Barr Contradicts Trump on his Way out the Door

Although, as usual, he maintains his odious approach to it all.

“Trump and Barr” by The White House is in the Public Domain, CC0

Today is Attorney General Bill Barr’s last day in office and good riddance to him. He has been a historically bad AG, fueling lawlessness and corruption by the current president from pretty much his first day in office. For all the “law and order” rhetoric of his party, he has not shown much fealty to law or to justice but rather an allegiance to the sitting president that was unseemly for an AG.

I will not attempt to details all his greatest hits but will note that as James Joyner wrote last year, Yes, Barr Misled the Public on the Mueller report (see, also, my post Barr v. Mueller). There is also his handling of the Flynn and Stone cases. His role in the clearing of Lafayette Square will go down, I predict, in infamy.

He also liked to play rhetorical games that helped enliven and extend conspiracy theories popular in this administration, such as the time he talking about “spying” on Trump campaign by the FBI. This word choice was clearly designed to undercut legitimate law enforcement activity and to please Trump. Likewise, his testimony that he didn’t know if the president could move election day, or various paens to Trump-favored conspiracy theories about mail-in ballots/electoral fraud all helped drive the country deeper into the realm of untruth and confusion.

These were not the actions of an AG seeking to help the public sift truth from falsity, but were instead all designed to muddy the waters (more on that below).

I could go on (and on and on). See also my posts The Corruption of Justice and He Got his Man. Also see ABC News: Barr departing Justice Department following tenure packed with controversy

At any rate, Barr is leaving (seemingly before Trump could fire him) and WaPo reports, Undercutting Trump, Barr says there’s no basis for seizing voting machines, using special counsels for election fraud, Hunter Biden.

Outgoing Attorney General William P. Barr said Monday that he saw no basis for the federal government seizing voting machines and that he did not intend to appoint a special counsel to investigate allegations of voter fraud — again breaking with President Trump as the commander in chief entertains increasingly desperate measures to overturn the election.

On the one hand, I appreciate any amount of push-back from ostensible Trump allies against his more dangerous ideas.

On the other, Barr still had to be Barr (as per above):

Barr said that while he was “sure there was fraud in this election,” he had not seen evidence that it was so “systemic or broad-based” that it would change the result. He asserted he saw “no basis now for seizing machines by the federal government,” and he would not name a special counsel to explore the allegations of Trump and his allies.

It is irresponsible for him to give fuel to fraud theories by saying things like “sure there was fraud in this election” when that means things like the following via Forbes: Pennsylvania Man Charged With Voter Fraud For Casting Ballot For Trump Under Dead Mother’s Name. (And I am even giving Barr the benefit of the doubt that that is the kind of thing he is referring to here).

At least he has said this (not that kooks are listening):

Barr had previously seemed to throw cold water on Powell’s allegation of a grand conspiracy, telling the Associated Press, “There’s been one assertion that would be systemic fraud, and that would be the claim that machines were programmed essentially to skew the election results. And the DHS and DOJ have looked into that, and so far, we haven’t seen anything to substantiate that.”

So while I glad that he is not willing to capitulate to Trump’s fantasies of massive fraud, his willingness to let ambiguous language embolden false narratives about fraud is reprehensible.

And while I think he is correct not to have named a special counsel in the Hunter Biden case (such a move would have been an abuse of power, in my opinion) his early exit from office means that his successor might.

After he departs on Wednesday, leadership of the department will fall to Rosen, who declined to answer questions in a recent interview with Reuters about whether he would name special counsels to investigate voter fraud or Hunter Biden. Rosen did not appear at Monday’s news conference.

If Barr had the courage of his convictions on these matters, he would have stuck out the last month of the administration to slow Trump’s roll on matters such as these. Or, at least, been willing to be fired as a matter of principle. Instead, he is washing his hands of the whole mess so as to have a more peaceful Christmas and New Year’s.

A profile in courage, to be sure.

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    I read the statements about a Biden and election special prosecutors as giving cover to Rosen, if he chooses not to indulge trump. But thank god he’s gone.

  2. Raoul says:

    Barr gives a bad name to the legal profession- instead of truth seeking he pursues obfuscation, and to what purpose? Obviously he think he more important than anyone else – a real first class jerk.

  3. Michael Reynolds says:

    If you can take one lesson away from the Holocaust it is that no leader is so vile that he cannot attract an endless supply of toadies, and those toadies will have no moral floor under them and will commit any atrocity in support of their leader. If you build a death camp you will find people willing to run it.

    Barr sees collapse is imminent. He sees the Red Army in the suburbs of Berlin. So he grabs up the gold teeth he took from the mouths of the murdered and runs for the American army, crying, ‘I didn’t know, I wasn’t part of it.’

    We’ll see more of this. Not rats deserting the sinking ship, but the ship’s officers who helped to sink the ship and are now racing for the lifeboats. Rats are innocent, these people are scum.

  4. Kathy says:

    Barr is the kind of person who can best improve the world by leaving it, as are so many in Trump’s orbit (starting with El Grand Cheeto himself). He just has found the limits of his corruption.

    But this isn’t a movie like Star Wars where we forgive Darth Vader because he saves Luke’s life (and there’s a reason why the redeemed Star Wars villains die after their one heroic deed). Barr is not redeemed and cannot be forgiven.

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Barr said that while he was “sure there was fraud in this election,”

    I have no objection to this statement. I mean, trump was in it, was he not?

  6. gVOR08 says:


    Barr gives a bad name to the legal profession- instead of truth seeking he pursues obfuscation, and to what purpose?

    Lawyers see their job as advocating for their client. Truth is the responsibility of the jury and/or the court. I think a lot of the problems with our governance flow from so many legislators being lawyers. Their wealthy and corporate donors are their clients. They’re job is to advocate for the tax cuts, or whatever, their clients want. The impact on the economy is not their problem.

  7. gVOR08 says:


    Barr is not redeemed and cannot be forgiven.

    Henry Kissinger was responsible for untold deaths and misery. In the Chennault Affair he committed treason. He’s still alive and a respected member of the foreign policy community. Barr will be welcomed back into the open arms of the legal establishment.

  8. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    If Barr had the courage of his convictions on these matters…

    Objection, your honor. Assumes facts not in evidence. Barr may simply be as petty and vindictive as his boss, so that the statements may not reflect any convictions at all.

  9. gVOR08 says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: Actually, I think Barr has convictions. It’s just that they’re weird, proto-fascist, convictions. And careerism. Now, with a month left, there’s little he can do to secure his unitary executive, Dominionist, dreams, so he’s trying to salvage his career.

  10. JohnSF says:

    I suspect a lot of comments are missing a key part of Barr’s motivation.
    Anger, frustration, and disdain for Trump.

    I read him as having become increasingly aligned to an old strain of political Catholicicism. Reactionary authoritarianism but with the secular authority constrained and limited by a presumed obedience to “tradition”, but able to use coercive power against the enemies of “tradition”.
    With an American twist on the original that it is pro-capitalist, where the the old reactionaries were more suspicious of it, and willing to adopt at least some superficial elements of populist democracy. More as decoration than foundation.
    And willing to treat at least some other Christians and Jews at least useful allies.

    He probably sees himself as man with a mission, a cause.
    And Trump was in place to enable this cause to make massive strides, but threw the opportunity aside from stupidity, laziness, indiscipline, incompetence and overweening self-regard.
    I would guess that at this point Barr feels boundless contempt for Donald Trump.

  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @JohnSF: He probably sees himself as man with a mission, a cause.

    We’re on a mission from God.

  12. flat earth luddite says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    Or, at least, been willing to be fired as a matter of principle.

    Mr. Barr has no apparent principles, any expectation that he would recognize a matter of principle if it bit him on his fat ass is laughable.

  13. Scott F. says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Barr is no doubt scum, but I’d say calling him a ‘toadie’ doesn’t assign the appropriate level of culpability. Barr hasn’t been committing atrocities in support of his leader as much as he’s been devising atrocities of his own and using this particularly clueless and feckless leader to live out his wet dreams of an executive unhindered by the other two branches of our system of government.

    I hope Trump rots in hell, but his behavior in office has predictably stemmed from his pathologies. I hold (slightly) greater contempt for Barr and McConnell. While Trump is pure id that is completely disconnected from his place in governing a country, these two specific scumbags know full well how they are perverting the system to their own pernicious ends. They deserve special scorn, yet Trump is catching all the flak and they’re somehow managing to escape their just deserts. We can’t let them.

  14. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Scott F.:
    That makes a lot of sense. You’re right. Going full Godwin’s, Barr is a Rudolf Hess figure, an instigator. Had Trump been re-elected he’d have been Himmler. I have Javanka jointly as the Albert Speer figure, the good looking ones meant to reassure normal people. McConnell I have as the war-time CEO of Bayer or IG Farben. And of course Murdoch and his crew play the part of Goebbels.

  15. Scott F. says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Now, Jared IS a toady. He’s the epitome of bootlicker. Can you imagine if Jared were born into the lower middle class? If his father-in-law owned a car dealership, Jared would be the one pushing the undercoating on everyone.

    (And Ivanka would be home at their two bedroom ranch watching Keeping up with the Kardashians while their kids tear up the house.)

  16. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @Michael Reynolds: Apt characterizations. I’m trying to figure out who would be the stand-in for Martin Bormann. Bannon, perhaps? Or Roger Stone?