Last week, Jonathan Chait noted that Trump and Barr’s Corruption of the Justice Department Was Worse Than We Knew. Hold that word “and” in your memory bank. Chait was basically reviewing the new book, Holding the Line, by Geoffrey Berman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York until Trump fired him. “Trump,” wrote Chait, “blurted out his belief that the Justice Department was his personal weapon all the time, and a stream of underlings has affirmed that he made these demands loudly and repeatedly behind closed doors… What Berman reveals is that the pressure to weaponize the Justice Department against Trump’s enemies (and to protect him and his criminal friends) did not always fail, and it did not merely come from Trump himself. Barr and other officials in the Department frequently applied pressure to advance Trump’s corrupt ends. Barr successfully intervened several times to help Trump, by reducing sentences for Roger Stone and attempting to drop its prosecution of Michael Flynn.”
Also in reference to the book, Martin Pengelly noted that Berman called him “stupid, a liar, a bully and a thug… ‘Several hours after Barr and I met,’ Berman writes, ‘on a Friday night, [Barr] issued a press release saying that I was stepping down. That was a lie. A lie told by the nation’s top law enforcement officer.’ Trump’s politicisation of the US Department of Justice was a hot-button issue throughout his presidency. It remains so as he claims persecution under Barr’s successor, Merrick Garland, regarding the mishandling of classified information, the Capitol attack and multiple other investigations… Berman says Barr tried to block the SDNY to benefit Trump politically.”
Yesterday, when MSNBC took the tiniest of breaks from craven reporting on the British monarchy, they had former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen on. Cohen said Barr won’t “come clean” about everything he did for Trump because if he did, he would be implicated in Trump’s criminality himself. Barr’s recent condemnation of Trump— “too little too late”— is "not going to exonerate him from all the things that he did working for him.” Cohen said Barr “should actually demand that the House Oversight committee, or one of the intelligence committees interview him. And he should come clean on everything that he did for Donald Trump. But he won't do that—he won't do it for several reasons. Mostly because he's a coward, and because it would then implicate him in a series of crimes and illegal actions. That's what he should be doing.”
Last week Barr told a Fox News audience that the Department of Justice appears to be “getting very close” to having enough evidence to indict Trump. ‘There are two questions: Will the government be able to make out a technical case, will they have evidence by which that they could indict somebody on, including him? That’s the first question, and I think they’re getting very close to that point, frankly. At the end of the day, there’s another question which is, ‘Do you indict a former president? What will that do to the country, what kind of precedent will that set? Will the people really understand that this is not failing to return a library book, that this was serious?’ And so, you have to worry about those things. I hope that those kinds of factors will incline the administration not to indict him because I don’t want to see him indicted as a former president.”
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 FBI’s court-approved search of Mar-a-Lago. “People say this was unprecedented. Well, it’s also unprecedented for a president to take all this classified information and put them in a country club, OK?,” Barr told Fox viewers last Friday.
Then and since, he’s said Trump repeatedly “deceived” and “jerked around” the government as it tried for more than a year to retrieve its property. He can’t think of a “legitimate reason why” Trump took the documents. He mocks Trump’s claim to have declassified everything, conjuring a wizard waving a wand over the boxed secrets.
…“There is no scenario legally under which the president gets to keep the government documents, whether it’s classified or unclassified,” 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 Trump’s final two years in office, Barr turned the Justice Department into the president’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 Russia’s pro-Trump interference in the 2016 election— in particular about the many ways Trump allegedly sought to obstruct the investigators— Trump might have been held liable for his abuse of power by now, and humbled rather than emboldened.
Three years later, Barr’s talk of Trump’s culpability just smacks of a way to salvage his legacy (and sell his book).
Good luck with that.
Donald Ayer, who served with Barr at the Justice Department during President George H.W. Bush’s administration when Ayre was the deputy attorney general, wrote a scathing takedown of his former colleague in 2020: Barr had been “a major threat to our legal system and to public trust in it. He does not believe in the central tenet of our system— that no person is above the law.”
This morning Brett Samuels, noting that Barr has emerged as one of the most prominent conservatives to suggest Trump may be in serious legal jeopardy over his handling of the stolen top secret documents, “stood out recently for his willingness to undercut not just Trump’s own defense but the preferred narrative of Trump’s allies and wide swaths of the Republican Party.”
“Bill Barr has been a real law and order kind of guy and has been strongly protective of national security interests and Department of Justice interests,” said Alan Morrison, a law professor at George Washington University.
“And I think he’s always seen himself as being on that side: Tough on people who violate criminal laws, and I think his remarks here are in keeping with that. He’s trying to protect the Justice Department, which he headed not once but twice,” Morrison said.
Barr has in fact just done that, offering defenses of the Justice Department and the legitimacy of its investigation into Trump in a series of Fox News appearances over the past two weeks.
The former attorney general earlier in the month pushed back on various defenses Trump and his team have offered in response to the FBI raid, telling Fox News he was skeptical that Trump had declassified everything he took to Mar-a-Lago as the former president had claimed.
“Let me just say, I think the driver on this from the beginning was loads of classified information sitting in Mar-a-Lago. People say this [raid] was unprecedented— well, it’s also unprecedented for a president to take all this classified information and put them in a country club, okay,” Barr said.
Barr has also been critical of Trump’s push for a special master to review the documents taken by the FBI. The former attorney general called the legal strategy a “red herring” since federal authorities likely had already sifted through most of the seized materials.
Barr urged the Justice Department this week to appeal Judge Aileen Cannon’s ruling in favor of appointing a special master, calling the decision “deeply flawed in a number of ways.”
Barr’s Fox News appearances undercutting Trump are the latest example of what has been a steadily growing divide between the two men.
One former Trump administration official said there is no love lost between Trump and Barr, and the relationship had been steadily deteriorating since the 2020 election, when Trump was irked that his attorney general publicly said he hadn’t found evidence of widespread voter fraud.
Barr was a key witness for the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, with recordings of his closed-door depositions featuring prominently in the panel’s public hearings.
Barr told the panel he believed Trump’s claims about election fraud were “bullshit,” “nonsense” and “idiotic.” One hearing featured video of Barr saying he worried Trump had become “detached from reality” as he raised the false premise that voting machines were designed to rig the election.
Trump, who has frequently derided his former attorney general as a “RINO,” or “Republican in Name Only,” used the same insult in response to Barr’s commentary on Fox in which he said authorities likely had good evidence to pursue its search of Trump’s home.
“Bill Barr had ‘no guts,’ and got ‘no glory,’” Trump wrote on Truth Social last week. “He was a weak and pathetic RINO [Republican in name only], who was so afraid of being Impeached that he became a captive to the Radical Left Democrats.”
While the vast majority of conservatives have lined up behind Trump to offer shifting defenses of the former president and criticize the Justice Department as politicized, a few conservatives and former Trump officials have joined Barr in publicly recognizing the seriousness of the matter.
…Ty Cobb, who served as a lawyer in Trump’s White House during the Russia investigation, told CBS News on Friday he believes Trump is “in serious legal water,” not just because of the ongoing investigation into his handling of classified documents, but because of efforts to change the outcome of the 2020 election in Georgia, Arizona, Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
Like Barr, Cobb told the news outlet he believes the possibility of Trump being indicted is “very high.”