Earlier this week, More than 400 former DOJ officials call on Trump to replace Matthew Whitaker as Acting Attorney General in a signed statement, which was first published by BuzzFeed News on Tuesday.
The New York Times editorialized today that Matthew Whitaker should not have been acting attorney general even for a day. It is time the Senate demanded a reasonable replacement. The still-unanswered questions surrounding Matthew Whitaker.
From your lips to Trump’s ears.
This morning President Trump created a bright shiny object to distract from the Mueller sentencing memorandums expected to be filed later today by nominating William Barr for Attorney General. Barr previously served as Attorney General under George H.W. Bush. Trump Will Nominate William P. Barr as Attorney General:
President Trump on Friday said he intended to nominate William P. Barr, who served as attorney general during the first Bush administration from 1991 to 1993, to return as head of the Justice Department.
“He was my first choice since Day 1,” Mr. Trump told reporters as he walked from the White House to a helicopter for a trip to Kansas City, Mo. [An obvious lie.]
Mr. Trump’s focus on Mr. Barr, who supports a strong vision of executive powers, had emerged over the past week following the ouster last month of Jeff Sessions as attorney general and the turbulent reception that greeted his installation of Matthew G. Whitaker as the acting attorney general.
Barr is as much a right-wing partisan as Matthew Whitaker, which is why Trump picked him. (Barr can be confirmed by a GOP majority Senate, while Whitaker, whose unethical past is under investigation by the FBI, could not).
Mr. Barr has criticized aspects of the Russia investigation, including suggesting that the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, hired too many prosecutors who had donated to Democratic campaigns. Mr. Barr has defended Mr. Trump’s calls for a new criminal investigation into his 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton, including over a uranium mining deal the Obama administration approved when she was secretary of state.
“There is nothing inherently wrong about a president calling for an investigation,” Mr. Barr told The New York Times last year. “Although an investigation shouldn’t be launched just because a president wants it, the ultimate question is whether the matter warrants investigation.”
Mr. Barr added then that he saw more basis for investigating the uranium deal than any supposed conspiracy between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia. “To the extent it is not pursuing these matters, the department is abdicating its responsibility,” he said.
Mr. Barr has assembled a “generally mainstream G.O.P. and corporate” reputation, Norman L. Eisen, who served as special counsel for ethics and government overhaul under President Barack Obama, said on Thursday. But he predicted that Mr. Barr would be vigorously vetted because of what he saw as blots on Mr. Barr’s record, including his push for scrutiny of the mining deal, involving a company called Uranium One.
Mr. Barr “has put forward the discredited idea that Hillary Clinton’s role in the Uranium One deal is more worthy of investigation than collusion between Trump and Russia,” Mr. Eisen wrote in a text message. “That is bizarre. And he was involved in the dubious George H.W. Bush end of term pardons that may be a precedent for even more illegitimate ones by Trump.”
Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, said on Friday that Democrats will vet him closely.
“I will demand that Mr. Barr make a firm and specific commitment to protect the Mueller investigation, operate independently of the White House, and uphold the rule of law,” he said in a statement. “The Senate must closely scrutinize this nominee, particularly in light of past comments suggesting Mr. Barr was more interested in currying favor with President Trump than objectively and thoughtfully analyzing law and facts.”
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Mr. Barr developed a reputation as a proponent of a sweeping theory of the president’s constitutional authority to act without congressional permission or in defiance of statutes.
Barr is an acolyte of the Bush-Cheney regime’s Unitary Executive Theory and the Imperial Presidency.
In July 1989, shortly after his appointment to the Office of Legal Counsel, Mr. Barr sent an apparently unsolicited 10-page memo to top agency and department lawyers across the executive branch urging vigilance in pushing back against ways in which Congress might try to intrude on what he saw as the rightful powers of the president. It covered topics such as “attempts to gain access to sensitive executive branch information” and efforts to limit a president’s power to fire a subordinate official without a good cause.
“It is important that all of us be familiar with each of these forms of encroachment on the executive’s constitutional authority,” Mr. Barr wrote. “Only by consistently and forcefully resisting such congressional incursions can executive branch prerogatives be preserved.”
Years later, in 2005, after the leaking of a secret George W. Bush administration memo blessing the torture of terrorism detainees despite anti-torture laws and treaties, Neil Kinkopf, a Georgia State law professor who worked in the Office of Legal Counsel during the Clinton administration, pointed back to Mr. Barr’s 1989 memo as a precursor to the torture memo’s vision of unfettered executive power.
“Never before had the Office of Legal Counsel, known as the O.L.C., publicly articulated a policy of resisting Congress,” Mr. Kinkopf wrote in a Legal Affairs essay. “The Barr memo did so with belligerence, staking out an expansive view of presidential power while asserting positions that contradicted recent Supreme Court precedent.”
He added, “Bridging a 15-year gap, the Barr memo provides the theoretical and strategic foundations for the torture memo.”
[A]t a 1990 symposium, Mr. Barr invoked a constrained understanding of lawmakers’ ability to cut off funds for government actions they oppose, declaring that “Congress cannot use the appropriations power to control a presidential power that is beyond its direct control.”
And when issues of war power came up — like Mr. Bush’s 1989 invasion of Panama, the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War or the 1992 deployment of troops to Somalia — Mr. Barr repeatedly told Mr. Bush that he could deploy American troops without specific prior authorization from Congress.
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[A]t a 1997 panel discussion on the independent counsel law, Mr. Barr criticized the statute and expressed concern about using the criminal justice system to prosecute high-level executive branch officials over minor offenses, saying such conduct should be checked by politics.
Mark Sumner at Daily Kos adds:
In recent days Barr has questioned the “political leanings” of Robert Mueller’s team, apparently buying into Trump’s claims that the Mueller investigation consists of “angry Democrats.” He has also authored an editorial defending Trump’s firing of James Comey, saying that Trump “made the right decision.” The Washington Post reports that Barr has also supported Trump’s idea of launching yet another investigation into issues related to … Hillary Clinton’s email.
The AG nominee holds very conservative views on social issues. That includes publicly stating that he believes the Roe v. Wade issue was decided incorrectly. Barr said at the time of his nomination under Bush that he did believe in a right to privacy, but did not believe that right “included abortion.” However, even on that issue, Joe Biden complimented Barr for at least giving “the first candid answer” he had heard from any nominee.
One notable decision from Barr’s term may also explain why Donald Trump was anxious to see him in that slot. During his term as AG, Barr appointed a retired federal judge to review charges that the Department of Justice had persecuted a software firm for political reasons. At the time, many—including former attorney general Elliot Richardson—had called for the appointment of a special prosecutor to handle the issue. But Barr shrugged off the idea, calling a special prosecutor not necessary.
The combination of casting suspicion on Mueller’s political leanings, attacking the importance of a special prosecutor, and calling for a new Clinton investigation was likely enough to convince Trump that Barr was a “kinder, gentler” Whitaker whose past appointment ensures he will sail through the Senate.
Aaron Blake at the Washington Post has more on The red flags on Trump’s new attorney general pick, William Barr.
Time to tee up the ball for yet another brutal nomination fight.