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Let’s give Barr the credit he’s due for sort of standing up to Trump

Attorney General Bill Barr
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Many observers believe that Attorney General Bill Barr has been among the more servile of President Trump enablers.

I’ve been lucky my whole working life to have worked for bosses who had integrity and respected my integrity. If we had differences, we could work them out, also with integrity, or at least that’s what I believe. And I’m grateful for it.

Those who work for Donald Trump aren’t so lucky. Trump scores near zero on the integrity scale (according to me, and, I suspect many who formerly worked for him although many of those do not feel free to speak candidly). He serves no interest other than his own, economic, political, sexual, self-glorification, whichever interests him at the moment and anyone who works for him or was married to him had better understand that, or they will soon be fired (or divorced).

Even poor ol’ Jeff Sessions, who seemed like a complete Trump toady, had a little too much loyalty to some concept of the proper role of an attorney general during his brief tenure, and he had to leave.

When Trump replaced Sessions with William Barr, Barr had a decent reputation as a career professional, but he soon sacrificed it to demonstrate total loyalty to Trump rather than to the special role of an A.G. to show a certain soupçon of independence traditional to that particular cabinet position. When Trump needed him to stoop, he merely inquired “how low?” His performance in the aftermath of the Mueller investigation illustrated this.

So I was a little shocked yesterday to read that Barr stated publicly that he was “not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody,” including, apparently, His Highness.

Barr specified that Trump’s tweets and other attacks on the Justice Department for insufficient servility to His Excellency’s political- or ego-needs of the moment, made it “impossible for me to do my job.”

Of course, many observers believe that Barr has been among the more servile of Trump enablers and, for whatever reasons, had already cashed in his former reputation as a serious professional. And I remain to be convinced that Barr will stand up to Trump in any serious way, including the recent embarrassment over Trump’s demand that Trump’s buddy Roger Stone get a lighter sentence for his Trump-enabling crimes.

Stone is, of course, getting some relief from the sentence recommended by his prosecutors and the existing guidelines. Trump did publicly insist by tweet that this be done (presumably the tweets to which Barr referred), and it apparently will be done. So let’s not make too much of Barr’s snit-fit, alluded to above. (Barr claims that the decision to reduce Stone’s sentence from what the prosecutors in the case recommended was already in the works before Trump made his feelings known on the topic.)

But given Trump’s insistence on the perfection of all his impulses, and the terrible unfairnesses he is constantly required to endure, and his well-known willingness to trash and fire anyone who deigns to disagree with or criticize him, I thought it worth noting that Barr actually pushed back, however momentarily, and after doing exactly what Trump wanted.

This is the sound of one hand clapping.

Comments (49)

  1. Submitted by Charles Holtman on 02/14/2020 - 09:55 am.

    You are quite an ingenuous fellow, Mr. Black.

  2. Submitted by BK Anderson on 02/14/2020 - 09:57 am.

    Well, never let it be said that you will not bend over backwards to find the slightest positive thing that can be said about the (final?) crop of Trump Toadies that comprise that current hive of scum and villainy!

    It’s interesting that Minister of Justice Barr feels he still must make some sort of “protestation” against Trump’s outrages in order to keep up appearances. I’m surprised he felt there was (still) some sort of “need” to do this (it’s not like the useless corporate media is treating this as a serious or important story), but this tepid whine by Barr seems to me to be basically meaningless prattle on the road to autocracy.

    From the very start of his catastrophic “presidency”, Trump has sought to have complete control of the organs of law enforcement, Attorney General/DOJ independence being one of the first “norms” that he sought to destroy, and has now destroyed. One simply has to look at the “loyalty” oaths Trump requested from Comey (before firing him), and his bitter laments that sycophant Sessions wasn’t “protecting” him adequately by rigging the investigation into the Trump campaign’s collusion with Putin’s intelligence services.

    A hallmark of totalitarian governments, of course, is control of all law enforcement by the dictator. Since dictatorship (and not democracy) is what Trump admires, control of law enforcement is what he aspires to. With Minister of Justice Barr (to give him his appropriate totalitarian title), Trump has essentially obtained his desire, and the Ministry of Justice will now operate to harass and persecute the dictator’s political “enemies”–i.e. dissenting Americans and candidates opposing the wannabe Strongman.

    Trump has not yet deployed a coherent rhetoric of “control” over the judiciary, although he has begun to make efforts in that direction. The corrupt Repub party has (obviously) made clear that they will not stand in the way of whatever illegality Trump commits, so the nation is now approaching free fall.

    We will see how the judge handles Trump-felon Roger Stone’s sentencing, since it is entirely up to her to determine Stone’s sentence. If she caves to Trump, then the American system has collapsed, and historians will conclude that (after 30+ years of torrents of “conservative” propaganda) the republic could not survive the “election” of a single unqualified, mentally unbalanced reactionary conservative.

  3. Submitted by Erik Granse on 02/14/2020 - 10:03 am.

    Boy, the bar is set really low when we’re talking about giving credit to someone for appearing to push back *after* doing what they were leaned on to do.

    • Submitted by T.W. Day on 02/14/2020 - 11:01 am.

      The one thing we’ve learned in the last 3 years is that the bar will keep getting lower. It’s solidly 6′ underground right now.

  4. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 02/14/2020 - 10:48 am.

    You can’t be too slavish, you know.

    On Valentines Day it is important to retain an air of mystique.

  5. Submitted by T.W. Day on 02/14/2020 - 11:00 am.

    Barr’s reputation wasn’t much before Trump, he was a big fan of the imperial Presidency; which is why he signed on to assist the Mango President. Like like “sort of standing up to Trump,” he sort of had a . . . reputation. Like everyone associated with Trump, his reputation will fall even lower.

  6. Submitted by Terry Chaney on 02/14/2020 - 11:18 am.

    Barr’s interview did not strike me as authentic. I believe the incident was mostly staged to silence any criticism. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it had been coordinated with the White House. Barr’s “complaint” about Trump’s tweets “making it hard to do my job” is hard to take seriously. Even if there was some sincerity there, the “Twitter Critique” is the one bland talking point Trump’s most loyal defenders reluctantly agree to level against him. They do this because it provides a semblance of independence without actually holding Trump accountable. As if Trump’s Twitter habits and not politicizing the Justice Department is the real problem. Don’t buy it. William Barr will continue to shamelessly grovel for the remaining scraps of Trump’s vulgar influence.

    • Submitted by Constance Sullivan on 02/14/2020 - 11:47 am.

      Terry Chaney has it right: Barr is simply pretending that Trump’s tweets bother him. Those tweets indicate that Barr has done, in this case, precisely what Trump would expect him to do under implicit instructions from Trump (please revisit Michael Cohen’s televised House hearing explanation of how Trump “orders” things to be done by his underlings).

      What happened was Barr needed desperately to counter the national outrage that four DOJ attorneys caused by resigning from the Stone case prosecution (one, even from the Department entirely) to protest Barr’s intervention in the sentencing recommendation. Barr’s “day job” for Trump–making sure that Trump’s friends are favored and his enemies are punished by the DOJ–was suddenly made more difficult when Trump’s tweets revealed the deal he and Barr have.

      Don’t be played by this Attorney General, who is a true snake.

      • Submitted by BK Anderson on 02/14/2020 - 12:18 pm.

        “how Trump ‘orders’ things to be done”

        In Nazi Germany, this was called “working towards the Fuhrer”…

  7. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/14/2020 - 11:29 am.

    Trump’s consignee – his government issued Roy Cohn, if you will – has expressed frustrations with the President’s public communications. The understanding that he is in office only to carry out the President’s will doesn’t seem to give him much trouble, and he is all on board with weaponizing the Department of Justice for political ends. No, what bothers him is that the President is talking about it.

    I don’t think there is any serious question that Barr was brought on as Attorney General because he would be pliant and not let things like legal rules and constitutional norms get in his way (that foolish old Jeff Sessions, thinking that conflict of interest laws should apply to him!). He had to have known it, and likely understood what he was supposed to do without being told to do it. The Presidential tweets are just bringing it out into the open.

    But hey, he “pushed back” by speaking a few words in an interview. I would say “give him a cookie,” but this is such a feeble attempt at doing his job that I don’t think he merits even that. Buy your own Oreos, Mr. Barr,.

  8. Submitted by Judy LaBoda on 02/14/2020 - 11:30 am.

    Great article. It seems as though Trump may be getting in the way of what he and Barr have dreamed up! It’s hard to undermine when the person you are trying to ‘protect’ gets in the way!!

  9. Submitted by Bob Barnes on 02/14/2020 - 12:01 pm.

    First off, Trump was right in his tweet. The prosecutors lied to their superiors about sentencing recommendations which means Barr should have fired them immediately. Had he done his job, Trump wouldn’t have had anything to tweet about.

    Secondly, Trump is the top law enforcement official…he has a legal right to express his opinion.

    Finally, we now know Stone committed no crime because what he’s accused of lying about was never a crime in the first place. Mueller and the FISA court have proven there was no legal reason for the FBI or anyone else to be talking to Stone to begin with. Barr has a deep state goon under 41 and still is. FISA court ruled the warrants were illegally obtained and the IG report had criminal referrals which Barr has refused to act on. He should resign or be fired for that alone.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 02/14/2020 - 12:35 pm.

      Yah sure, at least in dictator land it works that way! Courts always go around convicting folks off stuff they didn’t do! Guilty are innocent, innocent are guilty, and Trump rules all, suppose that blonde wig/hair is really a halo!

    • Submitted by BK Anderson on 02/14/2020 - 12:54 pm.

      Wrong on almost all counts, Mr. Barnes, but thanks for engaging.

      1. Where’s the proof that the Stone prosecutors “misled” any DOJ superior? If Barr wants to make this claim, let’s see the pre-sentencing documents they provided to DC. More likely, Barr was simply responding to an order from Trump. Hopefully the prosecutor who actually resigned from Barr’s Ministry of Justice entirely will be called to testify by the House, so we may find out the full story.

      2. The theory of the unitary executive–which is what you are advocating and which claims that the president has total control over every aspect of the executive branch–has never become the law of the land, cannot be squared with our criminal justice system (since it means the president has the power to protect his henchmen and creatures that break the law on his behalf) and doesn’t have a single Framer EVER endorsing such an extreme (and ultimately unconstitutional) theory of government.

      And further, we don’t usually speak of an executive “right” to intimidate federal prosecutors, or federal judges for that matter. But “conservatives” are in favor of any abuse, as long as its one of their own presidents doing it!

      3. If anything you said here about Stone’s case was correct, it’s unlikely he would have ever faced a trial since the complaint would have to be dismissed. And you do understand that it was Mueller investigation lawyers who had brought the case to begin with?

      4. Of course, you are correct that the corrupt Barr should resign.

    • Submitted by kurt nelson on 02/14/2020 - 02:38 pm.

      Wow, really, you think he is the top law officer, huh, who knew. He is commander in chief of the military, but he is most certainly not the top cop – each city has their own chief officer, all of whom report to a city council, not to the pres. Your analysis made me laugh however, so thanks for that.

      Were you at Stones trial? I ask because you seem to have the prescience of someone who can foretell the future, or you were there and witnessed those infractions. Which is it?

      • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 02/14/2020 - 05:24 pm.

        Every single person employed by the Executive Branch serves at the pleasure of the President, including the AG. He is the top official in that branch and has sole authority to fire anyone he wants from that branch for any reason at any time. As the head of that branch, he also has legal authority to discuss law enforcement matter with the AG.

        • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 02/14/2020 - 07:17 pm.

          The First Amendment grants any of us the right to discuss (almost) anything with anyone.
          The problem comes when the discussion involves an implied order.
          And unjustified firings are the sort of things that lawsuits are made of. A little matter of contractual rights.

          • Submitted by Paul Yochim on 02/15/2020 - 07:01 pm.

            No, the First Amendment states that Congress shall make no laws abridging the freedom of speech. It doesn’t say you can discuss anything with anyone. You are inferring that.

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/17/2020 - 10:01 am.

          “Every single person employed by the Executive Branch serves at the pleasure of the President, including the AG. ”

          Wrong again. The President may fire at will only those whom he has appointed. Regular federal employees – the bulk of the federal workforce – are protected by law. Civil service protections are in place so some authoritarian tinhorn can’t come in and decide to get rid of everyone who is insufficiently loyal to him.

    • Submitted by Dennis Litfin on 02/14/2020 - 03:21 pm.

      Bob… can always count on you to bring humor to the discussion.

    • Submitted by lisa miller on 02/14/2020 - 06:34 pm.

      There are so many things wrong with your statement. Yes he can express his opinion, no he cannot get in the way of a criminal investigation or sentencing. Yes the sentence may be too long, but that should be a general discussion. And no the prosecutors did not lie to their superiors. And please don’t start with the Bobby and Jack Kennedy rationale, that was over 50 years ago and laws have changed. This is a democracy, not a banana republic. Stone lied to Congress, he interfered with a criminal investigation, threatened a witness with bodily harm, forged documents, ran a scheme; make him Black and poor and he would be doing at least a few years.

  10. Submitted by Ruthe Thompson on 02/14/2020 - 12:07 pm.

    Shoot. Thought this journalist had it going on, but this clearly cooked up baloney by Trump/Barr and the band of Christian Dominionist thieves in the WH either coopted him somehow or he’s just not getting it.

    Barr is saying shut up Trump so I can do your dirty work without you advertising it. They are throwing those who see or suspect his craven willingness to destroy democracy in favor of a christian/mafia state like Russia off the scent.

    Legit journalists all over the place have reported on this and on Barr’s long-standing ties to the Family (DC based powerful Christian conservative group bent on creating theocracy in the US by 2020 and oops! Here we are.)

    Barr, Pompeo, Pence, DeVos are all staunch members. Trump believes in nothing but a fantasy of own deified state, so he’s a good vehicle and brings in all the crazy fundamentalists in his cult who want to believe he’s the chosen one.

    Here’s an NPR/Fresh Air interview of a seasoned researcher and journalist who wrote a book on the Family. I read it. Scary. Get it together Black!

    Sorry I can’t trust Black anymore to seek truth and report it. This is a violation of Society of Professional Journalists ethics. Or he just isn’t doing the deep work.

  11. Submitted by John Evans on 02/14/2020 - 12:11 pm.

    No. Barr’s reason for giving the interview was to assert that the president’s inappropriate interference in the criminal prosecution of Roger Stone had no effect on the prosecutor’s decisions. Barr was just covering for the president.

    Barr is not a slavish sycophant; he’s a fellow authoritarian. He supports a dictator’s use of every executive branch department to reward friends and punish enemies. He was not standing up for the independence of the Department of Justice or pushing back against Trump.

  12. Submitted by Joe Smith on 02/14/2020 - 12:38 pm.

    Barr knows the DOJ and FBI needs an overhaul, let him do it. Barr was shocked when he saw the Stone sentencing recommendation, 7-9 years and immediately wanted to know why. Barr is well aware of the 17 egregious errors in the FISA process (all going against President Trump) the DOJ signed to investigate the Trump campaign. Independent investigation showed FISA warrants 2 & 3 were not valid. Thank goodness the upper levels of the FBI were cleaned out Comey, McCabe, Strzok and company all fired, resigned, reassigned and investigated. This will come to light if Barr is left alone to do his job.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 02/14/2020 - 01:13 pm.

      He shouldn’t have been shocked. The sentencing recommendation for Stone was right where it should be. Trump and Barr are letting politics influence the judicial process. The “independent” investigations you cite are more of the same.

      Trump and Barr are completely corrupt.

      • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 02/14/2020 - 05:27 pm.

        Incorrect. The sentencing for Stone was far beyond anything reasonable. A reasonable sentence would be less than half the recommended given the circumstances and the supposed crimes he committed. Many violent crimes don’t even get that kind of sentencing recommendation.

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/14/2020 - 01:40 pm.

      “Barr was shocked when he saw the Stone sentencing recommendation, 7-9 years and immediately wanted to know why.”

      In other words, the Attorney General of the United States has no clue how the Federal Sentencing Guidelines work.

      Only the best people.

      • Submitted by Joe Smith on 02/14/2020 - 03:03 pm.

        RB, Andrew McCabe lied 3 times under oath in 2017, fact brought out by Inspector General, what was his sentence?

        • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 02/14/2020 - 03:13 pm.

          Nothing, because he wasn’t convicted of anything. In fact, the DOJ is dropping its investigation of him.

          Was that a a trick question?

        • Submitted by Larry Moran on 02/14/2020 - 03:55 pm.

          Stone was convicted of 7 felonies, including lying to Congress. We impeached a President for lying to Congress so I don’t think jail time is inappropriate. I’m going to guess that our prisons are full of people convicted of fewer than 7 felonies and were not, unfortunately, a long term friend of this president.

        • Submitted by BK Anderson on 02/14/2020 - 05:38 pm.

          Yes indeed, Joe, McCabe’s “lawbreaking” was clear. That’s why Barr’s handpicked prosecutor today informed McCabe that no charges would be brought against

    • Submitted by BK Anderson on 02/14/2020 - 06:07 pm.

      Joe, it’s clear you don’t really understand anything about the Inspector General’s report you are citing, so you probably shouldn’t be using it as some sort of “defense” of Trumpland.

      First of all, the IG expressly concluded that there was no bias in the FBI opening an investigation into the Trump campaign’s suspected communications/contacts with Russian operatives. That concession pretty much dooms all the weight you and your compadres want to place on it.

      Second, any factual errors/false statements in the warrant requests all related to Carter Page, who had very clear past ties to Russian agents. The IG report says the first two (of 4) warrants had no errors, and according to the report, those resulted in the most info.

      Third, it was almost certainly a mistake for the FBI to have focused on Page (and not Manafort and other players), as the Mueller investigation and report made clear. Conservatives seem to forget that the the (three year long) Mueller investigation vindicates the propriety of the FBI’s investigation, based on the numerous contacts with Russian agents that were discovered. The idea that the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign was based on “no evidence” is ridiculous, nor did the IG make such a finding. Any errors and misconduct identified simply do not undermine the overall legitimacy of the FBI investigation into Trump’s collusion.

  13. Submitted by Tim Smith on 02/14/2020 - 12:44 pm.

    Barr, to my knowlege, has not outwardly claimed to be the President’s “Wingman”.

    • Submitted by Paul Brandon on 02/14/2020 - 02:03 pm.

      And Trump has not publicly claimed to be “President Wingnut”.

    • Submitted by Ricky Sandefur on 02/18/2020 - 01:21 pm.

      Barr should not be trumps wingman he should stand behind his people at he justice department instead he is trying to destroy it to give trump more power. Shameful

  14. Submitted by Paul Nelson on 02/14/2020 - 01:48 pm.

    I’m inclined to agree with those who think Mr. Black gives Barr too much credit. It seems more likely that smoking out DOJ lawyers who still have some integrity is very pleasing to Trump and Barr, as people with integrity are dangerous. One is now gone and the rest have outed themselves. So Barr gets a win both ways: dangerous non-team-players are identified and Barr gets praise. Well played, Mr. Barr.

    • Submitted by Dennis Wagner on 02/14/2020 - 04:02 pm.

      What is that old saying, “fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me” This guy lost all his integrity (if there was any there to begin with) when he wrote off the Mueller report for his “Fuhrer” talk about a miscarriage of justice! So lets correct it by, having a couple more rounds of miscarried justice! Nothing but banana tress growing around DC now days.

      • Submitted by Tom Crain on 02/15/2020 - 10:19 am.

        I’m told that old saying from Tennessee (or Texas?) goes something like this: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me — you can’t get fooled again.”

  15. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 02/14/2020 - 06:18 pm.

    Really, Mr. Black?

    Your naive isn’t even cute. It’s just…..Sad!

  16. Submitted by Joe Musich on 02/14/2020 - 07:07 pm.

    Yep ! Barr wants the current occupant to hush up so he gets credit for full enactment of the imperial president. Barr only works to implement his vision. He is compatible with the CO only that they are wanting the same thing-a CEO with unlimited powers. Barr would push for this even if Warren’s pooch was POTUS.

  17. Submitted by Misty Martin on 02/17/2020 - 07:52 am.


    Have to disagree with you on this one. Barr is still one of Trump’s toadies.

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