Attorney General William P. Barr began his backpedaling public relations tour Friday, when he told the Associated Press that — despite The Post’s reporting — he had not personally ordered Monday’s Lafayette Square advance on protesters with tear gas and horses. It was a surprising claim, given that White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany had confirmed Barr’s role on Wednesday. But the attorney general opted to shelter in a meaningless distinction: that “my attitude was get it done, but I didn’t say, ‘Go do it.’”
It was not a profile in personal responsibility. But that was just the start of the weaseling; Barr’s Sunday interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation” was more like a tour de force in bobbing and weaving.
The interview kicked off with host Margaret Brennan asking Barr whether the president had indeed demanded 10,000 active duty troops be deployed against protesters. “No, that’s completely false,” Barr replied. But that number had been reported by my Post colleague David Ignatius on Friday and confirmed by the AP, CBS and CNN since.
Barr continued to dodge as the conversation shifted to systemic racism in law enforcement. “I think there’s racism in the United States still, but I don’t think that the law enforcement system is systemically racist,” said Barr, echoing the views expressed the previous Sunday by national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien. As I laid out last week, Barr and O’Brien’s views contradict the overwhelming evidence. And like O’Brien, the attorney general undercut his own argument. “The military used to be an explicitly racist institution,” he offered, “And now I think it’s in the vanguard of bringing the races together and providing equal opportunity. I think law enforcement has been going through the same process.” Barr couldn’t bring himself to say law enforcement used to be racist; but he did admit it’s something police departments struggle with.
Barr’s credibility dimmed again when he disputed the very nature of pepper spray. “Pepper spray is not a chemical irritant,” Barr insisted. “It’s not chemical.” That will no doubt come as news to manufacturers such as PepperBall, which advertises its products to law enforcement as “the most effective chemical irritant available.” The active ingredient in pepper balls, pepper spray and the like? Capsaicin, with the chemical formula C18 H27 NO3. Barr might as well have argued water isn’t a compound.
Misrepresentation has long been standard operating procedure for America’s top law enforcement officer. This is the same attorney general who claimed that dismissing charges against former national security adviser Michael Flynn “upheld the rule of law” — even as key former FBI and Justice Department officials disputed the facts in the DOJ’s motion. And it’s the same AG who twisted the findings of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report before its publication, to the point that a Republican-appointed judge demanded access to the full report because Barr’s distortions damaged the Justice Department’s credibility.
In another administration, such behavior would be grounds for resignation. In the Trump White House, it’s par for the course.