Attorney General William BarrBill BarrTrump pushes back on book claims, says he spent 'virtually no time' discussing election with Lee, Graham Woodward: Milley was 'setting in motion sensible precautions' with calls to China Barr-Durham investigation again fails to produce a main event MORE went out the way he served — spouting subservience and misdirection.
His obsequious letter of resignation evidently spared him the indignity of being fired by tweet. But the letter only secures Barr’s record of complicity in President TrumpDonald TrumpGraham says he hopes that Trump runs again Trump says Stacey Abrams 'might be better than existing governor' Kemp Executive privilege fight poses hurdles for Trump MORE’s assault on the rule of law and the impartial administration of justice.
The AG is leaving on Dec. 23, Trump tweeted, to “spend the holidays with his family.”
Whatever the departure date, the legacy of “Barr-ism” remains dangerous and damaging. Before President-elect BidenJoe BidenHaiti prime minister warns inequality will cause migration to continue Pelosi: House must pass 3 major pieces of spending legislation this week Erdoğan says Turkey plans to buy another Russian defense system MORE’s Inauguration Day, Americans may see a special prosecutor appointed to investigate his family, DOJ statements exonerating the president of misdeeds, and an Acting AG blessing a shameless pardon spree.
Resignation letters like Barr’s are both standardized rituals and moments revealing the departing official’s character. This one reads like Dr. Harold Bornstein’s infamous 2016 campaign testimonial to Trump’s “extraordinary health” — a letter dictated by Mr. Trump himself.
The typical resignation letter starts with the official’s gratitude for the honor of serving, then proceeds to recount his or her proudest accomplishments.
Not Barr’s. His letter belongs with the “love letters” that the President exchanged with North Korea’s Kim Jong UnKim Jong UnNorth Korea open to another summit with South Satellite photos indicate North Korea expanding uranium enrichment The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by National Industries for the Blind - What do Manchin and Sinema want? MORE.
Its over-the-top tributes smack of the orchestrated Cabinet meetings where servile department heads paid homage to Trump. It also makes clear that service to Trump — not the United States — has been Barr’s guiding star. Aside: That repeated breach of duty to Barr’s true client, the nation, earned him a July 2020 D.C. Bar complaint from four former D.C. Bar presidents and 23 other distinguished lawyers.
The AG’s resignation letter was atypical in another respect: It offered praise in areas far removed from the resigning official’s jurisdiction, including a fulsome tribute to Mr. Trump’s eminently forgettable 2016 victory speech.
Indeed, Barr starts out exactly as a letter dictated by Mr. Trump would begin — with a portrait of the president as a victim of imagined, history-making irregularities in the November election. It delivers a long-sought promise to the president: an assurance that the DOJ will continue to pursue “voter fraud allegations.”
Never mind Barr’s Dec. 1 announcement that the department had uncovered no evidence of widespread voter fraud that might change the result of the 2020 election.
Barr also reprises his misleading public description of the Mueller Report. It bemoans what the AG calls a long running campaign to “cripple, if not oust your Administration with frenzied, baseless accusations of collusion.”
That misreading of history and twisting of facts is itself characteristically Trumpian.
And when not repeating Trump’s grievances, Barr’s letter offered adulation for the president’s “historic accomplishments,” despite “relentless, implacable resistance,” and a “partisan onslaught against you in which no tactic, no matter how abusive and deceitful was out of bounds.”
It paints the picture of a Mount Rushmore-worthy president, with heroic ability to rise above the unfairness of the world. “Few,” it proclaims, could have “weathered those attacks, much less forged ahead with a positive program for the country.”
Mimicking the President’s penchant for turning accusations against him on their head, Barr credits Trump with advancing the rule of law.
Recall that Barr’s own approach to advancing that ideal included overriding and reducing line prosecutors’ sentencing recommendation for Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneBannon says he discussed how to 'kill this administration in the crib' with Trump before Jan. 6 Roger Stone served with Capitol riot lawsuit during radio interview Lawyer for 17 Jan. 6 defendants says he's been released from hospital MORE. And in May 2020, Mr. Barr sponsored a motion to dismiss the prosecution of Michael Flynn, who had confessed twice in court under oath to lying to the FBI
Barr may be leaving, but “Barr-ism” is not departing with him.
Taking over will be his deputy, Jeffrey Rosen who has already shown Barr-like fealty to the Trump administration’s political interests. Last month Rosen reportedly blocked prosecutors pursuing corruption charges against disgraced Trump Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeWant to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Biden launches blitz for jobs plan with 'thank you, Georgia' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court sets in motion EPA ban on pesticide linked to developmental issues | Trump Interior Secretary Zinke files to run for Congress, again | Senate passes bipartisan B water infrastructure bill MORE, following a referral by Interior’s Inspector General.
More damage may lay ahead in the administration’s waning days.
President-elect Biden would be wise to choose an AG who will be loath to send him love letters and will be focused instead on ridding the Justice of Department of Barr’s legacy. Whoever Biden chooses will need to focus their energies on restoring the department’s hard-earned reputation for integrity and equal treatment under law.
The Department’s new leaders will have their work cut out for them.
Austin Sarat is associate provost, associate dean of the faculty and William Nelson Cromwell Professor Jurisprudence and Political Science at Amherst College and author of “Something to Believe In: Politics, Professionalism, and Cause Lawyers.” Dennis Aftergut is a former federal prosecutor and Supreme Court advocate, currently a Lawyers Defending American Democracy steering committee member.