How William Barr Was Turned Into a Toad

Of course, it’s possible Attorney General William Barr has always been a toad, but in any event Barr really deserves to be preserved in formaldehyde for posterity. Someday science may be able to determine WTF?

The leaking of Bob Mueller’s sternly worded letter to AG Barr made today’s Senate hearings must see TV for a lot of folks, although I had to miss it. I take it that today Barr continued to lie about his interactions with Mueller about the Mueller report; see Paul Waldman for examples. Here’s just one:

Under questioning from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Barr insisted there was nothing wrong with Trump seeking to have Mueller “removed,” instead of “fired,” and then telling the White House counsel to tell a story he knew to be false, because it would be theoretically possible that there would be another special counsel appointed to take his place:

FEINSTEIN: You still have a situation where a president essentially tries to change the lawyer’s account in order to prevent further criticism of himself.

BARR: Well, that’s not a crime.

FEINSTEIN: So you can, in this situation, instruct someone to lie?

BARR: To be obstruction of justice, the lie has to be tied to impairing the evidence in a particular proceeding. McGahn had already given his evidence, and I think it would be plausible that the purpose of McGahn memorializing what the president was asking was to make a record that the president never directed him to fire — and there is a distinction between saying to someone, “Go fire him, go fire Mueller,” and saying “Have him removed based on conflict.”

As Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) later said about a separate matter, “That’s some masterful hairsplitting.”

We also had some interesting moments like this:

And this:

See also Jennifer Rubin, “William Barr and His Horrible Hearing“; Aaron Blake, “Five Takeaways from William Barr’s Tense Hearing.

Somebody named Eliana Johnson writes in Politico that Barr’s real cause isn’t Donald Trump but the unitary executive theory that gives presidents expansive powers to act without congressional approval. But I suspect James Comey, of all people, has the real reason.

Amoral leaders have a way of revealing the character of those around them. Sometimes what they reveal is inspiring. For example, James Mattis, the former secretary of defense, resigned over principle, a concept so alien to Mr. Trump that it took days for the president to realize what had happened, before he could start lying about the man.

But more often, proximity to an amoral leader reveals something depressing. I think that’s at least part of what we’ve seen with Bill Barr and Rod Rosenstein. Accomplished people lacking inner strength can’t resist the compromises necessary to survive Mr. Trump and that adds up to something they will never recover from. It takes character like Mr. Mattis’s to avoid the damage, because Mr. Trump eats your soul in small bites.

This rings true for me. I have personal experience working for narcissists/sociopaths, and there are only two ways to function: One, do your best to do your job as it needs to be done in spite of the daily outrages and constant chaos, but keep your resume in circulation because the day will come when you just can’t do it any more. Or, two, just do whatever the narcissist/sociopath wants, right or wrong, no questions asked.

When you work for someone who is, shall we say, psychologically compromised, you aren’t working for a person but for a pathology. That’s what you’re constantly dealing with; not a human being, but the crazy.

Now, what to do about William Barr? Some Democrats — Kamala Harris, Mazie Hirono, Cory Booker, Liz Warren, and others — are calling on Barr to resign. I understand that Congress can remove a cabinet secretary through the same impeachment process used for presidents, but I don’t know if that’s ever been done before. But even Chris Cillizza thinks Barr is in deep trouble. How long before Barr is returned to his pond?