By Linnaea Honl-Stuenkel
Originally published December 11, 2019
Read at citizensforethics.org
There’s no question about it: even though Attorney General Barr postponed his $30,000 holiday party at President Trump’s DC Hotel, any appearance of his impartiality had long since disappeared. From the beginning of his time as AG, Barr never let his job description as America’s prosecutor get in the way of his preferred role as President Trump’s personal protector. He inaccurately summarized the Mueller report, caved to Trump’s demands for a sham investigation into the FBI, and is now reprising his role as Trump’s defender as impeachment progresses. At this point, spending tens of thousands of his own money at Trump’s business (for a party that has now been postponed to an undisclosed date) is another embarrassing exhibition of Barr’s lack of objectivity, but certainly not the worst, or the most dangerous.
Barr’s appointment in February as the nation’s top lawyer was swiftly followed by the release of the Mueller Report in March, which Barr initially held back and summarized misleadingly for the public. This came as no surprise, because even before his appointment, Barr had already sent the White House legal team a 19-page memo criticizing Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation and the possibility of Trump facing obstruction charges.
The three-and-a-half-page summary of the Mueller report that Barr released days before the full 448-page document became public gave President Trump and his allies the ammunition they needed to claim exoneration for the President, though that could not have been farther from the truth. Barr’s summary claimed “the report identifies no actions that, in our judgment, constitute obstructive conduct,” while the Mueller report laid out 200 pages of obstructive conduct and made clear that an OLC opinion prevented the prosecution of a sitting president, which factored in to the Special Counsel’s decision not to make a legal conclusion regarding the conduct. Even Special Counsel Mueller wrote a letter to Barr saying that Barr’s summary “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of his investigation. Barr also granted the White House legal team a preview of the report, a privilege that may not have been extended to anyone else.
In April, Barr went on to launch his own investigation into the origin of the Mueller investigation despite a separate ongoing probe into the same topic. Barr picked US Attorney for the District of Connecticut John Durham to oversee the investigation, and echoed Trump’s claim that the Mueller investigation started because the FBI “spied” on him. That claim has been routinely debunked, and in fact, Durham recently said that he could not back the right-wing theory. The lack of evidence did not stop Barr from doing his own digging, and he even reportedly took a taxpayer-funded trip to Italy as part of Durham’s investigation. CREW is working to uncover the full cost to taxpayers of the trip.
Barr’s conflicts of interest and efforts to mislead the public were egregious enough that in May, CREW called on him to recuse from any ongoing Mueller-related cases. In September, CREW called for him to recuse from the Durham investigation. He never recused from anything. In fact, on December 10, in an interview with NBC, Barr continued to promote baseless speculation that the FBI probe of the Trump campaign’s connection to Russia started in “bad faith.” Given his summary of the report on that investigation, his new comments are especially ironic. The comments also perpetuate damaging myths on the investigation, while ignoring the 34 indictments, seven guilty pleas and convictions of Paul Manafort and Roger Stone that stemmed from the investigation.
To add one more thing to Bill Barr’s litany of conflicts, his son-in-law works in the White House counsel’s office on work that, according to public reporting, “will ‘intersect’ with the Russia investigation.”
As egregious as Barr’s work to subvert the findings of the Mueller report were, his continued involvement in protecting President Trump during the House impeachment inquiry has proven to be even more troubling, given that he was implicated in Trump’s call with Zelensky that launched the impeachment inquiry in the first place. On the call, Trump asked Zelensky to investigate former-Vice President Biden and a debunked conspiracy theory involving the 2016 election, and repeatedly asked him discuss the investigations with Barr. As CREW’s Noah Bookbinder put it at the time, Barr’s recusal should have been “a no brainer.” Again, Barr never recused.
In less than a year as Attorney General, William Barr has again and again proven that he cares more about protecting the president than the rule of law. Since apparently he won’t recuse, as we have said previously, Barr must resign.