Why Bill Barr's 'recent trashing' of Donald Trump 'makes perfect sense': former deputy attorney general
These days, former President Donald Trump regards former U.S. Attorney General William Barr as one of the many Republicans who let him down. But before the 2020 presidential election, Barr was often described by critics as an unwavering Trump loyalist. It wasn’t until after Trump refused to accept the election results that Barr turned against him; the Big Lie was a bridge that even Barr would not cross.
Barr, in 2022, hasn’t been shy about saying that he believes it would be a mistake for the Republican Party to nominate Trump in the 2024 presidential election — and many Trump critics have been glad to see him speaking out. But according to Never Trump conservative and former federal prosecutor Donald B. Ayer, who served as a principal deputy solicitor in the Reagan Administration and as deputy attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, Barr’s motives are less than pure.
The 73-year-old Ayer is vehemently critical of Barr in an article published by The Atlantic on September 20, describing him as unprincipled and not without authoritarian views.
“Bill Barr has received approving nods recently for finally publicly turning against his former boss, rejecting Donald Trump’s claims of election fraud in testimony before the January 6 committee and repeatedly condemning, on Fox News, both Trump’s theft of classified government documents and the bizarre court decision letting a special master consider Trump’s absurd claims,” Ayer explains. “While some have noted that this recent turn does not make up for his gross mishandling of his office over the 22 months he served as attorney general, most people give Barr credit for his recent dalliance with the truth. Credit for moving the public discussion closer to reality is one thing, but no one should think that Barr is having second thoughts about the awful things he did in office.”
Ayer adds, “To the contrary, Barr’s recent trashing of Trump in a manner likely to greatly impair his presidential prospects makes perfect sense when one understands the driving convictions and objectives that have guided him throughout his adult life.”
Barr, Ayer argues, longed for a very strong executive branch and was drawn to Trump in 2018 and 2019 for that reason.
“Remember that Barr sought out the opportunity to serve as Trump’s attorney general by submitting a memorandum in June 2018, expanding upon his long-held, breathtaking vision that the Founders created an all-powerful president immune from virtually any limitation on his powers,” Ayer notes. “Those views had occupied Barr’s mind since the 1980s. In the memo, Barr applied that vision to Trump’s then-current obsession, arguing that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation was a wholly illegitimate intrusion on those powers.”
Ayer continues, “The June 2018 memorandum shows Barr clamoring for Trump’s attention because Trump offered a unique opportunity to advance Barr’s decades-old objective of an autocratic president. Unlike any of Trump’s predecessors in whose administrations he served, and certainly unlike George H. W. Bush, Trump openly espoused the view that he could ‘do whatever (he) wanted as president.’ Turning Trump into Barr’s ideal of the autocratic president required Trump’s reelection in 2020, and Barr aggressively pushed for changes in law that would largely block interference with the president’s actions.”
Ayer notes that during a November 15, 2019 speech at a Federalist Society gathering, Barr argued that contrary to “the grammar-school civics-class version” of U.S. history in which the Founding Fathers pushed for robust checks and balances, the Founders believed a president should have considerable executive authority.
“The central goal laid out in the Federalist Society speech was the negation of the system of checks and balances long recognized as an integral part of our government,” Ayer observes. “This included efforts to resist meaningful congressional oversight, up to and including Barr’s own personal refusal to appear on many occasions. It also included arguing vigorously in court to limit the power of the judiciary to review executive-branch actions.”
The events that followed the 2020 election, according to Ayer, convinced Barr that Trump didn’t have what it took to become the “autocratic president” that he longed for.
“Barr has realized that Trump, far from being the indispensable person for the realization of his vision of an autocratic president, has become perhaps the greatest obstacle to its achievement,” Ayer writes. “In a party where Barr’s bizarre ideal of an unfettered president holds tremendous sway, Trump can’t win in the general election — and if nominated, he would likely take the banner of autocracy down with him. Barr feels the need to remove Trump from serious consideration so that another standard-bearer for that cause can pick up where Trump left off. Who knows? Perhaps Barr can come back for a third turn as attorney general to finish the job.”
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