You've really got to read it, because it does contain a lot of information to go with the expected disinformation. Conveniently, as I hope you'll see in a few days, this will play very much into my projected blog on the constitutionality of FISA.
The Attorney General’s mission to maximize executive power and protect the Presidency.
By David Rohde
January 13, 2020
For decades, Barr has argued that Congress is a menace to the Presidency. As Attorney General, he’s poised to fight back.
God, I LUV that title! The Russia Hoax lives! Here it is, the Bill Barr coat of arms:
Sinister enough for you? No? Then how about the image at the top of the article, that captures Barr as the Éminence grise behind Trump:
The impersonal evil of the man! The menace!
Here's how the article begins--It's war, and this is a call to arms for liberals:
Last October, Attorney General William Barr appeared at Notre Dame Law School to make a case for ideological warfare. Before an assembly of students and faculty, Barr claimed that the “organized destruction” of religion was under way in the United States. “Secularists, and their allies among the ‘progressives,’ have marshalled all the force of mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values,” he said. Barr, a conservative Catholic, blamed the spread of “secularism and moral relativism” for a rise in “virtually every measure of social pathology”—from the “wreckage of the family” to “record levels of depression and mental illness, dispirited young people, soaring suicide rates, increasing numbers of angry and alienated young males, an increase in senseless violence, and a deadly drug epidemic.”
The speech was less a staid legal lecture than a catalogue of grievances accumulated since the Reagan era, when Barr first enlisted in the culture wars. It included a series of contentious claims. He argued, for example, that the Founders of the United States saw religion as essential to democracy. “In the Framers’ view, free government was only suitable and sustainable for a religious people—a people who recognized that there was a transcendent moral order,” he said. Barr ended his address by urging his listeners to resist the “constant seductions of our contemporary society” and launch a “moral renaissance.”
Donald Trump does not share Barr’s long-standing concern about the role of religion in civic life. (Though he often says that the Bible is his favorite book, when he was asked which Testament he preferred, he answered, “The whole Bible is incredible.”) What the two men have in common is a sense of being surrounded by a hostile insurgency. A few days after Barr’s speech, Trump told an audience at the conservative Values Voter Summit, “Extreme left-wing radicals, both inside and outside government, are determined to shred our Constitution and eradicate the beliefs we all cherish. They are trying to hound you from the workplace, expel you from the public square, and weaken the American family, and indoctrinate our children.” As the effort to remove the President has gathered strength, Barr’s and Trump’s political interests have converged. Both men combine the pro-business instincts of traditional Republicans with a focus on culture clash and grievance. Both believe that any constraint on Presidential power weakens the United States.
Eleven months after being sworn in, Barr is the most feared, criticized, and effective member of Trump’s Cabinet. Like no Attorney General since the Watergate era, he has acted as the President’s political sword and shield.
That's really quite clever, from a rhetorical standpoint. Characterizing Barr's soberly historical references to the well documented views of the Founders on religion as "a catalogue of grievances," implicitly denying Barr's equally fact based statement that the Left is determined to shred the Constitution--that IS what the Living Constitution is all about, isn't it?--weaken the family, and indoctrinate our children. No reasonable person can dispute Barr on these facts. And then finishing off by tying Barr's call for a "moral renaissance" to totalitarian government and the Russia Hoax: the AG as "sword and shield". Barr the Catholic must be part of the Trumpian scheme to submit America to the ex KGB officer, Putin! It all fits, right?
Not so much of course. The article is, itself, consistently tendentious in misrepresenting known facts. I leave you to sort through that.
Apparently the person behind this article is Donald B. Ayer, who preceded Barr as AG for George H. W. Bush. Ayer is a determined critic of Barr, and wrote an attack piece for The Atlantic in June, 2019. Given the reference above to Barr and Trump as sharing "the pro-business instincts of traditional Republicans" you might guess that such a critic of Barr as Ayer had devoted himself to public service law after leaving the AG post in 1990, but you'd be wrong. Ayer went into private practice and is a partner with Jones Day:
Jones Day is an international law firm based in the United States. As of 2018, it was the fifth largest law firm in the U.S. and the 13th highest grossing law firm in the world.
Can you say: Establishment? Here is a summary of Ayer's attack on Barr:
In a June 2019 Atlantic article entitled "Why Bill Barr Is So Dangerous," Ayer wrote of Bill Barr, the attorney general and Ayer's successor as deputy attorney general in 1990, that "the primary effect of Barr’s conduct to date has indeed been to befuddle and mislead, and create a public misimpression, for those who have not read Mueller’s report, that [President Trump] may not have interfered with the investigation," but that, "a careful review of Barr’s conduct suggests that his mission is far more grandiose than just misleading people about the facts," adding, “in Barr’s view, the only check on gross misconduct by the president is impeachment, and the very idea of an independent or special counsel investigating the president is a constitutional anathema."
Reading that you might never guess that, in actual legal fact, the whole concept of "independent or special counsels" has been called into question and the institution itself has been drastically scaled back. It is now a creature of DoJ regs rather than of law. Indeed, Rod Rosenstein was only enabled to institute the Mueller Witchhunt through determined and outrageous misrepresentations--flaunting the very regulations that he cited. Clearly Ayer has a very particular axe to grind. I would not be surprised to learn that it has to do with the interests of his international law practice. Be that as it may, here's how he's introduced for his latest attack on Barr--note the link of Ayer's views with those of Laurence Tribe, whose unhinged anti-Trump twitter rants have embarrassed many former admirers:
Barr maintains that Article II of the Constitution gives a President control of all executive-branch agencies, without restriction; in practice, this means that Trump would be within his rights to oversee an investigation into his own misconduct. (Barr declined multiple interview requests.) Throughout the House’s impeachment inquiry, Trump dismissed subpoenas for documents and testimony from Administration officials—a step taken by no other President. Barr and Pat Cipollone, a White House lawyer who once worked as Barr’s speechwriter, have also rejected subpoenas, flouting a congressional power plainly delineated in the Constitution. Donald Ayer, who served as Deputy Attorney General under George H. W. Bush, said, “They take the position that they don’t even have to show up. That’s totally outrageous. It’s denying the legitimacy of another branch of government in the name of executive supremacy.” Ayer described Barr’s ideas about Presidential power as “chilling” and “deeply disturbing.” If Trump survives a trial in the Senate, a President’s ability to resist congressional oversight will vastly expand. Laurence Tribe, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard, warned that Barr’s and Trump’s efforts could permanently alter the balance of power among the branches of American government. “If those views take hold, we will have lost what was won in the Revolution—we will have a Chief Executive who is more powerful than the king,” Tribe said. “That will be a disaster for the survival of the Republic.”
This is all wildly tendentious. The long and the short of it--especially the idea that the President doesn't control the Executive Branch--is that Congress is supreme over what the Founders viewed as co-equal branches of government. The liberal vision of an Imperial Congress--designed to harry all non-liberal presidents until they can be replaced, then to cooperate with the liberal replacement in transforming America. And Barr stands in the way.
This bit is funny:
At the age of sixty-nine, Barr is grayer, heavier, wealthier, and more combative than he was when he served as George H. W. Bush’s Attorney General, twenty-eight years ago. But his ideology has not changed much, according to friends and former colleagues. “I don’t know why anyone is surprised by his views,” Jack Goldsmith, a law professor who headed the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel during the George W. Bush Administration, told me. “He has always had a broad view of executive power.”
Who thinks Ayer, partner with Jones Day, isn't wealthy? For that matter, I suspect must of us chumps in Flyover Country would view Goldsmith as wealthy, as well.
The article at this point devolves into an attack on all things Republican and/or conservative, beginning with Billy Barr's 1st grade defense of Nixon versus Kennedy--which earned him prayers from his nun teacher. Get it? Barr was clearly twisted from infancy. And the tendentious smearing continues from there, paragraph after paragraph.
Finally, and inevitably, we arrive at the theocratic threat Barr poses--inevitable because Barr, after all, had undergone indoctrination from his youth (the one slip being his support for Nixon against Kennedy as a first grader):
Three blocks from the White House, on K Street, is a storefront with signs in its windows advertising “solidarity” and “mercy and justice.” The building houses the Catholic Information Center, a bookstore and a chapel where federal workers and tourists can attend morning and evening services. On a recent weekday afternoon, a sign announced an upcoming debate between conservative writers, called “Nationalism: Vice or Virtue?” A skateboard with an image of the Virgin Mary hung not far away, in the hope of attracting a younger crowd.
Led by a member of the archconservative group Opus Dei, the center is a hub for Washington’s influential conservatives. Its rise began in 1998, with the arrival of a charismatic new director, the Reverend C. John McCloskey, a forty-four-year-old banker turned priest. Hard-charging and unabashedly political, McCloskey liked to say, “A liberal Catholic is oxymoronic.” During the nineties, he helped convert a series of prominent conservatives to Catholicism, including the former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is a vocal Trump backer. In 2003, McCloskey quietly left his post, and Opus Dei later paid a settlement of nearly a million dollars to a woman who said that he had sexually harassed her. But the center’s board of directors remains a nexus of politically connected Catholics. Pat Cipollone and Barr have both served on the board, as has Leonard Leo, the executive vice-president of the Federalist Society. Asked about Barr’s role, the center’s chief operating officer, Mitch Boersma, confirmed that he had served as a board member from 2014 to 2017 but said, “We don’t have anything to add.”
OK, ask yourself: Do you like Trump's judicial appointments?
After Bill Clinton took office, in 1993, Barr stepped away from government work and continued promoting his version of an ideal society through various religious organizations. He served on the boards of groups whose charitable work is widely praised, such as the Knights of Columbus and the New York Archdiocese’s Inner-City Scholarship Fund. For years, Barr has paid the tuition of eighteen students a year at a parochial school in New York.
But Barr’s instinct for ideological combat did not wane. In 1995, he wrote an article for a journal called The Catholic Lawyer. Two years earlier, the F.B.I. had mounted a disastrous raid on a compound inhabited by a cult in Waco, Texas. In his article, Barr complained that journalists had made “subtle efforts” to liken the cult to the Church. “We live in an increasingly militant, secular age,” he wrote. “As part of this philosophy, we see a growing hostility toward religion, particularly Catholicism.” He argued that religious Americans were increasingly victimized: “It is no accident that the homosexual movement, at one or two percent of the population, gets treated with such solicitude, while the Catholic population, which is over a quarter of the country, is given the back of the hand.”
If you want to read things I've written in the past that reference Opus Dei, go here. Beyond that I'll simply offer my view--which should be apparent from those blog links--that they stock characterization of Opus Dei as "archconservative" is absurd from a Catholic standpoint.
The article goes on to describe Barr's personal and professional life after leaving public service. Briefly, but aspects of it will be interesting. I'll skip over that to return to politics:
Barr was late to join the Trump revolution. In the nineties and the early two-thousands, he donated more than half a million dollars to Republican candidates, mostly such mainstream figures as George W. Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney. (Barr even supported Jeff Flake, the Arizona senator whose occasional criticisms of Trump ended up turning constituents against him.) In 2016, Barr gave twenty-seven hundred dollars to Trump’s campaign—and about twenty times that amount to support Jeb Bush.
I think the takeaway from this is that to understand Trump's support for main stream Republicans and his current support for Trump's administration as AG you have to understand where Barr is coming from. What his deepest commitments are.
After Trump won, though, Barr demonstrated a convert’s enthusiasm, writing op-eds for the Washington Post in which he endorsed Trump’s controversial positions. When Sally Yates, the acting Attorney General, refused to carry out a ban on travellers from predominantly Muslim countries, Barr accused her of “obstruction,” and assailed news coverage of the situation. “The left, aided by an onslaught of tendentious media reporting, has engaged in a campaign of histrionics unjustified by the measured steps taken,” he wrote. In another article, Barr criticized Robert Mueller for hiring prosecutors who had donated to Democratic politicians—but did not disclose his own donations to Republicans.
In February, 2017, Trump appointed his first Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, and quickly grew disenchanted. When Sessions recused himself from the Mueller investigation, Trump asked, “Where’s my Roy Cohn?”—a reference to his former personal lawyer, who was a close aide to Senator McCarthy during the Red Scare of the fifties. According to Bob Woodward’s reporting, Trump lambasted Sessions as a “dumb southerner” and “mentally retarded.” (Trump has denied this.) That fall, Sessions ignored Trump’s demand to appoint an independent counsel to investigate a debunked theory about Hillary Clinton’s role in the sale of uranium to Russia. The Times contacted ten former Attorneys General for comment, and Barr was the only one to reply. “There is nothing inherently wrong about a president calling for an investigation,” he said. Barr added that he saw more basis for an investigation in the uranium deal than in any supposed collusion between Trump and Russia. “To the extent it is not pursuing these matters, the department is abdicating its responsibility,” he wrote.
The article then criticizes Barr's theory of obstruction as applied to a president, citing non-lawyer and Comey sidekick Benjamin Wittes for the proposition that Barr's views are "bizarre". The article avoids the opinion of such eminent mainstream legal figures who maintain that Barr's views are actually, well, pretty mainstream. On the other hand, in discussing Barr's confirmation the article points something out that such as sundance would do well to take to heart--Barr is NOT an "institutionalist":
Many Democrats in Congress, particularly those who hadn’t studied Barr’s record, hoped that he would be an institutionalist who would curb Trump’s legal excesses.
Leave aside the rhetoric about Trump's supposed "legal excesses." In fact Trump has restored rule of law, after the lawless Obama years. But it's true--Barr is not an "institutionalist" in the sense that sundance thinks. The institution to which Barr is devoted is the Presidency.
The account of Barr's tenure as AG is predictably tendentious, and draws heavily from liberal Democrats. I particularly enjoyed this quote from David Laufman:
David Laufman, a former senior counter-intelligence official at the Justice Department who helped investigate Russian interference, said that the probe has also sent a clear message to U.S. officials: challenge Trump at your peril. “We’re into Crazy Town,” Laufman told me. The investigation, he said, was “evocative of regimes in history that conduct purges for perceived disloyalty.”
No hint that Laufman might have a dog in this fight.
But there are also some interesting nuggets, such as this regarding the influence of religious people in the Trump administration:
Pompeo is an evangelical Christian; many of his peers in Trump’s inner circle are conservative Catholics, who have achieved a degree of influence rivalling that of evangelicals in the George W. Bush Administration. Along with Barr and Cipollone, there are the acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney; the White House counsellor Kellyanne Conway; the National Economic Council director, Larry Kudlow; and the former chief strategist Steve Bannon. Leonard Leo, of the C.I.C. and the Federalist Society, has guided Trump in his selection of judges.
An Administration official acknowledged that religious leaders “are acutely aware of Trump’s shortcomings” but also recognize his value to their cause. “Name a political leader who has done more for conservatives,” the official said. Trump has reshaped the country’s legal system, appointing two Supreme Court Justices and a hundred and sixty-two other judges, most of whom can be counted on to rule with conservative principles in mind.
Read it all for a good laugh at the tendentious descriptions of what has ensued since Barr came on board, including self serving statements from persons like James Baker who may soon be facing criminal charges. To conclude, the article returns to Ayer for his non-nuanced, slightly hysterical, opinion:
Ayer fears that Barr has combined a Reagan-era drive to dismantle government with a Trump-era drive to politicize it. As the White House succeeds in holding off congressional attempts at removing Trump from office, Barr is winning his long war on the power of the legislative branch. In the 2020 campaign, Trump will argue that he alone can protect the country from the dangers posed by the left, immigrants, and other enemies. And Barr’s vision of Presidential power will be the Party’s mainstream position. “Barr sought out the opportunity to be Donald Trump’s Attorney General,” Ayer said. “This, I believe, was his opportunity—the opportunity of a lifetime—to make major progress on advancing his vision of an all-powerful Chief Executive.”
War on the legislative branch? Not too unhinged?