Back when Donald Trump first picked Matthew Whitaker as his Acting Attorney General, various TV pundits predicted that he would find a way to hogtie Robert Mueller behind the scenes, and prevent Mueller from doing anything. Palmer Report pointed out from day one that Whitaker was far too inept and stupid to put a dent in Mueller’s progress. Sure enough, that proved to have been correct. But Whitaker’s upcoming replacement, William Barr, is not an idiot. So now what?
Robert Mueller had a very easy task when it came to fending off Matt Whitaker. Not only was Whitaker a clueless doofus, he’s also under federal investigation for his scam toilet company, which Mueller no doubt used as leverage behind the scenes to neutralize him. William Barr has demonstrated during his confirmation hearings that he has more of a brain than Whitaker does. Also, Barr is a former Attorney General, so he may be better at understanding how things work. And there aren’t any known criminal scandals involving Barr that Mueller could use against him.
But there are three important things working in Mueller’s favor here. The first is that there’s no reason to believe Barr is some kind of genius. Sure, he can put two sentences together, in a way that Whitaker can’t, but that doesn’t mean Barr is smart. Nor should we assume that Barr is a highly capable guy just because he was previously Attorney General. After all, he was appointed to that position by the same Republican Party that appointed an idiot like Whitaker to be the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Iowa. The GOP doesn’t exactly have a high bar for its political appointments.
But let’s say that William Barr is a smart and capable guy who truly understands how the law works. In such case, he knows full well that if he goes into this and commits obstruction of justice on Donald Trump’s behalf, there’s a good chance he’ll end up going to prison for it. Even if he can’t be nailed for the obstruction, he’ll end up nailed for perjury when the House Democrats haul him in to explain himself. Barr was surely watching yesterday when Whitaker’s life got ripped to shreds for all to see, and he knows he’ll find himself in that same barrel before long.
So that alone could prompt Barr to try to keep his nose clean while on the job. It’s easy enough to stall the ever-delusional Trump by telling him what he wants to hear, even while doing nothing substantive to help Trump’s obstruction agenda; we saw Jeff Sessions pull it off for nearly two years. Sessions did many horrible things as Attorney General and hurt a lot of good Americans, but he never laid a finger on Robert Mueller.
Finally, it all comes down to timing. If Donald Trump had replaced Jeff Sessions with William Barr a year ago, and Barr had gone in and tried to sabotage Robert Mueller’s work, it could have done real damage. But now? Mueller’s criminal cases against Donald Trump and his kids appear to be complete or nearly complete. He’s already spread out much of his caseload to places like SDNY and EDNY and EDVA. What is Barr even supposed to do to Mueller at this late date?
We’re going to hear a lot of fear mongering from the TV pundits about how William Barr is simply going to stick Robert Mueller’s report about Donald Trump in a drawer, and somehow magically get away with it. But that’s as laugh-out-loud asinine as the previous fear mongering about how Matt Whitaker was somehow going to outsmart Mueller. Barr’s stated views suggest he has a corrupt overall agenda against America, just as Sessions did, and that’s of grave concern. But it’s difficult to see how Barr can actually do anything to stop Mueller.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report