Attorney General William Barr has succeeded in doing one thing in his short tenure so far: removing any doubt that he works for the president, not the people. In passing the Judiciary Act of 1789, Congress established the AG position as an office dedicated to advising and representing the U.S. government. Although it is true that the president of the United States appoints the AG and may fire the AG, it is also the case that the AG is not the president’s personal attorney. Since Valentine’s Day, Barr has been on the payroll of the U.S. government, which means he is supposed to put “America First” (to borrow a certain demagogue’s phrase), and not POTUS first.
Within 48 hours of receiving Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, Barr rushed his own interpretation of it to a public that desperately hungered for information. Are we really to believe that Barr’s words fully and accurately reflect the Special Counsel’s exhaustive and critical investigation? Barr’s summary is nothing more than a political flash grenade, aimed at disorienting us and creating confusion around what Mueller uncovered that may damage Trump.
Let us not forget how we got to this surreal, scary place. Less than a year ago, while Barr was a private lawyer, he wrote an unsolicited letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein arguing that Mueller’s obstruction inquiry is fatally flawed. Barr’s letter won Trump’s affection, leading Trump to believe he had found the lackey he needed to replace the disgraced Jeff Sessions. As a result, Barr managed to skate into position just in time to add political interference to the Mueller probe, throwing mud on its prized sheen of independence.
Barr’s actions have created a situation that is worse than simply waiting in the dark. By releasing his summary, Barr has given the public a tiny, blurry window into the report that is highly suspect. Because we do not yet have the report, it is impossible at this early point to criticize Barr’s summary with any specificity. It would be like trying to discredit a reviewer’s questionable conclusions about a movie that we have not yet been allowed to watch. Although Trump and friends are declaring nothing short of “complete and total exoneration,” no one should blindly accept Barr’s obfuscation without the benefit of the full report and its underlying evidence. As we continue waiting for truth and transparency, we now know where Barr’s loyalty lies.