“Mr. Barr,” Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said to the attorney general during Wednesday’s breathtaking Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, “now the American people know that you are no different from Rudy Giuliani or Kellyanne Conway or any of other people who sacrifice their once-decent reputation for the grifter and liar who sits in the Oval Office.”
One may properly wince at Senator Hirono’s use of the words “decent reputation” while referencing Giuliani or Conway, but her overarching point landed with a meaty thump.
Comprehensive reputational defenestration is hardly a new phenomenon in the Trump White House. Tom Price, Michael Flynn, Ryan Zinke, Kelly Sadler, Sean Spicer, Kirstjen Nielsen, Andrew McCabe, Rex Tillerson, Anthony Scaramucci, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, David Shulkin, David Sorensen and many others know all about it. Some are gone, some remain, most didn’t have sterling reputations before they walked in the door, but all of them will live out their years stained to the quick by their association with this administration.
Attorney General William Barr received a luxurious massage from the mainstream press when he replaced Jefferson Beauregard Chickamauga Miscegenation Shiloh Forrest Sessions III. “Institutionalist,” they named him. Barr will follow the rules, they declared.
Not, as it turns out, so much. In retrospect (and if you read Truthout), there is little to be surprised about here.
During his first stint as attorney general, Barr helped George H.W. Bush, Oliver North and the other Iran/Contra scoundrels elude justice. He wrote a report summary for Congress about the legalities of the Panama invasion that was many degrees south of the truth (sound familiar?). Toward the end of his tenure, he oversaw a detention program that sent around 12,000 Haitian asylum seekers to Guantánamo Bay. The program was shut down after 18 months by a federal judge who labeled the place an unconstitutional “HIV prison camp.”
Why anyone would be surprised by Barr’s hog-wallow act is difficult to fathom given his history. That being said, it is a remarkable thing to watch someone in his lofty position immolate the last tattered shreds of their dignity on live television. It happened really fast, too. By the time the Judiciary Committee Democrats were finished with him, Barr definitely resembled the guys who peeked into the Ark of the Covenant when they weren’t supposed to.
On a day with many low points for the attorney general, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California) represented his personal Mariana Trench. In the time it takes to prepare a nice cup of tea, Senator Harris pegged him as a liar and a fraud while he visibly melted in his chair. The biggest reveal of Harris’s evisceration of the attorney general: Neither Barr, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein nor anyone in their office actually examined the underlying evidence before Barr fired off his Trump-loving Mueller report “summary.” That level of negligence would be grounds for immediate termination in every other prosecutor’s office in the country. In Billy’s house, it’s just another Wednesday.
Senators Hirono and Harris, along with other congressional Democrats, have called for Barr’s resignation. There is a growing chorus for either censuring or impeaching the attorney general that will only get louder since he abruptly cancelled his scheduled appearance before the House Judiciary Committee today.
If you think William Barr feels any sense of personal humiliation, however, think again. He walked out of that committee room and into the warm embrace of the only person he was performing for. There is only one opinion that matters in the executive branch, and it was made clear before the hearing’s echo had a chance to fade. “He’s an outstanding man,” said Donald Trump Wednesday night on the Fox Business network. “He’s an outstanding legal mind. He did a fantastic job today, I’m told. I got to see some of it. He did a fantastic job.”
“Treason doth never prosper, what’s the reason?” asked English courtier Sir John Harington long ago. “For if it prosper, none dare call it treason.” On Wednesday, William Barr posed the same argument by essentially stating that what Trump did regarding the Mueller report cannot be obstruction because the obstruction, to date, has worked. In the White House and the high offices of the Justice Department, there is no talk of Barr’s spectacular failure to serve the American people. He did his job as he understands it, and the people who occupy his atmosphere raised toasts to him when he was done.
Trump notoriously enjoys caterwauling about building walls. His farce at the southern border will likely never come to be, but that matters little to him in the present moment. The president and his friends have already built a wall around the White House, one that is manned by the likes of Barr, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and others. No subpoenas will be honored, no oversight will be accepted.
Breaching that wall may take years, and with McConnell stacking the federal courts with hard-right Trump nominees, could ultimately come to nothing. Such was the point of the exercise from the beginning. According to the twisted metrics of the Trump administration, William Barr had a great day yesterday. It was the rest of us who took it in the teeth, again.