Barr sparks new political firestorm

Former Attorney General William BarrBill BarrBannon's subpoena snub sets up big decision for Biden DOJ Five takeaways: Report details Trump's election pressure campaign Biden slips further back to failed China policies MORE has created a political firestorm with interviews for a new book that call former President TrumpDonald TrumpMcCabe wins back full FBI pension after being fired under Trump Biden's Supreme Court reform study panel notes 'considerable' risks to court expansion Bennie Thompson not ruling out subpoenaing Trump MORE’s claims about fraud in last year’s election “bullshit” and detail how Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellBiden signs bill to raise debt ceiling On The Money — Progressives play hard ball on Biden budget plan Schumer, McConnell headed for another collision over voting rights MORE (R-Ky.) pressed him to publicly dispute Trump’s assertions.

Barr has enraged Democrats and liberal commentators who say he is seeking to rehabilitate an image badly damaged by the Trump years, when he was a forceful advocate for the president, particularly during the release of former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE’s report.

They say that Barr contributed to Trump's narrative undermining confidence in the voting system with his own comments about mail-in ballots in the lead-up to the election. 

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“It’s better that he says something now than never, but it’s far too late,” said Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor who penned the forthcoming book “How Bill Barr Broke the Prosecutor's Code and Corrupted the Justice Department.”

“He’s contradicting months’ worth of propaganda that he put out there,” he said.

Barr is also taking significant body blows from his former boss, who has blasted his former attorney general for the late criticism.

“Bill Barr’s weakness helped facilitate the cover up of the Crime of the Century, the Rigged 2020 Presidential Election!” Trump said in a statement on Sunday, repeating his unsubstantiated claims, many of which are now believed by a large portion of GOP voters.

Reached by phone, Barr largely declined to answer questions from The Hill about his tenure during the Trump administration and his efforts to push back on the former president’s claims.

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Asked why he felt compelled to speak out about Trump’s false election claims in interviews for a forthcoming book written by ABC News correspondent Jonathan Karl, Barr replied: “I didn’t feel compelled to. People were writing about them.”

He then referred back to the press conference he conducted before leaving the Justice Department during which he stood by his comments about the election.

Barr famously broke with Trump over the former president’s futile efforts to overturn the election, eventually tendering his resignation a month before the end of the administration. But his comments to Karl represent the most forceful rebuke yet.

Barr is one of the most polarizing figures of the Trump era. He has a long list of critics who accuse him of allowing the Justice Department to be used to advance Trump’s personal political agenda.

Barr’s insistence that Trump’s election claims were without merit is a sharp contrast to his own rhetoric leading up to the 2020 election, when he suggested in a September CNN interview that the widespread use of mail-in ballots could be ripe for fraud. Barr similarly called into question the security of mail-in ballots during an earlier interview with NPR and congressional testimony.

Those who know Barr or worked with him during his two separate stints at the Justice Department dispute that the former attorney general is pursuing any kind of image rehabilitation or legacy enhancement with his recent comments.

“It’s not that he shouldn’t be concerned with his reputation, but it’s not what motivates him. He’s very self-contained and confident in his own view of things,” said Stuart Gerson, who served as assistant attorney general under Barr during the George H.W. Bush administration. “It’s not an attempt to restore himself. It’s more to say what he believes.”

Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University and an opinion contributor for The Hill, said that Barr is not concerned about how he is portrayed by critics in the media but has “an interest in establishing the facts for history.”

Barr cemented himself as one of Trump’s most loyal Cabinet officials to the point that Democrats, some legal experts and former colleagues routinely complained he was acting more as the president’s personal lawyer than as the country’s top law enforcement official.

“I think people thought at the time when Barr came in that he would be some form of institutionalist,” said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond. “And then it just seemed like when he became attorney general for a second time that he seemed beholden to Trump.”

But Barr’s post-election comments to The Associated Press dismissing any notion of widespread fraud or that the results were “rigged” has left him isolated by Trump and the former president’s most ardent supporters. At the same time, even critics have credited Barr for publicly disputing Trump’s claims at a time when Republicans distrusted Joe BidenJoe BidenMcAuliffe holds slim lead over Youngkin in Fox News poll Biden signs bill to raise debt ceiling On The Money — Progressives play hard ball on Biden budget plan MORE’s election victory.

According to Karl’s forthcoming book, Barr told him that McConnell, then Senate majority leader, urged him to speak out publicly against Trump’s effort to overturn the election results beginning in mid-November. McConnell cited the Senate runoff elections in Georgia, which the GOP went on to lose, as reasons why Republican senators could not be “frontally attacking” Trump, according to the book.

Representatives for McConnell did not return a request for comment.

The former attorney general has in recent weeks made public comments distancing himself from some Trump controversies. He said he did not remember getting briefed on the Justice Department seizing communications of Democratic lawmakers in a leak case and maintained he did not discuss any of the cases with Trump.

Critics of Barr are unsparing.

“I think history will judge Bill Barr as a liar,” said Honig, who served as a federal prosecutor in the Southern District of New York and is a CNN legal analyst. “And I think history will judge him as the attorney general who politicized the Justice Department and who used it as both a shield and a weapon more than any prior attorney general.”

But Barr’s former colleagues reject the idea that he was some sort of Trump lackey. Instead, they view Barr as someone with a distinct view of the power of the executive branch who used the former president to implement his agenda, even when it warranted criticism in the case of his handling of the Mueller report or his intervention on Trump’s behalf in a defamation suit.

Allies also point out that the Justice Department under Biden has maintained some positions that were controversial under Barr, such as its stance in the E. Jean Carroll defamation suit against Trump.

“What remains is for history to take a full account of what occurred during the administration,” said Turley. “History is likely to be far kinder to Bill Barr than his critics.”