It’s only been about three weeks since William Barr became the official Attorney General under Donald Trump, and effectively took over as Robert Mueller’s new boss. So what could we learn about him in such a short time? Turns out, we can learn quite a bit. When he was sworn in, there was reason to believe that Barr’s confirmation would spell doom for Mueller’s investigation, since Barr had been a vocal critic of the Special Counsel investigation, but there were also glimmers of hope. Barr said under oath that he and Mueller were friends, good friends, ever since they worked together years ago. Also, everyone who knows Barr described him as a man who loved and respected the institution of the DOJ, and he said the reason he was interested in becoming the AG at this very difficult time was to strengthen the institution.
While we don’t have enough information yet to make a final verdict about Barr, we do know a few things. First, Mueller filed an 800 page court filing after Barr was sworn in. It was heavily redacted, but if Barr came in looking to swiftly and surely shut down the investigation, he could have interfered and prevented such a lengthy filing. He could have made an argument that so much information is unnecessary.
Next, and most importantly, just one week after Barr took office, media outlets reported the Mueller report would be finished and turned in to Barr within a week or two. This reporting that Mueller was going to finish so quickly is widely believed to have been a way to put pressure on Barr and Mueller to finish. Barr stood up to this pressure and the DOJ issued a rare statement, denying the investigation and report would be done that quickly. Surely, Trump was not happy with this statement from the DOJ.
Additionally, Barr could have easily asked Rod Rosenstein to leave immediately, but he has not pushed Rosenstein out yet. However, one wonders if he may have been involved in the abrupt and unexpected departure of Donald Trump’s unqualified and conflicted choice for Acting Attorney General, Matthew Whitaker, from his new position at the DOJ. Surely, keeping Rod Rosenstein on for nearly a month, with no clear departure date in sight, while Matthew Whitaker makes a hasty and abrupt departure, was not in Trump’s playbook.
It could be that William Barr is being outplayed. It could be that Robert Mueller is so far along in the investigation, there is little anyone can do to stop him. It could be that FBI Director Chris Wray will protect Donald Trump in small ways when he can legally, but he is unwilling to stick his neck out too far, and risk incriminating himself. It could be that, like Chris Wray before him, once Barr got a good look at all the evidence, he switched teams. Or, it could be that William Barr deliberately and purposefully allowed Trump to believe the two of them had a certain understanding that Barr never had any intention of upholding.
One thing is for certain, William Barr has not stopped Robert Mueller from turning in a lengthy filing, forced Mueller to finish his investigation in two weeks, or protected Matthew Whitaker. So far, William Barr doesn’t seem to be executing the Trump playbook, and it’s possible that by firing Jeff Sessions and confirming William Barr, Donald Trump has made Robert Mueller’s life easier.
Cheryl Kelley lives in the DC area with her husband and young son. She is active in government and politics.