I cannot recommend Jan Crawford’s interview of Attorney General William Barr for CBS News highly enough. Here is the whole thing in podcast form. I plucked my favorite quote from the interview yesterday here.
This morning I intended to comb through the CBS News transcript of Jan Crawford’s interview of Attorney General William Barr to highlights its greatest hits, but I find that Don Surber has done the work for me. My favorite quote, by the way, is included in Don’s compilation of Barr’s greatest hits. Here is Don’s compilation (omitting only one of Don’s comments):
On Mueller, Barr said, “He could’ve reached a conclusion. The opinion says you cannot indict a president while he is in office but he could’ve reached a decision as to whether it was criminal activity but he had his reasons for not doing it, which he explained and I am not going to, you know, argue about those reasons but when he didn’t make a decision, the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I felt it was necessary for us as the heads of the Department to reach that decision. That is what the Department of Justice does, that is why we have the compulsory powers like a grand jury to force people to give us evidence so that we can determine whether a crime has committed and in order to legitimate the process we felt we had to reach a decision.”
On obstruction of justice Barr said, “We have to determine whether there is clear violation of the law and so we applied the standards we would normally apply. We analyzed the law and the facts and a group of us spent a lot of time doing that and determined that both as a matter of law, many of the instances would not amount to obstruction.”
Crawford responded, “As a matter of law?
Barr replied, “As a matter of law. In other words, we didn’t agree with the legal analysis — a lot of the legal analysis in the report. It did not reflect the views of the department. It was the views of a particular lawyer or lawyers and so we applied what we thought was the right law but then we didn’t rely on that. We also looked at all the facts, tried to determine whether the government could establish all the elements and as to each of those episodes we felt that the evidence was deficient.”
I would say the evidence was non-existent, but he knows more than me.
CRAWFORD: “When you see some of the criticism and you’ve gotten quite a bit of it that you’re protecting the president that you’re enabling the president, what’s your response to that?”
BARR: “Well, we live in a hyper-partisan age where people no longer really pay attention to the substance of what’s said but as to who says it and what side they’re on and what it’s political ramifications are. The Department of Justice is all about the law, and the facts and the substance and I’m going to make the decisions based on the law and the facts and I realize that’s intention with the political climate we live in because people are more interested in getting their way politically. so I think it just goes with the territory of being the attorney general in a hyper-partisan period of time.”
CRAWFORD: “The four page summary that you wrote, did you ask in that March 5th meeting for the special counsel to kind of redact all the grand jury material?”
BARR: “Yes, not redact it but highlight it so we could redact it, we would, so, you know, the report was over 400 pages, I knew that it was voluminous and coming our way in a few weeks. My intent was to get out as much as I could as quickly as I could. To do that I would have to, as a matter of law, make sure that grand jury material was redacted because regardless of the political posturing that’s going on it’s not lawful for me to just make that public.”
CRAWFORD: “Not even to Congress?”
BARR: “Not even.”
On saying it was spying, Barr said, “I guess it’s become a dirty word somehow. It hasn’t ever been for me. I think there is nothing wrong with spying, the question is always whether it is authorized by law and properly predicated and if it is, then it’s an important tool the United States has to protect the country.”
On the legality of spying on candidates, Barr said, “Whether it’s adequately predicated. And look, I think if we — we are worried about foreign influence in the campaign? We should be because the heart of our system is the peaceful transfer of power through elections and what gives the government legitimacy is that process. And if foreign elements can come in and affect it, that’s bad for the republic. But by the same token, it’s just as, it’s just as dangerous to the continuation of self-government and our republican system, republic that we not allow government power, law enforcement or intelligence power, to play a role in politics, to intrude into politics, and affect elections.”
On spying on candidates, Barr said, “In my mind, they are, sure. I mean, republics have fallen because of Praetorian Guard mentality where government officials get very arrogant, they identify the national interest with their own political preferences and they feel that anyone who has a different opinion, you know, is somehow an enemy of the state. And you know, there is that tendency that they know better and that, you know, they’re there to protect as guardians of the people. That can easily translate into essentially supervening the will of the majority and getting your own way as a government official.”
On U.S. attorney John Huber’s investigation, Barr said, “Huber had originally been asked to take a look at the FISA applications and the electronic surveillance but then he stood back and put that on hold while the Office of Inspector General was conducting its review, which would’ve been normal for the department. And he was essentially on standby in case Mr. Horowitz referred a matter to him to be handled criminally. So he has not been active on this front in recent months and so Durham is taking over that role. The other issues he’s been working on relate to Hillary Clinton. Those are winding down and hopefully we’ll be in a position to bring those to fruition.”
CRAWFORD: “So he won’t be involved in this really at all then?”
CRAWFORD: “This is his role, it’s done?”
CRAWFORD: “And now Durham is going to pick up–”
BARR: “Yes, right.”
Barr is a master of understatement. This is news. Huber didn’t do a blasted thing. What a farce.
That U.S. attorney John Durham was brought in to prosecute means they have evidence to prosecute.
Crawford in her lawyerly manner tried to get him to tell her. Up to this point, it was a good interview of short questions, long answers. Once Durham entered the conversation, the questions lengthened and the answers shrank.
But she got an answer.
CRAWFORD: “You’ve said, you’ve said the time frame between the election and the inauguration, you’ve said this publicly, was kind of strange. Some strange things may have happened. What concerns you there? Specifically, the meeting at Trump Tower.”
BARR: “I don’t want to. I don’t want to get into that.”
CRAWFORD: “Okay. Yes. So kind of going back to what we were talking about with Director Wray, I mean obviously you’ve seen this like the people are raising concerns that this is going to undermine FBI morale. The rank and file- what are we saying here- but you said in recent Senate testimony, “this is not launching an investigation of the FBI frankly to the extent there were any issues at the FBI, I do not view it as a problem that’s endemic to the FBI. I think there was probably a failure among a group of leaders there at the upper echelon.”
BARR: “That’s right.”
CRAWFORD: “So there was probably a failure among a group of leaders there at the upper echelon?”
BARR: “Correct. In other words, I don’t believe this is a problem you know, rife through the bureau.”
CRAWFORD: “What suggests to you there was a failure in the upper echelon at the FBI?”
BARR: “Because I think the activities were undertaken by a small group at the top which is one of the- probably one of the mistakes that has been made instead of running this as a normal bureau investigation or counterintelligence investigation. It was done by the executives at the senior level out of headquarters.”
CRAWFORD: “And you’re talking about James Comey, McCabe?”
BARR: “I’m just not going to get into the individual names at this point. But I just view that I don’t view it as a bureau-wide issue. And I will say the same thing for other intelligence agencies. And they’re being very cooperative in helping us.”
CRAWFORD: “They’re being cooperative?”
Barr can weather the hurricane that comes from prosecuting the upper echelon. They worked for Obama and he is as vengeful as he is vain.
On declassifying documents, Barr said, “Well in an exceptional circumstance I have that authority but obviously I intend to consult with them. I’m amused by these people who make a living by disclosing classified information, including the names of intelligence operatives, wringing their hands about whether I’m going to be responsible in protecting intelligence sources and methods. I’ve been in the business as I’ve said for over 50 years long before they were born and I know how to handle classified information and I believe strongly in protecting intelligence sources and methods. But at the same time if there is information that can be shared with the American people without jeopardizing intelligence sources and methods that decision should be made and because I will be involved in finding out what the story was I think I’m in the best decision to make that decision.”
On the backlash against declassification, Barr said, “Well the media reaction is strange. Normally the media would be interested in letting the sunshine in and finding out what the truth is. And usually the media doesn’t care that much about protecting intelligence sources and methods. But I do and I will.”
The interview ended this way.
CRAWFORD: “You are at the end of your career, or?”
BARR: “I am at the end of my career. I’ve you know–”
CRAWFORD: “Does it, I mean, it’s the reputation that you have worked your whole life on though?”
BARR: “Yeah, but everyone dies and I am not, you know, I don’t believe in the Homeric idea that you know, immortality comes by, you know, having odes sung about you over the centuries, you know?”
CRAWFORD: “So you don’t regret taking the job?”
CRAWFORD: “Not even today?”
BARR: “I’d rather, in many ways, I’d rather be back to my old life but I think that I love the Department of Justice, I love the FBI, I think it’s important that we not, in this period of intense partisan feeling, destroy our institutions. I think one of the ironies today is that people are saying that it’s President Trump that’s shredding our institutions. I really see no evidence of that, it is hard, and I really haven’t seen bill of particulars as to how that’s being done. From my perspective the idea of resisting a democratically elected president and basically throwing everything at him and you know, really changing the norms on the grounds that we have to stop this president, that is where the shredding of our norms and our institutions is occurring.”
CRAWFORD: “And you think that happened even with the investigation into the campaign, potentially?”
BARR: “I am concerned about that.”
Surber concludes his compilation with a well-deserved tribute to Barr: “America turns 243 next month. We have been fortunate to have good men come along at the right moments.”