With President Trump veering toward his own version of George W. Bush's "Mission Accomplished" moment with his "total exoneration" victory lap on Special Counsel Robert Mueller's still-secret report, Attorney General William Barr could have tried to be a scrupulously neutral arbiter. Instead, even people who gave the new attorney general the benefit of the doubt are throwing up their hands at his handling of Mueller's report and the counterterrorism investigation that preceded it.
Harvard Law professor Lawrence Tribe called Barr's comments Wednesday about how he thinks there was "spying" on the Trump campaign "utterly jaw-dropping," adding: "How Barr, whom I once worked with and respected, can look himself in the mirror or sleep at night is beyond me." Investigative journalist Kurt Eichenwald apologized for thinking Barr was "honorable" and people were "overreacting with fear he would be a Trump toady. ... I was wrong. Barr is a hack."
"I am not one of the many people looking to think ill of Barr," writes Lawfare's Benjamin Wittes. But his comments about "spying" were "indefensible," "incendiary," and "reckless." Former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper raised similar concerns on CNN Wednesday night.
"Barr is wading into a political and legal quagmire here and of course he knows that," argues Bloomberg Opinion editor Tim O'Brien:
He's also, in his own soft-spoken and resolute way, dropping depth charges into the national conversation about the Trump presidency and the Trump-Russia investigation, and he knows that, too. [...] To clarify: Barr has no evidence of improprieties in the FBI investigation, including 'spying,' but wants to examine the matter anyway because he has concerns and because, as he said, he believes that spying did occur (even if he hasn't seen evidence of it). [Bloomberg Opinion]
"Trump has complained, notably, that Jeff Sessions didn't act like Roy Cohn when he was attorney general," O'Brien concludes. "Cohn was a ruthless and sleazy attack dog who taught Trump how to weaponize the legal system to get his own way as a young developer in New York. Barr certainly isn't anything like Cohn. But he's trying."