US Attorney General William Barr attends a roundtable discussion with law enforcement officials at the White House in Washington, DC. File/Agence France-Presse
Ahmed Baba, The Independent
It’s no secret that Attorney General William Barr is an authoritarian tool for President Trump. Barr has shielded Trump from accountability, investigated Trump’s conspiracy theories, targeted Trump’s enemies, protected Trump’s allies, and blatantly lied to the American people.
In Wednesday’s House Judiciary Hearing on Barr’s politicisation of the Justice Department (DOJ), Barr’s corruption was put on display in the most devastating manner thus far. In his opening statement, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler referred to Barr as Trump’s “fixer.” This hearing proved his point.
The chief witnesses were two current employees at the DOJ who put their careers on the line to allege unprecedented abuses of power on the part of Barr. Aaron Zelinsky, Assistant United States Attorney in Maryland, and John Elias, who works at the DOJ’s Antitrust Division, both testified to improper and downright corrupt activity in Barr’s DOJ.
The other two witnesses have worked in the office of the Attorney General under Republican presidents but had opposing viewpoints. Donald Ayer, the former Deputy Attorney General for President George H W Bush, eviscerated Barr’s conduct every time he spoke in the hearing. Michael Mukasey, former Attorney General for President George W Bush, defended Barr’s conduct every step of the way.
The most revelatory testimony came from Zelinsky. The name is familiar not just because it sounds like Ukrainian President Zelensky’s. Zelinsky was a top prosecutor on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team and he resigned from his work on the case of Trump’s longtime adviser Roger Stone after Barr intervened. Now, we have more details as to exactly what happened during that infamous week in February.
Zelinsky, along with other US prosecutors in DC, recommended a seven to nine-year sentence for Roger Stone’s crimes, which include obstruction of justice, lying to investigators and witness tampering. The next day, President Trump sent a tweet complaining about the sentencing. Pretty much right away, the DOJ reduced Stone’s sentencing recommendations and undercut their own prosecutors in DC, calling the sentence “extreme.” Trump thanked Barr publicly on Twitter. In protest of the move, four federal prosecutors quit the Stone case, including Zelinsky.
Zelinsky alleged that he was told Stone got special treatment because of “his relationship to the President.” Zelinsky also testified that he was told that the Acting US Attorney in DC installed by Barr, Timothy Shea, got pressure from the highest levels of the DOJ. Zelinsky went on to say that he was told the sentencing reduction was based on political considerations and Shea gave Stone favourable treatment because he was “afraid of the President.” He depicted an out-of-control DOJ that was used to bending the rule of law to Trump’s whims. John Elias testified that Barr improperly launched antitrust investigations and targeted automakers because of tweets President Trump sent, not for reasons of upholding the rule of law. While Michael Mukasey defended all of Barr’s conduct, Donald Ayer did not hold back, giving one of the most concise, blistering condemnations of Barr’s conduct I’ve heard: “I am here because I believe that William Barr poses the greatest threat, in my lifetime, to our rule of law and to public trust in it.”
Throughout the hearing, House Republicans deployed the usual Russia hoax and Obamagate conspiracy theories. In an apparent effort to outdo his own asinine efforts in previous hearings, Rep. Louie Gohmert quite literally tapped loudly non-stop on the table during the entire last half of Ayer’s opening statement. This didn’t stop Ayer from clearly articulating that Barr has held a lifelong belief in the President’s right to autocratic power — an allegation that holds true if you look at Barr’s history of espousing the conservative unitary executive theory. If this hearing wasn’t enough to prove that, look no further than today’s headlines.
After Barr’s DOJ requested that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s case be dropped, an Appeals Court just ordered that the case be dismissed before Judge Sullivan can complete his review. Michael Flynn lied to investigators and pleaded guilty to doing so but he could be let off the hook because he’s Trump’s buddy. While this case will likely be subject to future appeals, it’s still a failure of justice.
This comes days after Barr’s botched firing of US Attorney in the Southern District of New York (SDNY), Geoffrey Berman. Barr said Berman resigned last Friday; that was a lie. In fact, Berman initially said he would not resign until the Senate voted on his replacement, but ended up doing so after getting Barr to agree to put his deputy in charge. Trump denied all involvement with the matter — but given Trump has made 19,000 false or misleading claims according to The Washington Post, I’d say take his words with 19,000 grains of salt.
The SDNY put Trump’s former personal fixer Michael Cohen in jail and is currently probing Trump’s inaugural committee, Deutsche Bank, Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani and his associated Igor Fruman, and Lev Parnas. This move, quite frankly, reeks of corruption and abuse of power.
Barr lied about the Mueller report after taking office last year and cleared Trump of obstruction of justice. He then launched a probe to undermine the Russia probe. Barr interfered in the Roger Stone case to recommend lighter sentencing. He moved to get Flynn’s case dropped. He ordered authorities to violently clear the peaceful protestors from Lafayette Square for Trump’s Bible photo-op. There’s a reason over 1,100 former prosecutors and DOJ officials have called on him to resign.
Barr’s scandals continue to mount during one of the most politically perilous moments of Trump’s presidency. Trump is down in some national polls by double digits as coronavirus spikes in red states. Over 120,000 people have died, over 40 million Americans remain unemployed, and the country is undergoing a racial reckoning that the President stands firmly on the wrong side of. Barr is just yet another thorn in Trump’s faltering campaign.
While there have been calls for House Democrats to impeach Bill Barr, some say it might be best to hold him accountable by other means, such as targeting the budget of his office, or holding more hearings such as the one he has to attend next month. It’s certainly a concern that Barr could try some last-minute moves ahead of the election in November to try and help Trump win, but his credibility has been so damaged that it’s hard to imagine anyone will believe what he says.
Needless to say, as long as Barr is in this role, his authoritarian tenure at the DOJ is on the ballot and anyone who values American democracy should vote accordingly.
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