DOJ veteran says he’s quitting over Barr’s ‘slavish obedience’ to Trump
After nearly 40 years of working for the Department of Justice (DOJ), Assistant U.S. Attorney Phillip Halpern says he is “fleeing” the department over Attorney General William Barr’s “slavish obedience to Donald Trump’s will.”
In an op-ed published Wednesday in The San Diego Union-Tribune, Halpern, who said he’s served under 19 attorneys general and six presidents, called Barr’s “resentment toward rule-of-law prosecutors,” and flagrant efforts to assist President Trump’s allies dangerous for the department.
“I have respected our leadership regardless of whether we were led by a Republican or a Democrat. I always believed the department’s past leaders were dedicated to the rule of law and the guiding principle that justice is blind. That is a bygone era, but it should not be forgotten,” he wrote.
He referenced Barr’s “meddling” in the trials of Trump associates Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn and Roger Stone, including instances where federal judges have taken action against Barr’s attempts to have the cases dismissed or postponed.
“This career bureaucrat seems determined to turn our democracy into an autocracy,” Halpern said.
He was also critical of Barr for supporting Trump’s use of federal troops during protests after the death of George Floyd, while remaining inactive when armed militia members gathered inside the Michigan Capitol to protest COVID-19 safety measures enacted by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D).
Last week, the FBI announced it had foiled a plot to kidnap the governor by some of those same militia members.
Writing about U.S. Attorney John Durham’s ongoing, Barr-ordered probe into the origins of the 2016 Russia investigation and possible links to the Obama administration, Halpern referred to it as “a quixotic pursuit designed to attack the president’s political rivals.” He said this action is in line with Barr’s disdain for apolitical prosecutors, to whom he has referred as “headhunters.”
Halpern said if his actions as a U.S. attorney, such as charging and convicting prominent former Republican Reps. Duncan Hunter (Calif.) and Duke Cunningham (Calif.), make him a “headhunter,” then he will wear the badge with honor.
Hunter had been charged with campaign finance fraud, and Halpern said he would have left the DOJ earlier but for his fear that Barr would have interfered in the probe if he left.
Halpern also claimed Barr’s presence is deterring highly qualified lawyers from applying to be federal prosecutors.
The DOJ did not immediately respond to a request for comment.