In 2016, Donald Trump ran one of the most ineffective presidential campaigns in modern memory, couldn’t even cheat with the Russians correctly, and only tripped and fell into office after James Comey wrote a boneheaded last minute letter. Since that time Trump has corruptly bumbled his way to a 40% approval rating and no clear path to reelection. But we’re supposed to believe he’s an evil genius with a magic wand who can pull off anything he wants.
The illusion of Trump having a strategy was even further shattered this week when Bill Barr decided to insert himself into things. In terms of villainy, Barr is one of the few relatively smart hires Trump has ever made, as opposed to Trump’s usual bumbling henchmen. But even Barr is having trouble pulling off his latest con, because Trump doesn’t seem to understand the con.
Bill Barr is forcibly changing the DOJ’s sentencing recommendation for Trump’s former henchman Roger Stone. Barr is trying to keep up the illusion that he’s doing this because he honestly believes the sentence is too harsh. But this only works if Trump stays out of it, and, well, Trump doesn’t understand that. He keeps tweet-whining about Stone’s sentence, making clear he’s in on it. This is a problem because Barr has to maintain it least a millimeter of reasonable doubt if he’s going to pull this off, and not land in prison himself once Trump is gone.
To that end, Bill Barr went on ABC News yesterday and basically told Donald Trump to shut up. Most of understood that this was all a ruse, and that Barr was simply trying to reestablish deniability, so he could go back to meddling in the Stone case. But if he tried to explain the plan to Trump, it didn’t sink in. This morning Trump posted this tweet:
“The President has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case.” A.G. Barr This doesn’t mean that I do not have, as President, the legal right to do so, I do, but I have so far chosen not to!
So we’re right back to Bill Barr having no deniability, either because Donald Trump is too clueless to understand how this ruse is supposed to work, or because Trump is to narcissistic to simply let Barr have the spotlight.
By the way, this is a ruse on two levels. Bill Barr absolutely 100% cannot change the prison sentence that the judge decides to give Roger Stone. It’s at the judge’s sole discretion, and Barr can’t magically override it any more than Barr can magically make it rain today. Barr has merely reduced the DOJ sentencing recommendation down to the range that we’re all expecting the judge to end up giving Stone anyway, presumably so Barr can con Trump into believing that Barr actually helped Stone. Barr is pretty far out on a ledge here, but Trump fell off it a long time ago.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report