Barr's Role in Trump's Abuse of Power

Attorney General Bill Barr has consistently acted as a shield for Trump’s abuse of power, leveraging the Department of Justice to pursue Trump’s narrow and corrupt ends at the expense of national security and the national interest. Indeed, the notes from Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Zelensky reveal the degree to which Trump views Barr as a partner in his effort to pursue his personal interests ahead of the national interest. Since the inquiry began, Barr has doubled-down on his blind support for Trump and publicly rebuffed the role of the legislative and judicial branches.

 Barr’s conduct as Attorney General follows an extensive history of facilitating executive overreach, and his ongoing deference to Trump’s misconduct threatens the rule of law. 

Complicity in Trump’s Impeachment Scandal

  • Trump mentions Barr six times as a resource for the Ukrainian President in the July 25 call record. Despite this fact, Barr has not recused himself from the matter.
  • In September, the Justice Department prevented the Acting DNI from sending the whistleblower complaint to Congress, “manipulated campaign finance law to determine that Trump had committed no crime,” and refused to investigate Trump’s conduct.
    • Dozens of inspectors general from across the federal government penned a letter to the Justice Department denouncing this decision, arguing it “could seriously undermine the critical role whistleblowers play in coming forward to report waste, fraud, abuse, and misconduct across the federal government.”
  • Rudy Giuliani associate Lev Parnas has personally described Barr as “a participant in the President’s abuse of the power of his office.” Beyond Parnas, a range of experts have criticized Barr’s willingness to privilege Trump’s political agenda ahead of his constitutional duties.
    • In an unprecedented move, the New York City Bar Association called on Congress to investigate Barr, citing a “pattern of conduct that is inconsistent with the role of the Attorney General in our legal and constitutional system and with the norms and standards that govern the fair administration of justice.”
    • Nick Ackerman, an assistant special prosecutor in the Watergate scandal, argued that Barr “has so many conflicts [of interest] and is up to his eyeballs in all of the corruption surrounding Trump.”
    • Common Cause, a nonpartisan government watchdog group, wrote that Barr “has politicized the Department of Justice and undermined trust in the law by prioritizing and acting in the interests of a president who has committed impeachable offenses, rather than upholding the law and the Constitution.”

Discrediting the Mueller report

  • In May, the White House authorized Barr’s request to obtain all “assistance and information” he could desire to review intelligence activities related to the 2016 Presidential election. Trump has afforded Barr the “full and complete authority” to declassify government secrets in pursuit of this inquiry.
    • Legal experts Mary McCord and Joshua Geltzer argue that this investigation is “out of sync with proper executive branch leadership and, more importantly, dangerous to American security.”
    • According to Bill Leonard, former director of the Information Security Oversight Office Under George W. Bush, Barr’s power to unilaterally declassify information represents an “unprecedented” challenge to legislative branch authority.
  • The Washington Post reports that Barr privately met with foreign intelligence officials to solicit their help in discrediting the U.S. Intelligence Community’s conclusions about Russian interference in the 2016 election.
  • The New York Times reports that Trump also enlisted Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to work with Barr on an investigation aimed at discrediting the Mueller report.
    • The Attorney General specifically requested that Trump make the call. According to the report, the president sees Barr as a “critical partner in his goal to show that the Mueller investigation had corrupt and partisan origins,” and views “the Justice Department inquiry as a potential way to gain leverage over America’s closest allies.”
  • Barr’s already-politicized inquiry has reportedly evolved into a criminal investigation. This dangerous move further undermines the independence of the Department of Justice.
  • Even after the Justice Department’s independent Inspector General concluded that the FBI acted without political bias in 2016, Barr continued to insist that “the F.B.I. launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions.”
  • Now, John Durham, the prosecutor Barr hand picked to scrutinize the Russia investigation, continues to pursue Barr’s politicized inquiry into the Intelligence Community’s conclusions.
    • Former CIA officer Alex Finley has characterized Barr and Durham’s probe as a political ploy to “destroy all trust in the Intelligence Community.”

History of Unaccountability and Deference to Trump

OLC Legal Memo Secrecy

  • When serving as the head of the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) in 1989, Barr refused to release the full OLC memo that concluded the FBI could forcibly abduct people in other countries without host-country consent.
    • Yale law school professor Harold Koh described Barr’s action as “particularly egregious.”

Pandering to Trump to get the AG Job

  • Prior to his nomination, Barr wrote an unsolicited memo criticizing the Mueller report, helped to politicize Mueller’s investigation, and praised Trump’s decision to fire former FBI director James Comey. Barr then refused to recuse himself from the investigation despite this pattern of activity.

Unleashing the Imperial Executive

  • Describing the President’s authority in a June 2018 memo, Barr wrote: “He alone is the Executive branch.”
    • According to Neil Kinkopf, a constitutional law scholar and former DOJ official, this interpretation enables an ‘imperial presidency’ and opens the door to dangerous abuse of power.

Memo to Congress re: Mueller Investigation

  • In April 2019, before the release of the full Mueller report, Barr selectively drew quotes from Mueller’s work in order to mislead the public ahead of the report’s release.
    • Mueller later informed Barr that his memo “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of his work.

Lying to Congress

  • According to former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman and NYU Law Professor Ryan Goodman, “It’s clear that [Barr] has repeatedly deceived Congress in a manner that appears to have crossed the line established by federal criminal law.”
    • Barr’s May 2019 testimony to Congress has come under renewed scrutiny in light of the Trump-Ukraine call record, and Senator Harris has called on Barr to return to Congress to clarify his previous answers under oath.

Rejecting Congressional Subpoena Power

  • In refusing to comply with the House of Representatives’ subpoenas in the Spring of 2019, Barr paved the way for similar Executive Branch overreach during the impeachment inquiry. Under Barr, the Department of Justice filed an amicus brief on behalf of the President, arguing that congressional subpoenas into the finances of Trump and his family should not be enforced.
    • Donald Ayer, who served as Deputy Attorney General under George H. W. Bush, described the administration’s dismissal of legislative branch subpoenas as “totally outrageous.” According to Ayer, “It’s denying the legitimacy of another branch of government in the name of executive supremacy.”
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