In anticipation of the inevitable rehabilitation tour we will be seeing from exiting Attorney General Bill Barr, let’s get one thing straight: Barr did more damage to the U.S. Constitution and America’s rule of law than any leader of the Justice Department since John Mitchell wound up in jail for both planning and covering up the Watergate burglary.
Alberto Gonzalez and Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III owe Barr a debt of gratitude for outshining their truly dismal tenures, but the rest of America owes him nothing but disgust for trashing our legal system and at least temporarily destroying the Justice Department’s capacity to serve as a credible arbiter of fairness. Barr epitomizes how much damage one misguided zealot can do in just a couple of years to an institution that has been more than a century in the making. Our country’s justice system is far from perfect, but much like the nation, at its best, its ideals have progressed along the arc of the moral universe to provide more just and equitable outcomes over time.
But at the hands of Barr, the Justice Department’s mission was twisted into some grotesque subservience to the whims of a tyrant. It existed solely to benefit Donald Trump—elevating his concerns, absolving his sins, legitimizing his actions, and prosecuting his passions. In service of Trump, Barr took a hammer to the system of checks and balances, destroyed the proverbial wall that had insulated the department’s charge from the politics of the West Wing, and dedicated the agency’s considerable resources to Trump’s personal desires and obsessions.
Here’s an all-too-brief summation of Barr’s most corrosive actions:
- Perverting the conclusions of the Mueller investigation to pronounce Trump cleared of any wrongdoing, particularly in the realm of obstruction of justice and collusion with a foreign entity to influence a U.S. election
- Intervening in the department’s prosecution of close Trump ally Michael Flynn, who had twice pled guilty in a court of law to lying to the FBI
- Intervening in the sentencing of longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone, who had been found guilty of lying to Congress, obstructing its investigation, and witness tampering
- Shredding the First Amendment by directing the gassing/use of force against peaceful protesters outside the White House so Trump could walk across the street for a photo op
- Pushing Trump’s utterly bogus claims that mail-in voting is vulnerable to fraud
- Using the Justice Department as a wall of obstruction between Trump and both Congress and the judicial branch in multiple investigations and judicial proceedings
Barr’s tenure as attorney general represented such an affront to the Justice Department’s integrity that multiple career prosecutors either resigned from the department, withdrew from certain cases, or both. Barr’s conduct was also so abhorrent that numerous veterans of the department called for his resignation on multiple occasions.
So congrats to Bill Barr for coming out of retirement from public service to thoroughly destroy whatever existed of his reputation and strip down the Department of Justice to a mere shadow of its former self. In the right hands the department can be rehabilitated over time, but Barr and his legacy will live on in ignominy.
Without the rule of law, America’s promise of representative democracy would dissolve into authoritarian rule. Barr was perfectly willing to help Trump grease the skids to autocracy until it became clear that Trump had fallen too short in the election to steal it. Sorry Barr, you don’t earn any points for failing to achieve Trump’s fascist ends.