Barr’s plea to Trump to stop tweeting
Attorney General William Barr was under fire from all directions this week, as more than 2,000 former Department of Justice officials from both parties called on him to resign and accused him of repeatedly flouting the department’s “sacred obligation” to administer equal justice under the law. The extraordinary open letter came after the nation’s top lawman watered down the department’s sentencing recommendation of seven to nine years in prison for President Trump’s longtime friend and political fixer Roger Stone, 67. Barr’s intervention led four federal prosecutors to resign from the case, with one quitting the DOJ entirely. In their letter, the ex–U.S. attorneys, trial lawyers, and other DOJ officials accused Barr of blatantly politicizing the department. “Governments that use the enormous power of law enforcement to punish their enemies and reward their allies are not constitutional republics; they are autocracies,” they wrote. Meanwhile, the Federal Judges Association, a collection of 1,100 jurists devoted to an independent judiciary, called “an emergency meeting” to discuss what it called “a deepening crisis” caused by Barr and Trump’s intervention in politically sensitive cases.
Trump had congratulated Barr for changing the sentencing recommendations on Stone, saying they were “a disgrace” and a “miscarriage of justice.” The next day, Barr said in a televised interview that Trump should “stop the tweeting” about DOJ cases because his comments “make it impossible for me to do my job.” But Trump continued tweeting over ensuing days, and Barr reportedly told sources close to the president that if he didn’t stop, he’d resign.
Democrats said Barr’s involvement in the Stone sentencing was only the latest example of the attorney general taking charge of cases important to Trump. On Barr’s orders, the department is pursuing investigations of former FBI and CIA officials involved in the Russia investigation. Barr has also set up a process to receive and vet information about Democrat Joe Biden that Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani is digging up from dodgy, pro-Russia sources in Ukraine. Two weeks ago, federal prosecutors changed their recommendation of six months in prison for former national security adviser Michael Flynn to probation. Last week, Barr tapped outside prosecutors to review not only Flynn’s case but also a number of others described as politically sensitive.
What the editorials said
“Barr must go,” said The Boston Globe. In the year since his appointment, he’s made a mockery of the DOJ’s long-standing independence from the White House. He whitewashed special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, attacked the DOJ’s inspector general for finding no political bias in the original FBI investigation of Trump’s campaign, and is now working fist-in-glove with Giuliani as he hunts for political dirt in Ukraine. Barr is upset by Trump’s tweets because they expose him as “not an independent defender of the laws but as the servant of one man”—Trump.
“Trump is his own worst enemy,” said The Wall Street Journal. He should be celebrating his Senate acquittal, campaigning for re-election, and “enjoying the disarray of his opponents.” Instead, his “relentless popping off” has handed Democrats another “scandal to flog” and undermined his attorney general, “whom he can ill afford to lose.” With his reckless need to settle scores, Trump “is making millions of voters ask if they really want to take a risk on giving him so much power for another four years.”
What the columnists said
Don’t mistake Barr’s rebuke of Trump for a principled stand, said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com. Since becoming attorney general, Barr has transformed the Justice Department into Trump’s “own private detective agency.” But Barr understands that using the law to punish political adversaries and reward allies “requires a sheen of public legitimacy.” That’s why he took issue with Trump’s tweets—the president keeps exposing the fact that he’s “turned the legal system into a personal weapon.”
The ongoing Democratic hysteria over Barr is “a cliché of the Trump era,” said Eddie Scarry in WashingtonExaminer.com. Someone should tell the Resistance that “above the law” is a banal phrase that actually means “I don’t like that.” Critics should also consider the possibility that Barr “may have done the right thing for the right reason,” said Jonathan Turley in TheHill.com. Before Trump started tweeting, many legal experts had conceded that seven to nine years for Stone “was excessive.”
Not since Watergate have I seen such an “un-American” assault on “the core principles that have guided our justice system,” said former Republican Deputy Attorney General Donald Ayer in TheAtlantic.com. “In chilling terms,” Barr has repeatedly stated that the Constitution endows the president with “nearly autocratic powers,” with total authority over the Justice Department and the right to order and end investigations. He insists that Congress and the courts have encroached on the presidency’s autonomy and that their oversight is mere “harassment.” Barr’s America would be “a banana republic,” and “it is not a place that anyone, including Trump voters, should want to go.”
Barr’s threat to resign has “understandably been met with skepticism,” said Aaron Blake in The Washington Post. But it should not be so easily discounted. Even before he publicly pleaded with the president to stop tweeting about criminal cases and investigations, Barr has been “asking the same thing privately, directly to Trump”—all to no avail. Trump rage-tweeted all weekend and into this week about the DOJ’s decision to drop charges against former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe; then Trump unwisely attacked the federal judge overseeing the Stone sentencing. At some point, Barr will have to put “his money where his mouth is,” or end up looking like Trump’s “stooge.” Meanwhile “Trump’s post-acquittal rampage” continues, said Susan Glasser in The New Yorker. He’s purging his administration of anyone he suspects of disloyalty, punishing New York state for investigating him, tweet-storming at his enemies, and leaving Washington on “five-alarm-fire, red-siren-for-our-democracy high alert.” When the president is “so unhinged that even Bill Barr says he’s out of control,” you know we’re in trouble.
Cover illustration by Fred Harper.
Cover photos from AP (3) ■