William Barr’s scam of claims of ‘independence’

U.S. Attorney General William Barr has gone public complaining that Donald Trump’s incendiary tweets are making it “impossible” for him to do his job at the Dept. of Justice. And at least some in the media seem to be buying it.

Next, Barr is going to try to sell them a bridge in Brooklyn.

Many in the legal profession dropped their collective jaws when the Justice Dept. abruptly changed course on a sentencing recommendation for convicted felon Roger Stone, longtime Trump buddy and Republican operative convicted of obstructing Congress and witness intimidation. The original recommendation was sentence of seven to nine years. Trump tweeted about how “unfair” that was, and Barr cut down the recommended length of sentence.

Four career Justice Dept. lawyers who had handled Stone’s case withdrew from the proceedings in protest, one even resigning from the Justice Dept. itself. Legal analysts and others said the episode represented a low moment for the department. Nine Democratic senators signed a letter calling for Barr to resign.

Even worse, Barr has now appointed a hand-picked independent prosecutor to “review” the criminal case against Michael Flynn, Trump’s disgraced ex-national security adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Flynn’s case is another favorite subject of Trump’s tweets of outrage. Legal experts are calling this review “highly unusual.” Talk about an understatement.

Now we’re all supposed to believe, as Barr told ABC News, that he is being totally honest when he asserts his judicial independence. We’re supposed to take him seriously when he claimed, “I cannot do my job here at the department with a constant background commentary that undercuts me.” As if he’s ever stood up for his department before and hasn’t just done Trump’s bidding.

Yet there was straightforward reporting by multiple news outlets, from The New York Times on down, that William Barr was asserting his independence. Come on, media. This is the same Bill Barr who:

  • Won Trump’s heart in the first place with a Washington Post op-ed claiming that Trump was right to fire FBI Director James Comey. That toadying op-ed was the real reason Barr was appointed attorney general in the first place.
  • Summarized the entire Mueller report in just four pages, claiming that it totally “exonerated” Trump (it didn’t). The Barr memo on Robert Mueller’s 400-page report on the investigation of Trump and Russian interference in the 2016 election drew heavy criticism once people actually had a chance to read the whole document. Even Mueller criticized the summation by his longtime friend Barr, saying it “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of the report.
  • Dodged questions during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee whether anyone at the White House had suggested he open an investigation of anyone. “I’m trying to grapple with the word ‘suggest,’ ” Barr said in answer to a question from California Sen. Kamala Harris. This was before the whole matter of Trump’s asking Ukraine to investigate a possible political rival, Joe Biden, and his son Hunter Biden. Barr was mentioned as being part of the investigation in the July 2019 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

The biggest tell that Barr’s supposed “independence” was a scam came from Trump himself. Trump said he wasn’t bothered by Barr’s claims and congratulated him on how he “took charge of the case” — as if Barr hadn’t sold Trump on this bit of Kabuki theater beforehand to give the whole distasteful episode an aura of respectability.

The Department of Justice is the one federal agency in the president’s Cabinet that must be independent. Most presidents understood that. As one of the U.S. attorneys appointed by President Obama tweeted:

That independence is key to democracy, argued world affairs columnist Frida Ghitis, in an opinion piece on CNN.

An independent judiciary is an indispensable ingredient in the rule of law, and without rule of law, there is no justice. Without rule of law it’s all but impossible to preserve a functioning democracy, let alone a well-functioning government.

We have seen this through even recent history: as would-be autocrats have torn multiple countries away from their democratic moorings, a primary target has been the judiciary. …

Claims that the Justice Department’s decision had nothing to do with Trump’s wishes takes Americans for fools.

The necessity of an independent Justice Dept. is something that William Barr perhaps once knew but Trump conveniently ignores. And some in the media just lapped up the Barr Kool-Aid, even though they should know better.

Which is it going to be, media? Protection of access to your sources or honest reporting?

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