Tag Archives: William Barr

A Different Kind Of Coup

Remember Darth Vader–aka Dick Cheney–and his theory of the “unitary executive”? Cheney wasn’t the only devotee of expanded power for the Presidency–it turns out that William Barr is a true believer, and far more dangerous than most of us previously realized.

A recent article in the American Prospect is chilling.

I have Article II, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president,” Donald Trump said in a recent speech to a far-right-wing campus organization. Trump is not a constitutional scholar, and he would not care at all about “constitutional architecture” were he not president. So where did this sweeping claim to executive power come from?….

But for Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, and others on the right, the effort to take power for the president from the courts and especially from Congress has been a 40-year project. Barr and his comrades may find statements like “I have Article II” crass and narcissistic, but in their view Trump is generally correct. Executive power maximalists argue that the “original intent” of the framers of the Constitution was to create a strong president with concentrated power and a largely advisory Congress.

The author notes that the most dangerous presidential power–and one that Trump’s lawyers are currently asserting– is the power to withhold information from Congress and the American people.

Neither Congress nor the courts nor voters can effectively check power abused in secret. And Congress’s power to require information from the president may be the power most difficult to reclaim if Congress yields that power in a tactical retreat in advance of the 2020 election.

Evidently, the expansion of presidential power–and the corresponding evisceration of Congressional authority–has been a 40-year mission for William Barr.

Barr (one of the original founders of the Federalist Society) worked in the Reagan White House with a group of lawyers who argued that the presidency had improperly lost constitutional powers after Watergate. Edwin Meese even asserted that the president could disregard Supreme Court decisions with which he disagreed.

Even very conservative legal scholars consider these assertions unfounded, and there is virtually nothing in the historical record that would support them. (The entire point of  “checks and balances” was to thwart an internal “coup” that would turn the president into either a monarch or a servant of Congress.)

After efforts by Reagan’s lawyers to challenge Congressional oversight failed in the Supreme Court,

Barr wrote and circulated throughout the executive branch a militant memorandum entitled “Common Legislative Encroachments on Executive Branch Authority.” The memo called for aggressive challenges to Congress’s claims to authority: “Only by consistently and forcefully resisting such congressional incursions can executive branch prerogatives be preserved.”

As the author notes,

The bread and butter of congressional oversight of the executive branch is to examine executive branch actions and the reasons for those actions. According to Barr, none of that is any of Congress’s business.

Throughout his Executive Branch service, Barr–together with Cheney– has insisted that the President can ignore not only Congressional demands for information, but laws with which he disagrees.

The entire article is worth reading, because it gives needed context to the otherwise inexplicable behavior of William Barr today–behavior that is causing significant morale problems among the professionals at DOJ.

The following paragraphs are representative.

BARR WAS OUT OF GOVERNMENT through the Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama presidencies, but remained a constant presence in rightist legal circles. On June 8, 2018, Barr sent an unsolicited memo to Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general to whom Robert Mueller then reported, and to Steve Engel, who headed the OLC, entitled “Re: Mueller’s ‘Obstruction’ Theory.” Trump’s firing of Jim Comey as director of the FBI could not be obstruction of justice regardless of Trump’s motives, Barr argued, because the president’s power to remove executive branch officials is “illimitable.”….

BARR AND OTHERS ON THE RIGHT have sought relentlessly for four decades to concentrate power in the president and strip power from Congress. Barr’s legal arguments sound haughty and scary to all but the most ardent Trump supporters. But Barr is committed to presidential power with or without legal authority and with or without public support. And he will advance presidential power by any means necessary, which includes frivolous legal arguments and dilatory tactics forbidden by court rules and canons of legal ethics, and false testimony forbidden by criminal law.

I can’t imagine what philosophy of government would lead someone to Barr’s conclusions, but it is abundantly clear that he represents a clear and present danger to the Constitution as it exists, and to the Separation of Powers it clearly requires.

His attacks on separation of church and state are equally dangerous, but that is an issue for another day…

 

 

About All Those “Best People”…Again

Talk about pots and kettles…take a look at the resume of Trump’s new press secretary–you know, the person charged with repeating the Administration’s unending accusations of sleaze and improprieties by journalists.

As Juanita Jean reports in her inimitable style:

If you’re wondering why Trump’s new press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, is not talking to the press or holding press conferences it’s because she’s … well… probably drunk or stealing something.

She was arrested for driving under the influence, speeding, and driving with an invalid license in 2013, according to the report, and the charges were later reduced to reckless driving. Grisham was also arrested for driving under the influence in December 2015, ultimately pleading guilty. She paid a fine and was ordered by the court into a treatment program.

One of the DUIs took place while she was a press aid to Trump’s campaign.

There’s more. Juanita notes that Grisham’s performance at previous jobs was–well, let’s just say substandard. She reportedly left AAA under a cloud for filing false travel and expense claims. She lost a job at something called Mindspace for plagiarism. She worked for an Arizona Attorney General who was fined for campaign finance violations, and on his behalf, responded to reporters’ inquiries by accusing the press of “overreaching, an invasion of privacy and abusive use of your role in the media.”

I’ve seen her picture, though, and she is attractive. When it comes to women, Trump’s definition of “best people’ usually revolves around physical appearance. (Big boobs are a plus.)

With men, of course, “best people” means one thing only: loyalty. Which brings us to the despicable William Barr. As both Talking Points Memo and the Washington Post have reported,

Attorney General Bill Barr has booked a $30,000 Gaelic-themed holiday party at the Trump D.C. hotel, the Washington Post reports.

The event is slated to occur Dec. 8 and will feature a four-hour open bar.

Again, there’s much more. (If Barr’s only ethical violation was improper enrichment of his boss, that would be a real improvement.)

Barr has yet to respond to multiple calls to recuse himself from the Jeffrey Epstein case–a case that could easily ensnare Epstein’s former good friend, Donald Trump.

He joined Wilbur Ross in refusing to comply with subpoenas issued as part of the Congressional probe of the Administration’s effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census–a refusal that led to a symbolic House vote of criminal contempt. (Symbolic, because the Department of Justice, which Barr heads, would have to enforce it.)

His pandering to Trump included a highly controversial and obviously partisan decision to launch an inquiry into the origins of the FBI’s 2016 Russia investigation–a decision that  fueled understandable concerns about the politicization of the Justice department.

And of course, there was his utterly dishonest 4-page “summary” of the Mueller Report.–a summary so inaccurate it received a reprimand from the famously taciturn Mueller himself.

A quote from Adam Schiff in Newsweek was focused upon Barr and Rosenstein, but it really applies to any of the “best people” who work for Trump for any length of time.

Congressman Adam Schiff harshly criticized Attorney General William Barr as well as Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, suggesting they acquiesced to pressure from President Donald Trump to act unethically.

“What we are seeing is anyone that gets close to Donald Trump becomes tainted by that experience,” the California Democrat who chairs the House Intelligence Committee said in an interview with CNN’s New Dayon Wednesday morning. “And the fundamental conundrum is, How do you ethically serve a deeply unethical president?” Schiff said. “And as we are seeing with Bill Barr, and as I think as we saw with Rod Rosenstein, you can’t.”

 In all fairness, it’s not a problem for most of the President’s “best people.” They can’t even spell ethics, let alone define the term.