A reader, Jim, sent me a link to an NRO editorial: Trump's Outrageous Pressure Campaign against Bill Barr. Since I've been an outspoken defender of Barr in almost every situation I can think of, I felt that I should address Trump's recent remarks--including the suggestion that he would consider firing Barr after the election.
First of all, the rhetoric of the NRO editorial seems to me to be over the top--typical of their underlying Never Trumpness. In the first paragraph NRO writes that Trump has been "berating" Barr, that Trump's complaints are "increasingly strident", that Trump has gone "ballistic."
There's no doubt that Trump is upset. The first time Trump publicly questioned Barr's handling of the Russia Hoax investigation, Barr pushed back publicly and insisted that he would follow standard DoJ norms. Fair enough. Trump backed off and Barr and John Durham forged ahead.
Barr is on the same page with Trump in regarding the Russia Hoax as the biggest political crime in our history. There's no reason to doubt that Barr and Durham have made major progress and that, far from giving relative wrist slaps (false statement prosecutions, and such like) to a few agency heads, they are intent on exposing and prosecuting the full extent of this biggest political crime. That progress has been held close to the vest, but we're seeing evidence of it in the revelations, especially, relating to the Flynn case. We have seen at least some of the evidence that ties knowledge of the hoax to both Obama, Biden, and Clinton.
Can anyone blame Trump for being eager to see all this exposed? For all the remarkable accomplishments of his first term, the Russia Hoax--the Mueller Witchhunt, the Fake Impeachment, the daily fake "news" stories surrounding it all--has slowed him down. Trump's concerns, and the control of so much of the media narrative by perpetrators and enablers of this biggest of political crimes, are understandable. It's natural that the President, who is the chief executive of our constitutional order and takes an oath to defend that order, should be demanding results of his Attorney General. Trump's talk of "treason" may be legally inaccurate, but in the common understanding of virtually every non-lawyer in this country it accurately characterizes what occurred.
Barr understands all that, which is why he and Durham want to hold off on prosecution until they're ready to go with a big picture conspiracy case that encompasses that biggest political crime, rather than piecemeal minorish prosecutions. Barr thought the investigation was on track and this summer openly stated that he hoped to have the major case more or less ready to go by "late summer." The latest indication of that, following on the revelations about the Oval Office meetings and Brennan's communications, is that Bruce Ohr was allowed to finally resign from DoJ. Ohr was well placed--the highest non-political official at DoJ--to be privy to much of the plotting against Trump, both in the FBI as well as in DoJ, and even to pick up information from his superiors. His testimony would likely be key in any conspiracy prosecution.
My best guess is that Barr and Durham were counting on what would have been incredibly powerful testimony from Michael Flynn. Flynn's testimony would have been overwhelmingly convincing even to a liberal leaning jury. Unfortunately, the Deep State understood that, too. And here, Barr may have miscalculated. His miscalculation, if such it was, was in believing that DoJ's motion to dismiss Flynn would spring Flynn and make him available for the big prosecutions. Instead, the Deep State pulled out all the stops and induced Sullivan to transgress all judicial norms to keep Flynn tied up--at least until the election, when hopefully for the Deep State Trump would be turned out.
Barr is now in the difficult position of knowing that the Deep State is trying to force him to bring small cases before the big picture conspiracy case is ready. Showing that he, too, has the nerves that Trump has, Barr is gambling on Trump's ability to win the election and enable DoJ to make the case that the nation deserves to see brought to justice.
What alternatives Barr may have had at this point--might he have sought an appeal directly to the SCOTUS?--is beyond my pay grade. Trump, who had trusted Barr's judgment, was understandably perturbed, given the stakes for himself but above all for the country. We're seeing exactly how high the stakes are today in the Big Tech censorship of negative news about Biden. Barr has attempted to deal with this crisis thus far as one that can be handled in the normal course of legal business. But it's clear from what has happened in the courts--in virtually ALL the Russia Hoax related cases--that that assumption is either misplaced or that the courts are incapable of dealing effectively with the Deep State on anything remotely like a timely basis.
Contrary to the NRO editors' rather naive beliefs, the president is not a legal officer of the government. He's the chief executive, the ultimate guardian and guarantor of our constitutional order, and thus--in the positive sense of the term--a political actor. That sets the president apart from the Attorney General, who is a subordinate to the president.
Given the degree of Deep State censorship Trump faces, he has little alternative in communicating the big picture political crisis to the American people than to criticize the lack of visible action by his own administration. Barr is, of course, largely blameless in all this. Trump's must ultimately share some of that blame, due to poor personnel decisions--even if those decisions were constrained by DC politics.
It's a given that Trump would be ill served by attempting to replace Barr. No other AG I can imagine would be capable of facing down the Deep State and the MSM enablers as Barr has shown himself able to do. Trump knows this too. As I've said before, I regard Trump's statements about Barr as mostly political theater--political in the positive sense of attempts to communicate with the American people on a level they can understand.
For his part, Barr is a big boy. Unlike the first time that he was publicly criticized he appears to be taking Trump's criticisms and questioning--not "beratings"--in stride. I take that to mean that Barr knows where he stands and is convinced that his course of action--to wait this out--is the best course at this point. At the same time, I'm sure he will be alert for any action DoJ can reasonably take, including further revelations through declassification.
This situation is unsatisfying for all concerned--Trump, Barr, the American people. Trump and Barr, each in their own way, are doing what they can. This is politics at its highest, with the stakes the continuation of our constitutional order.