictment. I am sympathetic to the concerns of those who argue that we have a two-tiered justice system but that argument isn’t helped by demands that the DOJ bring charges against someone a Grand Jury has declined to charge. That would be a three-tiered justice system, I think.
A recent development in the Roger Stone case is the revelation that the jury foreman was a vocal anti-Trump partisan, who had run for public office and had made derogatory social media comments about Stone while the case was open. Of course, Stone’s attorneys are demanding that the conviction be thrown out and a new trial granted. The DOJ may decline to go through the whole trial process again and instead come to a plea agreement with Stone — this would be something Trump’s opponents are certainly not going to like.
Barr also appointed Jeffery Jenson, the chief federal prosecutor in St. Louis, to review the sentencing phase of General Michael Flynn’s conviction. Flynn’s lawyers are trying to withdraw a previous quilty plea under the claim that the DOJ pressured their client to plead guilty under the extortionate threat that the DOJ would prosecute his wife and son if he didn’t.
As this is being written, the gears of Special Prosecutor Durham’s criminal investigation into the origins of the Russian Collusion investigation continue to grind their way to a conclusion. Speculation that the mere presence of this investigation means that criminal charges will be filed is incorrect. I suspect Barr, more than anything, wants a complete investigation conducted with a mind towards settling once and for all whether what happened with the FISA warrants was due to sloppy incompetence, malice or a bit of both. And if the evidence is clear and compelling there should be no doubt that Barr will bring charges without regard to whom he makes mad.
That brings us to the latest ABC interview: Chief Judicial Correspondent Pierre Thomas asked Barr, in at least five different ways, if the President had pressured, ordered, suggested, cajoled, or otherwise attempted to get him to do his bidding in terms of opening investigations or influencing already open investigations. Barr was not only adamant in his denials but stated that the President’s tweets made it impossible for him to do his job. That’s a pretty thorough rebuttal of the Left’s claims that Barr is a lackey doing anything Trump asks of him.
Barr also restated his often-repeated belief that the DOJ and Attorney General must operate free of any political considerations in applying the law, “I think the essential role of the attorney general is to keep law enforcement, the criminal process sacrosanct to make sure there is no political interference in it. And I have done that and I will continue to do that.”
Washington DC is a pretty tough place to try and be free of political interference, which may be why so many people on both sides of the aisle seem to want Barr gone. A man without friends in DC talking about doing what he thinks is the right thing without political interference is a dangerous man in an age of hyper-partisanship.