Attorney General William Barr Must Go

Attorney General Bill Barr with President Trump at the White House in November. Trump views him as his personal attorney — a complete distortion of the role of attorney general. Photo by Doug Mills/NY Times

Planet Waves Legal Reporter

When President Obama took office, he gathered the US attorneys together and told them, “I appointed you but you don’t serve me. You serve the American people. And I expect you to act with independence and integrity.”

Attorney General William Barr expects the opposite.

He has deformed the Justice Department into an authoritarian caricature by scouring away the independence it has needfully exercised ever since Watergate, and enforcing the president’s every corrupt whim. Barr wields the DOJ as both a sword and a shield, investigating Trump’s enemies for crimes they did not commit, while protecting his friends from the consequences of crimes they did.

His behavior should come as no surprise; he warned us he would do this. In what amounted to an audition for his current position, he sent Trump’s lawyers an unsolicited memo claiming that Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s obstruction of justice should not be permitted because it was “fatally misconceived,” and that Trump’s authority over the executive branch is “illimitable” because “he is the executive branch.”

Unitary Executive: The All Powerful President

One wonders if the “unitary executive” theory Barr so vigorously advocates was inspired by Louis XIV’s famous proclamation, “L’etat c’est moi.” Further, anyone passingly familiar with his history will recall that as Attorney General under Bush Sr., Barr orchestrated the Iran-Contra pardons, so his use of the Justice Department to protect the current president and his co-conspirators was entirely predictable.

In the mere days since Trump’s acquittal, AG Barr has:

— Issued new rules (PDF) for all federal law enforcement and investigative agencies that:

— Forbid any investigations of presidential candidates (such as Donald Trump) or members of their campaigns without AG Barr’s prior written approval, and require law enforcement to immediately notify the DOJ of any preliminary assessments or exploratory investigative steps;

— Forbid any investigations of congressional candidates or members of their campaigns without prior written approval from the DOJ; and

— Forbid any investigations into illegal and foreign donations to presidential or congressional campaigns without prior written notification to the DOJ;

— Created an exclusive back channel to accept disinformation from Rudy Giuliani (who is himself the target of two criminal investigations and a counter-intelligence investigation) relating to his “investigation” of Democrats and the Bidens in Ukraine;

— Appointed outside prosecutors to review the case against Trump’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and other “politically sensitive” cases; and

— At the president’s urging, forced DC federal prosecutors to amend (PDF) their original (PDF) sentencing recommendation for longtime Trump associate and campaign adviser Roger Stone, from the DOJ guideline-compliant 7 to 9 years, to a sentence “far less” than that.

Moving Toward a Corrupt, Authoritarian State

Each of these developments represents an alarming new step towards a corrupt, authoritarian state. Trump and anyone in his campaign are now free to commit any crime and accept any illegal or foreign campaign donation, without fear of federal investigation, because Barr will simply deny permission to investigate them (while authorizing bogus investigations into anyone who refuses to bend the knee to Trump). There is no doubt that Barr will act this way, because he is already doing so.

Furthermore, Barr’s creation of a special “intake process” as a conduit for Russian propaganda and disinformation from Rudy Giuliani is emblematic of the way authoritarian regimes and this administration embrace any falsehood or conspiracy theory that serves their purposes.

And Barr obeying Trump’s directive to interfere in the criminal cases of his associates not only undermines the independence of the Justice Department, it is an attack on the foundations of the rule of law. In Plato’s Republic, Socrates dismantles the notion that justice is merely “to do good to our friends and harm to our enemies.” William Barr would unwind over two millennia’s worth of moral philosophy.

What makes Barr’s intervention in Stone’s case particularly villainous is the untenable position into which it forced the civil servants entrusted with handling the case. Roger Stone will be sentenced very soon.

If Judge Jackson chooses to impose a lower sentence in accordance with the revised recommendation, it will appear that she is bowing to political pressure from Barr to do a favor for the president; if she imposes a sentence in line with the guidelines and the original recommendation, she exposes herself to accusations that she is making a partisan decision to defy the Justice Department in order to harm the president.

Either way, Barr has destroyed the presumption of impartial justice that she previously enjoyed.

Four Prosecutors Resign From Roger Stone Case

Barr forced the four prosecutors on Stone’s case into an even worse situation, which is why they unanimously withdrew from the case, one resigning from the DOJ entirely. Taken together, Rules of Professional Conduct 1.16(a)and 3.3 require lawyers to withdraw from representation rather than lie to the court at a client’s insistence.

To their credit, the Stone prosecutors chose the former, but after the illegal, retributive firings of Gordon Sondland and Alexander Vindman (as well as Vindman’s brother, Yevgeny, in an act reminiscent of Nazi Germany’s Sippenhaft), these lawyers likely considered that they were choosing between their ethical obligations and their careers.

While it is certainly better to resign than to perpetuate such injustices, this attrition of competent, ethical people has the long term effect of hastening Trump’s creeping authoritarianism, as they are replaced with corrupt toadies who will sacrifice their ethics on the altar of Trump’s depravity.

Barr is not just intervening in the sentencing of the president’s longtime friend and campaign advisor; he is demanding a lower sentence is for crimes Stone committed on Trump’s behalf: namely, obstructing Congress’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia, lying to Congress to cover up the Trump campaign’s contacts Russia, and threatening to murder a witness and his dog, to scare him into refusing to testify to Mueller about the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia.

William Barr is a Liar

His recent actions are only the latest in a persistent pattern of corrupt behavior. Since becoming the Attorney General, he has:

— Published an extremely misleading summary of the Mueller report while withholding the actual report and executive summary, and lied in the accompanying press conference, falsely claiming that Mueller found no collusion;

Cleared Trump of obstruction of justice, when Mueller plainly left that determination up to Congress;

— Taken numerous steps to discredit the Mueller investigation, including launching three separate investigations into its origins, one of them criminal; traveled overseas to request the help of foreign intelligence agencies in discrediting the Mueller investigation; and publicly disputed the Inspector General report that found no wrongdoing in the Mueller investigation’s origins;

— Lied to Congress when he testified that Trump’s debunked conspiracy theory about Obama spying on his campaign was true;

— Abruptly ended the DOJ’s investigation into Trump’s conduct in the Ukraine scandal a few weeks after its inception;

Ignored key aspects of the Ukraine whistleblower’s complaint in order to justify withholding it from Congress;

Sought to prevent New York prosecutors from obtaining Trump’s tax returns, and filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in a civil case seeking the tax returns, making specious arguments that subpoenas for the returns were unconstitutional; and

— Started an investigation into former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who signed off on the FBI’s investigation into Trump for obstruction of justice.

Bill Barr believes that the function of the DOJ is to protect the president and carry out his will. Bill Barr is wrong. The Attorney General represents the American people – not the president’s personal interests.

That is why the Federal Judges Association called an emergency meeting about Barr’s abuse of power, and over 2,400 former DOJ officials have signed a letter demanding his resignation. If he does not resign, he should be impeached. And for his many ethical violations, he should permanently lose his license to practice law.

That would be true justice.

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