Don’t buy Bill Barr’s attempt to rehab his image

“William Barr began his tenure as Donald Trump’s attorney general with extremely evasive testimony during his confirmation hearing. He may be best remembered for giving a highly misleading summary of the Mueller report, and he spent much of 2020 trying to substantiate Trump’s conspiracy theories about the election being rigged against him.

But now, more than six months following his departure from government, Barr is trying to do some image damage control.

In interviews with journalist Jonathan Karl for a book excerpted in the Atlantic, Barr details how his final break with Trump finally came after he went public with claims undermining Trump’s last-ditch effort to overturn his election loss to Joe Biden.

“To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election,” Barr told an Associated Press reporter on December 1.

Barr told Karl that comment prompted an angry Trump to summon him into a meeting in which the president unloaded on him, saying things like “how the fuck could you do this to me?” and “you must hate Trump.”

Barr indicates that not only was he not intimidated by Trump’s outburst, but he fired back, comparing the Rudy Giuliani-led effort to overturn the results to a circus.

“You know, you only have five weeks, Mr. President, after an election to make legal challenges,” Barr told Trump, according to Karl. “This would have taken a crackerjack team with a really coherent and disciplined strategy. Instead, you have a clown show. No self-respecting lawyer is going anywhere near it. It’s just a joke. That’s why you are where you are.”

Barr ended up leaving the Department of Justice days before the January 6 insurrection. The new account of the weeks leading up to his resignation has led some to describe him as a “patriot.” But that’s going way too far even when Barr’s account is read in the most charitable light.”

“Barr spent the run-up to the 2020 election serving more as an arm of Trump’s campaign than he did as an independent arbiter of the rule of law. Barr was happy to amplify Trump’s lies about mail voting and voting fraud up to the point where it was clear to all but the most fanatical Trump supporters that he had lost the election.

Consider, for instance, the disastrous interview Barr did with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on September 2, when he couldn’t produce any evidence of mail voting fraud and resorted to saying its general existence is a “matter of logic.” Or his DOJ’s decision a few weeks later to issue a factually incorrect press release announcing an investigation into alleged mail voting irregularities in Pennsylvania — an announcement that violated DOJ’s policies. Or Barr’s move three days after the election to authorize investigations into “substantial allegations of voting and vote tabulation irregularities,” even though there was no evidence of such irregularities.

In his interviews with Karl, Barr portrayed his decision to authorize fraud investigations despite a lack of evidence as a strategy he used to make sure he would be able to tell Trump that his conspiracy theories were baseless when the time came.”

“it’s not normal for the DOJ, which is ostensibly supposed to operate with a modicum of independence from the executive branch, to pursue investigations based on “bullshit” conspiracy theories favored by the president. But Barr spent years turning the DOJ into something akin to the president’s personal law firm.”

“It’s not even clear to what extent — if at all — Barr’s break with Trump was motivated by a desire to protect American democracy. Instead, Karl’s piece makes it seem as though Barr and then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell were primarily interested in helping Republicans win special elections in January for two US Senate seats.

Karl writes that McConnell had been urging Barr throughout November to speak out against Trump’s election fraud conspiracy theories, because those theories were complicating the argument Republicans wanted to make about how maintaining the Senate majority was important as a check on Biden’s power. But McConnell was reluctant to speak out himself for fear that if he did so, an embittered Trump would sabotage the Republican candidates”

“while it’s good that Barr ultimately stood up to Trump, it’s worth keeping in mind how abnormal it is for the US attorney general to be scheming with the Senate leader on ways to ensure their political party retains power.”

Feds Seize CNN Reporter’s Data, Then Gag CNN

“On Wednesday, CNN Executive Vice President and General Counsel David Vigilante made a revelation sure to startle those unaware of the state’s vast power to not just seize information from journalists but bully their employers into silence about it under penalty of jail time.

“Since July 17, 2020,” Vigilante wrote, “I have been bound by a gag order or a sealing order that prohibited me from discussing, or even acknowledging, that the government was seeking to compel the disclosure of the professional email communications of CNN reporter Barbara Starr.”

The Justice Department under Attorney General William Barr had been requesting email header data and phone logs of Starr, a Pentagon reporter, dating from June 1 to July 31 of 2017, for reasons that are still unknown to any third parties aside from some federal judges operating a secret court. (Starr herself was not the target of the investigation, the feds confirmed to reporters.)

The Trump administration launched a crackdown in 2017 against national security-related leaks, an effort that led to the secret seizure of three Washington Post reporters’ phone records, which was revealed only last month. In doing so, former President Donald Trump’s DOJ prosecutors followed the rules and legal justifications established by their predecessors in the Obama administration, which prosecuted more leakers than every prior presidency combined, even charging Fox News White House chief James Rosen as “at the very least, either…an aider, abettor, and/or co-conspirator.””

“one of the only judges to lay eyes on the DOJ’s reasoning for harassing CNN concluded that it was based on “speculative predictions, assumptions, and scenarios unanchored in any facts.”

Commented CNN’s Vigilante: “This was the first characterization of the evidence we had seen, and it was stunning: After months of secret proceedings and heavy-handed enforcement tactics, a neutral judge said that, in large part, the emperor had no clothes.””

“As Nick Gillespie and I wrote six years ago, “From press accounts of similar actions at other news publications and social media sites, we know that it is increasingly common for the federal government to demand user information from publications and websites while also stifling their speech rights with gag orders and letters requesting ‘voluntary’ confidentiality.””

“while the increasing but still comparatively rare open clashes between the DOJ and news organizations tend to make headlines, the real data collection is happening every day, quietly, in the form of requests and subpoenas to social media companies and other third-party vendors.”

Wish a Not-So-Fond Farewell to Outgoing Attorney General William Barr

“Barr will most likely be remembered for running interference for Trump, describing Robert Mueller’s special investigation of Russian influence on the Trump campaign as having cleared the president. In reality, Mueller’s investigation report was quite clear that if Trump had not been the president, he probably would have been facing obstruction of justice charges.

It’s unfortunate, truly, that Barr will be remembered mostly as Trump’s craven pet because the rest of Barr’s actual record as attorney general is even more worthy of scorn. Barr opposes marijuana legalization. He said he was willing to allow states to make their own decisions on marijuana legalization, but then his office launched a bunch of antitrust investigations targeting cannabis companies.

As America went through a summer of anger, protests, and violence about police abuse of minorities, Barr not only habitually took the side of police, but also basically told Americans to just shut up and do what they’re told. He warned in a speech that if citizens didn’t bend the knee to police, “they might find themselves without the police protection that they need.” In speeches, he embraced the “warrior cop” mentality and complained in a speech at a Fraternal Order of Police conference in 2019 that, “Not too long ago influential public voices—whether in the media or among community and civic leaders—stressed the need to comply with police commands, even if one thinks they are unjust.” He was mad that those days were gone and insisted that anybody who resists the police should be prosecuted, even if the police conduct was in the wrong.

Barr opposes legislation that would weaken “qualified immunity,” which in many cases protects police officers from being sued when they knowingly violate citizens’ rights”

Attorney General Bill Barr Encourages Federal Prosecutors To Charge Violent Protesters With Sedition

“Arson, vandalism, and other acts of rioting have accompanied many of the anti-police-brutality protests around the country. But since this violence is often adjacent to protected First Amendment activities, law enforcement’s response needs to be careful, targeted, and proportionate. We should try to stop the violence and vandalism, but peaceful protesters shouldn’t be unjustly punished or otherwise dissuaded from exercising their rights to free speech and assembly.

By encouraging prosecutors to be as punitive as possible, Barr appears to be taking the exact opposite approach. His suggestion that they dust off sedition laws should alarm all civil liberties advocates.”

“It’s ideologue meets grifter”: How Bill Barr made Trumpism possible

“Under Barr, the Department of Justice has become a political instrument for President Trump. Whether it’s misleading the public about the Mueller report or using tear gas to disperse peaceful protesters so that Trump could stage a photo op, Barr has repeatedly sacrificed the dignity of his office in order to please his boss.

If you don’t know much about Barr’s history, it’s hard to make sense of his behavior. Having already served as AG under George H.W. Bush’s administration, Barr had a solid reputation as a serious guy. When he reemerged in 2018 as Trump’s pick for attorney general, he was widely seen as a creature of the Republican establishment, and his selection was “greeted with a measure of relief” within the DOJ, according to the New York Times.

But events since have shown him to be a more than willing accomplice in Trump’s slow-motion destruction of democratic norms. Which raises the question: Why has someone like Bill Barr given himself over to an aspiring authoritarian like Trump?”

“He believes the president should be more powerful than Congress and the courts. In his mind, that’s the only thing that can keep the country safe when it is threatened by war, natural disaster, or economic collapse. He believes that is what the founders intended.”

“it’s funny watching interviews with him. He’s very measured in how he speaks, but what he is saying is very far right and deeply conservative across the board. And his actions are extraordinary, at times unprecedented, for an attorney general, from dispatching National Guard troops from multiple states all over DC, to setting up a command bunker where he oversaw all of that, to removing prosecutors and pushing for lower sentences for the president’s allies. He speaks carefully but his actions are anything but measured.”

“It’s ideologue meets grifter”: How Bill Barr made Trumpism possible

“In any other administration, the firing of a US attorney who had been conducting investigations of the president’s allies would be scandalous. But this is not a typical administration and this is not a typical Department of Justice. Under Barr, the DOJ has become a political instrument for the president. Whether it’s misleading the public about the Mueller report or using tear gas to disperse peaceful protesters so that Trump could stage a photo op, or trying to fire Berman, Barr has repeatedly sacrificed the dignity of his office in order to please his boss.”

“He believes the president should be more powerful than Congress and the courts. In his mind, that’s the only thing that can keep the country safe when it is threatened by war, natural disaster, or economic collapse.”

“it’s funny watching interviews with him. He’s very measured in how he speaks, but what he is saying is very far right and deeply conservative across the board. And his actions are extraordinary, at times unprecedented, for an attorney general, from dispatching National Guard troops from multiple states all over DC, to setting up a command bunker where he oversaw all of that, to removing prosecutors and pushing for lower sentences for the president’s allies. He speaks carefully but his actions are anything but measured.”

Why Attorney General Bill Barr is mad at Apple

“Forcing Apple to create a backdoor would perhaps make investigations easier and quicker for the FBI, but it’s not absolutely necessary to conduct investigations. The FBI didn’t say how it was able to gain access to the phones, but the agency clearly didn’t need Apple’s help to do so. This has been the case in past investigations as well. The Department of Justice is asking a company to change its business practices and create a vulnerability in millions of its customers’ devices for what amounts to a shortcut.”