Even for a loyalist like Attorney General William Barr, there was only so far he would go to support Trump’s assault on the rule of law and reality.
On Monday evening, as Trump’s doomed attempts to steal the 2020 election fizzle out, the president announced Barr would step down from his post next week. “Just had a very nice meeting with Attorney General Bill Barr at the White House,” Trump tweeted. “Our relationship has been a very good one, he has done an outstanding job! As per letter, Bill will be leaving just before Christmas to spend the holidays with his family…”
Just had a very nice meeting with Attorney General Bill Barr at the White House. Our relationship has been a very good one, he has done an outstanding job! As per letter, Bill will be leaving just before Christmas to spend the holidays with his family…
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 14, 2020
Barr served as attorney general for the last two years of the Trump presidency. Over that time, he faced withering criticism from former federal prosecutors, legal scholars, and rule-of-law experts for his leadership of the Department of Justice.
He was accused of political interference when senior Justice Department officials overruled line prosecutors and sought a more lenient sentence for Trump adviser Roger Stone, who was convicted of lying to Congress and obstruction of justice. (A former DOJ lawyer who worked on the Stone case later wrote that the department had “put political patronage ahead of its commitment to the rule of law.”) He tried to spin the findings contained in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s final report on the eve of the report’s release, appearing to play defense for Trump. He called for an antitrust investigation into several cannabis companies because he “did not like the nature of their underlying business,” according to a Justice Department whistleblower. He bungled the firing of the top prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, arguably the most powerful U.S. attorney’s office in America. He revived the use of the death penalty. By and large, he stood steadfastly by while the Trump White House trampled one democratic norm and traditional after another.
David Cole, the ACLU’s national legal director, said in a statement that Barr was “one of the worst attorneys general” in American history. “He deployed the Justice Department not to promote justice, but to serve Donald Trump. He blatantly mischaracterized the Mueller report to whitewash its findings before the public could see it, questioned the motives of a legitimate investigation into Russian influence on the Trump campaign, revived the federal death penalty in ways that limited defendants’ rights to fair hearings, and interfered in federal prosecutions to aid Trump cronies Michael Flynn and Roger Stone. He forfeited the Justice Department’s independence and integrity in obeisance to the president.”
True to form, Barr makes no mention of this in his resignation letter. He instead thanks the president for letting him serve as the top law-enforcement official in the country, and feeds yet again into the president’s “witch hunt” complaint about the various investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election. “No tactic, no matter how abusive and deceitful, was out of bounds,” Barr wrote. “The nadir of this campaign was the effort to cripple, if not oust, your administration with frenzied and baseless accusations of collusion with Russia.”
Yet in the end, Trump’s scorched-earth crusade to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election appears to have proved too much even for Barr. Barr refused to endorse Trump’s fact-free and delusional assertions about widespread voter fraud in the weeks after the election took place. As Trump’s lawyers filed one baseless lawsuit after another — and lost one lawsuit after another on their way to a 1-for-59 win-loss record — Barr stayed mostly mum.
“It is beyond ironic that Barr seems to have been pushed out for not going quite far enough to abuse his position for Trump’s benefit, however unconscionably far he did go,” Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said in a statement. “The reason may be ridiculous, but good riddance.”