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The Bill Barr Public Image Rehabilitation Tour of 2022 is underway. Prepare for a tidal wave of self-serving, revisionist bullshit.
Barr’s book is out this week, and the attention-grabbing headline is that he has (quite belatedly) turned against his former benefactor and hero, Donald Trump. Despite having spent his tenure as attorney general lying for Trump, propping up Trump, protecting Trump from criminal investigation, and abetting Trump’s effort to steal the 2020 election, Barr now reportedly has turned on his master.
Barr, sounding like a spurned lover, writes that Trump “cared only about one thing: himself.” He describes Trump as an “incorrigible” narcissist who exhibits “self-indulgence and lack of self-control.” Barr concludes that Trump “has shown he has neither the temperament nor persuasive powers” needed to lead the country, and that the prospect of Trump running for re-election in 2024 is “dismaying.” Not to go overly highbrow here but, to paraphrase Adam Sandler in The Wedding Singer: these are things that could’ve been brought to our attention yesterday. How bold and principled of Barr to come clean now, in March 2022, after he spent years as Trump’s eager, slobbering lapdog.
And let’s be clear: this is no honest, self-reflective, lookback. True to form, even Barr’s fleeting moments of clarity are compromised by half-baked, self-pitying deflection. Despite his newfound courage to speak up against Trump, Barr declares in the book that he’s “under no illusion about who is responsible for dividing the country, embittering our politics and weakening and demoralizing our nation. It is the progressive Left and their increasingly totalitarian ideals.” (Didn’t see that twist coming, did you?) Yes, that’s correct: according to Barr, the former President was an unhinged, antidemocratic maniac who spurred a coup attempt and should never be president again – yet the primary fault for the nation’s ills sits with “the progressive Left.” Barr also reportedly saves much personal grievance for “the media,” though his critiques of the press have traditionally been conclusory and self-pitying more than specific and substantive.
I haven’t seen the book yet – for some reason, they didn’t send me an advance reader copy – but, beyond the belated turnabout on Trump, it appears to reflect Barr’s characteristically dishonest, arrogant worldview. A blistering New York Times review brands the book “an intemperate culture-war treatise smuggled into a lawyer’s memoir.” Sounds about right; one of the chapters of my book, Hatchet Man: How Bill Barr Broke the Prosecutor’s Code and Corrupted the Justice Department, is titled “Culture Warrior.” In that section, I argue that Barr’s extremist political and religious beliefs drove his ends-justifies-the-means conduct as attorney general.
The Times reviewer also notes that Barr uses various “rhetorical contortions” to validate his most inexcusable actions: his lies to the American public about the Mueller report, his intervention in cases involving Trump’s political cronies, his excuse-making for Trump’s efforts to extort Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and refusal to open a criminal investigation relating to the shakedown scheme (which has aged particularly poorly). The Times observes, “This is a pattern in Barr’s book: He nitpicks his way to desired conclusions by carefully navigating a lawyerly path around finely drawn distinctions, all the while lobbing bomblets at anyone he defines as an enemy.” In that sense, the book itself is a perfect encapsulation of Barr’s tenure as AG.
Barr’s book also is filled with straight-up ridiculous assertions of historical fact. He calls “securing religious liberty” the “civil rights issue of our time.” (Racial and gender equality would like a word.) He brands certain Covid-19 preventive measures as among the most “onerous denial[s] of civil liberties” in American history – second only to slavery. (Sanity would like a word.)
Here’s the single question I’ve been asked most often since I wrote my book about Barr: what consequences will he face? The answer, it seems, is none, or almost none. Yes, he routinely lied to the public, but that’s not illegal. He also lied to Congress when convenient, which is illegal, but there is zero evidence or practical reason to believe he’ll be prosecuted for that. He’s been sued and might lose his law license, but those outcomes remain uncertain and, regardless, he’ll remain wealthy and comfortably semi-retired. Heck, he’s about to be generously rewarded for his corrupt tenure as attorney general; NBC News is planning a weeklong Barr gush-fest, and his book is poised to become a bestseller.
All that we have, then, is history. I had a hunch as I wrote my book that Barr would come along and try to clean up the past, power-wash his reputation, and save himself from the trash bin of history. It’s very much in his nature to do this. Despite his “I’m too old for this crap and I couldn’t care less what people think” act, in truth he’s a vainglorious man who is obsessed with his own media mentions and public image, as confirmed by his revealing, recently-released texts.
So it’s no surprise that Barr is back, and as full of crap and self-aggrandizing as ever. But let’s not allow him to get away with it. Barr had every chance to do his job at attorney general honestly, with decency and integrity. He had every opportunity to rein in Trump, to check his most dangerous excesses, and to hold him meaningfully accountable. Instead, Barr facilitated the worst of Trump’s instincts. Now Barr wants to be seen as some kind of hero because he calls out the former boss – from the comfort of semi-retirement, now that it’s too late for anyone to do anything about it.
In May 2020, when he was asked about his unprecedented intervention in the Justice Department’s prosecution of Michael Flynn, Barr chortled smugly, “History is written by the winners.” It’s not clear whether Barr is, in the end, any kind of winner; he and I will agree to disagree. (I mean: I’m right, of course.) But he plainly believes he has the power to re-cast history now, after the fact, with words trumping action. Don’t let Barr get away with it. He has done tremendous damage to the Justice Department and the United States. Let history judge Barr on his record, not the spin.