Former prosecutor warns of Bill Barr's 'chilling effect' — and that the FBI may 'flinch' rather than hold the Trump to account
With the revelation that Attorney General Bill Barr has ordered a third investigation of the origins of the Russia probe, former federal prosecutor Barbara McQuade warned in a piece for the Daily Beast on Tuesday that the Trump-approved head of the Justice Department could be having a dangerous impact on the institution.
In particular, the idea of launching yet another investigation of the investigators "has created the appearance that [Barr] is launching another investigation to appease Trump," McQuade argued.
So that means any time an FBI agent or DOJ prosecutors wants to take an action that wouldn't please the president, they can't be confident the attorney general will have their back. In fact, they might even reasonably fear it means they could be investigated themselves for pursuing such a course of action.
In addition to harming the effectiveness of the FBI, Barr’s complicity in Trump’s tactics may also have a chilling effect. By advancing the “investigate the investigators” mantra, Barr may cause the FBI to flinch next time it perceives a threat from powerful people within the government. He is incentivizing the FBI to sit idly by in the face of national security threats. The risk is that under Barr’s leadership, the FBI’s new motto might become “he who does nothing does nothing wrong.”
In some ways, it's even worse than McQuade described. It's not just about national security threats that could fall by the wayside — important as they are — but nonpartisan enforcement of the law. We know Trump doesn't want that.
He infamously attacked former Attorney General Jeff Sessions for allowing two of his supporters in Congress to be indicted:
Two long running, Obama era, investigations of two very popular Republican Congressmen were brought to a well publ… https://t.co/QTG25ccvbp— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump) 1535999125.0
So can the public, and indeed the FBI itself, be assured that investigating and prosecuting Republicans is OK in Bill Barr's book?
With Barr having replaced Sessions and demonstrated his fealty to Trump, it's not clear that he would have allowed these investigations to succeed. And again, even the fear that Barr could be a partisan hack in this way is dangerous, because it could deter law enforcement from pushing risky cases.
Even if the Justice Department doesn't carry out Trump's orders to go after Democrats — and there's already evidence that it has — this would turn the DOJ into a partisan weapon because it would only be permitted to go after the president's opponents.