Attorney General William “Coverup” Barr has always been a far-right Catholic culture warrior (Opus Dei) who subscribes to the theocratic Dominionist (Christian Nationalist) movement. See, William Barr Wants To Bring ‘God’s Law’ To America; and William Barr, nation’s top lawyer, is a culture warrior Catholic; and Bill Barr’s Invisible Crusade, for example. As a lapsed Catholic brought up in a very Catholic family, I find this guy’s religious extremism and admiration for authoritarianism truly disturbing. This is completely foreign to the Catholic faith that I was brought up in.
As a lawyer, I am also deeply disturbed by Barr’s politicization of the U.S. Justice Department, turning it into the personal law firm of Donald Trump in which he is Trump’s consigliere for retribution against his political “enemies list,” and rewarding his criminal cohorts. This is the stuff of mafia crime families, and fascist dictatorships.
Barr of late has been actively campaigning for Donald Trump’s reelection, something an Attorney General is not supposed to do, but at this point he has so thoroughly corrupted every norm and practice of the Justice Department that this seems trivial.
Here are some highlights just from the past week:
Last Friday, Barr told Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass that the nation could find itself “irrevocably committed to the socialist path” if Mr. Trump lost and that the country faced “a clear fork in the road.”
In that same interview with the Chicago Tribune on Friday, Barr re-upped his entirely imaginary claims about the perils of mail-in voting. And then there was his barnstormer appearance on CNN, when he assured Americans that their votes would be stolen. As Dahlia Lithwick explains, “America’s lawyer is hard at work at the critical task of freaking out the electorate.” Bill Barr Would Like to Undermine Your Faith in the Election:
Just to recap, then: Your mail-in ballot is unsafe because foreigners want to forge it, Democratic governors want to steal it, Antifa operatives plan to harvest it, oh, and Dot, your friendly neighborhood letter carrier will also gladly break the law in order to sell it. This narrative need not be provable or coherent; it’s enough that it’s rinsed and repeated on a near-daily basis in the media.
What Barr is actually performing here is the time-honored, Bannon-christened, Putin-sanctioned electoral practice known formally as flooding the zone with shit. What he wants most of all is for voters to doubt the capacity for the November election to be conducted fairly. That is why he told Blitzer that any effort to make voting safer in the midst of a pandemic—and of course that’s what the push for mail-in balloting was attempting to redress—is by definition tantamount to “playing with fire.” Under the pretense of concern for voter confidence, Barr jowlishly invents one reason after another to undermine it.
After doing everything in his power to undermine public faith in our elections, Barr had the audacity to project his misdeeds onto liberals (so Trumpian):
“All this bullshit about how the president is going to stay in office and seize power? I’ve never heard of any of that crap. I mean, I’m the attorney general. I would think I would have heard about it. They [“liberals”] are projecting. They are creating an incendiary situation where there will be loss of confidence in the vote.” His very next warning was of fake ballots in Nevada stealing the election. When liberals worry about democracy, it’s “projection.” When he does it, well, it’s transactional, which seems to make it OK.
Barr is said to have asked prosecutors to explore whether to bring criminal charges against the mayor of Seattle for allowing a police-free protest zone in her city. Barr Told Prosecutors to Consider Sedition Charges for Protest Violence:
Attorney General William Barr told federal prosecutors in a call last week that they should consider charging rioters and others who had committed violent crimes at protests in recent months with sedition, according to two people familiar with the call.
The highly unusual suggestion to charge people with insurrection against lawful authority alarmed some on the call, which included U.S. attorneys around the country, said the people, who described Mr. Barr’s comments on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.
The attorney general has also asked prosecutors in the Justice Department’s civil rights division to explore whether they could bring criminal charges against Mayor Jenny Durkan of Seattle for allowing some residents to establish a police-free protest zone near the city’s downtown for weeks this summer, according to two people briefed on those discussions. Late Wednesday, a department spokesman said that Mr. Barr did not direct the civil rights division to explore this idea.
The directives are in keeping with Mr. Barr’s approach to prosecute crimes as aggressively as possible in cities where protests have given way to violence. But in suggesting possible prosecution of Ms. Durkan, a Democrat, Mr. Barr also took aim at an elected official whom President Trump has repeatedly attacked.
CNN reports that Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan on Wednesday said a report that Attorney General William Barr suggested prosecutors consider filing charges against her is “chilling and the latest abuse of power from the Trump administration.”
“The Department of Justice cannot become a political weapon operated at the behest of the President to target those who have spoken out against this administration’s actions,” Durkan, a former US attorney, said in a statement. “That is an act of tyranny, not of democracy.”
“Ultimately, this is not a story about me. It is about the how this President and his Attorney General are willing to subvert the law and use the Department of Justice for political purposes,” she added. “It is particularly egregious to try to use the civil rights laws to investigate, intimidate, or deter those that are fighting for civil rights in our country.”
Sedition charges require proof of efforts to overthrow the United States Government. Talking in these terms based on what’s happening is grotesquely irresponsible. It’s way beyond monarchical. It’s paranoid and dictatorial. Opus Dei, anyone?https://t.co/Gh23Dp2yU5
— Laurence Tribe (@tribelaw) September 16, 2020
Treating protest as a form of sedition won't hold up in court, but that is clearly not the point here. Independent and ethical prosecutors should reject this administration’s authoritarian impulses.
— ACLU (@ACLU) September 16, 2020
Barr, of course, is focused on Black Lives Matter protestors and the amorphous “Antifa” boogeyman. He has demonstrated no similar concern for far-right extremists who have infiltrated Black Lives Matter protests to instigate violence, and who have killed police officers in California and protestors in Wisconsin.
A study by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), which analyzed more than 7,750 Black Lives Matter demonstrations in all 50 states and Washington D.C. that occurred between May 26 and August 22, found that fully 93% of the protests were peaceful.
On Thursday, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified to the House Homeland Security Committee that “Racially motivated violent extremism,” mostly from white supremacists, has made up a majority of domestic terrorism threats.” F.B.I. Director Warns of Russian Interference and White Supremacist Violence:
Mr. Wray condemned all acts of bloodshed but refrained from overemphasizing violence caused by far-left groups like Antifa, the loose movement that purports to be against fascism, which Mr. Trump and Attorney General William P. Barr have repeatedly blamed for unrest in American cities.
Mr. Barr described Antifa this month as “the ramrod for the violence,” and the president’s re-election campaign has portrayed the group as a major threat to American cities. While some claiming affiliation to Antifa have committed violent acts, racist extremists have been the more lethal threat in recent years, Mr. Wray said.
Republicans expressed concerns about Antifa, which Mr. Wray described as an “ideology or movement” rather than an organization.
“That seems to me to be downplaying it,” said Representative Daniel Crenshaw, Republican of Texas, citing recent episodes in mass demonstrations where people targeted officers with lasers.
Mr. Wray defended his assessment.
“I by no means mean to minimize the seriousness of the violence and criminality that is going on across the country, some of which is attributable to people inspired by or who self-identify with that ideology or movement,” Mr. Wray said. “We’re focused on that violence, that criminality.”
He said the F.B.I. averaged roughly 1,000 domestic terrorism investigations annually and had recorded about 120 arrests on domestic terrorism suspicions this year. But he made it clear that white supremacist and anti-government groups were the primary threats.
In particular, neo-Nazi groups such as Atomwaffen Division and the Base have drawn the attention of the F.B.I., which has arrested violent members of those organizations. White supremacists have carried out the most lethal attacks on American soil in recent years.
So we have an Attorney General who is focused on phantoms of Trump’s imagination rather than actual far-right fanatics carrying out acts of domestic terrorism on his watch.
Barr let his racist slip show. From The Washington Post:
Barr also attacked the Black Lives Matter movement, saying that while he agreed Black lives matter, “They’re not interested in Black lives. They’re interested in props, a small number of Blacks who are killed by police during conflicts with police — usually less than a dozen a year — who they can use as props to achieve a much broader political agenda.”
Barr has previously downplayed the number of Blacks killed by police officers annually, as if they are allotted a certain number to kill before it is a problem.
Then there is Barr’s completely bonkers comparison of coronavirus health restrictions, like wearing a mask, to slavery. No, seriously. Barr Says Coronavirus Lockdowns Are the ‘Greatest Intrusion on Civil Liberties’ Since Slavery:
Attorney General William Barr said in a speech Wednesday that lockdowns intended to slow the spread of the new coronavirus were “the greatest intrusion on civil liberties” in the history of the United States since slavery.
“You know, putting a national lockdown, stay-at-home orders, is like house arrest. Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history,” he said, according to CNN. The crowd at Hillsdale College in Michigan reportedly burst into applause.
First of all, slavery was state sponsored institutional violence: kidnap, rape, assault, murder, etc., and the total dehumanization and deprivation of rights based upon one’s skin color that allowed humans to be bought and sold as chattel. How does wearing a mask to protect your health, and to show respect for the health of others compare to this depravity?
Secondly, the “greatest restraint on civil liberties in American history”? Maybe Barr should study American history: slave patrols, the Alien and Sedition Act, racial segregation and black codes, the Palmer Raids, the Red Scare, internment camps during World War II, McCarthyism, etc. How does wearing a mask to protect your health, and to show respect for the health of others compare to this? Poor babies.
Barr has long subscribed to the “unitary executive theory” and an imperial presidency. The Times continues:
During a speech on Wednesday night, Mr. Barr noted that the Supreme Court had determined that the executive branch had “virtually unchecked discretion” in deciding whether to prosecute cases. He did not mention Ms. Durkan or the sedition statute.
“The power to execute and enforce the law is an executive function altogether,” Mr. Barr said in remarks at an event in suburban Washington celebrating the Constitution. “That means discretion is invested in the executive to determine when to exercise the prosecutorial power.”
At the same bonkers speech to the conservative Hillsdale College in Michigan on Wednesday, Barr attacked the career prosecutors in the Department of Justice, and declared himself to be the political arbiter of “prosecutorial discretion” in America.
Charles Pierce at Esquire sums it up perfectly. Trump Is a Budding Authoritarian. William Barr Is the Genuine Article.
No matter how you feel about [Donald Trump‘s] gifts as an authoritarian, there’s no mistaking the fact that, for his entire public career, William Barr has been the genuine article. He really does believe that the Constitution bestows upon the president—even this burlesque of a president* that we have now—absolute power, or something close enough to it that still would allow the country to call itself a democratic republic without the rest of the world doing a spit-take you could hear on Mars. As a special prosecutor was closing in on President George H.W. Bush for the latter’s involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal, Barr was the one who told Bush to pardon everyone except Shoeless Joe Jackson on his way out the door because a cover-up was well within the powers of the presidency as described in Article II. This was so egregious that even the late William Safire, who wrote speeches for Nixon, for pity’s sake, called Barr the “Cover-Up General.”
Now, though, because he’s working for a president* who doesn’t know anything about anything, and who is proud of that fact, Barr has the perfect vessel through whom to exercise all those theories of his that wear armbands when they go to work. There simply is nothing that this president* can do that Barr can’t cloak in highfalutin’ lawyer-speak, which the president* will repeat, because he doesn’t know anything about anything. On Wednesday, though, Barr went out on his own and let his freak flag fly proudly in a Constitution Day speech at Hillsdale College. Quite simply, he went to war against the prosecutors in the Department of Justice that he purportedly leads.
The Justice Department is not a praetorian guard that watches over society impervious to the ebbs and flows of politics. It is an agency within the Executive Branch of a democratic republic — a form of government where the power of the state is ultimately reposed in the people acting through their elected president and elected representatives. The men and women who have ultimate authority in the Justice Department are thus the ones on whom our elected officials have conferred that responsibility — by presidential appointment and Senate confirmation. That blessing by the two political branches of government gives these officials democratic legitimacy that career officials simply do not possess.
The same process that produces these officials also holds them accountable. The elected President can fire senior DOJ officials at will and the elected Congress can summon them to explain their decisions to the people’s representatives and to the public. And because these officials have the imprimatur of both the President and Congress, they also have the stature to resist these political pressures when necessary. They can take the heat for what the Justice Department does or doesn’t do.
Line prosecutors, by contrast, are generally part of the permanent bureaucracy. They do not have the political legitimacy to be the public face of tough decisions and they lack the political buy-in necessary to publicly defend those decisions. Nor can the public and its representatives hold civil servants accountable in the same way as appointed officials. Indeed, the public’s only tool to hold the government accountable is an election — and the bureaucracy is neither elected nor easily replaced by those who are.
This is nothing less than the Attorney General of the United States cutting the legs out from under every federal prosecutor across the country. Moreover, in talking darkly about the “permanent bureaucracy,” Barr is plowing headlong into Caputoland. Michael Caputo resigned his post at the Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday because he’d gone bananas in a Facebook Live chat, yammering about “deep state” actors at the Centers for Disease Control. Here now comes William Barr saying pretty much the same thing about the career prosecutors under his nominal command, and arguing that only the Senate-confirmed officials at the top of the DOJ food chain have “democratic legitimacy”—in other words, only people like William Barr have the political credibility to resist political pressure.
By clear implication, Barr is defining the job of attorney general as a purely political post, an extension of the executive power of the president, a theory that has not worked out very well in practice over the past two or three Republican presidencies, and a theory that I will bet a buffalo nickel Barr would never apply to, say, Loretta Lynch. But it is a theory under which Barr can justify being this administration*’s primary manure spreader. For example, an AG has no business doing an interview in which he opines about what a big socialist Joe Biden is, which Barr did only this week. However, if Barr perceives his job as a political arm of the executive, then that is something he would feel free to do.
As far as putting these theories into practice, we only have to look in the New York Times (above) to discover that Barr planned to bring the full weight of the Italian government of 1932 down on the United States of 2020.
* * *
Of course, Barr can legitimately sic the DOJ on the mayor of Seattle because Barr was confirmed by the Senate and, if the president* thinks he’s gone too far, he can be removed through the political process. I see nothing that can possibly go wrong with this.
Or, we only have to pick up the Washington Post‘s story about the government’s apparent desire to make a slaughter pen out of Lafayette Square so that the president* could walk across the street and hold up a Bible.
D.C. National Guard Maj. Adam D. DeMarco told lawmakers that defense officials were searching for crowd control technology deemed too unpredictable to use in war zones and had authorized the transfer of about 7,000 rounds of ammunition to the D.C. Armory as protests against police use of force and racial injustice roiled Washington. …
Just before noon on June 1, the Defense Department’s top military police officer in the Washington region sent an email to officers in the D.C. National Guard. It asked whether the unit had a Long Range Acoustic Device, also known as an LRAD, or a microwave-like weapon called the Active Denial System, which was designed by the military to make people feel like their skin is burning when in range of its invisible rays. The technology, also called a “heat ray,” was developed to disperse large crowds in the early 2000s but was shelved amid concerns about its effectiveness, safety and the ethics of using it on human beings.
Heat rays? Seven thousand rounds of live ammunition? Under an AG who hates the whole notion of federal prosecutors, largely because they inconvenienced the criminal-adjacent presidencies he has served? I’m sure there would be solid constitutional grounds of any ensuing bloodletting. William Barr means it. The sooner he’s pried loose from his job, the better.
Barr is about to get even more out of control in coming weeks. There is the “Durham Report” he wants released before the election, his “investigation into the investigators” of Trump’s collusion with the Russians in 2016. And given his bonkers theories about mail-in ballots, who can say that Barr will not use the Department of Justice to try to stop the tabulation of mail-in ballots after election day as Trump has already suggested?
It may take mass resignations by career prosecutors at the Department of Justice to thwart Barr’s tyrannical designs. Things are going to get interesting.