Robert Mueller as a Modern-Day Joe Friday

In a testament to the fact that irony is not dead, Attorney General William Barr attempted to cast himself as the protector of independence at the Justice Department in an age of political polarization during his interview with Jan Crawford.

Well, we live in a hyper-partisan age where people no longer really pay attention to the substance of what’s said but as to who says it and what side they’re on and what it’s political ramifications are. The Department of Justice is all about the law, and the facts and the substance and I’m going to make the decisions based on the law and the facts and I realize that’s in tension with the political climate we live in because people are more interested in getting their way politically. so I think it just goes with the territory of being the attorney general in a hyper-partisan period of time.

That statement came during the same interview in which he fed mountains of red meat to the conspiracy theorists among Trump’s enablers by providing commentary like this about the Trump-Russia investigation:

WILLIAM BARR: …[R]epublics have fallen because of Praetorian Guard mentality where government officials get very arrogant, they identify the national interest with their own political preferences and they feel that anyone who has a different opinion, you know, is somehow an enemy of the state. And you know, there is that tendency that they know better and that, you know, they’re there to protect as guardians of the people. That can easily translate into essentially supervening the will of the majority and getting your own way as a government official.

JAN CRAWFORD: And you are concerned that that may have happened in 2016?

WILLIAM BARR: Well, I just think it has to be carefully look at because the use of foreign intelligence capabilities and counterintelligence capabilities against an American political campaign to me is unprecedented and it’s a serious red line that’s been crossed.

When pressed by Crawford for the evidence that leads him to question the origins of the Trump-Russia probe and consider the possibility that it was an abuse of power, Barr refused to provide any specifics and merely suggested that he has “a basis for feeling there has to be a review of this.”

So the attorney general wildly speculates about a Praetorian Guard mentality among government officials, leading to supervening the will of the majority. That speculation isn’t based on any evidence that he is willing to share, but he can assure us that he has some feelings about it.

When I watched that exchange, I couldn’t help but think of how Martin Longman described Robert Mueller’s statement last Wednesday as bringing a peashooter to a knife fight. Compared to how Barr has consistently handled himself, that is an apt analogy.

But if you want an example of someone who respects the independence of the Justice Department as well as the institutions that are being undermined daily by this president, you will find no better example than Robert Mueller. The former special counsel is the quintessential Joe Friday saying, “All we want are the facts, ma’am.” He is categorically refusing to share his opinions or speculate about any issues beyond where the evidence leads. In an age where one side is engaged in lies, propaganda, and conspiracy theories, that puts him at a severe disadvantage.

I would suggest that, when an investigator puts himself at a disadvantage by sticking to the facts, that’s an indictment of the public, not the investigator. To the extent that Barr is able to sway public opinion with his wild speculations devoid of evidence, we have some deep issues with truth in this culture.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.