Below is my column in Hill on Attorney General Bill Barr’s early departure. The move will give Trump the record over attorneys general. This is not good. A president cannot select too many Supreme Court justices or too few attorneys-general. Trump is reportedly openly discussing the appointment of a special adviser to investigate Hunter Biden after Barr leaves. At this point it seems completely unnecessary and would further tarnish Trump’s image as someone meddling in the Justice Department’s internal decisions. What is clear is that Barr was a critical firewall for the department during one of the most chaotic and challenging times. As I said earlier, Barr remains more against sinners than against sinners, and history will confirm his tenure in the Justice Department.
Here is the column:
Attorney General Bill Barr will “go to spend the vacation with his family”. In Washington, “spending more time with your family” is the coded language for forced departures. It’s our version of euphemisms like “Luca Brasi sleeps with the fish” in the Godfather film. Luca Brasi wasn’t actually sleeping with the fish, and Bill Barr Bill Barr might not suddenly want to leave early to spend more time with his family. With his children living in the area, it was about as difficult for him to spend time with his family as it was. . . Well . . . go home.
I testified at his Senate confirmation hearing. I’ve known him for decades and, along with other former attorneys general, have even represented him in the Clinton impeachment proceedings. At that hearing, Senator Richard Blumenthal asked me why President Trump Barr wanted and suggested that a henchman be appointed as head of the Justice Department. I replied, “I don’t know what the President expected from Barr, but I know what he’s getting. He will find someone who identifies incredibly closely with the department and I think he will be a strong defender of it. “
It’s now clear that Trump might have thought he was getting someone else, but that Barr was exactly the attorney general I hoped would be. As I noted in the testimony, Barr and I have a fundamental disagreement about the President’s powers and I disagreed with him on a number of issues during his last tenure with the Attorney General. However, in confrontations with the White House, Barr proved a staunch defender of the department’s integrity and independence. Trump has been beating Barr for weeks for finding systemic electoral fraud and not disclosing the Hunter Biden investigation prior to the election.
In an interview prior to the announcement of Barr’s departure, Fox News host Brian Kilmeade pressed Trump over his anger at Barr for failing to disclose this investigation. Commented Kilmeade, “Jonathan Turley said he had no choice … it would have been James Comey again. “In response, Trump said he was” very disappointed “with Barr.
Then I knew Barr was done. At the start of his tenure, Trump said he was “very disappointed” with this attorney general Jeff Sessions withdrew from the Russian investigation. As with Barr, the session’s decision was enforced by ethical rules, and he gave in to the overwhelming opinion of experts, including those within the judiciary. However, Sessions was later posted to spend more time with his family.
In the interview, Trump insisted on this particular advice Robert Mueller went public to correct the record after a false story about the Russia collusion investigation. BuzzFeed told a false story about how Trump hired his personal attorney. Michael Cohenlying to Congress, for which Cohen was prosecuted; Mueller’s staff disproved the story after Democrats and various legal experts cited her to demand impeachment. However, unlike the Hunter Biden investigation, the Special Representative’s investigation was already public and the final report was finalized. The story also concerned the Cohen case, which closed with his request.
But Trump did not demand that Barr act like Müller. He urged Barr to act like James Comey and Barr to repeat the very act that the President denounced as the basis for Comey’s dismissal. The Ministry of Justice prohibits the disclosure of an ongoing investigation. Not only can such disclosures undermine an investigation, but it is unfair to any subject or target who has not been charged. The Justice Department also has a policy of not providing information or filing charges shortly before an election. So Barr had to choose whether to do the right thing or the comfortable. He chose exactly as I had imagined.
In particular, if Barr had acted unethically, it would not have achieved what Trump wanted. If Barr had publicly exposed an investigation into Hunter Biden prior to the election, Biden’s presidential campaign would only have determined that Biden was not charged with any crime and would have been working with investigators. Without Barr, he would not have changed the political dynamics of the elections. Some of us wrote about how information, including a subpoena, indicated that Hunter Biden was under investigation. The media simply refused to cover this evidence and would have continued to protect Joe Biden before the election. After all, the mere fact of an investigation does not establish the basis of a crime, much less guilt.
Now that Barr has been posted for “family time” and replaced by Acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen, Trump will set a record of six acting or confirmed attorneys general in four years. That is literally too much by half. It’s the same number that George Bush held for eight years.
The departure ends one of the most adverse attorney general conditions in history. Trump’s attacks on Barr pale in comparison to the false attacks in the media. Trump’s attacks are based at least on facts: Barr preferred ethics to politics. In sad contrast, the media repeatedly and falsely accused Barr of wrongdoing and then refused to correct those stories.
The media reported widely that Barr ordered that Lafayette Park be cleared of peaceful protesters in order to facilitate a Trump photo at nearby Saint Johns Church. The evidence directly contradicts these claims. I testified before Congress about the incident and presented overwhelming evidence that the decision to vacate the parking area was made last weekend after violence broke out in the White House. Barr was unaware of the photo operation when authorizing the eviction of the area, which was delayed due to the late arrival of staff and fence material. However, the wrong story has largely been repeated.
Barr never seems to care that much about media and political attacks like this. Those of us who know him are far more affected by the criticism than he is. I had lunch with him two days before the announcement of his resignation, and he remained determined and satisfied despite all the barbs on all sides. Barr has always proven to be the ultimate immovable object in the path of irresistible forces. Whether it’s the press or the president, he’s impressive precisely because he knows who he is. He has a feeling for his own “True North” and does not break out of this line of sight. Barr will have his family time. It’s good for his family, but not so good for the country.
Jonathan Turley is Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University. You can find his updates online at JonathanTurley.