Barr Solidifies Place In History As Trump’s Authoritarian Fixer

Attorney General Barr's criminal investigation into Mueller's investigation is yet another corrupt effort to bolster Trump's authoritarian presidency.
President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr – February 14, 2019 (Department of Justice)

President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr – February 14, 2019 (Department of Justice)

In Attorney General William Barr, Donald Trump has found another personal fixer. Since the day Barr became Trump’s Attorney General, he has operated without regard for democratic norms or the constitutional framework he is bound by. William Barr has positioned himself as President Trump’s instrument of authoritarianism. But even with Barr’s track record in mind, his latest move crosses a startling line.

The New York Times was first to report this significant development, and it has since been corroborated. William Barr’s “review” of the Russia investigation is now reportedly a criminal investigation:

Justice Department officials have shifted an administrative review of the Russia investigation closely overseen by Attorney General William P. Barr to a criminal inquiry, according to two people familiar with the matter. The move gives the prosecutor running it, John H. Durham, the power to subpoena for witness testimony and documents, to convene a grand jury and to file criminal charges.

What we’ve known about this probe has been far from reassuring, but this is a stunning escalation. The Justice Department is now investigating President Trump’s political targets. President Trump and Attorney General William Barr have sought cooperation from Ukraine, Italy, the UK, and Australia (that we know of) in their probe of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. The Justice Department probe is reportedly honing in on former CIA director John Brennan as they seek to discredit the Intelligence Community’s core conclusion that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.

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We don’t yet know exactly when this review turned into a criminal investigation. We also don’t know whether there is a legitimate basis for this probe or if it was based on a criminal referral from the Inspector General. As The New York Times noted, the Department of Justice guidelines dictate that “there must be an objective, factual basis for initiating the investigation; a mere hunch is insufficient.” What we do know for sure is that President Trump has long wanted his political targets investigated based on conspiracy theories, and Barr is delivering.

For two years, President Trump has tweeted about how those behind the Russia investigation were corrupt, spread lies about spying on his campaign, and has even falsely accused former FBI Director James Comey, former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, former FBI Agent Peter Strozk, and former FBI lawyer Lisa Page of treason.

Barr has previously stated that one of the focuses of his probe is whether there was improper surveillance on the Trump Campaign and if there was any corrupt behavior at the FBI. Barr is probing this in spite of the fact the “Spygate” conspiracy theory has been widely debunked and the only improper behavior that the Trump Administration has cited are Peter Strozk and Lisa Page’s anti-Trump text messages (they also sent anti-Clinton and Bernie messages.)

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This is far from the first action Attorney General William Barr has taken to protect President Trump. A zealot of the conservative “unitary executive theory,” Barr indicated in his 19-page memo attacking former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s obstruction investigation that he believes the President is above the law. Once he became Attorney General, Barr wrote a 4-page summary of the Mueller report, in which he lied about Mueller’s findings and attempted to exonerate President Trump. The DOJ also refused to pursue Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson’s criminal referral about Trump’s July 25th call with Ukraine.

Anyone who knows about Attorney General William Barr’s history could’ve seen this coming. As we’ve previously reported, in 1989, then-Assistant Attorney General William Barr in the Office of Legal Counsel wrote a memo entitled “Common Legislative Encroachments On Executive Branch Authority.” In the memo, Barr embodied the unitary executive theory by claiming restrictions on the President’s “removal power,” legislative vetoes, and “attempts to gain access to sensitive Executive Branch information” are legislative encroachments. In 1992, then-Attorney General William Barr worked with President George H.W. Bush on the Iran-Contra pardons which depicted the investigation as partisan.

As House Democrats gather damning testimony in their impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s abuse of power and effort to extort Urkaine into probing Biden, Trump is clearly looking for a counter-narrative. The public must be vigilant not to give William Barr’s probe undue credence, but at the same time, take it as the very serious threat to American democracy it is.

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News // Authoritarianism / Donald Trump / Robert Mueller / William Barr