The rule of law in America is under attack — by its chief law enforcement officer

When Attorney General William Barr baselessly accused the FBI of "spying" on Donald Trump's campaign Wednesday during congressional testimony, he declared war on the rule of law in America. In an America where the rule of law mattered, maintaining the impartiality of both the agency and the agency leader tasked with administering justice would matter. Barr threw that all away when he definitively claimed "spying did occur," then admitted he had "no specific evidence" to support his claim, but said he planned to launch an investigation into the matter anyway. In other words, he's initiating a baseless investigation into whether the FBI initiated a baseless investigation.

Barr's baseless comments at the hearing were uttered almost perfectly in sync with another round of recriminations from Donald Trump Wednesday that the Russia probe was a "phony" investigation.

"It was started illegally. Everything about it was crooked. Every single thing about it. There were dirty cops. These were bad people," Trump told White House pool reporters, smearing the origins of the probe. "This was an attempted coup.”

But by Thursday, Trump was armed with the "spying" talking point Barr had gifted to him. "There was absolutely spying into my campaign," Trump told pool reporters, revisiting his gripes from the day before. "There was illegal spying, unprecedented spying. And something that should never be allowed to happen in our country again."

So now Barr is poised to launch yet another probe (yes, an inspector general probe into the matter already exists!) into investigating Trump's investigators. Legitimizing Trump's thoroughly debunked conspiracy theory not just once, but twice, and dragging it into the public arena with no supporting evidence is an all-out attack on the rule of law. And just to be clear, the rule of law is what separates actual democracies from other types of regimes. Voting itself does not a democracy make. As House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff noted, Barr is "doing what we urge emerging democracies not to do, and that is, seek to prosecute your political opponents after you win an election.”

In fact Schiff made several insightful points regarding Barr's recklessness to the Washington Post's Greg Sargent. “The post-Watergate reforms are being dismantled, one by one," he said. "The Trump precedent after only two years is that you can fire the FBI director who is running an investigation in which you may be implicated as president. ... You can hire an attorney general who has applied for the job by telling you why he thinks the case against you is bogus. ... That new attorney general can then selectively edit the work of an independent or special prosecutor, and allow the Congress and the public to see only parts of it. And that new attorney general can also initiate inquiries into the president’s political opponents.”

Barr is now presiding over the total breakdown of an imperfect institution that has nonetheless kept the country from devolving in a lawless regime. Trump always longed for a Justice Department that was dedicated to doing his, and only his, bidding. Barr is delivering on that desire.


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