Jackie Calmes, Tribune News Service
Former Attorney General William Barr has been on a tear lately. Heâ€™s calling out his ex-boss for potential criminality and obstruction amid the evidence that Donald Trump absconded from the White House with boxfuls of government documents, including the most highly classified kind. Barrâ€™s truth-telling is welcome, especially since much of it is happening on Fox News, whose audience typically doesnâ€™t get much of that about Trump. Yet the straight-talk would have been more welcome when Barr was in power, when it would have mattered more. At times, the Fox hosts seem barely able to conceal their shock, as Barr puts the lie to every Trump complaint against the Justice Department in the wake of the FBIâ€™s court-approved search of Mar-a-Lago. â€œPeople say this was unprecedented. Well, itâ€™s also unprecedented for a president to take all this classified information and put them in a country club, OK?,â€ Barr told Fox viewers last Friday. Then and since, heâ€™s said Trump repeatedly â€œdeceivedâ€ and â€œjerked aroundâ€ the government as it tried for more than a year to retrieve its property. He canâ€™t think of a â€œlegitimate reason whyâ€ Trump took the documents. He mocks Trumpâ€™s claim to have declassified everything, conjuring a wizard waving a wand over the boxed secrets.
As for whether a special master should review the material before the feds proceed with their investigation â€” as Trump got a Trump-appointed judge to order â€” Barr told the New York Times, â€œItâ€™s a crock of sâ€”.â€ He said the Justice Department should appeal â€” as it did Thursday â€” and predicted it would win.
â€œThere is no scenario legally under which the president gets to keep the government documents, whether itâ€™s classified or unclassified,â€ Barr said Wednesday, again on Fox News. This is all to the good. But the damage he wrought as attorney general remains. During most of Trumpâ€™s final two years in office, Barr turned the Justice Department into the presidentâ€™s personal law firm. Had Barr not deceived the nation in 2019 about the findings of the investigation of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russiaâ€™s pro-Trump interference in the 2016 election â€” in particular about the many ways Trump allegedly sought to obstruct the investigators â€” Trump might have been held liable for his abuse of power by now, and humbled rather than emboldened. Three years later, Barrâ€™s talk of Trumpâ€™s culpability just smacks of a way to salvage his legacy (and sell his book).
Good luck with that.
Donald Ayer, who was Barrâ€™s deputy during his first stint as attorney general, in President George H.W. Bushâ€™s administration, wrote a scathing takedown of his former boss in 2020: Barr had been â€œa major threat to our legal system and to public trust in it. He does not believe in the central tenet of our system â€” that no person is above the law.â€
Ayer and other conservative lawyers joined liberals in slamming Barr for numerous sins. Among them: Undermining Congressâ€™ oversight and appropriations powers. Dispatching law enforcement officers nationwide after Trump called for a crackdown on racial justice protests. Overseeing the forcible eviction of peaceful protesters near the White House to allow a Bible-toting Trump to stage a photo-op. Echoing Trumpâ€™s preelection claims of vote-rigging. Reducing a recommended prison sentence for Trump flunky Roger Stone, over prosecutorsâ€™ objections. Dismissing the case against former Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn, who twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in the Russia investigation. Launching a criminal investigation into the Russia investigation, which, owing to Barrâ€™s machinations, outlived the Trump administration but has all but flopped.
And only now Barr sees Trump as a threat to the rule of law?
Thanks to Barr, the damning Mueller report has been mostly forgotten except as what Trump regularly dismisses as the â€œRussia, Russia, Russia hoax.â€ Flowing from that, the fantasy that the â€œdeep stateâ€ is out to get Trump ensures that every other allegation against him â€” that he extorted a foreign leader to investigate his political rival or incited an insurrection â€” is instantly disbelieved by more than a third of Americans.