President Trump loves a good family business, and it looks like there’s a chance that drug policy at the Justice Department could become a family affair.
The Trump administration’s point person on the opioid crisis, Mary Daly, is quite familiar with William Barr, who The Washington Post’s Devlin Barrett, Matt Zapotosky and Josh Dawsey reported Thursday is Trump’s leading candidate to be the next attorney general.
Barr is Daly’s dad.
Daly and her father seem to share a tough-on-crime philosophy on drug offenses, in line with the “War on Drugs” policies of the 80s and early 90s that sent a disproportionate number of minorities to jail. Barr, who served as President George H.W. Bush’s attorney general, oversaw those policies during his time in office.
Daly is a former federal prosecutor and now works in the deputy attorney general’s office, which means she wouldn’t directly report to Barr if he becomes attorney general.
She supported rolling back the Obama administration’s policy to be more lenient with lower-level drug offenders, according to a CBS News article about her from April, and has advocated for strict enforcement when it comes to addressing the nations' opioid epidemic.
What that means in practice is that Daly, like her former boss Jeff Sessions, is no fan of the type of criminal justice reform that Trump and some Republicans on Capitol Hill have supported. And neither is her father.
In 2015, Barr signed a letter to then-Senate leaders Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) urging them not to bring up a sentencing-reform bill.
“Our system of justice is not broken. Mandatory minimums and proactive law enforcement measures have caused a dramatic reduction in crime over the past 25 years, an achievement we cannot afford to give back,” the letter read.
In a 2001 oral history Barr gave of his time in the Bush administration, he likened the drug problem to terrorism. “I personally was of the view it was a national security problem,” he said.
These beliefs are more outside the mainstream today, as more and more lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have sought ways to decrease the exploding prison population, than they were when Barr served as attorney general. Though, with the increase of trafficked fentanyl, the highly potent synthetic opioid that is killing tens of thousands of Americans each year, some have been making the case that law enforcement needs to be tougher on drug crimes, not less.
That’s certainly the view of Daly, Justice’s director of opioid enforcement and prevention efforts, who said in an NPR interview earlier this year, “I think we should not underplay the importance of aggressive enforcement when it comes to this epidemic."
For criminal justice reform advocates, already dismayed by the lack of urgency on Capitol Hill to bring up bipartisan legislation, having someone with Barr’s views as the new attorney general would be incredibly disappointing.
Michael Collins, director of the office of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, said, “This feels like a slap in the face.”
We don’t know whether Barr will actually get the job and whether Daly would stay in hers if he does. The federal government rules don’t allow the hiring or promoting of relatives, but since Daly already works there, that may not be an issue.