Bill Barr is trying his best to be Trump's Roy Cohn

Bill Barr is trying his best to be Trump's Roy Cohn
© Getty Images

After the traumas of Watergate, President Gerald Ford declared "our long national nightmare is over," and in one of America's enlightened appointments, tapped Edward Levi to be Attorney General.

There was no more respected legal figure than Levi, president of the University of Chicago. His appointment and policies sent a clear message: ‘The rule of law and equal justice has been reestablished.’

Following the Trump traumas, there is a different message: ‘The nightmares will get darker — and we're going to get revenge upon our political enemies.’


Knowing Trump, this is no surprise — despite indications by Republican Senators like Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsThe Hill's Morning Report - Biden assails 'epidemic' of gun violence amid SC, Texas shootings Biden-GOP infrastructure talks off to rocky start Moderate GOP senators and Biden clash at start of infrastructure debate MORE (R-Maine) and Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderSenate GOP faces retirement brain drain The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the National Shooting Sports Foundation - CDC news on gatherings a step toward normality Blunt's retirement deals blow to McConnell inner circle MORE (R-Tenn.) to justify siding with the president on impeachment, that he might change. Worse is an enabling Attorney General, William BarrBill BarrBoehner: Trump 'stepped all over their loyalty' by lying to followers Dominion: Ex-Michigan state senator 'sowing discord in our democracy' with election fraud claims Hunter Biden says he doesn't know if Delaware laptop was his MORE.

Trump has yearned for a legal bulldog akin to his mentor Roy Cohn. Barr seems to be trying to satisfy the president’s wish.

The polar opposite of Levi (who, by the way, philosophically leaned conservative), Barr is administering a justice that goes after Trump's targets — even to the point of buying into loony conspiracy theories — and seeks to help protect shady associates of the president from just punishment.

To be sure, Barr publicly complained that Trump’s tweets have impeded his ability to do the job. Associates have leaked that Barr has considered resigning.

This may be real — but there are no substantive schisms between the president and the attorney general. A more plausible explanation may be that Barr is trying to deliver a simple message: ‘Cool it: I’m doing your bidding, and your tweets make for bad optics.’

The latest episode was the Attorney General overturning the prosecutor's recommended sentencing for Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneTwo alleged Oath Keepers from Roger Stone security detail added to conspiracy indictment Authorities arrest Oath Keeper leader seen with Roger Stone Political land mines await Garland at DOJ MORE. The infamous dirty trickster and Trump political confidant was sentenced to 40 months for multiple counts of lying, obstruction of justice and witness tampering. He also insulted the judge.


After Barr's unusual intervention, the four prosecutors resigned. Why would the Attorney General get involved in a case like this other than to please Trump?

This is hardly isolated.

Barr has tried to buttress Trump's effort to counter the official intelligence determination that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election to help the Republicans by focusing instead on a discredited notion that it was the Ukrainians and others who tried to help the Democrats.

Barr even traveled to Europe to inquire about these conspiracy theories, dismissed by American intelligence agencies and outside experts as a crackpot political scam.

He also said he has created an “intake process” for information from Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiGaetz hires legal counsel amid DOJ probe Georgia lieutenant governor: Giuliani election claims helped lead to new voting law Rep. Lee Zeldin announces bid for New York governor MORE, Trump's personal lawyer, who is going after former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenFederal Reserve chair: Economy would have been 'so much worse' without COVID-19 relief bills Biden to meet Monday with bipartisan lawmakers about infrastructure Jill Biden gives shout out to Champ, Major on National Pet Day MORE and his son, Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company. But any charges against the former Vice President are baseless, aimed only at undercutting a potential rival in this year's presidential election.

This issue was at the core of Trump's impeachment. The president called the president of Ukraine last summer to pressure him to announce an investigation into phony charges against Biden. Trump suggested two people who could aid Ukraine in this smear: Giuliani and Barr.

The Attorney General has named a U.S. Attorney to look into the origins of the investigation into Russia's efforts to help Trump in the last election — the “investigation of the investigators.” He has appointed another U.S. Attorney to review the conviction of former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty to lying about his associations with Russians. These are in line with Trump's demands.

Other Trump critics are in Barr's sights. He's also launched an investigation of former FBI director James Comey, fired by Trump and still a target of his rants.

Most outrageous, Barr preempted and misrepresented special counsel Robert Mueller's report on behalf of Trump, suggesting, falsely, that it cleared the president and that there was no case for obstruction.

Barr's defenders point to the recent decision not to prosecute former acting FBI director Andrew McCabeAndrew George McCabeJohn Durham's endgame: Don't expect criminal charges Carter Page sues over surveillance related to Russia probe McCabe defends investigation of Trump before Senate committee: We had 'many reasons' MORE as proof of Barr’s non-partisanship. Nonsense. The charges against McCabe — leaking to the media stuff about the Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonClose the avenues of foreign meddling Pelosi planned on retiring until Trump won election: report Pence autobiography coming from Simon & Schuster MORE e-mail probe — were weak, and Justice took two years to resolve it. Any leak investigation could clear out the Trump White House.

More than 1,000 former Justice officials have called on Barr to resign.

Barr is a consistent ideologue, believing in few checks on executive power. But his consistent advocacy for Trump friends in legal trouble and assaults on Trump critics is about politics, not philosophy.

It's the behavior that Edward Levi eliminated at the Department of Justice four and a half decades ago. 

In an election year sure to be full of efforts at voter suppression and complaints of illicit voting, don't count on this this Department of Justice to be an impartial arbiter.

Bill Barr is in Donald TrumpDonald TrumpGaetz was denied meeting with Trump: CNN Federal Reserve chair: Economy would have been 'so much worse' without COVID-19 relief bills Police in California city declare unlawful assembly amid 'white lives matter' protest MORE's corner.

Al Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter @AlHuntDC.