'Preserving power for Biden': Georgetown law professor breaks down how the Garland DOJ is 'defending' Barr's reign

'Preserving power for Biden': Georgetown law professor breaks down how the Garland DOJ is 'defending' Barr's reign
Merrick Garland in March 2016, Wikimedia Commons

When Joe Biden was sworn in as president in January and nominated Merrick Garland for U.S. attorney general, many critics of former President Donald Trump were hoping for U.S. Department of Justice investigations of former Trump Administration officials — including former Attorney General William Barr. But Paul Butler, who teaches law at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and is often featured as a legal analyst on MSNBC, argues that in some respects, the Garland DOJ is defending the "most controversial acts" of the Barr DOJ.

In an op-ed published by the Washington Post this week, the 60-year-old Butler explains, "Attorney General Merrick Garland is not the new William P. Barr — not by a long shot. But the Justice Department is still fighting transparency and accountability in a way that must delight the former attorney general, who led the department into the abyss during the Trump Administration."

Attorneys for the Garland DOJ, according to Butler, are "fighting to keep secret a memo that Barr cited to justify his decision not to charge Trump with obstruction of justice during the investigation by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III." And in a separate case, Butler adds, DOJ lawyers have "suggested that the gassing of lawful protesters by police last year in Washington's Lafayette Square was appropriate for the safety of the president."

"One question that kept coming up during the presidential transition was how vigorously the new administration would pursue corruption investigations against people in the former administration," Butler observes. "Now, it seems the better question may be to what lengths the Justice Department will go to defend the Trump Administration's abuse of power — with its primary concern being preserving that power for the Biden Administration and beyond."

During the Trump era, Butler was a blistering critic of Barr — who, according to the Georgetown law professor, conducted himself like Trump's personal attorney rather than U.S. attorney general.

"As attorney general, Barr never grasped that he was supposed to be serving the people of the United States, as opposed to acting as Trump's defense attorney," Butler writes. "One of Barr's most egregious acts was trying to protect his boss from serious legal and political consequences by mischaracterizing the findings of the Mueller Report before the public was allowed to see it. Barr prepared a four-page letter purportedly describing the Report's 'principal conclusions' that the Trump campaign did not collude with Russia and that Mueller would not charge Trump with obstruction of justice. Barr added that the facts contained in the Report provided insufficient evidence of obstruction, and that in reaching this conclusion, he had consulted with DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel."

Amy Berman Jackson, the federal judge who gave prison sentences to Trump allies Paul Manafort and Roger Stone, has been highly critical of Barr's handling of the Mueller Report — and as Butler sees it, the Garland DOJ is defending the Barr DOJ against Jackson.

Butler writes, "The judge characterized the Justice Department arguments against release as 'so inconsistent with evidence in the record, they are not worthy of credence.' That's actually a cogent description of the Trump Administration's approach to many issues; one might have expected the new sheriff in town to support the judge's rebuke of the corrupt old regime. But Garland's DOJ is standing by Barr's DOJ — it released a heavily redacted version of the memo and is appealing Jackson's order to provide the entire document to the public. There is a fine line between protecting the confidentiality of important records and shielding corrupt officials. Garland is walking on the wrong side of that line."

On top of that, Butler notes, lawyers for the Garland DOJ "asked a judge to dismiss a lawsuit against Trump and Barr for their actions in clearing Black Lives Matter protesters from a park across the street from the White House (on June 1, 2020). Even though the demonstrators were peaceful, military and various police agencies used smoke bombs, teargas, batons and horses to force them to retreat from the park so Trump, Barr and other senior officials could walk to a nearby church."

Butler wraps up his column by stressing that Barr's "misdeeds" must be exposed.

"As a proud Justice Department alumnus, I respect that Garland is an institutionalist," Butler argues. "The most important way he can restore confidence in the institution is not with platitudes about how much more integrity Biden has than Trump, true as that is. Garland should uphold the values of the Justice Department by exposing the misdeeds of the previous administration and ensuring accountability."

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