Opinion

What Barr hath wrought

A president who believes presidential powers are limitless

This is the editor's letter in the The Week magazine.

Bill Barr has some concerns. He got his job as attorney general by telling President Trump that the Constitution gives him "illimitable discretion" over Justice Department prosecutions; therefore, Trump's numerous attempts to block or end the Mueller investigation did not constitute obstruction of justice. Trump's Article II authority is so expansive, Barr has stated, that neither Congress nor the courts can interfere in his policy decisions or compel him to release information. A delighted Trump has taken Barr's imperial theory of the presidency both seriously and literally. "Article II," he has said, "allows me to do whatever I want as president." Barr, however, is now complaining that the president's tweeting about criminal cases was "making it impossible for me to do my job." Dr. Frankenstein has his regrets.

The president, on the other hand, feels freed of all restraints. Proclaiming himself the country's "chief law-enforcement officer," Trump has demanded that a federal judge order a new trial for Roger Stone, a convicted felon who, abundant evidence shows, served as Trump's secret conduit to WikiLeaks and Russian military hackers in 2016. Trump has also raged at the injustice of a prison term for former campaign manager Paul Manafort (another conduit to the Russians) and wants his former national security adviser Michael Flynn — who hid a $600,000 payment from the Turkish government — to go free, too. Sooner rather than later, Trump will pardon them all. This week, Trump suddenly issued a blizzard of pardons to swampy public figures convicted of bribery, tax fraud, corruption, and making false statements — crimes that, for some reason, Trump doesn't consider serious. Why would he stick his neck out for crooks and con men as he heads into a re-election campaign? After surviving the Mueller investigation, impeachment, and innumerable scandals, Trump has concluded he has "an absolute right" to do whatever he wants, just as Bill Barr told him. And he may be right.

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