Bill Barr: Déjà vu all over again

On Dec. 14, 2020, the day the Electoral College confirmed Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election, William Barr released his letter of resignation as attorney general of the United States. He began by expressing appreciation for the opportunity to update then-President Trump on the Department of Justice’s “review of voter fraud allegations in the 2020 election and how these allegations will continue to be pursued.” The rest of the letter reflected Barr’s pride in playing a role “in the many successes and unprecedented achievements” of the administration, a record that was “all the more historic because it was accomplished in the face of relentless, implacable resistance … in which no tactic, no matter how abusive or deceitful, was out of bounds.”

Despite Trump’s tweet claiming that “our relationship has been a very good one, he has done an outstanding job,” it appears the president soured on the attorney general, Charles Pierce wrote in Esquire, because he refused to be in sync with the president’s “stalactite-riddled mind” on a rigged election or to “punch Hunter Biden’s ticket to Leavenworth.” Pierce cautioned readers, however, against assuming Barr “felt a twinge in his largely vestigial political conscience.”

One Damn Thing After Another,” Barr’s memoir about his two tours of duty as attorney general (for former President George H.W. Bush and for Trump), demonstrates that in 2022, it’s déjà vu all over again. Barr acknowledges, and then shrugs off, Trump’s lies about election fraud and his incitement of an assault on the U.S. Capitol.

Throughout his book Barr expresses no reservations, no second thoughts, entertains no alternatives to what he said and did during his time in office.

A combative, conspiracy-prone ideological extremist, Barr remains convinced the Democratic Party has been taken over by “woke” radicals who espouse Marxist, racial, gender and transgender ideologies, “guerillas engaged in a war to cripple a duly elected government.” Supported by mainstream media, Big Tech and other corporate elites, university administrators and professors, they all — according to Barr — seek control “over every aspect of life,” including removal of religion from schools and other public institutions, and demand that students “publicly confess their white privilege and identify themselves as oppressors.”

Barr also celebrates just about every Trump administration policy, within and beyond his areas of expertise.

Barr gratuitously insults Anthony Fauci, ridicules recommendations to “follow the science” and declares that Trump’s substantive pandemic decisions were “largely sound.”

He doubles down on his groundless claim that sending out mail-in ballots “to all and sundry guaranteed that a large portion of them were sent to ‘voters’ who no longer existed, or who existed in some other place.” 

He maintains “that Russia’s leaders no longer promote a revolutionary ideology that foreordains general antagonism with the West.” 

However, Barr now publicly acknowledges that Trump often indulges his instinct for “pettiness and pointless nastiness,” behaves “like a hyperactive maniac,” engages in “habitual hyperbole and imprecision,” is “incapable of nuance,” uses “egoistic and fratricidal tactics,” “indulges petty and personal grievances,” attracts voters with “low-road pandering,” repeatedly “insults women based on their personal appearance,” insults military heroes John McCain and Colin Powell, gets fixated on bad ideas, and turns against just about everyone who works for him. 

Trump’s “reckless claims of fraud,” Barr concludes, are a “disservice to the nation” and the people “who had labored and sacrificed to make his administration a success.” The country “would descend into chaos,” he writes, “if an incumbent administration could ignore election results based solely on bald assertions of fraud.”

Barr agrees that Trump was “responsible in the broad sense of that word” for orchestrating a “mob to pressure Congress” to overturn the results of a free and fair election. He is angry that Trump wrecked Republicans’ chances to maintain control of the U.S. Senate by petulantly sabotaging the party’s candidates in the runoff election in Georgia.

“In the final months of his administration,” Barr writes, “Trump cared only about one thing: himself. Country and principle took second place.” 

Convinced that the United States needs a president capable of “persuading and attracting,” who can “frame and advocate for an uplifting vision of what it means to share in American citizen,” Barr ends his memoir with the hope that one “of an impressive array of younger candidates” will get the Republican presidential nomination in 2024.

Belying his reputation for candor, Barr’s memoir did not address what he subsequently acknowledged in response to questions from reporters: It’s “inconceivable” that he would vote for anyone but the Republican nominee in 2024 — even if it’s Trump.

After all that, he’d vote for Trump to return to the Oval Office.

Does Barr believe Trump did not prioritize himself over country and party during the first three and a half years of his presidency? When the former attorney general recalls his oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States,” what — I wonder — does he think it entails?

Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is the co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of “Rude Republic: Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century.”

Tags Anthony Fauci Attorney General William Barr Barr memoir Bill Barr Colin Powell Donald Trump Joe Biden John McCain Presidency of Donald Trump Rule of law trump loyalists trumpism William Barr

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