Los Angeles Times

Barr tells the truth. Too bad it came so late

- JACKIE CALMES @jackiekcal­mes

Former Atty. Gen. William Barr has been on a tear lately. He’s calling out his ex-boss for potential criminalit­y and obstructio­n amid the evidence that

Donald Trump absconded from the White House with boxfuls of government documents, including the most highly classified kind.

Barr’s truth-telling is welcome, especially since much of it is happening on Fox News, whose audience typically doesn’t get much of that about Trump. Yet the straight talk would have been more welcome when Barr was in power, when it would have mattered more.

At times, the Fox hosts seem barely able to conceal their shock, as Barr puts the lie to every Trump complaint against the Justice Department in the wake of the FBI’s court-approved search of Mar-a-Lago. “People say this was unpreceden­ted. Well, it’s also unpreceden­ted for a president to take all this classified informatio­n and put them in a country club, OK?” Barr told Fox viewers last Friday.

Then and since, he has said Trump repeatedly “deceived” and “jerked around” the government as it tried for more than a year to retrieve its property. He can’t think of a “legitimate reason why” Trump took the documents. He mocks Trump’s claim to have declassifi­ed everything, conjuring a wizard waving a wand over the boxed secrets.

As for whether a special master should review the material before the feds proceed with their investigat­ion — as Trump got a Trumpappoi­nted judge to order — Barr told the New York Times, “It’s a crock of s—.” He said the Justice Department should appeal — as it did Thursday — and predicted it would win.

“There is no scenario legally under which the president gets to keep the government documents, whether it’s classified or unclassifi­ed,” Barr said Wednesday, again on Fox News.

This is all to the good. But the damage he wrought as attorney general remains.

During most of Trump’s final two years in office, Barr turned the Justice Department into the president’s personal law firm. Had Barr not deceived the nation in 2019 about the findings of the investigat­ion of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III into Russia’s proTrump interferen­ce in the 2016 election — in particular about the many ways Trump allegedly sought to obstruct the investigat­ors — Trump might have been held liable for his abuse of power by now, and humbled rather than emboldened.

Three years later, Barr’s talk of Trump’s culpabilit­y just smacks of a way to salvage his legacy (and sell his book).

Good luck with that. Donald Ayer, who was Barr’s deputy during his first stint as attorney general, in President George H.W. Bush’s administra­tion, wrote a scathing takedown of his former boss in 2020: Barr had been “a major threat to our legal system and to public trust in it. He does not believe in the central tenet of our system — that no person is above the law.”

Ayer and other conservati­ve lawyers joined liberals in slamming Barr for numerous sins. Among them:

Underminin­g Congress’ oversight and appropriat­ions powers. Dispatchin­g law enforcemen­t officers nationwide after Trump called for a crackdown on racial justice protests. Overseeing the forcible eviction of peaceful protesters near the White House to allow a Bible-toting Trump to stage a photo op. Echoing Trump’s preelectio­n claims of vote-rigging. Reducing a recommende­d prison sentence for Trump flunky Roger Stone, over prosecutor­s’ objections. Dismissing the case against former Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn, who twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in the Russia investigat­ion. Launching a criminal investigat­ion into the Russia investigat­ion, which, owing to Barr’s machinatio­ns, outlived the Trump administra­tion but has all but flopped.

And only now Barr sees Trump as a threat to the rule of law?

Thanks to Barr, the damning Mueller report has been mostly forgotten except as what Trump regularly dismisses as the “Russia, Russia, Russia hoax.” Flowing from that, the fantasy that the “deep state” is out to get Trump ensures that every other allegation against him — that he extorted a foreign leader to investigat­e his political rival or incited an insurrecti­on — is instantly disbelieve­d by more than a third of Americans.

It’s worth briefly recalling just what Mueller actually concluded. Yes, his investigat­ion found that Trump and his campaign did not conspire with Russia to interfere on his behalf in the 2016 election, though the Trump campaign actively welcomed the help. Barr, in his four-page distortion of Mueller’s 448-page report, omitted that last part.

Mueller also outlined nearly a dozen ways in which Trump might be culpable for obstructio­n of justice in his efforts to impede the investigat­ion. They included Trump’s pressuring of his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to protect him; his firing of the FBI director; his effort to get his White House counsel to fire Mueller, and then to deny that to investigat­ors; and his dangling of pardons before witnesses, presumably to secure friendly testimony.

Given a Justice Department policy against indicting a sitting president, Mueller said it was up to the department and Congress to consider further action.

For more than three weeks after Mueller delivered the report, Barr didn’t allow Americans to see it — only Barr’s summary that allowed Trump to falsely declare he was “fully exonerated.” Barr did not contradict him, although he knew Mueller had written this: “While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Now Barr wants to lead the charge against Trump? Better late than never. But Barr’s legacy remains the same, and it’s not the one he wants.

William Barr turned the Justice Department into Donald Trump’s personal law firm. Now his talk of Trump’s culpabilit­y smacks of a way to salvage his legacy. Good luck with that.

 ?? J. Scott Applewhite Associated Press ?? IN 2020, a former Justice Department colleague of Barr’s called him “a major threat to our legal system and to public trust in it.”
J. Scott Applewhite Associated Press IN 2020, a former Justice Department colleague of Barr’s called him “a major threat to our legal system and to public trust in it.”
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