For Bill Barr, it’s too little, too late.
Right. Like a barnacle seeks distance from a whale.
The distancing maneuver is plainly an attempt by those sympathetic to Barr to make him look a bit less like the president’s mob lawyer — done anonymously so that Trump wouldn’t rage at Barr but instead blame the “degenerate” Post, as he did Thursday. But Barr has sealed his fate. As Trump’s impeachment looms, Barr has degraded the office Elliot Richardson once dignified. Barr has turned the Justice Department into a shield for presidential misconduct and a sword wielded against political opponents.
Even as Barr’s latest distancing gambit debuted, he was due to huddle Wednesday with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Trump’s loyal defender, to decide how to release an inspector general’s report examining the FBI’s investigation into Russian 2016 interference and Trump’s campaign. Notably, the Justice Department inspector general himself, Michael Horowitz, was “not expected to attend,” The Post reported, leaving Barr and Graham free to decide what should be declassified to put Trump in the best possible light.
Barr’s team aims to get that report out in the coming weeks, just in time for Barr’s holiday party at the Trump International Hotel, for which the attorney general is paying upward of $30,000 to the president’s business. Barr must have liked what he saw when he dined at the hotel earlier this year on a night when Trump was also there for a fundraiser.
If Barr does manipulate the inspector general’s report to Trump’s advantage, he’ll be reprising his mischaracterization of the Mueller report. Then, before releasing the report, he declared that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III had found “no collusion” (a phrase Mueller did not use), and he cleared Trump of obstruction of justice. It was such a betrayal that Mueller (whom Barr had claimed was his good friend) complained about Barr’s misleading summary. Asked about the objections, Barr, under oath, falsely told Congress he knew nothing about them.
Since then, Barr testified to Congress that “I think spying did occur” in the Russia probe, echoing Trump’s claim and earning a public contradiction by FBI Director Christopher A. Wray.
Rewarding Trump loyalists’ demands, Barr appointed a prosecutor (in addition to the inspector general) to examine the Trump-Russia probe, which has mushroomed into a criminal investigation of the investigators. Among those leading the probe? Nora Dannehy, the special prosecutor who decided not to charge any members of the George W. Bush administration after the politically motivated firing of U.S. attorneys and subsequent lies about the actions.
Further indulging Trump’s “witch hunt” claims, Barr traveled to Italy in search of evidence that would discredit the Trump-Russia investigation, and he reportedly asked the president to enlist the Australian and British governments in the effort. Trump named Barr during his infamous call with the Ukrainian president seeking investigations of Democrats and Joe Biden, according to the White House’s partial reconstruction: “I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it.”
The whistleblower got wind of this and said: “Attorney General Barr appears to be involved.” But the Justice Department — Barr’s Justice Department — declined to investigate, even though the CIA inspector general found the complaint “credible” and “urgent.” Barr, though named in the complaint, didn’t recuse himself, even as the Justice Department attempted to block the complaint from reaching Congress, as the law requires. Along the way, he embraced a White House legal strategy of defying subpoenas that has met with a string of defeats in the courts.
Now, as part of the “distancing” campaign, Barr’s Justice Department would have us believe the attorney general never discussed with Trump the prospective Ukraine probe into the Bidens, didn’t talk to Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani about Ukraine and didn’t know anything about the White House withholding aid to Ukraine.
Why would anybody doubt the sincerity of such claims?
Maybe Barr is getting queasy, with two of Giuliani’s Ukraine associates under indictment and Giuliani being turned down by four lawyers before finding representation. Maybe he’s unnerved by what he’s reading in the daily drop of impeachment depositions; on Thursday, another high-ranking State Department official testified about Giuliani’s campaign being “full of lies.” Maybe he even felt a pang of conscience.
It doesn’t matter. During his confirmation hearing in January, Barr vowed to “protect the independence and the reputation of the department.” Instead, he destroyed the former and squandered the latter. We may never know why he ruined his reputation to serve as Trump’s mob lawyer. But it’s far too late for rehabilitation.
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