Calmes: Bill Barr too late in telling the truth about Trump

Former Atty. General William Barr has been in tears lately. He’s calling his ex-boss about potential crime and disability amid evidence Donald Trump fled the White House with boxes full of government documents, including the highest-classified kind.

Barr’s telling the truth is welcome, especially since a lot of it happens on Fox News, whose audiences don’t typically hear much about Trump. Yet plain language speech would have been more welcome when Barr was in power than it was more important.

At times, Fox hosts can hardly contain their shock as Barr gives the lie to any complaint Trump made against the Justice Department after the FBI-authorized search of Mar-a-Lago. “People say it was unprecedented. Well, it’s also unprecedented for a president to take all this classified information and put it in a country club, okay? ‘ Barr told Fox viewers last Friday.

Spotted portrait illustration of Jackie Calmes

opinion columnist

Jackie Calmes

Jackie Calmes takes a critical look at the national political scene. She has decades of experience reporting on the White House and Congress.

Then and since, he said Trump had repeatedly “fooled” and “pushed around” the administration as it tried to get its property back for more than a year. He can’t think of any “legitimate reason” why Trump took the documents with him. He pokes fun at Trump’s claim to have declassified everything and conjures up a wizard waving a wand over the wrapped secrets.

Asked whether a special master should review the footage before the FBI proceeds with its investigation — when Trump ordered a Trump-appointed judge to order — Barr told the New York Times, “It’s a hodgepodge.” He said it was Justice Department was due to appeal – as on Thursday – and predicted it would win.

“There is no legal scenario under which the president can keep government documents, classified or not,” Barr told Fox News again on Wednesday.

This is all for the better. But the damage he did as attorney general remains.

During most of Trump’s last two years in office, Barr transformed the Justice Department into the president’s personal law office. Had Barr not duped the nation in 2019 about the findings of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Trump’s Russian interference in the 2016 election — specifically, the many ways Trump allegedly tried to obstruct investigators — Trump would have done so, meanwhile held accountable for his abuse of power and humiliated rather than emboldened.

Three years later, Barr’s talk of Trump’s guilt only reeks of a way to salvage his legacy (and sell his book).

Good luck with it.

Donald Ayer, who was Barr’s deputy in the administration of President George HW Bush during his first term as attorney general, wrote in a 2020 scathing slap at his former boss: Barr had been “a major threat to our legal system and public confidence in it. He doesn’t believe in the central tenet of our system – that no one is above the law.”

Ayer and other conservative lawyers have aligned themselves with the liberals in charging Barr with numerous sins. Among them:

Undermining Congress’ powers of oversight and appropriations. Sending law enforcement officers across the country after Trump called for a crackdown on racial justice protests. Overseeing the eviction of peaceful protesters near the White House to allow a Bible-carrying Trump to host a photo op. Based on Trump’s election fraud allegations. Reduced a recommended prison sentence for Trump lackey Roger Stone despite prosecutors’ objections. Dismissal of the case against former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, who twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in the Russia investigation. Initiation of a criminal investigation in the Russia probe, which, thanks to Barr’s machinations, survived the Trump administration but nearly failed.

And only now does Barr see Trump as a threat to the rule of law?

Thanks to Barr, the scathing Mueller report has largely been forgotten except as what Trump routinely dismisses as a “Russia, Russia, Russia hoax.” Hence the fantasy that the “deep state” is after Trump, ensuring that every other allegation against him — that he blackmailed a foreign leader to investigate his political rival or incited an insurgency — by more than a third immediately disbelieved Americans.

It’s worth briefly recalling what Mueller actually found. Yes, his investigation found that Trump and his campaign did not conspire with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election on his behalf, although the Trump campaign actively welcomed the help. Barr omitted this last part in his four-page distortion of Mueller’s 448-page report.

Mueller also outlined nearly a dozen ways Trump could be blamed for obstructing justice in his efforts to obstruct investigations. These included Trump’s pressure on his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to protect him; his firing of the FBI director; his efforts to get his White House counsel to fire Mueller and then to deny investigators the opportunity to do so; and his pardon in front of witnesses, presumably for friendly testimony.

Given a Justice Department policy against impeaching an incumbent president, Mueller said it was up to the Department and Congress to consider further action.

More than three weeks after Mueller submitted the report, Barr did not allow Americans to see it — only Barr’s summary, which allowed Trump to falsely state that he was “fully exonerated.” Barr didn’t disagree, even though he knew Mueller had written: “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it does not exonerate him either.”

Will Barr now lead the charge against Trump? Better late than never. But Barr’s legacy remains the same, and it’s not what he wants.

@jackiekcalmes Calmes: Bill Barr too late in telling the truth about Trump

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