William Barr Is Exactly The Kind Of Attorney General Trump Always Wanted

Late last week, Attorney General William Barr demonstrated quite aptly the extent to which he has become just another Trump loyalist.

In an unusual step for a sitting Attorney General of the United States, but a typical one for the Trump Administration, Attorney General William Barr delivered a controversial and highly partisan attack in a speech late last week:

Attorney General William P. Barr accused Democrats on Friday of using their oversight powers to sabotage the executive branch, criticizing the “resistance” to President Trump and what he called a broader erosion in the commander in chief’s rightful authority.

The Trump appointee described a “war” against a “duly elected government” at a conference of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group that has played a key role in the administration’s efforts to seat record numbers of right-leaning federal judges.

“The fact of the matter is that, in waging a scorched earth, no-holds-barred war of resistance against this administration, it is the left that is engaged in the systematic shredding of norms and the undermining of the rule of law,” Barr told his audience of lawyers at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel.

To critics, the speech was overly partisan and even “authoritarian.” It prompted some calls for Barr’s impeachment from lawyers and legal scholars, many of whom believe his views of presidential power are too expansive. Barr says the Constitution’s creators envisioned a strong executive.

His speech came amid a newly public, high-stakes phase of Democrat-led investigations into the White House, as impeachment hearings examine whether Trump abused his office to secure a foreign country’s probe of his political rival. Barr recently declined Trump’s request that he hold a news conference defending Trump in the inquiry by saying the president broke no laws in a call to Ukraine’s president, individuals familiar with the situation told The Washington Post.

But the attorney general was vociferous Friday in his defense of Trump’s actions in office, saying legislators are the ones who have overstepped their bounds. Judges, too, have interfered with the president’s authority in recent years, he said.

“I don’t deny that Congress has some implied authority,” he said. “But the sheer volume of what we see today, the pursuit of scores of parallel investigations through an avalanche of subpoenas, is plainly designed to incapacitate the executive branch and indeed is touted as such.”

Richard Painter, who served as chief White House ethics attorney in the George W. Bush administration, called the attorney general’s statements “authoritarian,” comparing the Federalist Society talk to another Barr speech that criticized “radical secularists.”

Barr’s talk was “an attack on our Constitution and on the rule of law,” the University of Minnesota law professor tweeted.

(…)

The attorney general has been warning for decades of “legislative encroachments” on the president’s power, as he put it in a 1989 memo that his Democratic successor quickly replaced with one that recognized a bigger role for Congress.

Speaking Friday, Barr traced a “steady grinding down” of executive authority to the mid-1960s, saying the trend had quickened after the Watergate scandal that led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation.

Barr emphasized the president’s purview over policy and diplomacy and argued for the executive branch’s ability to keep its conversations secret from what he called a meddling Congress. For the attorney general, the so-called resistance to the president implies a “dangerous” notion of insurgency against a military occupation.

He pointed to Trump’s election as a mandate for his actions.

“While the president has certainly thrown out the traditional Beltway playbook and punctilio, he was up front about what he wanted to do, and the people decided they wanted him to serve as president,” Barr said.

The attorney general defended specific Trump administration policies such as a travel ban aimed at citizens of mostly majority-Muslim countries, pointing to court victories. The Supreme Court upheld that policy last year in a close ruling that found Trump can bar travelers for national security reasons.

Barr contended the Obama administration wielded executive power more aggressively than its successor — for example, through its creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that protects certain undocumented immigrants known as “Dreamers” from deportation.

Barr’s defense of a strong executive generally and of the actions of the Trump Administration particularly are not surprising, of course. Months before he was selected to replace Jeff Sessions, Barr was writing Op-Ed’s and appearing on cable news arguing in favor of Trump Administration policies, questioning the validity of the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, potential collusion with the Trump campaign, and obstruction of justice by the Trump Administration. Democrats raised several of these issues at Barr’s confirmation hearings, of course, and Barr responded by saying that as Attorney General he would see his responsibility as being toward enforcing the law rather than representing the President.

Since taking office, though, Barr has behaved exactly as the Democrats and other critics of Barr’s nomination predicted. Shortly after the Mueller Report was released to Congress and the public in a redacted form, Barr released a letter purporting to summarize the investigation’s conclusions that were so inaccurate that the Special Counsel’s office felt the need to send a letter to the Attorney General demanding that his misrepresentations be clarified. Once the report was released, it was clear that Barr’s summary of the report was at the very least misleading and at the very worst outright lying. Despite demands, Barr has also refused to comply with Congressional demands for an unredacted copy of the report, an action that led the House Judiciary Committee to hold him in contempt earlier this year.

In addition to his actions involving the Mueller report, Barr has been a consistent defender of the President and has utilized the Justice Department to defend the President even in cases that don’t directly implicate the Presidency. This includes lawsuits over documents regarding the President’s personal finances and tax returns as well as a number of other issues. In addition, as he demonstrated in this speech, he has become a vocal partisan spokesperson for Administration policy rather than the relatively neutral enforcer of the laws that the post is supposed to be. Granted, we’ve had Attorneys General or are partisan in one sense or the other in the past, Edwin Meese comes to mind for example, but Barr exceeds even those boundaries in his obsequiousness toward Trump and his efforts to turn the Justice Department into Trump’s private law firm inside the Federal Government.

Max Boot accurately describes Barr’s defense of Presidential power-grabbing as “chilling”:

Barr’s wrongheaded assumption was that “over the past several decades, we have seen steady encroachment on presidential authority by the other branches of government.” His view faithfully reflects the conservative consensus of the 1970s when he was a CIA analyst and a law student. Few serious analysts share that view today at a time when the president claims the authority to kill suspected terrorists anywhere in the world without any judicial oversight. In fact, conservatives decried President Barack Obama’s tendency to rule by fiat — for example, in protecting “dreamers” from deportation or reaching a nuclear agreement with Iran that wasn’t submitted for Senate ratification.

Trump has now taken rule-by-executive-order to the next level by declaring a “state of emergency” to spend money on his border wall that Congress refused to appropriate. Trump has also misused his authority in myriad other ways, including obstructing justice (as outlined in a special counsel report that Barr deliberately mischaracterized) and soliciting a bribe from Ukraine to release congressionally appropriated military aid.

Yet, to hear Barr tell it, Trump is somehow denied power by the nefarious “Resistance.” Barr decried Trump critics who do not view “themselves as the ‘loyal opposition,'” but rather “see themselves as engaged in a war to cripple, by any means necessary, a duly elected government.”
Earth to Barr: Trump does not treat his critics as “the loyal opposition.”

He calls them “human scum,” “traitors” and “the enemy of the people,” using the language of dictators. And it is Trump and his toadies — not his opponents — who are “willing to use any means necessary to gain momentary advantage.”

(…)

“In this partisan age,” Barr sanctimoniously concluded, “we should take special care not to allow the passions of the moment to cause us to permanently disfigure the genius of our Constitutional structure.” He is right, but not in the way he intended. The real threat to “our Constitutional structure” emanates not from administration critics who struggle to uphold the rule of law but from a lawless president who is aided and abetted in his reckless actions by unscrupulous and unprincipled partisans — including the attorney general of the United State

What Barr is doing here is nothing less than reinforcing and emboldening the worst aspects of the Trump Presidency, including most notably his open contempt for the Rule of Law and his baseless attacks on the independent judiciary. He is, in other words, becoming exactly the kind of Attorney General that Trump wanted from the start.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Law and the Courts, Politicians, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Baghdad Bob meets Opus Dei.
    A dangerous combination.
    Baghdad Barr.

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  2. Kit says:

    Don’t worry, I’m sure Barr doesn’t mean any of this. And as soon as the Democrats manage to retake the presidency, he will surely clarify his views.

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  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    My mother always said, “If you can’t say something nice about somebody don’t say anything at all.” I’m going to follow that advice just now but not because I can’t think of anything nice to say.

  4. gVOR08 says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl: That Barr is a conservative Catholic fanatic is only very lightly brushed on in the above articles. From a speech he gave at Notre Dame,

    Secularists and their allies have marshaled all the forces of mass communication, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values.

    Barr makes people like Douthat and Dreher seem reasonable. And he brings a degree of competence to Trump’s proto-fascism.

    Somebody should remind Barr he can go to Hell for bearing false witness, as he did in his “transcript summary” of the Mueller Report. And what the hell is he hiding by refusing to let Congress see the unredacted report?

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  5. CSK says:

    Barr sees himself first and foremost as Trump’s loyal servitor and protector, which is how Trump wants all of his cabinet officers and other administration personnel to regard themselves. They’re his minions, and no one else’s. Remember his reference to “my generals”? The operative word there is “my.”

  6. steve says:

    Our problem is that POTUS does not have enough power? That is bizarre. Also, how can we take any Republican seriously about “all of those investigations”? While Obama was in office they had non-stop investigations, never finding anything. When they ran out of stuff to investigate they just investigated the same stuff over and over (8 investigations of Benghazi!). I have decided that they are just a bunch of whiney pussies upset that they would be treated like they treated others.

    Steve

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  7. Kathy says:

    @steve:

    If they read their holy book rather than just fetishize it, they might learn something. You know, like “All they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” Or what happens to those who sow the wind.

    But I guess whining is easier than reading.

  8. Paul L. says:

    Attorney General William Barr…just another Trump loyalist

    Cummings Says Comparing Obama’s ‘Wingman’ Eric Holder To Bill Barr Is ‘Tough’

    “Obama, and I’ve said this many times—he ran a clean shop. OK? And I had a chance to see it up front and personal. Now if…Obama had told one lie, the press would have been all over it. Here’s a man who has told 10—what is it? Ten thousand in two years? Come on now. There’s no comparison.”

    Obama lied about this Uncle helping to liberate Auschwitz and the press ignored and defended it.

    WhatAboutism Cult45 vs. Obots.

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  9. Teve says:

    @Paul L.: You left off some stuff about Duke Lacrosse.

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  10. gVOR08 says:

    @CSK: I really can’t see Barr as personally loyal to Trump. Barr’s religious fruitloopery and his proto-fascist devotion to the strong extreme of the unitary executive go back way before Trump. I think his loyalty is to his own political philosophy* and that like so many before him he sees sucking up to Trump as necessary expedient to further his own agenda. Innate deference to authority probably makes it relatively easy for him. To him, Congress seeking to exert power over the (Republican) president is an evil to be thwarted even if the president is in the wrong.

    * Noting, as I have on numerous occasions, that conservatism is not a political philosophy, it’s a personality tic. For which see Lakoff on the “strict father model”.

  11. gVOR08 says:

    @Paul L.: Yeah, and Obama said I could keep my doctor. (I did, until I moved, and he retired about the same time.) That’s two, from eight years, plus the first campaign. What else you got?

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  12. Fortunato says:

    @Paul L.:

    “I had an uncle … who was part of the first American troops to go into Auschwitz and liberate the concentration camps.”
    — Barack Obama on Monday, May 26th, 2008 in a speech in Las Cruces, N.M.

    PolitiFact:
    Mostly True

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  13. Teve says:

    A trump supporter complaining about your lies is like Ted Bundy criticising you for not being nice enough to your girlfriend.

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  14. Kit says:

    @gVOR08:

    an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values.

    I wonder if, in Barr’s view, the Constitution falls under the rubric of traditional values.

  15. CSK says:

    @gVOR08: Oh, I agree. I wasn’t suggesting that Barr loves Trump, merely that he knows what Trump wants and needs and caters to that expertly for his own ends. Barr is probably as contemptuous of Trump as everyone else who works for him likely is. Even Ivanka knows he’s an infantile jerk. But she also knows how to manipulate him.

  16. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Paul L.:

    Obama lied about this Uncle helping to liberate Auschwitz

    Didn’t you forget to mention some unrelated rape case, or something?
    Obama’s great uncle was part of liberating a concentration camp in Ohrdruf. That’s a gaffe. If that were the sort of thing Trump is guilty of you probably wouldn’t hear much about it either. But Trump has told outright lies tens of thousands of times.
    Moron.

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  17. Paul L. says:

    @Fortunato:

    press ignored and defended it

    Of course PolitiFraud (We got ‘100 percent’ of chemical weapons out of Syria) defended it.

    Obama’s story immediately seems implausible because Auschwitz was liberated in 1945 by Soviet, not American, troops.

    Handwaving Holder’s Obama’s Wingman comment away.

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  18. Mike in Arlington says:

    @Paul L.: Dude, Obama admitted his error and corrected the record, something anathema to Trump and his campaign and administration.
    https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-politics-obama-auschwitz/obama-admits-reference-to-auschwitz-was-wrong-idUSN2740383620080527

    And the press “ignored” it? really? A simple google search proves you wrong.
    https://lmgtfy.com/?q=obama+uncle+liberate+auschwitz

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  19. Paul L. says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    Trump has told outright lies tens of thousands of times.

    President Trump has made more than 10,000 false or misleading claims
    You are being misleading. false or misleading claims are the same as lies?
    So, this is wrong?

    Holder also admitted that a letter sent to Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) by Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich claiming that the ATF was not deliberately allowing guns across the border was “inaccurate.” But, Holder claimed, DOJ was not lying on purpose — it was the field office’s fault.

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  20. Michael Reynolds says:

    Bill Barr has daddy issues.

    The connection between the racist, misogynist, authoritarianism of Trumpaloons and the racist, misogynist, authoritarianism of conservative Christianity is unmistakable. These are people trained from birth to obey authority as expressed by cocksure bullying men with mediocre intellects and an absence of empathy.

    Right-wing Christians have moved seamlessly from Jesus to Trump. I guess after 2000 years they got tired of waiting for Jesus. But then, Christians have always been willing to surrender their supposed beliefs any time some strutting fuckwit with bad hair starts telling them the lies they want to hear.

    You know the essential difference between an atheist and a believer? When a believer lives a decent life it’s because he’s been promised heaven and threatened with hell. The atheist just lives a decent life, no need for demons or angels, no need for threats of unending torture.

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  21. Jax says:

    Dang, I was gonna place a bet on how many comments it would take before Paul L “whatabouted” Fast and Furious, but I was not fast enough!!!!

  22. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Paul L.:
    Oh for fuck’s sake shut up you moron. Jesus Christ you’re an idiot. And it’s OK to be an idiot, the bell curve rather insists that some people have to be idiots, but can you not take your idiocy to some realm other than politics? There are so many places you could be stupid. YouTube comment sections await your boring, boring, boring, boring demonstration of your intellectual limitations.

    Every goddamned day up you pop to remind us just how brain dead you are. Your attempts to hold a conversation with the adults is just so desperate and unaware and sad and above all, boring.

    Jesus Christ, is there no Trumpaloon who can talk at an adult level? This is like playing chess with a Spaniel. Dude: you are not smart. So very not smart.

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  23. gVOR08 says:

    @Michael Reynolds: I’ve long said you can’t trust people who won’t behave decently without the threat of eternal damnation.

  24. Gustopher says:

    @Paul L.:

    Obama lied about this Uncle helping to liberate Auschwitz

    He got the camp wrong. That’s like saying you got a Filet O’ Fish from Burger King. Probably false, but an error rather than a lie. An error made in good faith. And an error he corrected.

    What’s impressive though is that you managed to take something true — Obama was wrong when said his uncle helped liberate Auschwitz — and twist that to misrepresent facts more than Obama’s original inaccurate statement did.

    And this is why when you finally discover the truth behind BENGHAZI!!! everyone will assume you’re lying. You’ve been written off as not just a moron and a fool, but as a willful and eager idiot.

    Here’s the truth about Benghazi by the way: Obama ordered the Muslim Brotherhood to carry out a hit on four American diplomats who knew the truth about the Duke Lacrosse team.

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  25. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Paul L.:
    Dude… from the link YOU provided…

    He also now has earned 21 “Bottomless Pinocchios,” claims that have earned Three or Four Pinocchios and which have been repeated at least 20 times.

    That’s what you are trying, hopelessly, to defend.
    Re-read Reynolds comment…it can’t be said any better.

  26. Kit says:

    @gVOR08:

    I’ve long said you can’t trust people who won’t behave decently without the threat of eternal damnation.

    A corollary: people who only act good when being watch will certainly act bad when they are not. Trolls would hardly exist if they couldn’t hide behind pseudonyms.

  27. Teve says:

    @Gustopher: I heard it was the Muslim Brotherhood and Hillary, driving a Buick LaCrosse.

  28. mattbernius says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Oh you pathetic fool. Don’t you understand?!

    Duke Lacrosse!

    Let me spell it out for you:
    D
    U
    K
    E

    L
    A
    C
    R
    O
    S
    S
    E

    And in conclusion I am always right because Duke Lacrosse and Progressives.

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  29. Gustopher says:

    @gVOR08:

    I’ve long said you can’t trust people who won’t behave decently without the threat of eternal damnation.

    But how do you separate those from the people who would behave decently anyway, but just happened to be raised religious?

    I’m more worried about the people who have the threat of eternal damnation and still behave horribly, but use the cloak of their religion to tell themselves that they are a good person because they believe in their sky god(s).

  30. Kurtz says:

    @Gustopher:

    Here’s the truth about Benghazi by the way: Obama ordered the Muslim Brotherhood to carry out a hit on four American diplomats who knew the truth about the Duke Lacrosse team.

    World’s best, all-time greatest, stable genius gold star for you.

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  31. DrDaveT says:

    The sad part is that Paul L. has successfully hijacked an important thread about the second most dangerous person in America.

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  32. Fortunato says:

    @Paul L.:
    Hate to break it to you Paul, but your lunatic quote re Eric Holder is just wildly disingenuous.

    1) Your quote is pulled from the toxic slime of The New American. As in this, New American:

    The New American (TNA) is a far-right print magazine published twice a month by American Opinion Publishing Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of the John Birch Society (JBS), a far-right organization.

    2) Here’s the real story behind that letter. A story depicting simple honesty on the part of Eric Holder, not the skullduggery you and your fevered fellow denizens have cooked up:
    Justice Department Reveals Origins of False Gun Letter To Grassley

    As has been proven, over and over and over again – Eric Holder NEVER had more than an extraordinarily distant, wholly tangential relationship with any of the activity relating to Fast & Furious. Which of course is why, after a years-long GOP carnivalesque, Theatre of the Absurd ‘investigation’, led by Darrel “Matches” Issa, including the production of nearly 80,000 documents by the DOJ and 3 separate public depositions/appearances by AG Holder – the The Justice Department’s Inspector General’s 471-page final report FULLY EXONERATES Holder.

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  33. gVOR08 says:

    @Fortunato: There was an article a few days ago at WAPO or NYT talking about how people recognize truth. The article only talked about what sources people trust, and cited an appalling 30 or 40% who say they trust Trump. But the other way to tell truth is whether it jibes with everything else you know about the world. To believe that the president and the AG directed, or were even aware of, a local ATF operation betrays a lack of understanding of the scale and operation of the government. Unfortunately a chunk of the population do not have the education or general knowledge to spot obvious lies. And this is FOX et al’s demographic. And Trump’s.

  34. Teve says:

    @gVOR08: that’s basically Coherentism.

  35. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Fortunato: And yet trump can’t produce a single f’n document. One would think they’d get a clue.

  36. Scott F. says:

    This latest diatribe from Barr just shows the rot is deep in the Republican Party and it’s supporting organizations. The Federalist Society gave the AG a standing ovation for that bilious stream of gaslighting. “The fact of the matter is that, in waging a scorched earth, no-holds-barred war of resistance against this administration, it is the left that is engaged in the systematic shredding of norms and the undermining of the rule of law.” Wow, that is some top grade up-is-down right there.

    Let’s hope Everything Trump Touches Dies (ETTD) holds true when it comes to the bear hug the Republicans have put on The Donald. The whole GOP/Fox enterprise of misinformation and disenfranchisement has to be thoroughly quashed before the country has any chance to return to good governance.

  37. An Interested Party says:

    Most fluffers aren’t so outspoken in speaking of their fluffing…actually, it’s an insult to compare Barr to fluffers…surely most of them have more self-respect than he does…

  38. Jax says:

    @An Interested Party: Annnnd let’s cue up the Jeff Sessions ad.

    It’s gotta make even Paul L, Guarneri and JKB a little creeped out, the amount of groveling that’s being done.

  39. grumpy realist says:

    Doug, I think the term is “obsequious toady.”

    (Applies both to Barr and Sessions, natch!)