Attorney General Barr spoke last night at Hillsdale College. The Washington Post labels Barr’s address “remarkable,” and I agree. It’s remarkable that a public official spoke in public as plainly and as truthfully as Barr did.
Here are some of the comments that made the Post’s Devlin Barrett and Matt Zapotosky unhappy:
In response to criticism that Barr is “interfering” by overruling the decisions of career prosecutors, the Attorney General asked:
What exactly am I interfering with? Under the law, all prosecutorial power is invested in the attorney general.
Of course it is.
Barr went on to deride the notion that junior bureaucrats should be left to handle their cases without interference from political appointees. In essence, he said, this argument means that “the will of the most junior member of the organization” will determine decisions. Barr added:
Letting the most junior member set the agenda might be a good philosophy for a Montessori preschool, but it’s no way to run a federal agency.
A counterargument might be that the “junior members” in this case are career professionals and that the senior members may be motivated by politics. But this argument isn’t a serious one.
In my experience, including my experience in government, career professionals throughout the federal government are as politically motivated as presidential appointees. The difference is that the political appointees are in positions of influence as a result of the peoples’ will. The career people are not.
Barr added another consideration. He said that some career prosecutors seek to “amass glory” by prosecuting prominent people. Anyone who understands human nature will see the truth in that. Anyone who has litigated at a fairly high level will see it even more clearly.
Barr sees it regularly. He stated:
I’d like to be able to say that we don’t see headhunting in the Department of Justice. That would not be truthful. I see it every day.
Barr denounced the “criminalization of politics” and criticized television pundits for speculating about whether public officials’ deeds “constitute some esoteric crime.” These days, he said, “you have to call your adversary a criminal, and instead of beating them politically you try to put them in jail.”
In my view, this is true of commentary on both sides of the political spectrum. It is also true of President Trump’s commentary, which is particularly unfortunate given his position and his platform.
During the question and answer session, Barr criticized state shutdowns in response to the Wuhan coronavirus. He also attacked the Black Lives Matter movement:
They’re not interested in Black lives. They’re interested in props, a small number of Blacks who are killed by police during conflicts with police — usually less than a dozen a year — who they can use as props to achieve a much broader political agenda.