It’s no secret that President Trump has had some trouble finding and keeping good help around the White House. But in hiring William Barr, Trump got just what he wanted in an attorney general: a ruthless combatant like his old lawyer Roy Cohn, who’d earlier served as chief counsel to Sen. Joseph McCarthy. After coming aboard, Barr promptly went to work defusing special counsel Robert Mueller’s 448-page report on the Russia investigation, spinning its damning findings in a “summary” that said Mueller had found “no collusion” and not enough evidence of obstruction of justice. Poof! The air went out of the impeachment bubble. When released weeks later, the actual report had far less impact. So did Mueller’s complaint that Barr did not “capture the context, nature, and substance” of his findings. This week, a reluctant Mueller publicly testified about what he actually found (see Main Stories), but few people will have their minds changed at this point by mere evidence.
In clearing Trump of obstruction, Barr relied on his extraordinary theory that Article II of the Constitution makes the president a near-monarch who has “all-encompassing” authority to end any federal investigation, even of himself. Mueller found that Trump tampered with witnesses, dangled pardons, told aides to lie, and tried to fire Mueller himself. Barr waved that all away, on the grounds that Trump “was frustrated and angered” by the investigation. The attorney general has provided his client with many other valuable legal services. Barr has insisted that Congress—despite its constitutional oversight role—has no authority to subpoena Trump’s tax returns or business dealings with foreign governments. Trump, he maintains, can unilaterally change asylum rules, seize funding to build a wall, and start a war with Iran. “I have an Article II, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president,” Trump proclaimed this week. Well done, Mr. Barr. Roy Cohn would be proud.