William Barr
Credit: FOX 10 Phoenix/YouTube Screen Capture

According to the summary provided by the White House, the president said this during a conversation with Ukrainian President Zelenskyy on July 25th.

I will ask [Giuliani] to call you along with the Attorney General…There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great.

Sources inside the Justice Department told Michael Balsamo that Barr was “surprised and angry” to be mentioned alongside Giuliani when he learned about the call a few weeks later. But that’s hard to believe because, according to Ken Vogel and Iuliia Mende, the president had already talked to Barr about it.

Mr. Trump, in turn, recently suggested he would like Attorney General William P. Barr to look into the material gathered by the Ukrainian prosecutors — echoing repeated calls from Mr. Giuliani for the Justice Department to investigate the Bidens’ Ukrainian work and other connections between Ukraine and the United States.

The day that article was published, Attorney General Barr was facing some tough questions from Senator Kamala Harris about whether the president or anyone in the White House had asked him to open an investigation of anyone.

Perhaps now we can understand why Barr was so intent in evading the question and ultimately, refused to answer. All of that happened over three months before the now-infamous call on July 25th. The specter of the attorney general feigning surprise at being mentioned is therefore, entirely unbelievable.

The attorney general was also mentioned in the whistleblower complaint.

In the course of my official duties, I have received information from multiple U.S. Government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election. This interference includes, among other things, pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the President’s main domestic political rivals. The President’s personal lawyer, Mr. Rudolph Giuliani, is a central figure in this effort. Attorney General Barr appears to be involved as well.

All of that is why Barr should have recused himself when the director of national intelligence asked the Justice Department for guidance on whether to share the whistleblower complaint with congress. But of course, he didn’t. Instead the DNI was told to keep quiet about the whole affair.

Beyond that, Barr’s Justice Department and FBI summarily dismissed a criminal referral from the DNI and inspector general about whether the call between Trump and Zelenskyy constituted a violation of campaign finance law. Once again, the attorney general didn’t recuse himself.

As Michelle Goldberg noted, “In the Ukraine scandal, evidence of comprehensive corruption goes far beyond Trump.” She went on to mention not only Barr, but Rudy Giuliani, Vice President Pence, and those in the White House who made the decision to conceal the transcript of the call by putting it in the codeword-level system. Two other cabinet members that were involved include Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Budget Director/Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney. Barr’s refusal to recuse himself from these matters “creates a sort of legal cul-de-sac.”

It’s only the Justice Department, ultimately, that can prosecute potential federal crimes arising from this scandal. Barr’s ethical nihilism, his utter indifference to ordinary norms of professional behavior, means that he’s retaining the authority to stop investigations into crimes he may have participated in.

You might remember that after Nixon resigned, at least eight of his top staff were convicted of crimes and sent to jail. They were prosecuted by Leo Jaworski, who was appointed special prosecutor following the Saturday night massacre, in which Nixon ordered his attorney general to fire Archibald Cox.

Given that prosecution of anyone involved in Ukraingate would have to be pursued by either the Justice Department or a special prosecutor who reported to the attorney general, Barr can protect himself and others in the administration from investigation and the possibility for any legal consequences for their actions. The only exception would be if congress moves to impeach the attorney general. Perhaps that is something that should be under consideration.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.