July 6,2020

The Corruption Blog is a series of blog posts by Sean Gray that digs into the details of the all-encompassing corruption of the Trump administration.

Tennessee Representative Steve Cohen introduced a resolution on the House floor this week, calling for the impeachment of Attorney General William Barr. While the motion is unlikely to gain much traction amid the coronavirus pandemic, he’s hardly the first to broach the subject. Late last month, Barr’s alma mater, George Washington Law School, issued a scathing letter calling Barr a threat to constitutional order; it was signed by over 80% of the faculty. In February, when Barr intervened to lessen the sentence of Donald Trump confidante Roger Stone, the nonpartisan group ‘’Protect Democracy’’ circulated a petition demanding his resignation. It gained the signatures of over 2,000 former Department of Justice officials. Since succeeding Jeff Session in his role, the attorney general has faithfully prioritized the wants of the president over the equitable application of the law.

For example . William Barr pre-empted the Mueller Report’s release with a letter of his own summarizing the report. While it contained no outright falsehoods, it misrepresented the Special Counsel’s findings in a naked PR move. For instance his letter states that no members of the president’s team coordinated or cooperated with the Russian efforts. This ignores, among other transgressions, the 2016 Trump Tower meeting, where then-campaign manager Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., and Jared Kushner (both members of the campaign) met with Russian nationals with the expectation they would receive damaging information on Trump’s opponent, Hilary Clinton. Mueller outlined 10 instances where the president obstructed justice during the course of his investigation. Because of an Office of Legal Counsel precedent stating a sitting president cannot be indicted, Mueller declined to make a charging decision beyond his authority. Barr’s letter stated outright the Special Counsel had concluded the president committed no crimes. Mueller’s said publicly, and in the report that if he could have cleared the president of any wrongdoing, he would have. Distorting public perception of Russian election interference was but the opening salvo in Barr’s corruption spree.

Barr had a hand in the sentencing of Trump confidant Roger Stone.When the news broke about Stone’s sentencing, Trump took to Twitter to vent, tweeting of the sentence ‘’terribly and horribly unfair’’ and ‘’Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice.’’ The tweet had the desired effect on its intended audience of one. Less the 24 hours after the sentencing guideline was announced, Senior DOJ officials, under Barr’s direction, called for a lighter sentence of 40 months, adding that the decision had nothing to do with Trump’s tweet. Perhaps no Executive Branch declaration of the past four years better exemplifies its credibility gap. During the trial Stone was disruptive, obstinate, and posted to social media a picture of the presiding judge in the crosshairs of a sniper rifle. It’s hardly as if any of his conduct would have endeared him to the court and warranted a reduction in penalty. Only his connection to Trump, and Barr’s pliability allowed him to have his sentence more than halved.

Barr intervened similarly in the case against Trump’s original National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn. Flynn was heard on an intercept discussing sanctions with Russian ambassador, Sergei Kislyak. He warned Kislyak, whose country had just attacked our elections, against imposing any sanctions that would inhibit good relations between Washington and Moscow. He then lied about the contact to Mueller’s investigators. He pled guilty twice. The Special Counsel suggested little or no jail time based on Flynn’s willingness to take responsibility and cooperate. Still, the DOJ, in an astounding act of favoritism, dropped the case before the former general could be sentenced.

Barr’s abdication of his responsibility is not limited to case fixing and domestic political errands. On the infamous call between Trump and president-elect Volodymr Zelensky, Barr’s name comes up twice. Both times, Trump encourages his Ukrainian counterpart to reach out to the attorney general (and his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani)  to investigate baseless allegations of corruptions by the Bidens in the Eastern European country. Trump linked the sham investigations (which he expected to benefit him politically) to millions in security aid, and was impeached for the attempt.

Barr aoso helped Trump out in Turkey.Former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s recently released book The Room Where it Happened details a meeting between Trump and Turkish president Recep Erdogan, where the latter sought to spare Halkbank from impending indictments. The country’s de-facto national bank had been investigated by the Southern District of New York for helping the Iranian government circumvent hundreds of millions of dollars in US sanctions. The case impacted Erdogan personally, as his family has extensive ties to the financial institutions and his government is its majority shareholder. Trump promised he would look into the matter. There exists no evidence that then-acting AG Matthew Whitaker intervened in any way. When Barr was appointed, per Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, he began a campaign to help Halkbank negotiate a settlement to avoid criminal charges. A senior executive of the bank would be convicted in federal court anyway. Recently fired US attorney, Geoffrey Berman spearheaded the case. That the president would repeatedly deploy Barr in such a capacity, demonstrates he sees him his fixer, to the detriment of the American people. To date, Barr has raised no serious objection.

None of this reprehensible, and possibly criminal conduct should obscure Barr’s dangerous rhetoric. Public health experts generally agree that predatory practices and dire economic circumstances are responsible for the country’s opioid epidemic. Barr evidently sees it very differently, as he made clear when he addressed the subject at Notre Dame University in 2019. In his utterly fact-free speech, he laid the blame for the crisis at the feet of ‘’secularists’’ and ‘’so-called progressives.’’ To summarize, his speech decried the militant assault on Christian values leading to planned social decay.. Aside from his speech’s tenuous relationship to reality, it seems the nation’s top law enforcement official should be aware of the First Amendment’s clause prohibiting the establishment of a national religion. The Founding Father’s of this country were well aware of the danger of mixing government and religion. William Barr likely is also.

Barr similarly distorted the reality of police brutality when addressing the Fraternal Order of Police last year. His speech seemed a response to grievances within communities, particularly those of color, concerning how they’re policed. For context, 48 police officers died in the line of duty as the result of felonious assault in 2019. Just over 1,000 US citizens died at the hands of cops in the same year. By all accounts, violent crime in this country is at or near an all-time low. Yet when Barr addressed the FOP, he made the patently untrue assertion that it has never been more dangerous to be a police officer. He bemoaned the lack of respect shown to officers and demanded it from American citizens. His hypothesis seemed to center around a gradual decline in reverence for cops stemming from the civil unrest of the 1960’s. Barr, warned that if the disrespect continues, communities may find themselves without the protection they need. The vague threat compels mention that the job of a cop is to enforce the law, and the Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly police officers have no legal responsibility to protect you. Barr emphasized that ‘’resistance is never acceptable, even if an officer’s orders appear unjust’’. ‘’Comply first, and then, if you think you’ve been wronged, complain later’’ he added without any trace of irony. Given his role in the violent dispersal of protestors outside the White House last month, it’s hard to believe he didn’t mean every word. When the independent in name only attorney general rigs cases for his boss, and demands the blind submission of citizens to cops, it is very clear the type of society he favors.

Whataboutism is a commonly utilized tactic in defense of Trump and his allies. In response to criticisms of the Barr/Trump relationship, his supporters might point to former AG Eric Holder, who once called himself Obama’s wingman. They’d not be wrong to suggest that an overly chummy relationship between the two could pose threats to the Justice Department’s independence. But, they could not point to one instance where Holder either intervened in the  criminal case of an Obama ally, tried to squash an investigation to the benefit of a foreign despot, or established a pattern of attacks on the First Amendment.

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