Bill Barr discovers that he is not immune to Trump’s wrath
WASHINGTON - For the past two years, William Barr has served President Trump with exemplary loyalty. Whether it was Robert Mueller's report on Russia's meddling in the elections or last year's impeachment proceedings, the US attorney general was always so by the president that some wondered if he was more of a private attorney for the president than a The country's chief legal officer acted.
When other cabinet members left voluntarily or under pressure and rumors circulated that Trump might replace Mike Pence on the 2020 ticket, Barr remained an integral part of the Trumpian universe, articulating and justifying the president's many grievances, be it against Congressional Democrats or protesters in Portland .
And Trump repaid this loyalty with frequent references to "our great attorney general".
U.S. Attorney General William Barr listens during a discussion with attorneys general at the White House in Washington on September 23, 2020. (Tom Brenner / Reuters)
Barr's immunity ended abruptly earlier this week, and the president criticized the attorney general in surprisingly frank terms. "To be honest, Bill Barr will either go down as the greatest attorney general in the country's history or a very sad situation," Trump told Fox Business' Maria Bartiromo.
Trump's frustration, shared by some - if by no means all - of his closest allies stems from Barr's recent announcement that US attorney John Durham will not release his 2016 election report until November 3. Trump's allies have hoped Durham's report on the origins of the FBI's investigation into the Trump campaign, intended as a counter-argument to the Mueller report, would prove the president's claim that he was spied on by the Obama administration on behalf of Hillary Clinton.
As the president's political fate waned, some thought Durham's report might give him the boost he needed on election day. But with Durham apparently still at work, that boost has to come from elsewhere.
Durham won the contract in the spring of 2019 and some have wondered why it hasn't completed its investigation. "I just don't understand what he did," says Tom Fitton, head of the conservative surveillance group Judicial Watch. Fitton said he doesn't necessarily want Barr fired, but offered that the attorney general "needs help". He advised the president to appoint a special adviser to investigate the Obama administration's role in the 2016 election.
US attorney John Durham. (U.S. Department of Justice via AP)
A former senior administration official believed there was little chance Trump would actually fire Barr. Trump, he said, “vented like him when things don't go the way he wants them to. But Barr is the best he has, and firing him now would do more harm than good. "
Trump's first attorney general was no less loyal than Barr, if somewhat hampered in his ability to meet Trump's demands. Jeff Sessions was the first seated US Senator to endorse Trump in 2015, at a time when many were still wondering if his campaign was some kind of performance art. However, following his appointment as attorney general, Sessions found himself in the middle of the Russia investigation and was forced to withdraw due to his own prior contact with the Russian ambassador to the United States.
The meetings had no choice, but Trump never forgave him for relinquishing control of the investigation, which was being taken over by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Trump also failed to understand that the gears of this investigation would likely have turned regardless of who was responsible, given widespread concern on Capitol Hill, including some top Republicans, that Russia might be influencing an American presidential election.
Sessions dismissed the Russian investigation from Rod Rosenstein, a deputy attorney general who protected Müller from political influence. The removal of Barr would leave the Justice Department in the hands of Jeffrey Rosen, the deputy ministry officer. What effect this would have is unclear.
If Trump were to replace Barr, it would likely come with the expectation that Rosen "would be even more partisan to Trump than Barr," says Joshua Geltzer, a Georgetown law professor who served as an attorney on the National Security Council during the Obama administration. “That may be hard to imagine given Barr's dire politicization of the DOJ, but that's exactly what Trump will want to know. And Rosen was inconspicuous and relatively little known about him. So this is a key assessment Trump may need to make. "
The White House did not respond to several requests for comment, including questions about whether Trump still had confidence in Barr. Many employees there clearly hope that Trump will direct his attention elsewhere. With the West Wing in the midst of a coronavirus outbreak, an upcoming Supreme Court nomination battle, and presidential election in less than a month, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue doesn't have much of an appetite for more drama.
U.S. Attorney General William Barr arrives in the Rose Garden before President Donald Trump appoints 7th Circuit Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett, 48, as his nominee for the White House on September 26, 2020 in Washington, DC , introduces. (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)
But it's not Trump's tendency to let things go. In a two-hour conversation with Rush Limbaugh, he expressed frustration over recent news that Barr had downplayed expectations of Durham's report before November 3rd. "I think it's terrible. I think it's terrible," Trump told the right-wing radio host. "If that's the case, I'm very disappointed. I think it's a horrible thing and I'll tell him to his face. That's a shame. I think it's a shame it's an embarrassment "
Trump complained that Republicans were "not playing the tough game" and speculated that if "that was the other side, you'd have 25 people in jail for the rest of their lives with what we found."
Trump partisans have long claimed that monitoring the Trump campaign - which was based on evidence that officials were in contact with the Russian government or governmental figures - was illegal and intended to harm Trump on behalf of Hillary Clinton. But they are also satisfied that there are no serious charges against Obama officials - let alone Obama or Biden. "I don't think there will be any significant law enforcement," Judicial Watch's Fitton told Yahoo News.
That probably won't stop Trump, who has a tendency to work the umpires. He may be less interested in firing Barr than in trying one last time to pressure the attorney general to publish a report which, if as harmful as the president hopes, could swing the election in his favor . This implies a public appetite to relitify the details of the 2016 election, which may exist more in the minds of Trump's close allies than in the electorate as a whole.
That hasn't stopped Trump from reinforcing marginal voices who share this concern. Over the past few days, the president has been eagerly retweeted conspiracy theorist Paul Sperry, who has been proven to have made false accusations against Democrats, as well as a history of Islamophobia. Sperry accuses federal law enforcement agencies of effectively tarnishing the Trump campaign and many of its top officials. The tweets are inventions intended to win the president's favor.
President Donald Trump speaks outside the White House in this still image from a social media video posted October 8, 2020. (@ RealDonaldTrump / via Reuters)
Trump also shared a message from Conservative commentator John Cardillo: "Obama knew everything," Cardillo stated, without providing evidence of what Obama knew and how Cardillo had learned it was or what difference it could have made in an election , which Trump eventually won.
What all of this means for Barr's future is not clear. If Trump loses the election, as the poll now shows, speculation about that future could prove insignificant. Others, however, seek to please the president in the final days of his presidency or the beginning of an unlikely return to the battle against trim.
Among the Trump criticized in an interview with Fox Business was Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, another staunch ally of Trump. Trump was upset that Pompeo had failed to publish 33,000 emails from Hillary Clinton's time as State Department head. She left the cabinet to run for the presidency and was partially reversed by an investigation into her use of a personal email account while serving as the country's top diplomat.
Trump is now trying to re-solve the problem he believes could work against Biden. And so he complained to Bartiromo of Fox Business that more of those emails hadn't seen the light of day.
"You're at the State Department," said the President, "but Mike Pompeo can't get you out, which is actually very sad. I'm not happy with him for that reason. He couldn't get out - I'm getting dressed." I do not know why. They run the State Department and get them out. But they're in the State Department. "
The news was registered with Trump's loyal foreign minister. "We're getting them out," said Pompeo on Friday. "We're going to get all of this information out for the American people to see."
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