Barr Laid Bare

Bill Barrs’ recent machinations have been so outrageous it seems news media are having a hard time covering them all. I’m just trying to keep track.

Let’s see — there’s the scandal of interfering in Roger Stone’s sentencing because Stone is a friend of Trump. There’s the scandal of the attempt to drop the Michael Flynn charges, which may succeed although I don’t think it’s over yet. There’s the firing of U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman. That’s just what we’ve been looking at this week. Before that there was his involvement in the Bible stunt, and lying about the Mueller Report, and a bunch of other stuff.

David Frum writes that what is most remarkable about the Barr/Trump corruptions is that there is no cover up. It’s all happening in plain view. Which makes one wonder what might be going on that isn’t in plain view. As we’ve seen so many times in the past, the cover-up often turns out to be a bigger scandal than the original crime. There may be an advantage, Frum suggests, in eliminating the cover-up and keeping everything out in the open.

We all expect scandals to be clandestine. If actions are flagrant, how can they be scandalous? Yet, again and again, Trump has announced scandalous misconduct on TV, as when the president told NBC’s Lester Holt that of course he fired James Comey to shut down the Russia investigation, or boasted to a Tulsa rally crowd that he slowed coronavirus testing to reduce the number of confirmed coronavirus cases. The normal mind tends to think: People don’t casually confess to serious wrongdoing. Trump just casually confessed. So the thing he confessed must not be seriously wrong, or it must not have actually happened.

I also recommend “It’s ideologue meets grifter”: How Bill Barr made Trumpism possible by Sean Illing at Vox. Illing interviews David Rohde, a New Yorker editor who wrote a profile of Barr for the January issue. Here’s a bit of the Vox interview:

David Rohde: I think the most important thing to understand is that he has one of the most extreme views of how powerful an American president should be.

Sean Illing: What does that mean?

David Rohde: It means that he does not believe that we should have three co-equal branches of government. He believes the president should be more powerful than Congress and the courts. In his mind, that’s the only thing that can keep the country safe when it is threatened by war, natural disaster, or economic collapse. He believes that is what the founders intended. …

… In fact, I just spoke to someone who knows him well, who works closely with him, and he told me that Barr is fully committed, that he stands by every action he’s taken in this administration, from clearing Lafayette Park with tear gas to trying to fire the US attorney in Manhattan this weekend. And this person said that Barr is doing these actions because he himself believes in empowering the presidency. It is not because he’s being pressured or bullied by Trump.

This makes Barr the most dangerous sort of cancer on the administration. He is not doing what he is doing for political gain or to take money under the table; he’s doing it because he thinks it’s the right thing to do.

Just because much is out in the open doesn’t mean there isn’t much that is hidden. For example, Josh Marshall wrote on Monday,

Just to refresh our memories, in Bill Barr’s original announcement he said that Geoff Berman was resigning, that he would be replaced on an acting basis by the US Attorney in New Jersey, Craig Carpenito, and that Carpenito would run both offices until Berman’s replacement, SEC Chairman Jay Clayton, was confirmed.

It now seems that Barr may not have leveled with all the folks involved.

I’ve learned that on Saturday morning Carpenito held a conference call with the entire staff of the New Jersey US Attorneys office and told them the first he heard of the whole thing was on Friday afternoon. Barr called Friday afternoon and asked him to step in to run the office in Manhattan on a temporary basis. Barr told Carpenito and Carpenito said he believed that Berman had already resigned or was in the process of resigning. In other words, he was told that Berman was leaving on his own volition and he agreed to take over on that basis. He was shocked to learn later in the evening that Berman hadn’t resigned at all and was refusing to do so.

On Saturday afternoon Barr upped the ante and claimed that Trump had fired Berman. A short time later Trump told reporters he wasn’t involved. So Barr had lied again. Or perhaps Trump was lying. Either way, Barr never produced a letter over Trump’s signature firing Berman, which he certainly would have if one existed. But in that follow up Barr did drop the Carpenito takeover idea and agreed to have Strauss succeed Berman.

It’s not clear to me and it may not have been in the conference call what Carpenito would have told Barr if he’d known that Berman wasn’t going voluntarily or in fact hadn’t resigned at all. But he seems to have been clear with staff that Berman’s late Friday night press release had changed the equation for him considerably.

We still don’t know why Barr picked Carpenito or, more importantly, what mess Barr was trying to make go away by trying to axe Berman in the first place.

Nancy LeTourneau makes an argument that Berman was fired because he was closing in on evidence corroborating what we all think happened with Trump and Rudy Giuliani regarding Ukraine.

Yesterday’s testimony to the House Judiciary Committee was about the Roger Stone case.

A Justice Department lawyer who prosecuted Roger Stone says that he and other career prosecutors “were told that we could be fired,” if they resisted political pressure to lower their recommended sentence for the longtime adviser to President Donald Trump.

Aaron Zelinsky, a lead prosecutor on the Stone case, shared new details Wednesday on efforts by his superiors to convince him and his colleagues to give Stone “a break” after the self-styled dirty trickster was convicted in November for perjury, obstruction of Congress, and witness tampering. “What I heard repeatedly was that Stone was being treated differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the president,” Zelinsky testified. …Attorney General William Barr has acknowledged that he personally intervened in the Stone case, which Trump has denounced.

And see Aaron Blake, 5 takeaways from the scathing testimony about William Barr’s Justice Department.

Barbara McQuade and Joyce Vance have teamed up to write Bill Barr Is Eroding the Rule of Law. Don’t Let Him Get Away With It at New York magazine.

There is no future in this Department of Justice, the one that is led by Bill Barr. He has destroyed the public’s ability to have faith in the integrity of prosecutions. Typically, conversations about ethical conduct involving DOJ employees are about avoiding the appearance of impropriety, not about actual impropriety. DOJ’s ethics rules caution prosecutors to take great concern with appearances because they can affect the public’s confidence in the institution. But now, in the starkest terms possible, we are talking about actual impropriety at DOJ. We are talking about a president who uses DOJ as a political tool, an attorney general who enables it, and a department that tolerates it.

We like to think others will come forward to talk about what they have seen and what they know. But even if these whistleblowers stand alone, the rest of the country must see this for what it is, a violation of the principle that no one is above the law. Although many suggest the only option we have is to wait until November, this crisis is so significant that despite the political obstacles, it is time to bring this lawless administration to account. With sufficient public pressure, Barr could be forced to resign, just as Gonzales was.

I believe they are concerned.