In The Atlantic, journalist Jonathan Karl gives us a short look at Trump attorney general William Barr’s last weeks in power according to William Barr himself, who was kind enough to grace Karl with a series of interviews out of the innate goodness of his heart. Oh, and because Barr is now seen by many as the most thoroughly partisan and corrupt attorney general in a generation, which is going to seriously cut down on future speaking fees if he can’t figure out how to massage the record back into something vaguely defensible.
The actual news out of it is Not Damn Much, but this is a good opportunity to revisit the First Rule Of News Consumption: Be aware of the source. From the nation’s top powerbrokers to man-on-the-street interviewees, anyone talking to a reporter about their own doings is going to tell that reporter the most flattering version of events they think they can get away with. Many of the most important details about what Trump and his core team did in their attempts to overturn a United States election remain murky because those most in the know, like ex-House Republican turned chief of staff Mark Meadows, are clamming up.
What we can learn from the Atlantic story is that according to William Barr, William Barr is great. He’s always the bravest and most integrity-filled person in the room, doing the right things despite pressure on all sides and so on and so forth. This isn’t exactly news. What might be news is that the put-upon Barr believes the time is right to mete out a bit of punishment on everyone else.
Here’s what we learn from Karl’s interviews with Barr, then:
First, Barr wants you to know that Sen. Mitch McConnell is a gutless coward. Barr is willing to recount several conversations with McConnell in which McConnell, who in public spent most of the post-election period dodging questions about Trump’s increasingly outrageous and dangerous claims claims, pleaded with Barr to be the one who contradicted Trump by telling the world that Trump’s election “fraud” claims were utter bullshit.
McConnell told Barr in mid-November that Trump’s hoaxes were “damaging” to both the country and to the Republican Party—no guesses on which of those was the more pressing concern, for Mitch—but Republicans “cannot be frontally attacking [Trump] right now,” because Mitch and the others were trying to keep on Trump’s good side for fear an open declaration of Biden’s victory would result in an angry Trump sabotaging Republican election chances in the two Georgia Senate runoff races. Barr was “in a better position to inject some reality” into Trump’s claims of election fraud.
Barr replied, according to Barr, that he was “going to do it at the appropriate time.” So here we have one slightly interesting tidbit, then: Even in Barr’s own accounting, he was urged to combat Trump’s “damaging” election hoaxes and could only muster up an assurance that he would be getting right on that … eventually. After it played out a bit more. In Barr’s account, he was bravely using the Department of Justice to gather evidence of which claims might be true or might be false; in the actual news stories of each day, the claims being peddled by Trump’s minions were brazenly fraudulent to begin with.
The second tidbit is that William Barr is, along with multiple other people inside Trump’s inner circle, perfectly willing to tell Karl that after Barr eventually did publicly nix Trump’s claims Trump became quite batshit unhinged, when finally meeting Barr again. Trump had “the eyes and mannerism of a madman,” sez a source, which we can probably take to mean “even more than usual,” and Barr compared him to the madman brigadier general of Dr. Strangelove.
“You must hate Trump. You must hate Trump,” Trump is said to have told Barr, which is a pretty dead-on example of a malignant narcissist in the throes of a decompensating episode. You there, who have asserted that reality is something other than what I have claimed it to be? You must have been plotting against me all along.
Great, super. So again we have a situation in which everyone around Trump was pretty damn certain he had gone off the rails, jumped the trolley, sprung a brain-leak, and had become devoid of marbles but nobody in government, from Secret Service on down, was willing to toss him in a burlap sack, tie it shut, and declare that Mike Pence was taking charge because the sitting president had developed a serious case of bananapants.
The rest is not of note. Barr says Barr acted with integrity, despite everyone else in Trump’s orbit pressuring him to help topple the national government. Barr says Mitch was a spineless weasel who wanted someone else to save the country from potential violence so Mitch wouldn’t have to. Barr says Trump was an unhinged, raging monster but Barr, having Integrity and stuff, was loyally willing to stay and then two weeks later was forced to resign because of the same Integrity after Trump continued to push the same hoaxes and the likely consequences of those acts began to become more and more concrete.
How do we sum all this up, then, properly taking into account Barr’s actual record of assisting Trump in hiding evidence from Congress, in fishing expeditions against Trump’s prime political foe, in using the resources of his office to help discredit American intelligence officials and in assisting Trump’s government-wide purge of inspector generals, watchdogs, and other whistleblowers—all the petty corruptions William Barr didn’t see fit to highlight, in his own interpretation of those last days? It appears that William Barr decided after Donald Trump’s loss that no matter what else William Barr was willing to do for conservatism, he wasn’t going to go to jail for Trump or get caught up in actual crossfire if Trump succeeded in goading violent revolution.
Not so much “integrity,” then, as a decision that he wasn’t going to go down with a sinking ship. Self-interest is the usual reason powerful people recount their lives to waiting reporters, and Barr has more damage control to do than most.
Damage control – when there is no means William Barr can employ to recover what he did not have in the first place … https://t.co/zxuoRH6xi2
— @vidagoldstein7 (@vidagoldstein71) June 28, 2021