- President Donald Trump reportedly told confidants he “finally” has “my attorney general,” referring to Attorney General William Barr.
- The news marks a sharp contrast between now and two years ago, when the president was reportedly complaining about why “my guys” at the “Trump Justice Department” weren’t shielding him from the special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.
- It also appears to bolster criticisms that Barr is functioning more as Trump’s defence lawyer than as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer.
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President Donald Trump is reportedly pleased with Attorney General William Barr.
According to Associated Press sources, the president said to those close to him that he “finally” had “my attorney general.”
The news indicates a stark shift in Trump’s view between now and the last two years.
Indeed, when former Attorney General Jeff Sessions led the department at the height of the Russia probe, the president reportedly complained to his allies about why “my guys” at the “Trump Justice Department” weren’t doing more to shield him from the special counsel Robert Mueller.
At the time, Sessions had recused himself from overseeing the investigation, following revelations that he misled Congress about his communications with the Russian ambassador during the 2016 campaign. In the months following his recusal, Trump attacked his hand-picked attorney general as being “weak” and “beleaguered.”
Trump forced Sessions out following the November 2018 midterm elections and nominated Barr for the position soon after.
Barr, who previously served as attorney general under President George H.W. Bush, has long held a sweeping view of executive authority. Notably, he wrote a 19-page memo last year arguing that Trump could not be guilty of obstruction of justice – one of the crimes Mueller investigated him for – because he is president.
Barr sought to distance himself from the memo during his confirmation hearing in January and told lawmakers he disagreed with Trump’s statements casting the special counsel investigation as a politically-motivated “witch hunt.”
But since he took over as attorney general, Barr has taken several steps that have bolstered a chief criticism that claims he is functioning more as the president’s personal lawyer than as the nation’s top law enforcement officer.
In a recent interview with Fox News, Barr gave a full-throated defence of Trump’s baseless accusation that Mueller was on a “witch hunt” against him and his associates.
When host Bill Hemmer asked Barr if he’s comfortable labelling the Russia probe a witch hunt, Barr replied, “I use what words I use … but I think if I had been falsely accused, I’d be comfortable saying it was a witch hunt.”
Meanwhile, in a separate interview with The Wall Street Journal, Barr doubled down on his previous claims that the FBI was “spying” on the Trump campaign during the 2016 election, which is a frequent right-wing conspiracy.
“Government power was used to spy on American citizens,” Barr told The Journal. “I can’t imagine any world where we wouldn’t take a look and make sure that was done properly.”
There is no evidence to date that the FBI or the Justice Department broke protocol when conducting the Russia investigation or seeking a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrant against Trump aide Carter Page.
But there are now three separate entities tasked with investigating alleged misconduct and corruption at both agencies: the DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General, and US attorneys John Huber and John Durham.
Before Mueller’s report was released to the public, the attorney general took the unusual step of releasing his own summary of the document. Barr’s “principal conclusions” left out critical context and allowed Trump and his allies to claim “complete and total exoneration,” when in fact Mueller’s findings were far more ambiguous, especially in the obstruction case.
Mueller’s team laid out an extensive roadmap of evidence against Trump, adding, “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state … Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.”
Mueller indicated in the report that it was up to Congress to investigate the obstruction question further. But Barr took it upon himself to announce, before the report was released, that Trump had not committed an obstruction offence.
Barr is currently in a tug-of-war with Congress over releasing the unredacted Mueller report, its underlying evidence, and all grand jury material connected to it.
The House Judiciary Committee recently voted to hold Barr in contempt when he failed to meet a deadline to turn over the documents. But the Justice Department recently struck a deal with the House Intelligence Committee to turn over a dozen categories of counterintelligence and foreign intelligence documents to the panel as the first step in a rolling production.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, the president directed the US intelligence community to “quickly and fully” cooperate with Barr’s investigation into the origins of the Russia probe, signalling more trouble ahead in the battle over Mueller’s findings.
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