No matter who sits in the Oval Office or which party controls Congress, the rules of one Washington, D.C., game never change: nothing draws nearly uncritical media coverage like the “crisis of conscience” leak.
The crisis of conscience leak is an old standby; the leader of an embattled agency or their deputies suddenly, shockingly discover that either the president or one of his policies is egregious, shocking, and wrong, wrong, wrongety wrong. Of course, they’re off the record or on background. Of course, the principal is portrayed as the sole man or woman of integrity left in a sea of corrupt, gibbering idiots who would happily sink the nation into a mire of corruption or submerge it into a sea of cleansing nuclear flame.
In most cases, it’s the usual D.C. ass-covering or prepping the battlefield for a departure: “I was the smart one and I felt I had to speak out... off the record, of course.”
With Bill Barr’s transparently obvious leaks, we’ve reached the apotheosis of weapons-grade, ratfuck gaslighting.
In two articles in the last 24 hours, Bill Barr—and don’t buy the bullshit of “people close to”; I’d bet good money it was Barr himself—has told The Washington Post and the Associated Press he’s considering resigning due to President Donald Trump’s tweets.
This is a pile of horseshit so tall it could leave orbit. Bill Barr is doing nothing of the sort, and the press should know better.
Barr actually knows that the president’s tweets enable him to both know exactly what Trump wants from day to day and to simultaneously deny it ever reached him by some official channel. These fresh-baked lies about being upset about Trump’s Twitter diktats give Barr even more latitude to continue his sweeping efforts to choke the life out of any investigation of the president, to expand the scope of executive powers, and to push for more lenient sentences for Trump’s scumbag associates like Roger Stone.
The theory that Bill Barr’s leaks are sending Donald Trump warning signals, or trying to modify the lawless and reckless behavior of a lawless and reckless president, is entirely absurd. Barr’s 19-page job application to become attorney general was all Trump ever needed to know; Barr is a devotee—perhaps even the ruling high priest—of the school of unlimited executive power.
No matter what sweet nothings Barr whispers in the ears of D.C. reporters, the scope of his actions screams a thousand times louder.
Barr is running the DOJ with an iron fist when it comes to efforts by U.S. Attorney’s Offices investigating everything from Deutsche Bank to Rudy Giuliani’s Ukraine shenanigans. He’s trying to kill off investigations into the Turkish Halkbank’s role in breaking sanctions against Iran, all because Trump wants Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdogan to let him in the Li'l Autocrats 2020 pledge class. If an investigation is even Trump-proximate, Barr has shown his intent to bury it, the deeper the better.
The fact that Donald Trump didn’t have his usual volcanic tweetstorm of fury over a perceived betrayal when the Barr resignation story broke means they’re both in on the joke. The measured response to Barr telling ABC News that “It’s time to stop the tweeting about Department of Justice criminal cases” is another tell; Trump and the White House are fine with Barr’s smokescreen. The only people being fooled by this low-grade trickery are reporters.
Barr didn’t blink an eye when Trump erroneously called himself the chief law enforcement officer of the United States. Barr’s such a canny player that he’ll accept the long-term damage to the institutions of government to keep Trump happy in the short term. Barr is a man on a mission, and keeping Trump’s ego stroked and his legal bases covered is the entire ballgame.
I’ve called Barr the most dangerous man in America before, and for good reason. Barr is old enough, wise enough, and crafty enough to know precisely how all the processes, folkways, and behaviors of the Washington media can be manipulated and how he can throw up a defensive cloud of faux-institutionalist phony outrage.
Barr’s efforts to derail the sentence in the Roger Stone case, his heavy-handed push to stop investigations against Trump throughout the DOJ, and the other initiatives mentioned above aren’t the end of Barr’s very deliberate plan. These are all landmarks on a long march to consolidate absolute power in the executive branch, to prevent the legislative branch from performing its constitutional oversight role, and to reward Trump’s friends and punish his enemies.
Barr knows the rules, and he’s a player at this game like few others. He knows what he’s doing and what Trump is doing, and it’s all running according to plan.
The excesses and expansions of the power of the president aren’t an accident or something Barr finds troubling; it’s a the design spec of a post-rule-of-law America, with Trump as its Supreme Leader, and Barr as the chief engineer of government in a form we’ve seen before, but only in authoritarian regimes.
Though he dons the protective camouflage of the slightly beleaguered government bureaucrat, Barr is, in fact, a radical actor on the American political stage, a revolutionary hiding the extremism of his plan behind a dull, off-the-rack suit, and a hangdog expression.