Monday, January 7, 2019

“Bill was just an attack dog that was loosed on us”

The WSJ today has a story about what Bill Barr, Trump's nominee for Attorney General, has been doing since leaving DoJ in 1994: Trump’s Attorney General Pick Earned a Reputation as a Fighter in the Corporate World (originally published as 'Aggressive Tactics Mark Attorney General Nominee Attorney General Nominee Known for Assertiveness.'). The short answer is that Barr has been very busy. He became a central figure in the Wild West world of telecommunications deregulation between 1996 and 2008, renowned for his pugnacity. I'm not taking sides on the merits of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and its aftermath, but anyone who thinks Barr is simply a lapdog for the Washington Establishment who will not be a match for Mueller or Rosenstein will probably want to reconsider. What he clearly is, is a very aggressive advocate for his clients. As AG he will be an advocate, most broadly, for the Constitution and laws of the United States, but in that capacity he has a well established record as an aggressive defender of the Executive Branch.

President Trump’s attorney general pick spent more than 25 years in the corporate world, where his forceful arguments and dogged approach to litigation at times put him at odds with the Justice Department he is expected to lead for a second time.
His aggressive style may appeal to his new boss, who has regularly attacked the Justice Department, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, FBI officials and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Mr. Barr spent much of his post-government career as top lawyer for GTE, the telecommunications company that became today’s Verizon Communications Inc. He was widely credited with leading the industry’s charge against the federal government’s implementation of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.
“He isn’t going to wilt in the face of heavy fire,” said Theodore Olson, a prominent Washington attorney who has known Mr. Barr since they worked together in the Reagan administration. 
“The telecommunications industry had really never seen anyone like Bill Barr,” said former Time Warner general counsel Paul Cappuccio.
One former competitor said he couldn’t fault Mr. Barr for his aggressive tactics. “Bill was just an attack dog that [was] loosed on us,” the former rival said.

The article goes on to note that the current DoJ is very familiar with Barr, who has aggressively challenged DoJ on several occasions, including in their case against Caterpillar Corp. From the article one gathers that current DoJ denizens view the return of Barr with considerable trepidation.

Commenter dfp21 recently advocated in favor of "fighting fire with fire" -- in favor of appointing a new Special Counsel to take on Team Mueller and the rest of the DoJ cabal. I have argued that Barr is unlikely to do that, because of principled opposition to the institution of Special Counsel on constitutional grounds, but that any AG has ample legal and investigative firepower at his disposal. If setting an attack dog lawyer on one's antagonists--and an active AG can be that on steroids--counts as "fighting fire with fire," then the Swamp may be in for an unpleasant experience when they come face to face with Barr.


  1. Lessons learned. Sessions was a Swamp mole that did great damage, and was not just a benign nincompoop. Huber was/is a decoy, and has also been highly damaging by virtue of dispelling public disgust with false hope. Rosenstein is a cagey criminal mastermind that has skillfully waged war against the Rule of Law and accountability, while dodging bullets from the Congress. At least he has been a worthy adversary and nemesis. And dozens of Executive Branch officials (past and present) have skated on so many felony criminal acts that the facade of integrity at DOJ is now laughable, but that does not begin to account for how corrupt that institution has become. These are not trivial matters, and putting all your eggs in one basket with a new AG is naive at best. Who is to say that he will not become another decoy or failed remedy? The problem is too big for one white knight gambit to succeed.

  2. I'm hardly putting "all my eggs in one basket." The facts are simply these:

    1. There are certain institutions of government that are absolutely key. In a nation based on the rule of law the DoJ is more key than any other part of the executive branch. Recognizing this fact is hardly naive.

    2. One white knight may not be able to do the whole job, but you have to start somewhere and right now this key position, AG, is in play. It gives more bang for the buck than any other executive branch appointment--which is precisely why Sessions was such a tragedy.

    3. Again, assuming Barr is a white knight, he won't be alone--if he were he wouldn't be confirmed. I assume he'll have the support of the WH as well as a significant number of senators--who know that if they don't hang together they'll ultimately hand separately. The ability of Barr to deal on a more effective basis with Trump and Trump's legal team enhances his attractiveness to GOP senators.

  3. A while ago I gave up hope the DOJ would apply federal law equally toward Dems & Reps. It won't. DOJ is corrupt. FBI is a joke.

    My remaining hope is that DOJ corruption (partisan application of the law) will be publicly exposed by Barr. What will be the clue that Barr is/isn't determined to do that? Resignations. If there isn't significant organizational change within DOJ the first month of Barr's tenure, then forget about it - our civil war will proceed to become less civil and more war.

  4. Wait a minute, dfp2: "Resignations"? You seriously expect government bureaucrats to give up excellent paying jobs with excellent retirement plans, voluntarily? That's not realistic.

    As for firings, there's nothing I'd like more to see. However, non-political appointees have protections--not so easy to just fire them. The key will be replacing some of the political appointees, to pressure the career people.

  5. In order to best understand how the Swamp wins, it's helpful to walk in their shoes for a minute and ask yourself what strategy might work best. First, recognize that they hold vast power by virtue of numbers, positioning in key jobs/elective offices, and a bureaucracy that keeps them safely ensconced in those jobs (or political offices). Second, they can afford to be very patient, collect their paychecks, bide their time, and hide in the shadows because no one will ever hold them accountable. As such, they have no incentive to come out and fight or otherwise expose themselves.

    So, what's the best plan? Obfuscate, delay, conceal evidence, run covert decoy ops and disinformation campaigns, issue fake reports that create false hope, and then do nothing or delay some more until the public becomes hopelessly disillusioned and quits caring anymore. Wear them down psychologically until they disappear into a pit of cynicism. Sound familiar?

  6. True, Unknown, and of course they're the ones who put the laws and regulations into effect which protect the other Swamp dwellers. There's no doubt the deck is stacked. When I see We The People put the Dems back in charge of the House, all I can do is shake my head. It's not that I'm some kind of GOP true believer, but really, what were they thinking?