Most of the commentary about William Barr starts with the fact that he’s certainly qualified on paper to serve as the nation’s attorney general since he did so once before (under George H.W. Bush). So all right then, let’s start with that. Democrats have no strong basis on which to try to mount major opposition to him, and in any event they of course can’t block him, as the Republicans constitute the Senate majority.
Barr is perhaps benefiting in the public mind from his association with the elder Bush and the lucky (from this vantage point) timing of Bush’s death. The hagiographic funeral oratories and other tributes have temporarily elevated Bush to that rarefied iconic pantheon where, for the moment, he’s rubbing celestial shoulders with the likes of Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln. So your average person might think, if he was OK by Poppy, he’s OK by me.
Then the story gets a little complicated when it is pointed out that Barr defended and praised Donald Trump’s firing of James Comey. This should give everyone pause. How any thinking person, let alone a member of the bar, could look at that gruesome episode and not see obstruction of justice is… concerning.
But I think it’s very possible that in a year or two—that is to say, in the thick of the 2020 presidential campaign—the statements of Barr’s that we may be ruing even more than the ones about Comey have been his remarks about Hillary Clinton. Most notably, he told The New York Times a little more than a year ago that the Justice Department should be investigating the so-called Uranium One deal. Of Trump’s Justice Department and its refusal to that point to look into all things Clinton, Barr said: “To the extent it is not pursuing these matters, the department is abdicating its responsibility.”
I don’t know about you, but I read that quote like this. If they suddenly hired me to be editor of The Daily Beast and I thought the Beast had been committing some error that had me saying publicly that the Beast was “abdicating its responsibility” (which I do not!), don’t you think I’d take action? Of course I would. So would you, if the same thing happened to you at your workplace. “Abdication” and “responsibility” are big, weighty words, and using them (to The New York Times, no less) means that you’re going to correct what you think is a venal error.
Now let’s add to this cocktail one Lindsey Graham. The South Carolina senator will chair the Judiciary Committee next year (a job I guess he won with that volcanic outburst directed at Democrats during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings). In mid-November, Graham expressed his enthusiasm for using his new post not to investigate, for example, the only actually substantiated case of voter fraud in America, the one in North Carolina carried out on behalf of a Republican candidate who thinks it’s impious for women to work outside the home.
No, instead of that, Graham warns that if Democrats pursue investigations into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, he’ll turn his sights on Hillary Clinton. Graham said last month to Sean Hannity: “If you’re going to keep plowing up everything from 2016, count me in… If you want to look back, we’re going to look back and everything and everybody, not just Trump.”
First, reread that. In Graham’s mind, the Senate Judiciary Committee is not a venue for advancing the administration of justice in the United States on matters relevant to the governance of the country. It’s a place to settle scores. And of course his words are just a nakedly partisan attempt to cow House Democrats, notably Adam Schiff and Jerry Nadler, out of investigating the president and his campaign.
I don’t write all this as a brief for Clinton’s innocence. That isn’t the point at all. Obviously I think she’s not guilty of all the things that she’d already be in stir for if we lived in Wingnuttia, but my point is this: By custom in this country, when a politician is off the stage, the prosecutors call off the dogs. And she is off the stage, despite silly occasional rumors to the contrary; and even if she wakes up one day out of 10 thinking she can come back, Democratic voters won’t want it. She is retired.
So she’s gone, and when someone is gone, prosecutors—who have limited resources and a responsibility to the public to spend them prudently—let it go. We’ve all seen it a million times: Indeed prosecutors often say (or hint) to pols caught doing something naughty that they’ll not press charges if the pol agrees to retire. This is occasionally violated, but only in extremely rare cases like that of Rod Blagojevich, caught in a phone recording pondering the going price of a United States Senate seat.
You may believe that Hillary is such a criminal. And this circles us back to William Barr, and the real reason we should keep an eye on all this.
There is no doubt that there are millions of Americans who believe that the Uranium One “scandal” should land Hillary Clinton in jail for life. These are people who watch Fox News and listen to talk radio and read Breitbart and salivate at every parallel-universe allegation these outlets fire at Clinton. Them believing, I can understand.
Call me a cockeyed optimist, but I would like to assume that the next attorney general of the United States is not one of those people. I would imagine that Barr has access to outlets like The Washington Post, and that he sometimes reads them, and that he occasionally even believes what he reads in them. He may have missed the piece (actually, pieces) where the Post dismissed the charge at the core of the Uranium One story as a complete and utter fabrication and rated it with the dreaded four Pinocchios. In case he even occasionally reads outlets like The Daily Beast, I’ve just linked to it for his convenience.
This, folks, is what we’re looking at: the possibility of a prolonged investigation into Clinton’s emails and why all those compromised deep-staters at the FBI didn’t indict her by both William Barr’s Justice Department and Lindsey Graham’s Senate Judiciary Committee extending into 2020.
What political purpose would this serve? A pretty handy one! As Robert Mueller closes in on Trump on Russia and obstruction of justice, and as House Democrats unsheathe the sword on various other matters related and unrelated (to Russia), Barr and Graham will (maybe) be doing all they can to allow “Individual 1” to spend his reelection campaign still screaming about Hillary.
William Barr had a good reputation. He’s older, and presumably rich enough. He could have spent his life golfing, and when he died, he’d have been eulogized as one of the last living representatives of a better, bygone era.
But now, he has decided to be one of Don Capone’s Frank Nittis. So be it. I don’t care about his reputation. I care about our country’s. There’s an abdication of responsibility happening here all right, but it isn’t the Justice Department’s.