Barr will leave his position Dec. 23, a fact made public by the president on Twitter rather than by Barr himself. He leaves after refusing to give credence to the falsehoods and conspiracy theories about widespread voter fraud in the presidential election. The legal veteran of significant stature, who began his tenure in this administration with impressive bona fides and a smidgen of bipartisan support, leaves it as a tweet.
Back in 2019, when Barr was awaiting confirmation, the legal optimists thought he was going to be a by-the-book eminence grise at the Justice Department. Having already served as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush and having accumulated wealth in corporate America, prognosticators believed that Barr would be less of an insecure adherent to the Trump doctrine, which might best be defined as fealty above all else, and more independent. Instead, he handed Trump legal sledgehammers and hacksaws as the president has tried his mightiest to dismantle the democracy.
Barr established himself anew as the gray-suited lump who sat before Congress during this summer of protests against racial injustice and refused to see the powerful implications of color within our society. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) of the House Judiciary Committee asked the man who was chosen to be the people’s attorney whether his department was committed to ending “systemic racism and racism in the law enforcement.”
“I don’t agree there’s systemic racism in the police department,” Barr said.
He didn’t see the stark divide between the lives of Black and White people when they interact with police officers — but more important, he didn’t seem interested in making an effort to gain clarity. He knew what he knew.
This was the same attorney general who incorrectly described this summer’s peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square as flinging projectiles at law enforcement. This sworn defender of our civil rights used that falsehood to justify violently removing the protesters from the area in advance of the president’s publicity stunt in front of a nearby church. The people booed Barr — the country’s lawyer, the public servant — when he made an appearance in Lafayette Square.
Barr ignored the people’s rights but catered to presidential power. Barr was Trump’s protective bunker.
During his time leading the Justice Department, this block of a man always seemed to be obstructing the light, hindering the fresh air from reaching the squalid corners of police departments and the executive branch. One of his first tasks as attorney general came after the closing of Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Barr bore the responsibility of giving the public an understanding of the final report. In Barr’s telling, the president was exonerated even if the report did not do that.
His CliffsNotes on the full report had him in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee in the spring of 2019 being questioned by Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.): “Has the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested that you open an investigation on anyone? Yes or no, please, sir.”
Barr made it such a challenging question to answer. “I’m trying to grapple with the word ‘suggest.’ I mean there have been discussions of matters out there that, they’ve not asked me to open an investigation but …” he said as he voice trailed off and Harris jumped in to help him out with a thesaurus-worth of synonyms. “Suggested? Hinted? Inferred?” Barr made a few content-free intonations but the question was left hanging in the wide shadow Barr cast over justice, transparency and independence.
The attorney general mutters. Despite having grown up in New York, he has the flat vowels of the Midwest. He tends toward a monotone with intermittent emphasis on a few key words. No matter the subject, he sounds perfunctory. In his utterances, everything is annoying; nothing is annoying.
In the end, Barr said his public goodbyes — not to the country he ostensibly served or the staff he led — but to the president in a resignation letter that Trump plopped on Twitter with all the usual exclamation points. So much enthusiasm for a resignation!
The letter was stuffed with admiring words for the president: “I am proud to have played a role in the many successes and unprecedented achievements you have delivered for the American people,” the letter read.
It aimed to burnish the president’s legacy. It aimed to stage direct an exit. But as always, Barr blocked out the light.