Opinion

William Barr is Trump's real personal attorney

Who needs Rudy when you've got the attorney general to do your dirty work?

President Trump may not need Rudy Giuliani after all. Attorney General William Barr has made it clear that he's acting not as the nation's chief law enforcement officer, but as Trump's personal attorney. Who needs Giuliani when you can get the A.G. to do your dirty work?

On NBC this week, Barr dismissed any allegations of the Trump 2016 campaign's connections to Russia as "a completely bogus narrative." This sort of hyperbolic language has come to be expected of Trump, but it's also become far too common from those near him. While Trump is carrying out a clear existential threat to the presidency and American system, Barr's indefensible defense of him may be doing much more lasting damage to the nation and the rule of law. As the former Attorney General Eric Holder argues in The Washington Post, Barr's "attempts to vilify the president's critics [sound] more like the tactics of an unscrupulous criminal defense lawyer than a U.S. attorney general."

Barr's willingness to defend Trump at all costs is what got him the job, of course. From the start, Trump has operated as if the office of the presidency exists for his own personal benefit and that those around him, especially his Cabinet, serve his interests rather than the American people. When Barr's predecessor, Jeff Sessions, showed himself to be too independent for Trump's tastes and occasionally more loyal to the law than to the president, Trump abruptly dumped him. In selecting Barr, a former attorney general who has spent years advocating for a vast expansion of executive power, it became clear Trump intended to stack the Department of Justice in his favor.

In office, Barr has bent the DOJ towards Trump's ends, a subversion of his public duty. His public statements offer constant defenses of Trump, the sort of highly politicized actions unbecoming of his office. Less visibly yet far more dangerously, Barr has aided the White House's efforts to curb Congress' oversight of the executive branch. That work has only helped strengthen the argument routinely pushed by Trump World that the president is above the law, a shocking assertion that recently led to one of Trump's attorneys contending in federal court that the president enjoys "absolute immunity" from criminal prosecution, even if he were to murder someone in broad daylight on Fifth Avenue. This is the lawless presidency that Barr has wrought.

Beyond that, Barr has regularly abetted the White House's efforts against the impeachment inquiry. Barr's strategy for doing so mirrors Trump's own dishonest tactics. Last March, Barr delivered an inaccurate and distorted summary of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia report, an intentional misleading of the public that falsely claimed the investigation had been unable to uncover any obstructions of justice by the president. Conservative outlets like Fox News have made Barr's erroneous summary the center of their ongoing defense of the president, a shameful legacy for the nation's chief law enforcement officer. And while Trump's lackeys dramatically call for transparency and all the exculpatory evidence to come forward to clear Trump's name, Barr has been hard at work behind the scenes defying congressional subpoenas and using the power of his office to keep additional evidence of Trump's criminal acts from being released.

The case against Barr becomes even more damning when you factor in the Ukraine scandal. Both the whistleblower's complaint and the White House's transcript of Trump's call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky indicate Barr's involvement in working with Ukraine's government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. But Barr hoped those documents would never come to light. When the whistleblower complaint reached the Department of Justice, Barr's department classified the report as not urgent and decided to pass on investigating its allegations that Trump had carried out unlawful actions against a foreign ally.

Now Barr is directly lying to the American people once again, deceitfully wrapping Trump's unending cascade of untruths in a patina of legality. In his NBC interview this week, Barr attacked the inspector general's recent report that concluded the FBI's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election had been warranted. As he did with the Mueller report, Barr is twisting and distorting the inspector general's findings, claiming that pervasive anti-Trump sentiments in the FBI led the agency to launch an investigation based on what Barr called "very flimsy" evidence that Trump's team may have colluded with Russia.

This is, in fact, not what the inspector general report says. The report indicates the FBI was already aware of Russia's efforts to alter the 2016 election when it learned the Trump campaign might also be involved. This is also not how the nation's top lawyer should behave, using the Justice Department's power and prestige to normalize the president's wild conspiracies and to thwart appropriate investigations of him.

Trump has his own personal attorney in Rudy Giuliani to make the case for him, however outrageous. Giuliani works for free, but just because Trump doesn't pay for his attorney doesn't mean U.S. taxpayers should. William Barr works for the American people, not for the president.

Want more essential commentary and analysis like this delivered straight to your inbox? Sign up for The Week's "Today's best articles" newsletter here.

More From...

Picture of Neil J. YoungNeil J. Young
Read All
The GOP's laboratory of anti-democracy
An elephant.
Opinion

The GOP's laboratory of anti-democracy

Caitlyn Jenner has no chance
Caitlyn Jenner.
Opinion

Caitlyn Jenner has no chance

The Republican surrender to gun violence
An elephant.
Opinion

The Republican surrender to gun violence

Rush Limbaugh taught Republicans to rage
Rush Limbaugh.
Opinion

Rush Limbaugh taught Republicans to rage

Recommended

'Abundantly clear' Democrats never had a plan to pass election reform bill, former Obama aide says
Chuck Schumer.
winging it

'Abundantly clear' Democrats never had a plan to pass election reform bill, former Obama aide says

Listen to India Walton's post-victory call to her mother
India Walton.
Phone home

Listen to India Walton's post-victory call to her mother

Is Eric Adams' public safety 'synthesis' a winning formula for Democrats?
Eric Adams.
Speed Reads

Is Eric Adams' public safety 'synthesis' a winning formula for Democrats?

What will Democrats do now on voting rights?
Joe Manchin
Voting Rights

What will Democrats do now on voting rights?

Most Popular

7 toons about the Dems' Joe Manchin problem
Political Cartoon.
Feature

7 toons about the Dems' Joe Manchin problem

Bernie Sanders wants to know if cannabis reporter is 'stoned' right now
Bernie Sanders.
Sounds dope

Bernie Sanders wants to know if cannabis reporter is 'stoned' right now

Covering for Trump?
Merrick Garland and Donald Trump.
Picture of Ryan CooperRyan Cooper

Covering for Trump?