Donald Trump says his attorney general was “not being a man.”
The AG was “very weak and very sad,” Trump says. In fact, he was a “disaster.”
Trump wasn’t talking about Bill Barr, who just triggered his wrath with an interview about the lack of election fraud. He was speaking in 2018 about Barr’s predecessor, Jeff Sessions.
That he has unloaded on two consecutive officials who ran the Justice Department raises this question: If they were so terrible, horrible, and awful, why did the 45th president appoint them in the first place?
Barr joins a growing list of high-powered people who fell from grace in Trump World, some because they stood up to the president and some because they turned on him first.
These include former lieutenants like Jim Mattis, Rex Tillerson and Omarosa, who get whacked only occasionally. They include John Bolton, who has been repeatedly denounced by Trump (whose DOJ sued over the former national security adviser’s book, a case that has now been dropped). And they include Michael Cohen, who went to prison, wrote a trash-Trump book, and is now a regular cable critic.
But AGs are different. They have a responsibility not to play politics as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer. That’s why Trump actually campaigned against Sessions’ bid to regain his old Senate seat—because Sessions recused himself from the Russia probe—and why he is castigating Barr for insisting there was no widespread election fraud to be found.
In a lengthy statement, Trump called Barr a “RINO” who “failed to investigate election fraud…It’s people in authority like Bill Barr that allow the crazed Radical Left to succeed… He came in with a semi-bang and went out with a whimper.”
But Trump put Barr in that position of authority, and besides, why is it Republican in Name Only to say a federal investigation hasn’t found anything? Is there a Republican—and Democratic—way to run DOJ?
Barr, to be clear, has his own motives (and his own book deal). As ABC’s Jonathan Karl writes in his forthcoming book “Betrayal,” Barr is telling his story because he is “widely seen as a Trump lackey who politicized the Justice Department” and wants to change that image.
In an Atlantic excerpt, Barr says Mitch McConnell twice asked him to challenge the president’s claims of election fraud because “you are really the only one who can do it.” The majority leader said he and his colleagues couldn’t frontally criticize Trump because they needed him to win the two Senate seats in Georgia.
And so it was that Barr invited an AP reporter to lunch and dropped his bombshell that Justice had found no widespread fraud. Barr told Karl that “my suspicion all the way along was that there was nothing there. It was all bullshit.”
Then came the confrontation at the White House, when Trump demanded to know if Barr had made the comments to the wire service and Barr said he had.
“How the f— could you do this to me? Why did you say it?”
“Because it’s true,” Barr said.
The red-faced president shot back: “You must hate Trump. You must hate Trump.”
That, naturally, was not Trump’s attitude when Barr minimized the findings in Robert Mueller’s report, or moved to drop charges against Michael Flynn, or intervened in the Roger Stone sentencing. Barr was terrific then, because he and Trump were on the same page. Now, according to Trump, “Bill Barr was a disappointment in every sense of the word.”
It’s worth noting that Trump was also unhappy with Barr’s successor, acting AG Jeffrey Rosen, in his few weeks on the job. Emails obtained by the New York Times show Trump pressuring Rosen to investigate fraud claims rejected in recent lawsuits, plus a wacky theory that people in Italy were using satellite technology to alter American voting machines.
Rosen said in an email: “Asked if I would reconsider, I flatly refused, said I would not be giving any special treatment to Giuliani or any of his ‘witnesses’, and reaffirmed yet again that I will not talk to Giuliani about any of this.” Trump considered replacing Rosen with yet another department official as the clock ticked toward Jan. 20.
All this might just be grist for historians, and for authors hoping to crack the best-seller lists, except that Trump constantly talks about the election being stolen from him. He did it again at an Ohio rally over the weekend. So there is a Republican divide between those who want to relitigate 2020 and those who want to move on as the midterms approach.
Barr, who ran DOJ for George H.W. Bush with little controversy, does not want to be the fall guy here. And the result is that Trump has added him to the litany of former aides who he believes betrayed him.