Shorter William Barr: Please, Master. Igor does his best work in the dark.
Honestly, even that is giving Barr too much credit. The much-publicized interview in which Barr definitely doth protest too much about Donald Trump’s constant calls for him to insert a finger here, a ham-fist there, to make the name “Justice Department” just a little bit funnier is itself clearly part of the play. Barr will pretend this. Trump will pretend that. They’ll both pretend to have some concern for truth, justice, and getting double ice cream with their apple pie. They’ll pretend until Trump forgets what his next line is and just goes back to doing what he was doing in the first place. Which seems to have happened at about 9 AM.
The media seems supercharged by the idea that Barr said something that Trump will not like. Having been through the cycle many times by now, reporters now have their eyes fixed on the great orange heavens, waiting for the stubby Twitter finger of doom to descent on this heretic.
Barr’s not going anywhere, not unless Congress decides to put in a last-ditch effort to defend the rubble-crusted stump of what had been the concept of an independent judiciary. Trump already tested Jeff Sessions and found that the former senator from Alabama still had delusions of living in a democracy. Sure, Sessions might be all-aboard now, but back in 2017, when it counted, he still had the delusion that members of his own party might be concerned if Trump was handing over the keys to national security in exchange for an inside track to Hillary Clinton’s emails.
Rod Rosenstein might have been a replacement, except that not only did he appoint Robert Mueller, but any prolonged exposure to Trump seemed to leave Rosenstein in tears. So much that it wasn’t even fun.
It has to be Barr. Barr is a cover-up specialist whose whole concept of criminal justice lies in its ability to be manipulated for political ends. He has demonstrated his skills at misdirection and confusion for more than three decades, and it’s only now, with Trump, that he’s connected to a partner who lets him push those skills to their maximum. Barr may not like competing to control the narrative with Rudy Giuliani, but Trump suits him down to the ground.
In the way he summarized the Mueller report down to three pages of “total exoneration,” Barr demonstrated his absolute skill in both setting the narrative and manipulating the media—and that’s exactly what he was doing again in his Thursday interview. On the one hand, Barr is holding up a sign labelled “Demonstrating his independence from Trump.” And while the media waits to see a reaction to that astonishing claim, Barr is going straight ahead with weakening the sentencing of Flynn, weakening the sentencing of Stone, and directing John Durham in a plot to turn the FBI into the problem.
In his series of tweets earlier this week, Trump inverted the normal view of justice. He upheld Stone, not as innocent, because that doesn’t matter, but as a victim of ignorant prosecutors, an overzealous judge, and biased jurors. In Trump’s system, everyone is on trial except the criminal—as long as the criminal bats for Team Trump. Barr is perfectly happy to join him there.
Barr has made it perfectly clear that he supports the idea that Trump can’t be charged. He’s extended that concept to include the idea that Trump can’t be named in a crime. He’s carried that to its ludicrous extreme with the claim that Trump can’t even be investigated.
Adam Schiff spent a week in front of the Senate arguing that Donald Trump is not a king. When it comes to his relationship to the law, William Barr disagrees. He fundamentally disagrees in the whole concept of there being any kind of remove between the White House and the Department of Justice. He is Trump’s man, his instrument, his tool … in every sense.
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