As Attorney General, his behavior is a disgrace that makes John Mitchell look like Clarence Darrow:
Attorney General Bill Barr is keeping busy. He previously announced in May that he had appointed John Durham, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, to review the origins of the Russia investigation during the 2016 campaign. This week, multiple news outlets reported that Barr is putting the full weight of American diplomacy behind the probe. The attorney reportedly asked President Donald Trump to ask the Australian and British governments to aid his inquiry. He also personally traveled to Italy to meet with that country’s intelligence officials and gather evidence himself.
It’s hard to think about Barr’s role in all of this without thinking about his predecessor. Jeff Sessions had been one of President Donald Trump’s earliest political allies and an unstinting champion of his policies in office. When his departure became public last November, I wrote that the former Alabama senator had “spent the last two years reshaping federal law enforcement into a blunter and more punitive instrument, squeezing legal and undocumented immigrants alike, and tilting the scales of justice away from disadvantaged communities.”
Sessions deserved the lion’s share of criticism he received, especially for his role in separating migrant children from their families at the border. The only exception was the criticism that came from Trump. Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation in early 2017 out of ethical and legal obligations, and the president never forgave him for doing so. The Mueller report is essentially a catalogue of Trump’s campaign to pressure Sessions into shutting down the inquiry. When Sessions refused to un-recuse himself or sabotage Mueller, Trump unceremoniously ousted him last November.
Barr, by comparison, seems to have no such scruples about carrying out Trump’s whims. He hasn’t really deviated from Sessions’s overall policy agenda since taking over DOJ. In some aspects of immigration and criminal-justice matters, he’s even gone further than Sessions ever did. But his greatest achievement so far is doing what his predecessor spent almost two years resisting: transforming the Justice Department from a semi-independent actor into an instrument of Trump’s political interests.
The irony is that Barr, more than any of his predecessors since the Watergate era, seems to think that his job is to help discredit his boss’ political opponents. He prefaced the Mueller report’s public release with an unabashed defense of Trump’s misdeeds, saying the president was “frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks.” (Being mad is not a statutory exemption to obstruction of justice.) While testifying before Congress in April, he also asserted that U.S. intelligence agencies had spied on the Trump campaign, validating one of the president’s favorite complaints. FBI Director Christopher Wray and other U.S. intelligence officials have strenuously denied that any spying took place.
It’s worth noting that Jeff Sessions was no Elliot Richardson. It took a combination of public pressure and damaging revelations to force his eventual recusal from the Russia investigation in the spring of 2017. The trauma experienced by migrant families at the border during his tenure should also haunt Sessions for the rest of his life. If it does, he can at least take a small modicum of comfort in knowing that he was only the second-worst attorney general to ever serve under President Donald Trump.
I look forward to seeing Barr frog marched out of the Department of Justice in handcuffs.