The news about how Attorney General William Barr is turning the Department of Justice into an entity designed to protect Donald Trump and punish his enemies is coming so fast that it’s been a bit overwhelming. Some of us were still trying to absorb the fact that Barr had set up a process for Rudy Giuliani to feed his dirt on the Bidens directly into the Justice Department when things picked up speed on Tuesday.
As I noted previously, leadership at DOJ intervened to overrule the recommendation from front-line prosecutors in the sentencing of Roger Stone. That came immediately on the heels of Trump tweeting that the recommendation was unfair. In response to that intervention, all four of the prosecutors involved resigned from the case. After that, the news came at a furious pace. We learned that:
- Trump rescinded the nomination of Jessie Liu, who had been the U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C., for a job as an undersecretary at the Treasury Department. Liu had previously supervised the case against Roger Stone.
- Leadership at the Justice Department had also intervened last month to reduce the sentencing recommendation for Michael Flynn from six months to probation.
- Attorney General William Barr has basically taken control of legal matters that are of personal interest to Trump.
That last one is the kicker and means that the whole idea of an independent attorney general has been flushed down the drain. The president tweeted his pleasure at having finally found his own Roy Cohn to put in charge of the Justice Department.
Of course, most other observers were horrified. To get an idea of just how serious all of this has become, here is the response from a former DOJ Inspector General.
Memo to all career DOJ employees
This is not what you signed up for. The four prosecutors who bailed on the Stone case have shown the way. Report all instances of improper political influence and other misdeeds to the DOJ IG, who is required to protect your identity.
— Michael R. Bromwich (@mrbromwich) February 12, 2020
A former attorney general spoke out as well.
Do not underestimate the danger of this situation: the political appointees in the DOJ are involving themselves in an inappropriate way in cases involving political allies of the President. This affects the rule of law and respect for it. Unprecedented. https://t.co/LvydcZUaSe
— Eric Holder (@EricHolder) February 12, 2020
Meanwhile, Trump responded by attacking the four prosecutors who resigned and the judge who is hearing Stone’s case. Those are not the actions of someone who has a well-thought-out political strategy. Rather, they are the rantings of a president who knows that, not only have Senate Republicans given him free rein to do as he pleases, he also has an attorney general who is willing to weaponize the entire Justice Department in his defense.
It is impossible to overstate how dire this situation is at the moment. I would simply remind you that Benjamin Wittes once wrote that the least tyrant-proof part of the government is the Justice Department. William Barr has now placed that department in service to the narcissist-in-chief, who embodies a mob-like approach to vengeance as a means to establish dominance.
I’m not going to predict where all of this is likely to go. But we already know that, in his so-called “investigation of the investigators,” Barr is working to wipe the slate clean on Trump’s embrace of foreign interference in our elections, as well as his obstruction of justice. In doing so, he is willing to discredit both the FBI and our intelligence services. He is also using the Department of Justice to further the conspiracy theories Giuliani cooks up against Trump’s potential opponents. Now he’s using his position to get Trump’s friends off the hook for their crimes while setting things up to prosecute dissenters. Let’s not forget that this is the same man who threatened that, if communities didn’t show enough respect for law enforcement, they could lose their police protection.
Even considering all of that, I suspect that William Barr is just getting started on his goal to establish Donald Trump as an all-powerful tyrant. Mark my words, he will play a critical role in the upcoming election to both defend the president and punish anyone who gets in his way.