Of all the people to put on the chopping block. Bill farking Barr.
If there were any member of Trump’s cabinet whom we might reasonably assume had earned his merit badge as a loyal crony, it’s the AG. Who was it who cleared Trump of obstruction of justice in the Mueller investigation? Who was it who published his own summaries of Mueller’s findings rather than use Mueller’s in order to put the best possible spin on the findings for Trump? Who was it who cut Mike Flynn and Roger Stone an unheard-of break for federal criminal defendants seemingly due to their relationship with the president? Who was it who tried to push out the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan in order to try to install Trump’s golf buddy in the job instead? Who was it who apparently gave the order to clear Lafayette Park by force, paving the way for Trump’s most demagogic photo op as president? Who was it who backed Trump up in interviews on the alleged massive fraud threat posed by mail-in voting, even briefing the president on penny-ante cases of ballot irregularities to feed him campaign talking points? Who was it who just relaxed the DOJ’s rules governing ballot investigations to make it easier for his department to influence the election ahead of Trump’s moment of truth at the polls?
There’s no one in the administration with a view of presidential power as expansive as William Barr, and probably no one who’s been more aggressive in advancing the president’s interests. It’s hard to imagine an Attorney General better suited to Trump’s brand of politics, unless we’re imagining a hypothetical replacement so brazenly, corruptly authoritarian that he’d start charging the president’s political enemies with crimes even without evidence to support the charges.
Which appears to be why Trump is mad at him. Barr dutifully ordered an investigation into the “unmasking” of certain Trump campaign officials by the Obama administration, no doubt hoping against hope that it would bear fruit. But it didn’t. He ordered the Durham investigation into whether the Russiagate probe involved criminal activity by the FBI and other DOJ employees, again doubtless hoping that charges would be brought before the election to suit his boss’s political interests. But they won’t be. Durham is a professional, it seems, and doesn’t want his work reduced to a political football.
Barr’s willing to do everything he can to please his boss within the bounds of the law, even when his actions leave other federal prosecutors retching. But he won’t manufacture evidence of criminality to pin on Trump’s Democratic adversaries, and he evidently won’t (or can’t) force Durham to cut corners on his investigation just because it might suit Trump’s campaign talking points. There are ethical lines he won’t cross.
What the president wants, it seems, is an AG who will cross those lines. “Where’s my Roy Cohn?” he once reportedly asked during Russiagate, complaining about Jeff Sessions’s failure to shield him from scrutiny. That’s who he wants in charge of the Justice Department. That’s what’s on the ballot next month.
In an exclusive interview with Newsmax TV that airs Wednesday night on “Greg Kelly Reports,” Trump said it’s “too early” to determine whether he would ask Barr to come back or if he would tap someone else for the job.
Earlier Wednesday, it was reported that an investigation into the Obama administration “unmasking” the names of Trump campaign members caught up in surveillance as part of the Russia probe found no wrongdoing.
“I have no comment. Can’t comment on that. It’s too early,” Trump said. “I’m not happy with all of the evidence I have, I can tell you that. I’m not happy.”…
“Personally, I think it’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous. It’s a disgrace,” Trump told Kelly. “I think it’s really a horrible thing that they’re allowed to get away — when they say no indictments, they actually said no indictments before the election.
“I had to go through elections with all those clouds over my head. But they don’t because the Republicans are so nice. Personally, I think it’s too bad. I think it’s too bad, they’re guilty as hell.”
Hillary had to go through the last election with a cloud over head too, one that may have swung the race to Trump in the final days. Biden’s going through this one with the Durham probe hanging out there and the Senate GOP’s Burisma investigation hanging over his head, with some new ammunition provided as recently as this morning.
But never mind that. What outcome does Trump want from Barr here, specifically? John Bash investigated the unmasking issue and found nothing criminal. What should Barr do in that circumstance, according to the president?
What should Durham do with his incomplete inquiry, bearing in mind that criminal prosecutors aren’t supposed to issue any sort of “report” — especially an interim report — on their investigations? There’s either probable cause to charge someone, in which case you explain why after charges or filed, or there isn’t, in which case you say nothing. (It was Clinton, not Trump, who was the victim of rulebreaking in that regard in 2016 when James Comey declined to charge her but then made a public show of stating his reasons and the evidence against her.) Does he want Durham to hold a press conference to say, “I don’t have enough to indict yet but rest assured that the president’s antagonists are bad people”?
I think he wants Rudy Giuliani as AG. Rudy would do anything for him, ethical or otherwise, and that’s the only sort of person who’ll satisfy Trump as the head of the federal government’s justice arm. But he’s not going to get Rudy, because Rudy couldn’t even be confirmed by a Republican Senate. And if Democrats retake the Senate and Trump wins reelection, Schumer’s not going to confirm *anyone* that would suit Trump as Attorney General. Either Trump will be forced to keep Barr on at the DOJ or he’ll fire him and then start playing the same sort of games with “acting” officials in lead roles that he’s played for the past three years.
But Schumer and Pelosi aren’t going to stand for that either. If Trump thinks he’s going to install Giuliani or some other mega-crony as “acting” AG via complex procedural chicanery, Democrats will come under intense pressure to play hardball with him. They might start choking off funding for various executive-branch activities until he nominates someone semi-respectable for the job instead. Unless Republicans retain a majority in the Senate, Trump is stuck with Barr for as long as he wants to serve. And even then, depending on its composition, a diminished Republican Senate (e.g., 51/49) would make things harder for him in filling an AG vacancy. If Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski are still there, that slim majority may not be very dependable.
Now we wait to see how Barr reacts to this. The last person in his administration whom Trump should want feeling disgruntled right now, one would think, is his Attorney General. Barr’s department will be in charge of investigating ballot irregularities next month; he’ll be Trump’s single most important ally in making the case that the president didn’t really lose the election, he’s the rightful winner who was cheated via Democratic chicanery. At a moment like that, one would think Trump would be careful not to alienate Barr by hinting that he’s lost confidence in him because he’s not corrupt enough. Maybe I’m wrong — maybe Trump figures that expressing his disappointment publicly will incentivize Barr to make it up to him by being even more aggressive in the ballot battles to come. But if I were Barr, staring at the possibility of Trump losing fairly decisively and remembering how Jeff Sessions was treated, I’d wonder why I should sacrifice any more of my reputation for such an ingrate. Stay tuned.