It’s William Barr’s turn

Back in February, I discussed how one-time conservative heroes were being demonized by former admirers after getting on the wrong side of President Trump. The examples I cited were Jeff Sessions and John Bolton.

I could have cited others. And I could have predicted that more would follow in their footsteps.

William Barr, who in February was riding high with Trump and his most ardent supporters, was a likely candidate. As Sessions’ successor as Senate confirmed Attorney General, his fall from grace seemed almost inevitable.

Reportedly, Trump once complained to Don McGahn, then the White House counsel, that he needed his attorney general to protect him the way Robert Kennedy protected JFK and Eric Holder protected Obama. Trump asked McGahn, “Where’s my Roy Cohn?”

William Barr was never going to be anyone’s Roy Cohn. Nor anyone’s Bobby Kennedy or Eric Holder, for that matter. Therefore, he was always likely to run afoul of Trump and, as night follows day, his most ardent supporters.

Now, Barr has. It is his turn.

The main grievances against Barr are that the Durham report didn’t issue before the election, that he did not reveal that Hunter Biden was under investigation before the election, that he hasn’t been vigorous enough in investigating claims of election fraud, and that he said he hasn’t seen convincing evidence that, absent fraud, Trump would have won the election.

This column by Roger Simon is an example of anti-Barr sentiment on the right. To be fair, though, Roger’s piece is temperate compared to some of what I’ve seen in email traffic, where Barr has been portrayed as trying to ingratiate himself with the D.C. establishment so he can land on his feet, post-Trump.

I don’t think the man who cleared Lafayette Square of protesters and brought back the death penalty is worried about how the D.C. establishment views him.

Roger suggests a different motive for Barr’s decision — that maybe Barr is “too angry at Donald Trump for meddling in his affairs.” He also entertains the possibility that Barr is acting “out of devotion to an institution.”

In suggesting the first of these motives, Roger mirrors Barr’s critics on the left. In the many cases where the Attorney General’s actions were favorable to Trump — e.g., his handling of the Mueller report — they claimed that Barr was acting out of personal favoritism. Now, when Barr has done a few things unfavorable to Trump’s interests, Roger suggests that the attorney general might be acting out of animus towards the president.

When a public figure makes egregiously wrong decisions, it’s reasonable to question his or her motives. But it’s wrong to suspect bad motive simply because a public figure makes a decision with which one disagrees. That’s what the left does. Regrettably, it’s also what Donald Trump has done at times.

Has Barr made decisions so egregiously wrong as to warrant questioning his motives? Has he done (or not done) anything that warrants Roger labeling him a “tragic failure”?
Not in my view.

Let’s start with the non-issuance of a Durham report. Barr could not have issued a Durham report before the election because there was no report to be issued. Durham had not completed his work.

Roger thinks that Durham, under urging from Barr, could have completed it before the election and he is unpersuaded that the pandemic prevented completion.

Roger has done many amazing things, but he has never run a grand jury investigation. He has no idea whether Durham could have completed his work competently before the election and no idea what Barr did or didn’t do to try speed things along.

No investigation should have an election-based timetable, and Justice Department policy forbids this. Complex investigations develop a logic of their own. It is that logic that should determine when the investigation is completed.

Not only would it have been wrong for Barr to insist that Durham complete his work before the election, it would likely also have been counterproductive. Durham would have balked and the administration probably would have ended up with a black eye — and no report.

Roger also criticizes Barr for announcing that Barack Obama and Joe Biden were not “in Durham’s brief to investigate.” In May, Barr said:

As to President Obama and Vice President Biden, whatever their level of involvement, based on the information I have today, I don’t expect Mr. Durham’s work will lead to a criminal investigation of either man.

Barr wasn’t excluding the possibility that Obama and Biden would be investigated for a crime. He was merely stating that, based on the information he had at the time, he didn’t think that would happen.

Roger provides no reason to believe Barr had information that would cause him, or any other reasonable person, to believe that Obama and Barr should be criminally investigated. Roger cites their presence at a January 5 meeting with Sally Yates, Jim Comey, and Susan Rice. However, he doesn’t point to anything that occurred during the meeting that suggests Barr’s assessment of whether there was reason, as of May, to think Obama or Biden should be investigated for criminal behavior was incorrect or unreasonable.

What about the decision not to reveal that Hunter Biden was under investigation? Justice Department policy states, “In general, the Department of Justice does not publicly announce investigations or investigative findings.”

It is also Justice Department policy to be “fair, neutral, and nonpartisan” during elections. This sound policy, in tandem with the sound policy against announcing criminal investigations, strongly supported Barr’s decision not to announce the DOJ’s investigation of Hunter Biden. No dubious motive is needed to explain the decision and the decision was not a “tragic failure.”

Finally, Roger criticizes Barr for not discussing “the Dominion voting machines and attendant software.” Others have criticized Barr more generally for not looking into voting irregularities and for saying that he hasn’t yet seen evidence of voter fraud on
a scale that turned the election from Trump to Biden.

Barr has authorized federal prosecutors to investigate “vote tabulation irregularities” (and drawn criticism for doing so, with the head of the Justice Department’s Election Crimes Branch stepping down in protest). A week or so ago, Barr said that no outcome determinative irregularities had yet been brought to his attention. There is no reason to believe Barr wasn’t telling the truth.

It was appropriate both for Barr to authorize the investigations and to state the status of them. There is no “tragic failure” here or in any of Roger’s other grievances.

Barr has been a stellar Attorney General (as I will try to show in a subsequent post). It is sad, but not surprising, that he has fallen out with President Trump and that, accordingly, Trump’s most ardent supporters are now attacking him.