AG Barr is facing enormous ‘pushback’ within the DOJ: report
President Donald Trump has made it abundantly clear, time and time again, that he prefers unquestioning loyalists in his administration — not constructive criticism. And Trump definitely has a loyalist in Attorney General Bill Barr. But as legal reporter Zoe Tillman points out in a June 24 article for BuzzFeed, Barr is facing a great deal of “pushback” within the U.S. Department of Justice from attorneys who believe that his loyalty should be to the rule of law rather than the whims and desires of Trump.
“In less than a week,” Tillman explains, “Barr has faced two instances of extraordinary public pushback from within his own department. Just days before the hearing, the then-sitting U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Geoffrey Berman, took to Twitter to publicly rebuke an effort by Barr to remove him from office. The two men exchanged barbed statements over the course of 24 hours, and Berman ultimately only agreed to leave once he was satisfied with a new succession plan.”
Berman was a federal prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, which has conducted a variety of Trump-related investigations. Although Berman is a Republican, he has a mind of his own — which, as everyone from former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson found out, is a cardinal sin in Trumpworld.
Barr, earlier this year, also faced pushback within the DOJ when Trump tried to pressure federal prosecutors into going easy on veteran GOP operative Roger Stone — a long-time Trump ally who has been convicted of federal crimes ranging from witness tampering to lying to Congress and sentenced to three years in federal prison. Aaron Zelinsky and three other DOJ prosecutors resigned from Stern’s case in response to Trump’s interference.
Tillman notes, “Aaron Zelinsky, an assistant U.S. attorney in Maryland who had worked in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office, testified by video on Wednesday that a decision by senior DOJ officials to contradict Zelinsky and other line prosecutors’ recommendation of a stiff sentence for Trump ally Roger Stone was motivated by the president’s desire to ‘cut Stone a break.’ Zelinsky said that a supervisor told him that Timothy Shea, the interim US attorney in Washington, D.C., at the time gave Stone special treatment because Shea was ‘afraid of the president.’”
The BuzzFeed journalist also points out that John Elias, a prosecutor in the DOJ Antitrust Division “testified that Barr had ordered an investigation into mergers in the cannabis industry despite findings from staff in the Antitrust Division that a probe wasn’t justified.” Barr has made no secret of his disdain for marijuana.
Timothy Purdon, who served as a federal prosecutor in North Dakota under President Barack Obama, told BuzzFeed that while there were conflicts between presidents and the DOJ in the past — for example, the infamous Saturday Night Massacre under President Richard Nixon in 1973 and the firings of U.S. attorneys under President George W. Bush in the 2000s — nothing comes close to what he has seen with Trump and Barr.
Purdon told BuzzFeed, “I can’t think of any precedent for this. To the extent I’m grasping for analogies for both of these situations, I have to turn to two of the darkest episodes in the history of the Department of Justice — and that’s a bad sign.”